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Christian Values on Halloween

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More and more I see local churches replacing Halloween with a generic harvest festival or even more egregious, Reformation Day where they celebrate the achievements of Martin Luther and rampant sectarianism. And of course, at the crazy extreme many self-righteous christians are rejecting the day alltogether as too symbolic of paganism which to their minds is only a veneer of ancient culture spread thinly over the reality of devil-worship. We all know that Halloween started out as a pagan holiday, but why does that immediately make it evil in the minds of so many? Pagans weren’t devil worshippers and they weren’t monsters and they’ve contributed a great deal to our culture. Perhaps their ancient traditions might deserve a day of recognition rather than being tarred with the brush of Satanism and discarded.

I’ve got a different idea of how christians should deal with Halloween. It seems to me that it would be a perfect day of atonement for them. The church is supposed to teach humility and responsibility, so perhaps its time that christians as a whole, regardless of sect, acknowledge the excesses of their faith and make amends for some of those outrages.

Let’s start with the Catholics. Halloween is a perfect symbol of their past history as a cannibalistic cult which consumed other religions, absorbing and perverting their holy days – like Halloween – and then persecuting their members and enslaving them. From the time of Rome into the modern era the Catholic church practiced aggressive syncretism, moving their own holidays to coincide with major events of the pagan year to make conversion less of a change for their missionary targets. They even changed basic elements of the faith, turning the Virgin Mary into a mother goddess figure, almost co-equal with Jesus in order to appeal to cultures with mother goddess based religions. All of this with the aim of seducing people away from their traditional beliefs, suppressing their cultural traditions and ultimately making them dependent on the church not only for faith, but in many cases economically in a state of literal serfdom to religious institutions which owned huge amounts of land and required peasant labor to make the land profitable. Perhaps on Halloween Catholics could spend a little time apologizing to all of our ancestors for this history of exploitation and oppression.

Then there are the protestent sects, starting with Martin Luther and his followers who in addition to reforming the church also displayed a particular bloodthirsty zeal for stamping out any kind of religious deviation even where it existed only in their imagination. It is their Reformation which brought us the Witch Craze in Europe and later in America, with thousands tortured, burnt and hanged. To a large extent they are even responsible for the crimes of the Catholic Inquisition, because it gained great power in response to the pressure put on the church in response to protestantism. Most of the witches condemned during this era were not practicing pagans or practicing witches or anything but crazy old women who irritated their neighbors and fit the stereotypical image of the witch. Nonetheless they were dragged in and tortured, forced to give confessions and name those who consorted with the devil with them, and then those innocents were hauled in too and more forced confessions would lead to more accusations and ultimately more torture and murder of the innocent. Maybe the Episcopalians and Anglicans should apologize for the outrages of Matthew Hopkins the self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ of England. American protestants can remember those killed and imprisoned in the Salem Witch Trials. And perhaps Lutherans should make amends for the 60,000 supposed witches killed in Germany in the great Witch Craze of the 16th century.

The spriit of the witch hunt isn’t exactly gone today. Modern christian extremists – particularly American fundamentalists – continue to ostracize, persecute and stygmatize those who don’t want to conform to their ideas of faith and morality. The attacks on Halloween are part of this, but it includes their hatred of homosexuals, neo-pagans, moslems, unwed-mothers, fornicators, secularists and even other christian sects, especially Catholics. Their attempts to eliminate Halloween are characteristic of this intolerance of anything which isn’t sufficiently sanctimonious. Perhaps they could set Halloween aside as a day to do something unfamiliar – practice a bit of tolerance and the forgotten value of christian charity.

Of course, the real victims of all of this are the kids. For them Halloween isn’t about religion, it’s about fun and dressing up and candy. These are valuable parts of childhood, and those who want to do away with the traditions of the holiday are doing so at the expense of the joys which make childhood special. Intolerance against groups and religions is part of history, but when the weight of that bigotry falls on our kids today then it has gone too far. The desire to insert religion into every aspect of life is a sickness. It causes people to be unable to differentiate between harmless fun and the seduction of the devil. People who can’t draw that line probably shouldn’t be in positions where they can make decisions like changing Halloween into a harvest festival or banishing trick or treating to the local mall. They may think of themselves as godly, but I just think of them as killjoys.

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About Dave Nalle

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    I’m heading out to go trick-or-treating later tonight — with my church.

