Oct 31, 2009

Thoughts on Halloween

Thoughts on Halloween

Halloween is one of those holidays that I have an interesting relationship with. Growing up in the church, I’ve heard probably every argument one can bring against Halloween, both pro- and con-. I’m not entirely certain what side I lean on, nor do I know yet what I will make of the holiday when I have children (curious what the wife will say before I commit to a view), but there are a few things I have learned about it.

Christianity has such a troubled time with Halloween. You will find churches that have absolutely no problem with Halloween, but drive to the other side of town (head east), and you will find a church that preaches against it as the most unholy of pagan celebrations (which would be Valentine’s Day, in my mind).

I’ve always found it funny when Christians host alternatives to Halloween…”Halloween Alternative”, “Harvest Festival”, “Reformation Night”, whatever. Typically these tend to harken back to a mid-1800’s type of celebration: hay rides, bobbing for apples, maybe even a quilting bee if you get lucky (and you are super ‘blessed’ if you can find a barn raising!). The idea is that these things are wholesome, safe, and nearly Christian due to their colonial American feel.

I understand these events serve as a social gathering for most people not to feel left out while all their pagan friends worship Satan, but normally it just feels forced and dumb. It’s especially bad if you are in a tight-knit community, or a church with only four or five families (or, worse, a church with one major family that has intermarried); it becomes just another night where you are hanging with the same old people doing the same old thing.

(Side note – It was always funny to me growing up that church leaders would tell us to invite our non-Christian friends to church and events. I had ZERO non-Christian friends because I attended church, youth group, and a Christian school. And we were never encouraged to go out into the world and make friends! Proverbs was normally quoted about how we should just have Christian friends; nevertheless, it was an intriguing contrast.)

Growing up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Halloween was the taboo holiday. Anything and everything to do with it must be purged from your life. We were actively encouraged to stay at home, turn out all the lights, and sit quietly in the basement the whole evening. Very rarely was there an alternative planned, and most of the time it didn’t even occur on Halloween proper. Of course, there were always “those families” that didn’t truly love Jesus and let their kids trick or treat and dress up as demonic deities, and to us who were denied those experiences, we always looked upon them with wonder and envy. And it was never so much for the lack of candy (Baptists LOVE candycorn…and the easiest way you can tell I’m not a Baptist now is that I HATE candycorn) but as for the experience. Going out with a group of friends, playing make believe, and knocking on people’s doors to see if they would join in the fun with you.

One October, around ’97 I think it was, our youth pastor preached a 3 part message on Sunday nights on witchcraft, demons, the occult…all those fun things. Looking back, I believe those sermons did immensely more harm than good to both me and my family (and the church)…damage that is still evident in our lives. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the handouts that were given for notes; I doubt I could reproduce what was on them, but this was such a big event in our church that I was looking forward to it for weeks and it made such a big impact afterward.

I understand my youth pastor was trying to do good; he legitimately believed Halloween, the video games Doom and Quake, the at the time brand new book Harry Potter, the TV show Buffy, and the rock band Korn, amongst others, were serious dangers that would destroy Christians and basically open them up to demonic possession. He was trying to warn us to the evil he clearly saw around us. We are called to be separate from the world, he argued, and as such must avoid any traces of witchcraft or the demonic realm. He was doing his duty, as he understood it.

But that was the problem right there. He was doing it as “he” understood it.

He basically engaged in fear mongering. He did not fully present the truth of anything he presented us with. Yes, there were Scriptural references, but they were very broad. Verses like Exodus 22:18 and passages like the Witch at Endor, plus a heaping dosage of Revelation, convinced us Biblically to have nothing to do with the occult. All well and good, all Biblical, I agree completely. One of the subtle dangers of Fundamentalism (but really, religion in general) is taking a very specific verse and applying it as broadly as possible, or even making it apply through man’s reasoning. So from there it’s only a short journey to misapplication.

Here’s how the logic, I mean, exegesis works:

Suffer not a witch to live. Witchcraft is therefore evil. Witches engage in Magic. Magic is therefore evil. Christians should not have anything to do with Magic. Be ye separate. (2 Cor. 6:17) So if a book has Magic in it (Harry Potter), you must avoid it, because it is evil. If a rock artist throws up the “devil’s horns”, you must avoid them, and besides, they are not singing psalms, hymn, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). A TV show (Buffy) actually has people portraying witches, using “white” and “dark” magic, calling upon demons to do their bidding; obviously, avoid it. We as Christians living separate from the world must also avoid all appearances of evil (1 Thess. 5:22 – note this is a translation error, but most Fundamentalists are KJV-Only or close to it – after all, if you can’t trust the words on the Bible in front of you, you can’t trust anything – sounds like a lot of YEC arguments…), so if a movie (goblins in Lord of the Rings), book (horror fiction covers), or person (trick or treaters) looks demonic, you must avoid them if you are to please the Lord. Halloween, ultimately, is nothing more than a celebration of evil.

