Tue, Aug 13, 2013 - Page 8 News List


Ghost month misses point

Taiwan was populated over many years, originally by Aborigines and then by thousands of frontiersmen. People risked their lives coming to Taiwan to start new lives. Unfortunately, many lost their lives, frontiersmen and Aborigine alike. Some of the nameless dead are remembered during Ghost Month.

During Ghost Month the doors to the land of the dead are opened, allowing ghosts to walk among the living.

Many Taiwanese avoid driving recklessly, swimming and whistling after dark. It is a time when people pray to the “good brothers,” aiding them in the afterlife and assuring the living do not become victims of angry ghosts.

It is a funny time, during which people avoid stepping on cracks and are overly cautious.

Let me say though, there are problems with belief in ghosts and Ghost Month.

Under no circumstances has the existence of ghosts been proven. That does not preclude their existence, but it is a strong argument against their presence in our world. To believe that ghosts exist and spend time harassing errant whistlers is not only silly, it is wrong.

When I hear ideas like ghosts attacking swimmers, I am reminded of my grandparents saying we could not swim for a half an hour after eating. Of course you can swim after you eat, my grandparents just wanted us to take a nap and clean up.

Similarly, the ghost warnings have naturalistic explanations. Ghost Month coincides with the rainy season. While the sky may be clear where you are, upstream could be rainy and your knee-deep pool can quickly become a neck-high torrent. When Taiwan lacked police, whistling after dark could alert brigands to your location. Perhaps some tough guys thought themselves strong, but their mother’s had seen enough tough guys killed by thieves. Adding an unstoppable adversary ensured no whistling at night.

The naturalistic explanations have been lost along with the wisdom. When you are worried about things that actually exist, you take actual precautions. If you think it’s “the ghosts,” you may pray or carry amulets for protection, feeling you have negated the non-existent supernatural danger, when the real dangers are still out there.

Furthermore, if you can externalize received harm, you can externalize the blame of harm you have caused. People advise driving safely during Ghost Month, but not everyone does. If your victim is a believer, your poor driving can be considered bad luck, no reparations required.

I feel Ghost Month misses the point. Taiwan is what it is because countless men and women worked hard, risked their lives, some even giving theirs, so it could have a future. The nation could take this time to remember and celebrate this rich history.

Taiwan stands with one eye on the future and one foot in grave. People stop to search for protection from ghosts of the past so they can get back to achieving the future they have planned. That is unfortunate; they should instead build upon their history, standing on the shoulders of those long gone to reach higher and further into a better future.

Wade Kaardal

Greater Taichung

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