Hey all! Well, it’s been quite awhile, but I’m back to blogging, at least for awhile. We’ll see how it goes. I’d like to get away from blogging just about writing and stretch my wings into topics more relevant to readers on a daily basis…faith, culture, rants, funny stories. Again, we’ll just see what happens!
And seeing as how this blog will likely focus on a lot of things at the intersection of faith and culture, I decided Halloween was as good a time to come out of hibernation as any.
Oh yes. I’m going there.
I originally had a lot of trepidation about writing on this topic. Whether Christians should celebrate Halloween is a much-debated subject that can actually get pretty hot, and I have dear friends on both sides of the line. But the Halloween wars have always held such fascination for me that it feels odd to say nothing.
Now first of all, I do understand that there are many well-argued reasons why Christians feel uncomfortable celebrating this holiday. Heck, my BFF4Evah grew up not celebrating Halloween, and she’s said some pretty level-headed things in defense of her position.
At the same time, many Christians feel completely comfortable with it. I never missed a Trick-or-Treating season growing up. My parents put up decorations, I dressed as a ghost sometimes, and my favorite short story for many years was “The Cegua” from a kids’ horror anthology. (It’s a demon-horse-skeleton with sulfur breath that disguises itself as a sexy senorita and asks unsuspecting sombrero‘ed gentlemen for help on deserted roads. I mean, can you get more awesome than that?) As an adult, Halloween is my second-favorite holiday, the first being Easter (you either laughed or clucked your tongue at the irony, and your response probably indicates which camp you’re in).
So we have here two camps that both seem quite comfortable in their position, yet are arguing opposite things. Which side should prevail? Well, like so many side issues in Christendom, I believe that it really just comes down to an individual believer’s conviction—what they feel in their heart about celebrating the holiday.
Sorry if that sounds like a non-answer.
Here’s the good news, though: even in matters of personal conviction, there’s always room for discussion, gentle persuasion, and best of all, the calling out of stupid ideas masquerading as good ones.
What follows is therefore my full-throated defense of Halloween and probing of the more questionable arguments on the other side. Readysetgo!
Part 1: Getting it out of the way: Alarmist Arguments
First, can we please all agree that stupid arguments have no place in this discussion? I’m talking of arguments like: All Halloween candy is prayed over by witches! Really? Of all the things you could say about this holiday, you picked that one? So tell me, do witches pray over all candy all year long, or does that just start in, say, late August? To be safe, shouldn’t we abstain from candy from 4th of July to Christmas? And how do these witches gain access to the candy warehouses, anyway? Are all candy companies in on it? If the witches get access to candy at Halloween, can’t they do it all year?
(What really peaks my Rage-O-Meter about this argument is it ignores the actual flesh-and-blood evil in the form of modern slavery that most chocolate companies are complicit in. But sure, let’s use our righteous anger as Christians to ignore child slavery and instead make up completely illogical urban legends to argue about privileged children in expensive costumes).
Also, please don’t throw zombies into the list of spiritual creatures that children are being desensitized to by Halloween (boy I wish I could find the link for that, it was a scream). Zombies are not real. We totes don’t have to worry about that one, guys.
Now these are really just humorous straw men that have little to do with the real discussion. Most people don’t actually go to those things as their first line of defense…although someone did take the time to type that and spread it on the internet But setting extreme arguments aside, what widely-accepted arguments about Halloween do I find frustrating?
Part 2: Inconsistency
Hooo boy, this is a big one. I’m really tired of the inconsistent reasoning people use to defend boycotting Halloween. Recently this article made the rounds on Facebook: “10 Reasons I Kissed Halloween Goodbye” by Michele Blake, published in Prophezine.com. While it at least stuck to a logical progression of arguments and stayed calm, I kept cringing at her insistence that Christians avoid any custom that was ever pagan:
“Putting a Christian label over the top of a pagan practice does not make it pleasing to God. In fact, we are to get rid of all pagan practices and have no part of them.”
I am really uncomfortable with the claim that attempting to “put a Christian label” over something ultimately carries no meaning and is just a way of fooling yourself. (I’m reminded of notorious pastor Mark Driscoll’s comments that yoga can send you to hell). Doesn’t this author know that Christmas trees, December 25, the word Easter, along with bunnies and eggs, were all originally pagan traditions that were co-opted by the church? Church communities of the past actively tried to do the very thing she’s saying isn’t possible—take something bad and put a Christian spin on it. Does this author now have to stop celebrating all those traditions too? If not, why not? Why does the Jesus label work for the word Easter, and Christmas trees, but not work for Trick-or-Treating?
Well, maybe she sees Halloween as different because, as she says, “Halloween has never been a Christian holiday,” whereas Christmas and Easter traditions were at least sanctioned by the church at one point. Oops, that isn’t right either. Turns out the church was so very involved with co-opting Halloween that it’s even responsible for the origins of Trick-or-Treating!
This goes along with another pet peeve of mine; people who say they encourage their kids to celebrate Harvest Season instead of Halloween. But Harvest celebration is still, and always has been, a pagan thing as well. I understand if someone wants to give their child an alternative celebration so the kid won’t think they missed out, but why not just celebrate fall? Leaf changing season? Or start Thanksgiving traditions a month early? Why pick another pagan concept that is simply less notorious than the first, but then teach your child that pagan celebrations are nothing to mess around with?