All of these are not hypothetical situations I just created on the spot. I can name a person, place, or time to each event; I encountered them all, and possibly more that I’m forgetting.

Now, are there dangers? Yes. Are there evils or spirits or demons? Yes. Am I saying you should go out and expose yourself to the occult? No. Should you be wise and watchful? Yes.

But while the expression “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” is not Biblical (and therefore, they would argue, can’t be used), it is nonetheless true. To focus on one little element and decide the whole object is corrupt and therefore must be both avoided and preached against is wrong. Example – God waited until Noah’s time to wash the Earth out; he didn’t start with Eve. God does not look at us and sees one speck of sin and declares us evil and warns everyone to stay far away from us. He sees the good amongst the bad. He sees the life amongst the death. He sees His Spirit inside our evil sinful nature.

I am not against pastors being wise shepherds of their flocks, warning their congregation about the dangers of this world while upholding the Word of God as the standard for everything we should do. But I am against pastors deliberately (or even ignorantly) creating a false impression. If you cannot be honest about something, you shouldn’t be talking about it. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example: Sauron is evil, there is magic, people die, but if you focus on all those elements and neglect the heroic sacrifice, the noble character of the Fellowship, and how Good will always triumph over Evil, you have lied to your audience, deceived them, and a greater judgment will befall you.

The Bible is not a story of how one evil individual enslaved and subjected the world while murdering His creator; it is a story of a God who loved us so much that in spite of the wickedness of his fallen servant He nonetheless came upon this earth and sacrificed His life for our benefit! It’s a glorious story! Not one that’s morbid and evil and focused on how much wickedness has come into the world…it’s about light and sound and righteousness! Beauty in the midst of ugliness! A rose growing amongst the shit! A light in the darkness!

A GOD WHO LOVES US OVER AN ANGEL THAT HATES US! ...A God who died and lives for us over a people who would kill Him.

Chances are I will always be the person in the back of the auditorium who gets mad and frustrated as the preacher rails against the evils of this world. I will always be the person who wants to shout “YOU ARE WRONG!” as a man misrepresents something wonderful. I will be the one thinking “you ignorant fool” as the leader speaks about the ugliness of Satan as represented in the works of man. Whenever something is spoken of in ignorance, I get frustrated.

This is more than my desire to “have” my sin, as some would say. More than my desire to watch my Buffy, read my Harry Potter, or listen to my rock music. This is a fight for truth, for a truly Biblical, Godly mindset, that is honest and engaging with the world about it. A fight to have a Church that is equipped to think Biblically and critically about the world about them, to have them walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in a spirit of fear or intimidation or religion.

Halloween is an evil holiday. I believe that. There is a darkness that descends upon mankind, not just on this night, but on every night. The Bible says we fight against spirits and principalities (Eph. 6:12). Innocents will be murdered tonight as pagan men sacrifice them to their dark gods. This is a fact. But I doubt evil is strengthened on this one special night. Innocents are murdered every single day to the gods of glory, fame, wealth, and convenience. How ironic would it be if we all found out one day that Halloween is actually one of the “less wicked” days of the year?

This has been an extremely long and rambling blog post. I’ve just been flowing, and I know I did a terrible job at conveying what I need to say, and I know I haven’t touched upon everything. Really need more discipline in my writing.

A summary. Today is no more or less wicked than any other day of the year. If you are a leader or a pastor, do not deceive your congregation; be honest with them. Let the Holy Spirit guide and not fear. Parents, it’s up to you to determine what you and your family will do on this night; it is not up to your pastor. Whatever you do, do it in faith. Peers, tonight is not a night to pursue sin, but rather to continue to live in righteousness. Everyone, love Jesus.

Christians, avoid the occult, but know that that label does not apply to everything. Strictly speaking, the occult is anything that pertains to supernatural powers, and if you are Christian, you should already be walking in the supernatural each and every day through the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, you do battle with the supernatural every day. The occult is not a fictional depiction of witchcraft as seen in Harry Potter; the occult is more along the lines of the slaughter of an innocent in service to a dark god.

We are called to be watchful (1 Peter 5:8). We are called to share the gospel, to engage the world, to be salt and light. We are called to continue to learn, to grow in wisdom. God wants us to know what His Word says.

Halloween to some may be a celebration of evil; to me, it is more a celebration of myth and legend, because it does not accurately represent evil. But to Christians in general, if we are walking in the Spirit and knowledgeable about His Word, it is not a night that should be avoided. Rather, it is a night where Truth should be proclaimed.

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