Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Regarding Halloween I


How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Psalm 137.4

I used to love trick-or-treating as a little kid. Every year, my best friend Geoff Wright and I would walk around for hours in our suburban neighborhood collecting candy and getting into trouble. We’d eat ourselves into a coma and laugh and run around.

It was awesome.

Since I lived in the same house from first grade until my senior year of high school, Geoff and I became very familiar with all the homes in our area. We knew which ones gave lots of candy (so cool), which ones gave money (lazy, but still cool), and which ones gave out apples (lame, uncool, and oddly industrious).

But there were always a few homes, which on Halloween were completely dark. They looked abandoned, foreboding, and uninviting. I always just thought these homes were for sale or that the owners were out somewhere celebrating. But one night I clearly remember a middle-aged couple peeking out from behind their curtains, telling us Don’t even think about it as we crossed over their lawn.

I asked Geoff: What’s their problem?

He told me: They’re Christians.

This was a strange concept for me. I was a Christian, albeit a young one (just 7 or 8 years old at the time, old enough to understand “Christian” but too young to understand there was more than one kind). Furthermore, my dad was a pastor, and if there was something Christians didn’t do I felt pretty confident that he would tell me.

Well, I’m a Christian, I told Geoff.

Yeah, he said, but you don’t turn off your lights.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that, concerning Halloween, there are two kinds of Christians: lights on people and lights off people.

Christian people who leave the lights on engage Halloween (I’m intentionally avoiding the term ‘celebrate’ here). They may still have reservations about some of the pagan roots of Halloween, or about all the horror movies or spooky stuff in the news, but they love their community and celebrate life and enjoy getting to see little kids in costumes pander for sweets.

Christian people who turn their lights off distance themselves from Halloween completely. They tend to think of the event as a kind of soft glorification of demons and witches (or, sometimes, a very strong glorification) and believe that they should keep themselves completely free from any involvement whatsoever on a moral, ethical, and scriptural basis.

Many Christians have concerns about Halloween – about its origins with pagan and occult practices, about the scary movies that always seem to be released around October, and about the general atmosphere of fear and terror associated with the event – and in many cases those fears are entirely justified. Like anything, Halloween is a complex issue with numerous aspects to it which require discernment. Some Christians want to abolish the event altogether, while others consider it all right for their children to go trick-or-treating, so long as they don’t wear a scary costume.

Addressing common questions about this scary holiday may alleviate some of the concerns that surround it.

Please allow me to be completely candid: I like Halloween. I know that many good and godly people have strong feelings against Halloween, believing it to be satanically inspired and rooted in pagan idolatrous practices. I’m not one of those people. I don’t mean to suggest, by taking a contrary opinion, that those who believe differently than I do are foolish somehow or uneducated, but in my opinion the “evil” many people often associate with Halloween has been greatly exaggerated.

But all the fear associated with Halloween often results in three problematic behaviors:

we speak hatefully,

we argue relentlessly,

we fantasize apocalyptically.

Allow me to explain what I mean, and why I believe it is so destructive.

First, when good Christian people allow themselves to become alarmed about Halloween they tend to act as if everyone who isn’t likewise alarmed is either willfully ignorant of the demonic activity surrounding Halloween or they are complicit with it somehow. Because they are so certain that Halloween is spiritually evil, they only permit themselves these two intellectual options, forcing them to regard everyone with contrary beliefs as either adversaries or imbeciles, worthy in either case of aggressive behavior and scorn.

Since I am both a pastor and Halloween enjoyer, I am often criticized and lambasted by otherwise charitable people who think that I must never have learned about the pagan roots of the evening. And so they grab me and try to shake some sense into me. However, once they discover that I’ve already heard these historical truths, they then get concerned that I am working secretly for the same powers they are opposing. One woman said to me, albeit several years ago in a different place, “You have chosen to align yourself with Satan.”

Allow me to repeat what I said then: “No, ma’am, I wholeheartedly have not.”

For my part, I have resolved to love and serve Jesus with all my heart including – and perhaps especially – on October 31st, a day I intentionally bring the light of Christ into a dark world and shine brightly.

This, then, is the often-unexplored intellectual option for Christians once confronted with the dark roots of Halloween: to not be worried.

I know Halloween has a dark past (I’ll cover that later in this paper). I know there are still some who choose to cultivate that darkness in a variety of ways. I know, also, that I have neither a share nor a desire to celebrate that darkness. That darkness cannot harm me. That darkness does not control me. I am called, equipped, and appointed by God to shine light into that darkness. The best way I know to do this is by being there myself, and bringing love and laughter and happiness and holiness with me.

I am an uncontaminated participant.

Second, and this of course relates to the first (as they all must inevitably), our fear compels us to argue relentlessly about our differences of opinion on biblical grey matters.

The Bible does not speak about Halloween, and anything we may choose to interpret from the Bible in light of Halloween is conjecture at best. It is a “grey” area, meaning a question of individual conscience – like personal consumption of alcohol or musical preference. Halloween is, to put it simply, an issue upon which we must often ‘agree to disagree.’

But we usually don’t. We either love Halloween and are resentful of those who demonize it, or we think Halloween is demonic and are indignant with those who seek to explain it away. Both sides tend to gird up their intellectual loins and drop the gloves for every fight that can be fought on the issue.

This should not be the case. You can never change anyone’s mind about anything by arguing. Also the very act of arguing is itself likely to cause both sides to “absolutize” their opinions and make enemies of those with differing perspectives.

My friend Shawn, a college student I used to pastor, was a great example of how to avoid arguing over grey issues. He and I had different opinions on a number of biblical issues and I always wanted to argue about them, while Shawn never did (despite being incredibly astute and very well read). We disagreed about predestination, tongues and interpretation, the eschaton, alcohol, human sexuality, and a host of other issues. Yet, Shawn somehow understood that our varying perspectives on these matters didn’t have to make us enemies, and that he didn’t have to attend another church.

I always admired that about him and have used him as an example of how to discover and share our convictions respectfully. Too many of us do the opposite, but our churches need more Shawns.

Third, we tend to fantasize apocalyptically when we’re afraid of what Halloween might mean. Now, I don’t want to make fun of or lampoon this phenomenon, but I have frequently noticed that when Halloween, and its increasing popularity and holiday market share, is brought up, it is used as justification for the belief that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, that everything is worse than it used to be, that the world is no longer safe, that Christians are no longer welcome in it, and that we’re just a short step from the Great Tribulation during which we will be so heavily persecuted for our faith that we will likely either be imprisoned or killed.

None of that is true. What is true is that the world has always had, and will always have (until God’s great eschatological clean up), good people with some evil mixed inside of them. Which is to say all of us. And it’s also true that the world has great goodness in it now, though there is much evil around us, and evil makes for better news so they show it more frequently on Fox and CNN.

However, we cannot let the evil in the world dictate

when we keep our lights on.

We need to stop hating others.

We need to stop bickering.

We need to stop forecasting gloom and doom.

Here then, is what I’m really hoping to achieve with this little paper:

I don’t want you to be afraid.

I don’t want you to be angry.

This paper explores the pagan roots of Halloween, its contemporary manifestations, and gives suggestions for how to think though the issue of whether or not to participate in Halloween and to what degree. Believe what you will about Halloween, but whatever you do, decide first that you don’t have to be afraid of Halloween, nor do you have to be angry about it.

Decide that – no matter what – you’re going to keep your lights on.

Perfect love casts out all fear.

1 John 4.18

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