Look, it’s fine if you want to avoid anything with pagan roots, but please be consistent. And if you refuse to be consistent, then don’t point your finger at me for participating in the one pagan practice that you personally decided was more insidious than the ones you like.
Part 3: Opening the Door?
I’ve also heard it said that Christians who participate, even with innocent motives, can “open up” to dark things entering their lives. I have heard the phrase “open yourself up to” or “leave the door open for” more times in Halloween arguments than I can even keep track of. I’ve heard people say that about horror movies, the Harry Potter books, and Dungeons and Dragons.
But for all the times I’ve heard it, I’m still not sure what it means.
Trick-or-Treating, putting a Headless Horsemen figure on your porch, watching a scary movie about ghosts—this isn’t the same as setting up an Ouija board and actively asking/inviting spirits to visit your house. Is it? Many people seem to believe it is, but is that really accurate?
I will go ahead and admit here that I am no expert on the spirit world and how it functions. But I can’t help thinking that this belief about leaving a door open sounds more like superstition than theology. I hope that doesn’t come off as dismissive and offensive to those who believe this, but I’m serious. The Bible instructs us not to seek spirits out. To me, that seems like a pretty clear delineation. If you are seeking to intentionally communicate with real spirits—through an Ouija board, a séance, small animal sacrifice or whatever—you have some Biblical evidence that your activities might be a no-no. If you are dressing in a sheet pretending to be a ghost, or watching a movie that you know is fake, you are not seeking to communicate with real live spirits, and I’m not sure there’s Biblical evidence that demons can use those fakey-fake things to enter your life against your will.
Bottom line, if I believe some dark thing has an element of spiritual reality to it, I will not participate in that thing, and I will encourage others to stay away from it. So if I’m participating in it, you can make a pretty good guess that I don’t believe there’s any reality to it, and that’s how I feel about 99% of your garden-variety Halloween activities.
Part 4: Celebration of Evil/Fear?
Let’s turn to what I feel is the strongest argument against Halloween. This was actually summed up pretty neatly by my BFF4Evah, who I mentioned in the intro. About a month back, she and I were talking about Halloween. She said she planned to dress her babies up this year and hand out candy with scripture verses, but she still felt a sense of discomfort. “I just don’t see why people enjoy a holiday that celebrates death, darkness, and all the things that are labeled bad for the whole rest of the year.”
You have to admit, her statement makes a lot of sense. And it’s echoed in many people’s concerns about Halloween, including the article I linked to in Prophezine.com. In fact, author Michele Blake’s Point Numero Uno is “Halloween glorifies evil, not God.” She goes on to say:
“It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that the Halloween is all about fear. Scary costumes, haunted houses, and horror movies are designed for no other purpose than to frighten us. Seeking out opportunities to be scared is, on this day at least, the highest form of entertainment. If we do not have a spirit of fear, should we even acknowledge a day whose purpose is to invoke a spirit of fear in us?”
I will go ahead and admit up front that this, to me, is the most compelling argument, and it’s something I believe every Christian should decide about in the privacy of her/his own heart. It’s between them and God, which is why I don’t judge people who land at a different conclusion, and why the BFF4Evah and I have a long-standing truce on the issue. However, I would like to go ahead and present my reasoning for why I’ve reached my Halloween-friendly conclusions on this score.
I am not actually certain that the purpose of Halloween is to either celebrate or be afraid of evil. In fact, I would argue that maybe it’s the opposite. Check this out:
This is a cute, silly video, but I think it makes a good point. Dressing up as something, making it part of games and fun, is a way to defang that thing. It actually takes the fear out of ghosts and devils when you see people you know, and little kids, prancing around pretending to be one. As the video narrator says, “The future is futile for forces of evil/And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.” Halloween, at least at my house, is not a time to affirm and celebrate the power of evil; it’s a time to have some fun with the concept while ultimately remembering that it can’t hurt me and will not ultimately win the day.
Let’s circle back to Ms. Blake’s (very accurate) statement that Christians aren’t to have a spirit of fear. I would like to humbly suggest that lending Halloween the kind of significance and power she does is actually closer to having a spirit of fear than, say, my view on Halloween as something fun that can’t hurt me.
And it’s worth pointing out that humans sometimes seek scary experiences or adrenaline rushes in order to overcome them. I don’t think she’s right in assuming that fright-seeking on Halloween is just about wallowing in fear; it’s about testing your mettle and proving you can overcome the thing you thought was so scary.
And really…Ms. Blake herself even admitted in the article that many people’s motives are just having fun.
So that’s it. Most everything that I think about why Halloween is okay. At the end of the day, most arguments about Halloween eventually boil down to what I addressed in Part 4 (even Ms. Blake’s many bullet points only hold true if her original assumption about the purpose of Halloween is true, making most of them pretty redundant…I could really do a whole blog post just deconstructing that one article! Hmmm….) So please, don’t be inconsistent in your theological application of this holiday. Don’t fall for alarmist arguments. Be cautious, but not superstitious. And really consider whether Satan is getting his kicks out of October 31st, or suffering a serious blow to his ego via that cherub-cheeked 3-year-old neighbor wearing red horns and smiling up at the candy bowl.
And now, my final parting thought: No one is ever again allowed to marry the title of Joshua Harris’ courtship book with an article about why to avoid Halloween. That, to me, is the scariest thing that happened this season.