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The Role of Spirituality and Religion in Night

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Essay title: The Role of Spirituality and Religion in Night

Religion has always explained the unknown in knowable terms. It has created symbols for that which could not be known. This symbology is so deeply imbedded in our minds, cultures, and cosmology that it is rarely questioned from inside the religious paradigms. From outside that paradigm, the religious imagery loses its impact, its subliminal meaning. Religion functions to relieve the anxiety of the absolute fact for each of us that we will die, that our family will die, that our friends will die. Religion promises us that although we may die, we will continue. And, if we believe, then our afterlife will be glorious. Spirituality offers another perspective to this 'man-made' solution. The spiritualistic belief is that of love for the fellow man instead of god; hospitals instead of churches; deeds done rather than prayers said. Spirituality, although bordering on atheism, seeks to understand and love, to find an ethical way of life rather than turning to a higher being for the easy way out. In "Night" by Elie Wiesel we see death of religion in a child because of absolute evil and consequently, the embrace of spirituality. Separated from man made institutions, the core of religion and spirituality-- morality and goodness -- must be preserved, if one is to survive in the midst of horror.

The Jewish religion was a key motivation to the citizens of Sighet. To Jews religion is not only a method to achieve immortality, but a way of life that must be holistically embraced. This all-consuming religion demands total obedience and is a key motivation in the Jewish deportation and personal surrender to Germany (German officers). Analyzing history, one sees the pattern of a Jewish nomad lifestyle -- Jews escaping persecution by placing their life in Gods hands - so deep is their faith, and moving on. "Night" is the first episode where this blind faith could not save them. Spawning from this failure of God is the genocide of millions at the hands of the Nazis. As young Eliezer visits Auschwitz and witnesses this genocide first hand, his blind faith is quickly revoked and in its place remains doubt, question and bitterness.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into a wreath of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

The continuance of the novel highlights the internal conflict Eliezer faces: the problem of religious conscience in all aspects of his life. The problem that grows out of the religious conscience is the division of our world. This is the inner division of our impulses, desires, and aggressions juxtaposed with the conditioned behavior of our religion. Out of religious conscience, we have produced rote behavior motivated by guilt. Eliezer struggles with this guilt as he sees the failings of his God in the midst of the horror. Torn between the indoctrinated perception of God -- merciful and loving -- and the punishing God he witnesses in the camps, Eliezer attempts to dissect his feelings and knowledge in order to determine whether God is indeed compassionate or chastising.

"What are you, my God" I thought angrily, "compared to this afflicted crowd, proclaiming to you their faith, their anger, their revolt? What does your greatness mean lord of the universe, in the face of all this weakness, this decomposition and this decay? Why do you still trouble their sick minds, their crippled bodies?"

As Eliezer -- a young impressionable child - witnesses the slow agonizing death of the "young, sad angel", we see the emergence of his growing existentialism. No longer does he feel kinship with the Almighty: instead feelings of loneliness and abandonment dominate the young child's psyche. As the man behind him asks where God is, the young soul responds with brutal truth: God is dead. The death of this innocent child at the hands of an unmerciful God reduces Eliezer's faith further, causing him to lose sight of the Jewish faith that has been his foundation for so many years.

The child was still alive…For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes and we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not glazed… Behind me I heard the same man asking: "Where is God now?" and I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here He is, He is hanging on this gallows."

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