    So not all Christians are crazy. Most bought into the story Mike Warnke was selling. He claimed to be an ex-satanist and sold a lot of people a bill of goods for years before he was exposed by a Christian investigative magazine. As the memory of his nonsense fades, I think more Christians will unclench.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    This is a high Holy Day for Wiccans. It is also a high Holy Day in the Gay Community. Therefore, it must be a day dedicated to the Devil. The same could be said for Christmas and Easter as they correspond with Druid, pagan and wiccan holy days as well. I think I’ll just stick with Arbor Day. There seems to be no controversy in loving trees. Unless, of course, you’re an employee of Georgia-Pacific.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I didn’t mention it in the article, but recent reading I’ve done suggests that the entire ‘razoblade apple’ urban legend was originated by and promulgated by Christians trying to steer people away from trick or treating through fearmongering.

    And Silas, Arbor day sounds pretty damned paganistic to me.

    Dave

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    Thanksgiving, however, is truly a Christian holiday, for that was the day God killed the evil Indians.

    One way ticket to hell please, aisle seat.

  • http://adreamersholiday.blogspot.com Lee Richards

    Spot on the target, Dave. Well-done!
    Some are merely holier-than-thou killjoys, some well-intentioned but completely misguided, some actually deranged on the subject of religion, and all of them together are largely uninformed or unconcerned about the history of religion and its abuses through the ages. Like Billy Graham, they will tell you that knowledge and theology are not as important-faith is all that matters. (And, naturally, their faith is the “right” one.) Superstition, ignorance and illogic in thought and action obviously is accepted happily by many in the name of religion.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Arbor Day does belong to the druids, according to an old episode of “M*A*S*H”.

    When creating a personnel file for the imaginary Capt. Tuttle,

    Hawkeye: “Let’s make him a Druid.”
    Radar: “What’s that?”
    Hawkeye: “They worship trees.”

  • http://www.vespaquest.com Justene

    When I taught elementary Catholic religion Halloween was the day we talked about purgatory.

  • http://ezsgblog.com/vtdawson/index.php Bennett

    Good one, Dave. Between religion and insurance companies, all the really fun things are being cancelled, fenced off, or filled in.

    Unclenching is long overdue

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    I recall in my Catholic school days having to dress as a saint on Halloween (since the next day was All Saints Day). My father was quite good at making things and one year I went as St. Michael (complete with sword and shield).

    It was a creative way around the Halloween problem for the school. I don’t see anything wrong with Halloween these days. Kids have lots of fun (parents do too). As usual, there are those who look for any sick reason to twist things into good and evil and all that nonsense.

    Oh, and El Bicho, that Captain Tuttle episode is one of my favorite ones from M*A*S*H.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    I briefly attended a fundamentalist Christian school in the late 1960s, and even they celebrated Hallowe’en with goblins, ghouls, devils, witches, etc. The idea that it’s Satanic comes from the fringe beyond the religious fringe, as well as their opposites: pagans, Wiccans, Satanists — and UNICEF, which infected a generation of children with that cornball humanist idea that instead of going out and having a good time they really ought to be out helping the world’s poor. It’s a wholesome American custom that’s been unfortunately bastardized by people with one agenda or another.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    We just got back from trick-or-treating, and I heard some horror stories from other parents of Halloween behavior, particular stories of houses where the residents harangued small children for engaging in satanism when they appeared at the door. Pretty much symptomatic of what I was talking about in the article.

    Dave

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Good grief. What freakin’ neighborhood do you live in? Sounds like someone needs a flaming bag of poo on the doorstep.

    Victor, I had to look online to remember it was from M*A*S*H, but those lines have been ingrained in my head and always provide a chuckle.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    I think I’ll go out as Christ next year complete with Cross and a couple of veiled wailing women in tow.

  • http://sterfish.blogspot.com Sterfish

    Some of my fondest Halloween memories actually involve Christian places. I went to a Catholic school for my elementary years. Every year, around Halloween, the 8th graders put on a Haunted House (not a Hell House) complete with people in masks and scary music.

    Also, as a kid, no Halloween night would be complete without a visit to our church (a Baptist church) for the annual Halloween party. The church gave kids candy and other treats and we engaged in various Halloween games as well.

  • Dave Nalle

    They sound like memories of a more rational age. What has taken us from those days to these? Why did institutions which were once reasonable, but religious, become fanatical and irrational?

    Dave

  • http://www.pippensqueak.blogspot.com gypsyman

    Good one Dave. It seems everywhere you look today someone’s trying to co-opt something to suit their own needs. Whether its the neo-pagens making Halloween some sort of religious rite, or the whackos on the other end doing what you’re talking about. They’re all sort of pathetic and sad.

    It’s almost funny how hard people are working to take the fun out of life.

