Even dogs will be wearing costumes for Halloween. They can be pumpkins, devils, astronauts, or — oh, the insult! — cats. Mass produced ones are going for around £20 but a New York company will do a hand-made personalised get-up for 8 times that. Rover can become Rigoletto, Max can be Merlin the Magician and Cleo Cleopatra.
The tradition of Halloween fancy dress normally involves donning a rig-out that will frighten; witches, skeletons and ghosts were favourites until greater variety came with commercialisation. By looking outwardly like one of these symbols of death and destructiveness, people feel they can tame the power of a force which in fact they fear greatly. Our world is full of things which frighten and feel potentially destructive and the growth of Halloween as an opportunity for fun is partly due to the reassurance, even if false, that comes from acting out the ability to control such forces.
There are other ways of responding to life’s fearsome aspects. Complete protection from their power is not available but we need not let fear of them prevent is living lives we feel to be worthwhile. The apostle Paul
suggests we should clothe ourselves in love, kindness, gentleness and patience. There’s a power in qualities such as these which, whether we are religious or not, can make us strong against life’s more destructive features. Perhaps today these are the clothes we should put on if we want to deprive those things that feel threatening of their power.
Austrian designers have come up with what they suggest is the most human robot yet. It does nothing to benefit anyone else but is driven entirely by self-interest. Bar Bot sits in a pub asking passers-by for money. When it has enough cash for a pint, it will order from the bar and, if someone is kind enough to hand it its beer, knock it back. Only when its thirst is quenched will it deign to interact with you further.
This representation of human nature does express some people’s experience. They live or work with people who seem only to think of their own requirements and expect others to provide them. For others, such behaviour may not be part of every day’s life but they see glimpses of it often enough to know that such selfishness lies only just beneath the surface in many of our interactions. Most of us know how much of our own behaviour is governed by similar motives.
The kind of picture of how human beings can be that is described in the pages of most religions’ holy writings is very different from that. They suggest human beings at their best have a primary concern for other people’s welfare and a willingness to try and meet their needs by giving time and energy without expecting reward. It’s been proved possible to build a robot which expresses the worst in humanity; building one to portray the best is almost certainly beyond us. So perhaps it’s up to us in our own bodies and lives to reveal what someone living by those values would be like.
Cheese is passé as a mouse’s chief temptation. Research from Warwick University has suggested it’s chocolate that they find really irresistible.
Many human beings would agree. Stopping eating a chocolate bar without finishing it demands extreme self-discipline. Of course, I blame the ingredients – there must be something in them that makes it so addictive. But, then again, it might just be something about me and chocolate.
Christians are divided about where they locate the source of temptation. For some it’s a hostile force – the devil – operating with a will of its own and externally to ourselves, deliberately attracting us towards what is wrong. Like the mice, unable to resist the chocolate in the modern mousetrap, we are lured to our own destruction. An alternative view is that it’s not a separate entity but something inherent within each of us, and in human society, which tempts us to do what is not good for us or others.
But whether we want to put the blame onto something beyond us, or look inside ourselves for the sources of temptation, we need to be conscious of the kind of temptations to which we are susceptible. Whatever their source, the decision to give in to them is ours.
Chocolate, for most people, will do no real damage. Other temptations - to gossip, to be economical with the truth, to work too hard, to short-change those to whom we are committed – most of us know our favourites – can seriously hurt others or ourselves. Perhaps today we could renew our determination to deal with those temptations as effectively as the mousetrap does with the poor, unsuspecting mouse.