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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Thoughts on Halloween

How cool to be putting up this post during a total lunar eclipse ;-)

Last year around this time, I read an article by John Fischer called Home for Halloween on the Breakpoint website. Fischer claimed it was a mistake for Christians to “boycott” Halloween because they cannot engage their neighbors by avoiding them at this time. I thought that was a misapplication of being “in but not of the world,” and still do. Fischer went so far as to say that by turning off the lights or going to an “alternative” celebration, one could be “lending credibility to the devil by denouncing Halloween as Satan’s day when most of those around us see it as nothing more than a day to dress up and have fun.” Hmmm...perhaps he's forgotten about the origins of the practice and the obvious questionable associations the holiday has.

Below is the text of the (long, sorry) letter (revised) I sent Mr. Fischer in response.

Dear Mr. Fischer,

I recently read your column, “Home for Halloween,” on the Breakpoint website. I applaud you for tackling the subject, and agree that “what we do October 31 is a microcosm for our positioning in the world as Christians.” But I disagree with your ideas as to how we should position ourselves.

While it is true that “morally neutral” social events, such as wedding parties, can be participated in either for God’s glory or against, I’m not convinced that trick-or-treating, in and of itself, is morally neutral. An event’s moral neutrality is not guaranteed by its being “cultural” or “traditional.”

What, exactly, does modern-day Halloween celebrate? Mere neighborliness and fun? I don’t think so. In my view, Halloween cannot be disassociated from its pagan (read: evil) origins and trappings, and to attempt to do so is irresponsible. Also irresponsible is the rationalization that it’s OK to participate because “it’s fun and everyone else does.” Halloween customs come with a lot of baggage, whether we like it or not.

Is it appropriate to practice a such questionable tradition and indoctrinate our children into it? Can we truly serve God by participating in a ritual (trick-or-treating) that has its origins in the superstitious appeasement of evil spirits? Many people are confused or deceived about spirituality and the existence of evil spirits (as opposed to demons and true spiritual warfare). Acceptance of a holiday that more or less validates spiritism is a capitulation to the occult and does nothing to educate about spiritual truth. Scripture exhorts us to be wary lest our actions cause another to stumble (Romans 15). This may be one of the most compelling arguments of all against participation in Halloween.

I personally find little that is God-serving in having children knock at doors to mock-threaten the inhabitants, even if it IS done all in good fun. The influence of evil inherent in the practice is not negated. Besides, is there truly anything of value in sending children around the neighborhood to entertain and collect candy? There must be better ways to spread good will and socialize with the neighbors. The kids certainly don’t need the candy.

The custom of wearing costumes for trick-or-treat is rooted in superstition. While I believe it’s possible and even necessary to redeem pagan customs, I don’t think Halloween does it. Sure, it’s fun to dress up, but dress-up should be a natural part of every child’s home play. Why over-emphasize it on one night at the end of October, after dark, to the accompaniment of orange holiday lights, jack-o-lanterns, hanging sheet ghosts, spider-web drapery, and stick-on witches?

Why inundate impressionable minds with darkly suggestive imagery, or participate in an activity that could lead to spiritual confusion down the road? Why take advantage of innocence? A parent should discuss all aspects of Halloween with his/her children, but not necessarily while encouraging participation. How can a parent avoid sending mixed messages? Even if a child is able to screen out all the “evil” stuff as nonsense, or else as just being “there” but having no power, he or she is still in essence paying tribute to an ancient pagan belief simply by acting it out.

And why on earth should we not give Satan credit for Halloween? Who else deserves it? Satan is real and still has plenty of credibility as far as responsibility for evil goes. Why else would we need God? Satan is the Great Pretender, the Great Deceiver. If he can fool innocent, unsuspecting people into thinking that scariness and trickiness and superstition and greed and masquerade are “fun,” then he surely is winning the battle! It’s a lie to think that if someone just ignores the “bad” stuff, it won’t hurt them or anyone else. Satan makes the bad look good. Or the good look bad. Or tries to convince us that there is no “bad” at all.

Scripture says we should avoid all forms of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22) and guard ourselves from idols (I John 5:21). This does not mean we have to pull the shades and sit, quivering and praying, in the dark recesses of our home on Halloween night... but perhaps it should!

