Thursday, October 14, 2010

Regarding Halloween III

Halloween now is different than Halloween then

Halloween, in our contemporary context, is really only about two important things: kids and candy.

For most children there is no religious significance involved in either the day itself or in such elements as pumpkins or costumes. It’s true that such things as jack-o’-lanterns, bonfires and black cats, which are part of the Halloween tradition, have roots in pre-Christian activities. But when children go trick-or-treating or visit haunted houses, they are not thinking about participating in any religious festivities at all. They are just trying to have fun.

All of this isn’t to say, of course, that there are no occult overtones to modern-day celebrations of Halloween. It does have some contemporary significance to wiccans and druids, and those elements, which could be considered anti-Christian, should most certainly be avoided.

According to the Bible, the world of the occult is real and energized by demonic powers that must be recognized and resisted by Christians because our beliefs and practices bear consequences in this world and in the next. However, there is a clear difference between the real occult practices of shamanism, magic, and divination and the contemporary practice of trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and bobbing for apples. Since the door of the occult world must be entered through human interest and initiative, general Halloween practices most people participate in do not draw them into occult activities.

Despite the historical roots of Halloween, all it takes for us to dissociate the Halloween we have now from Halloween then is a doorbell and a digital camera.

It’s hard to believe that the systematic collection of candy in a given neighborhood by "Spider-Man" and his "Rugrat" friends constitutes the promotion of an occult worldview or demonic racketeering.

Even the recognized Christian authority on cults and the occult, Walter Martin, said: If Big Bird comes to my door, he's definitely going to get a treat.

I’m not saying all of this in order to engage in some theological hairsplitting, I’m simply trying to help us all make logical and moral distinctions. Obviously if anything about Halloween feels weird or bad or violates your convictions somehow, then don’t get involved. But most Christians believe they can engage Halloween as a purely secular day of amusement, and that seems pretty consistent with our beliefs about other forms of ‘mindless entertainment’ like movies, video games, Facebook, and sports. They have no redeeming cosmic features – they’re just fun.

But condemning trick-or-treating outright on the basis that Halloween has pagan origins is a little inconsistent with many of our other moral choices. Halloween has dark roots, true, but so do Christmas (and it’s association with Saturnalia), Astronomy (now regarded as a credible science, but was originally a cultic system unto itself), and any kind of covenant (in the ancient world it was not only the Israelites who made covenants, nor was it likely that they were the first).

We cannot evaluate something solely in terms of its origin, without giving appropriate consideration to how it has changed or evolved in contemporary practice.

While the Bible expressly forbids a believer's involvement in certain pagan and/or occult practices (see Deuteronomy 18.9-13), Halloween for the vast majority of American families has nothing to do with the practice of, or belief in, occultism. Rather, this celebration gives children an opportunity to dress up in funny, spooky, and outrageous costumes and accumulate candy by the pillowcase.

The Apostle Paul deals with these kinds of issues when he addresses meat offered to pagan idols. Is it wrong for the Christian, who doesn't believe in the false gods to whom the meat was offered, to eat meat offered to idols?

Here's Paul's advice:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall

1 Corinthians 8:4-13

If Paul were alive today, he might write something like:

Don't worry about the ancient association of these holidays with paganism since we know there are no gods of sun and death, and that the dead don't roam the earth. You're not appeasing Samhain when you go "trick-or-treating" or sacrificing to the gods by carving a jack-o-lantern. But if your family or friends have reservations about these things, don't encourage them to do something they feel is "sinful."

Again, my aim in writing this is not to convince everyone that they should dress up like Dracula on October 31. I only want to gently remind us that there is nothing to be afraid of, and no reason to be angry, on Halloween.

Engage at your leisure.

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