Develop a solution to the problem and provide your rationale for choosing that solution in "The Ancestral Feast" by Greg Roth.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The Problem

Let's define the problem. Alan has gone with Moses to his ancestral village to accompany Moses as he joins in with his village in the annual celebration of their dead. Ritual ceremonies included calling out the dead spirits. The chief danced and called out and tossed uncooked sourdough onto walls or floors of every house in the village, especially targeting rooms where he remembered people had died. The chief reviled the youth who had become Christian for their neglect of their ancestors and of their ancestral traditions, "what you call our culture," he said. Finally, after defending the traditional ways of their paganism, saying pagans tell the truth though Christians are truthful, he asked Alan to partake of the communal toast to the ancestors of the village.

Alan in perplexed about how his actions will effect the young Christians, especially Daniel who was singled out by the reviling chief and about how his actions will effect future evangelical opportunities in the village. The original version (there are adapted questions in one or more versions) of Roth's "The Ancestral Feast" says this:

"'Will the young Christians be offended or encouraged if I drink? But would my refusal anger the chief and other pagans in the village and close the door to further evangelism?' [Alan] wondered. The glass was passed from hand to hand toward Alan.. He began to sweat. What should he do?"

Precepts to Choose From

Alan must decide which value in Christianity would be most applicable to his situation. In one instance, the Apostle Paul admonishes Christians that they are to be in the world though not of the world, therefore they could accept feast invitations at which the meat to be served had been offered to pagan gods, but they were not to directly ask whether the meat had been sacrificed so that their own consciences would not be offended or disturbed. In another instance, Paul admonishes Christians to walk (behave) circumspectly, i.e., to be mindful of how their actions appear to others, in order to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing.

The Situation Based on the First Precept

Based on the first of these two precepts, a problem arises for Alan himself if he is being asked to willfully participate in a sacrifice in a pagan religious ceremony honoring the dead. If he being asked to do nothing more than to share a drink with community, despite the fact that the community is partaking of a religious ceremony, his own conscience is spared from burden and free, according to the precept set out by Paul.

If the first case is true, he is being asked to willfully participate in a pagan religious ceremony, then he, for his sake (not for the sake of others) must decline: "I cannot knowingly partake of a sacrificial offering in a pagan religious ceremony." If the second case is true, he is being asked to share a communal drink in friendship (regardless of how the villagers see their own actions), then he is free to do so: "I am drinking with you in friendship as I will not worship any god but my Christian God."

The Situation Based on the Second Precept

Based on the second of these two precepts, Alan envisions a problem might be caused to others because his actions might violate the admonition to act carefully so as to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing. He is in a quandary if he tries to negotiate his choice in action based upon others' perception because, if he drinks or does not drink, he will offend someone in the group (Christian or pagan, young or old) and possibly initiate unfavorable consequences from that offense (e.g., the loss of evangelism opportunities). On the other hand, if he adheres to Paul's admonition to act among pagans so as not to violate or harm his own conscience, then whichever choice he makes--to drink in friendship or not to drink because he cannot honor any god but the one God--he will in fact also be walking circumspectly (the second precept fulfill along with the first).

The Right Choice to Make Based on These Two Precepts

The right choice for Alan to make is to choose to respect his own conscience and, since he knows fully well that the communal cup he is being asked to drink from is part of a sacrificial pagan religious ceremony (as the poured out gin and the tossed sourdough were the first sacrifices), he must state that he cannot drink from a communal cup honoring the dead in a pagan religious ceremony because he must honor only the Christian God.

Walking circumspectly in this manner, by keeping his conscience unburdened through honoring only God, does not guarantee there will be no ill will born of it, but it does guarantee that the example he sets for the other Christians will be the right one, the one that honors the Christian God, and it does guarantee that his own communion with God remains unimpeached. 

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