Religion has always explained the unknown in knowable terms. It has created symbols for that which could not be known. This symbolism 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 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 . Analyzing history, one sees the pattern of a Jewish nomad lifestyle ,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 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 life and the world. This is the inner division of our impulses, desires, and aggressions bordering with the conditioned behavior of our religion.
Eliezer struggles with this guilt as he sees the failings of his God in the midst of the horror. Torn between the refined 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 child, witnesses the slow agonizing death of the “young, sad angel”, the reader sees 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 aliveFor 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. ” As the novel comes to a conclusion God, and religion as an institution, assume a cynical role: Eliezer recognizes the failings of the Almighty. Rather than seeking sanctuary within the confines of a higher deity, the author seeks revenge and a need to lay blame. Religion has fallen by the wayside highlighting the void due to the millions of dead Jews. A pessimistic young man , who recognized the lack of God as a savior, replaces the young child with blind faith.
Eliezer is faced with his own mortality as he realizes his individual strength. This strength however, is ironic as it is all he has left: the deity has deserted him altogether. “This day I had ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man, without love or mercy. I had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty, to whom my life had been tied for so long. As the groundwork of Eliezer’s youth is repeatedly annihilated, Eliezer becomes more disillusioned. This disillusionment leads to further denunciation of God and religion. The core of Eliezer’s morality is preserved and manifests in the form of spirituality. No longer do man-made dogmas dictate Eliezer’s actions, but rather the innate morals he has, are persevered. God loses significance as earthly effects take precedent: loyalty to is father, family and man are become his main priority. To break the ranks, to let oneself slide to the edge of the road My father’s presence was the only thing that stopped me He was running at my side, out of breath, at the end of his strength, at his wit’s end. I had no right to let myself die. What would he do without me? I was his only support. ” At a very poignant time in Eliezer’s life, we see the revival of a god. Although religion and God are no longer of significance, the familiar act of sending a prayer signifies the importance of reinforcing his values of commitment and loyalty to his father.
Eliezer recognizes the abandonment of the Rabbi’s son, and Eliezer’s prayer, although directed to God, keeps shape of a personal vow. Eliezer no longer relies on the values and beliefs of the institution of religion, but rather bases his values on personal spiritualistic beliefs. It is at this key transitional period in Eliezer’s growth that he recognizes the death of God and religion, but maintains an ethical way of life: that of love and loyalty, consistent with his spirituality. “His son had seen him losing ground, limping, staggering back to the rear of the column.
He had seen him. And he had continued to run on in front. Letting the distance between them grow greater. A terrible thought loomed up in my mind: he had wanted to get rid of his father! He had felt his father was growing weak, he had believed the end was near and had sought separation in order to get rid of the burden and in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to that God in whom I no longer believed. My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done. ”
Mankind will always be a mixture of good and evil, it is in this balance however that we find the internal conflict that Eliezer struggled with throughout the novel. “Night” presents its audience with a range of beliefs: atheism bordering on spirituality, bordering on orthodox religion. Although making no hard-line judgments about the preferred path to follow, the significance of having morals and maintaining a value system is not overlooked. As Elie illustrates, in the midst of absolute evil, when all else is stripped away, who you are and what you