  • http://fsdfsd@aol.com Disco Stu

    I think you’re a little off base Dave. The Christians I know are cultural traditionalists and they see no problem at all with allowing little kids to dress up and have some fun on Halloween.

    It’s the so called “progressives” that have a problem with Halloween. I guess they couldn’t wait to attack Christmas this year so they decided to get an early start with Halloween. Most likely they will need something in between to tide them over so I bet they’ll try and make Thanksgiving go away to because a Holiday that celebrates the plight of native americans in in early america is offensive.

    You know what I’m offended by? Political correctness and so called “progressive” values. When do I get to start dictating to everyone else what they can and can’t celebrate as a holiday.

    These whackjobs are a fringe minoriity yet the ruin it for the rest of us. They say we can’t celebrate xmas or halloween in the public schools but then they turn around and explain to our 10 year old kids how wonderful gay sex is and how destructive a traditional 2 sex nuclear family. I say enough is enough. it’s time the rest of decent moral Americans tell these perverted degenerates that we won’t tolerate thier attempts to brainwash our children in an attempt to further thier putrid agenda.

    Who’s with me?

  • G. Oren

    Good post Dave, Phil makes a good comment about Mike Warnke – I still have a copy of his tape about Halloween being Satan’s holiday etc.. (purchased around 1987 – at the beginning of my charismatic phase). It is curious what has happened in the past 30 years or so with regard to the evangelical christian attitude toward halloween. I think the desire to reject the traditional fun of halloween comes from the notion that the “Church” in the good-ole-USA is being overwhelmed by worldliness and the temptations of the devil etc.. It is an attempt to be separate and distinct from the “world”, in a rather painless way. They would say why dabble and play around with such dangerous ideas of evil, why try to make it attractive? There is also a kind of faddism in the evangelical community that makes certain things the cause of the moment – bashing halloween, KISS, heavy-metal-rock in general, back-masking on rock albums. We don’t lack for folks with great imaginations and no commonsense.

    Disco Stu, I’d agree with you on the progressives agenda for education, but I don’t think they have much problem with halloween – its a bible thumper problem.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    If ‘faddism’ characterizes the evangelical community then perhaps they’ve kind of lost track of what they’re doing. Last I checked serious evangelical christianity shouldn’t be a movement of fads, but rather of deep and abiding faith in god and the bible. When they start getting concerned with fads and in particular with outward display of religious zeal, then they are moving away from faith and into the world of religiosity.

    And Stu, political correctness is just as offensive. I almost wrote an entirely different article about a family we know who won’t let their son dress up as a soldier or cowboy for halloween because he’d want to carry a gun, but I just couldn’t flesh that particular bit of craziness out into a full-length article.

    Dave

  • Mark

    Thanks Dave, someone had to say it!

    And Stu, What the hell is wrong with you? You are the reason Christianity has a bad name. What makes you think you can just make things up like “Whackjob fringe minorities are telling 10 year olds how wonderful gay sex is” and “How destructive a traditional two sex nuclear family is”. Trying to gain support for your faith through imagined and contrived fear tactics is what’s destroying our morals. You are teaching lying as positive virtue.

    In my mind, you are the intolerant perverted degenerate attempting to brainwash our children in an attempt to further your putrid agenda.

    Take a breath and listen to your God, instead of doing all the talking. You’ll be a better person for it. I’ll bet your friends and family will also say you are a poor listener that can’t handle criticizm

  • http://www.gnomestories.com parker

    I thought I might add to this discussion the idea that safety has changed the face of halloween more than religion. My eight year old cannot wear a costume to school because they are afraid of weapons, not because they are afraid of the church. The churches have dramatically stepped up to the plate in offering halloween events so the kids will be safe, not to push their agenda.

  • http://www.margaretlcarter.com Margaret

    Lots of reasonable points in your essay. To our abiding shame, it’s certainly true that Christianity has been used as an excuse for many terrible acts. One of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis, says (I believe in THE FOUR LOVES) that we can’t expect the world to take us seriously until the church publicly disowns a great portion of her history. And I’m with you totally on what nonsense those reactions against Halloween are. For goodness’ sake, any historically aware Christian group ought to realize that dressing up as demons and evil spirits on All Hallows’ Eve isn’t meant to glorify evil, but to defy it through mockery. (See Lewis’ comments on the Devil’s lack of a sense of humor, in THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS.) However, as an Anglican Christian, I’m all for syncretism in the sense you describe. If it’s true that God created the universe and therefore all good things in all times and places come from Him/Her, then it’s perfectly legitimate for Christianity to incorporate the innocent and attractive features of the religious and cultural practices that came before. Indeed, it could hardly claim to be the “true” and “universal” religion if it didn’t incorporate these elements. So bring on the Easter Bunny and the Yule log!