Conscientious objection to Halloween is not an act of hiding. There may be an element of self-protection (as well as protection of the children entrusted to us) involved, but is it not John 17:15 itself that addresses this issue? A refusal to participate in Halloween activities is not to be equated with a “removal of oneself from the world” any more than a refusal to participate in any unhealthy activity is. John 17:15 says, “…protect them from the evil one.” How can this be done while participating in Halloween? Would it be permissible to go to a South Pacific island as a missionary and participate in a ritual head-hunting dance yet not do the actual head hunting? I would think it best to sit out the dance as well.

It’s wishful thinking to say that we can “redeem” Halloween by trick-or-treating in good will. Toward whom would this good will be -- those who do not understand the truth of spiritual matters? Again, aren’t we endorsing the holiday itself by participating in it? The only alternative to non-participation is to stay at home and hand out leaflets containing the history of Halloween (with appropriate verses of Scripture, plus a candy bar) to trick-or-treaters...but how uncool is that? This is why many Christians opt to send the message more subtly, by turning off the porch lights and watching videos instead. Or going to a harvest celebration.

I’m sure plenty of non-believers trick-or-treat in “good will.” What then can a believing trick-or-treater do to distinguish him- or herself from a non-believer? It’s probably not enough to just be friendly and wear a non-threatening costume. A child could dress in an angel costume and offer tracts instead of an empty treat bag, but again, a strange way to get the message out.

Why not celebrate the harvest season instead? Why not hold an All Saints Day celebration? These things are certainly far worthier of honor and celebration than some ancient pagan superstition. Let’s overcome evil with good in a substantial way!

Final note: if we could remove all the trappings of Halloween from the practice of trick-or-treating and send kids dressed up in “clean” costumes around the neighborhood bearing gifts to give or exchange, and change the name, and choose some other day to celebrate it, then we might have a community service opportunity!


7 Comments:

  • This is a topic which should cause concern among Christians. Our church puts on a harvest party of sorts for the neighborhood. Our kids will dress up and go trick or treating, but where many other kids are dressed up in ghoulish costumes ours will be headed out as Cinderella and Sacagawea this year.

    Have you ever investigated the history behind many of our Christmas traditions? You'd be surprised at the level of pagan influence.

    By Blogger Rusty, at 10:13 AM  

  • Yes, Rusty, I have. It's fascinating.

    I don't think that all pagan customs are inherently evil, though; I think they can be redeemed, i.e., invested with new meaning.

    My first exposure to this whole idea was during a college class in which we read “Black Elk Speaks.” We were asked to write a paper comparing two phenomena: a) that of Indians who cast off their old customs entirely in order to embrace the customs of the missionaries who converted them, and b) that of Indians who kept some of their customs but merely “redeemed” them, i.e., turned them to use in relationship to God instead of to the evil spirits or superstition they had served before. (This is to be distinguished from a “compromising” form of syncretism.)

    Perhaps I will explore this in a post sometime :-)

    The problem I have with Halloween is that it’s still tied quite inextricably to unhealthy custom. But that’s just my view :-) During my teenage years especially, I had a great awareness of and vulnerability to evil. My mind was truly in darkness. Thank God I found Light! But this is partly where my views on Halloween are coming from.

    I think it really depends on what a custom means to a person spiritually, or what they think it may mean to others . Different things have different meanings to different people. Things which are not inherently evil in themselves can be used either to glorify God or self (or Satan).

    (When I came to faith, deciding which “things” to throw out and which to keep wasn’t easy. Some of what I tried to throw out “came back” to me redeemed. In other words, it’s the “old self” which really needs to be thrown off; the rest of the “things” will follow. But some things I do still wonder about, and probably always will :-) )

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 10:02 PM  

  • Most "Christian" holidays, including Christmas and Easter, also have pagan origins.

    By Blogger lesbonstemps, at 11:11 PM  

  • I'm all for referring to "Easter" as "Resurrection Day."

    By Blogger Rusty, at 10:17 AM  

  • Hi Bonnie! Go here and read some interesting things about Halloween. http://search.atomz.com/search/?sp-q=Halloween+&sp-a=00080269-sp00000000

    By Blogger Linda, at 12:17 AM  

  • What a wonderful letter...right on!!

    By Blogger Kristen, at 6:30 PM  

  • Help me Dude, I'm lost.

    I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

    No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

    He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

    But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

    Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

    And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

    "You give me love and consolation,
    You give me strength to carry on "

    Strange day or what? :-)

    By Blogger Couch Potato, at 8:22 AM  

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