  • Nancy

    Excellent blog, Dave; also very entertaining. Silas, you don’t have to worship a whole tree: you can just stick with bushes if you don’t want to be a high-church arborist.

    Halloween is just a holiday to cut loose, wear costumes, & be who/what you’d like to be – a princess, a cowboy – or Christ on the Cross, I guess, if you’re into that, complete w/wailing women (Silas, I nearly choked to death laughing on that one; you should warn people!). For kids, it’s a chance if they live in ‘safe’ neighborhoods, to run around in the dark, past their bedtimes, & scare each other with stories & jumping out of bushes – and of course, to collect candy & show off to the neighbors. I myself get a charge out of dressing up, rigging my door so it opens by pulling a string … and there’s NO ONE THERE – untilIjumpoutatthem and they SCREAM! And come back for more, or stay to watch the next crew get theirs. The grownups enjoy the performance, too. The only time my show was spoiled was by the 6-year-old next door, who watched me howl & scream in his face with total calm, then said, “that’s pretty good, Miss Nancy”.

    My evangelical Christian neighbors don’t like or encourage it, & simply keep their outside lights turned off, which is sensible & fine w/all concerned. They shouldn’t have to participate if they don’t want to.

    But those of us who do, sure have fun.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>I thought I might add to this discussion the idea that safety has changed the face of halloween more than religion. My eight year old cannot wear a costume to school because they are afraid of weapons, not because they are afraid of the church. The churches have dramatically stepped up to the plate in offering halloween events so the kids will be safe, not to push their agenda.<< That’s a whole other issue, and goes directly to what Disco Stu was saying. The threat of weapons in school is – in most instances – a boogeyman dreamt up by leftist teachers and administrators not really to increase security which isn’t an issue at most schools, but to stygmatize weapons of all sorts. By ostracizing the toy gun and the pocket knife they ingrain in kids the idea that being armed is a bad thing and make them more accepting of that message when they get older. With the exception of a small number of problem schools there’s no real danger if kids bring a toy gun or a pen knife to school. I carried a pocketknife of some sort – including a large lockbladed knife in high school – from the time I was 6 and no one ever had a single problem with it. And I didn’t stab anyone randomly either. I know a couple of older folks who live in the small town I live in now who grew up in a time when the local school had gun racks in the corners of the classrooms and farm kids carried guns to school – for rattlesnakes and wild animals rather than banditos. Oddly, no random shootings at school in those days. Dave

  • Nancy

    Society has gotten more squirrely since then, Dave. Unfortunately, these days one can’t predict, else Columbine wouldn’t have happened. That was in Colorado, where one would think kids would grow up w/handling guns & gun safety. It only takes one nutcase.

  • Dave Nalle

    It may only take one nutcase, but banning pocket knives and toy guns does not in fact stop events like Columbine where the boys brought the guns – and bombs – to school specifically for the purpose of killing people. No policy against pocket knives was going to stop them.

    Dave

  • http://pewview.mu.nu Warren

    This religious nut took his daughter trick or treating. She was Cinderella — my wife made the costume.

    AND I celebrated Reformation Day, too. I keep threatening to combine the holidays, and go out Trick or Treating dressed as Martin Luther. If someone doesn’t give me candy, I’ll tack a copy of the 95 Theses to their forehead.

    FWIW, David, Luther’s intention was far from a schism. He wanted to reform the existing church. They wouldn’t listen, and he wouldn’t stay in a church that he felt had gone apostate. Ironically, the Catholic Church ended up making many of the reforms that Luther wanted, but by then it was too late.

  • Dave Nalle

    Don’t forget that Luther also wanted chicks.

    Dave

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Dave,

    This post was chosen by an editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why. Put a graphic button on your page.

    And thank you
    – Temple

  • http://expatriatephotoblog.blogspot.com alpha

    Dave hit the nail on the head as usual. Good post. Here in Mexico Halloween is a small, commercial day, the (co-opted) Day of the Dead remains religious in a pagan celebration of ancestors whose graves are visited with food and gifts, cemeteries filled with families and eating and the graven images of tombs here. I am immune but it seems prererable to venerate dead antecedents than to support Walmart’s sales.

    As for the religious extremists…They rate with those who put razorblades in apples (is that still an American pastime?)

  • Dave Nalle

    Dia de los Muertos is very cool. I’m a big fan of the Calavera cartoons of Posada from the revolutionary period as well.

    As for the razor blades in the apples, I think that may be almost entirely urban legend.

    Dave