Monday, November 2, 2015

A Christian Analysis of Halloween

A Christian analysis of Halloween

By Bernard James Mauser, Ph.D.

In pop culture Halloween is said to have connections with the occult, witchcraft, and pagan practices. Aware of this, some parents are weighing whether to allow their children to participate in Halloween. The great concern here has nothing to do with increased cavities, hyperactivity, childhood obesity, or candy laced with drugs or razors. It does have to do with a more ominous evil commonly associated with Halloween.

Those in the Judeo-Christian tradition place great importance on the historical events that mark many holy days. Christians celebrate the birth of the God-man Jesus each year during Christmas (Mt. 1). They celebrate the anniversary marking the death and resurrection of Jesus during Easter (Jn. 19-20). God has mandated that the Israelites remember the Passover each year (Ex. 13). The history of each of these marks something significant about what God has done for His people. It is the origin of each of events that accounts for the corresponding holidays (which is derived from holy days).   

Given this background for other days of celebration mentioned, what is the origin of Halloween? This question is not as simple as it may seem. The reason is only partly because of the difficulty in finding the origin documented in reliable historical sources. A greater difficulty comes from what the word Halloween means. Let me illustrate the difficulty with another example. If I ask, “What is the origin of the mouse?” You’d have to ask what do you mean by mouse (i.e., what are you referring to when you say mouse)? Do you mean the peripheral that allows me to move the cursor on my computer, or do you mean that little creature that cats like to chase? Halloween also has several meanings, such as:

1.     The origin comes from the Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced sah-win) once used to celebrate summer’s end. TO THE CELTS, this day marked the end of the harvest (which gave life), and the beginning of the time of death (of crops, vegetation, some animals, and sometimes human) due to the cold of the winter season. Some Celts also saw this as a time of increased ability for divination.
2.     It is used to signify the medieval Church’s celebration the day before All Saints Day or All Hallows Day to honor the memory of saints in heaven. November 1 is All Hallows Day and October 31 was All Hallows’ Eve.
3.     It refers to the day where, in accordance with what certain leaders planned, there are no religious overtones where community comes together to celebrate in a way to limit vandalism  (‘trick-or-treat’ is an American contribution that started in the second half of the 19th century which combined traditions of various cultures).  Community leaders did this to limit the ‘tricks’ and emphasize the ‘treats.’

So, given the various meanings, which do Christians want to avoid?

Certainly Christians ought to avoid the first meaning if they celebrate. Of course, its highly questionable that Christians are engaging in Halloween as understood in this first meaning today. What is left? The second and third ways of understanding in order to celebrate are in no way problematic.

Wait a second, isn’t there a link to the demonic in the first way that can be suggested in the other ways? This is the argument some make. If this is the case, it should be taken seriously. Why? The reason is clearly because occultism is condemned in Scripture. Whoa… wait a minute… lots of things are condemned in Scripture.

I think we can all agree that if Scripture says something is bad we should avoid it. What are some things that are forbidden for Christians EVERY day of the year- and not just Halloween?

1.     Participating in divination, sorcery, witchcraft, and other occult practices (Deut. 18:9-14).
2.     Women are to dress modestly (1 Tim. 2:9)
3.     We are to avoid drunkenness and sexual immorality (Gal. 5:21).
4.     Christians are to have nothing to do with darkness (Eph. 5).

These are several of universal admonitions about things Christians should avoid every day of the year (I’m pretty sure every day includes Halloween). One can acknowledge the reality of occultism and the fact that many in our country regularly participate in occult practices. These are dangerous and should be completely avoided by Christians.

Its important to note what occultism is. The word occult (not to be confused with a cult) means ‘secret’ or ‘hidden.’ Those that practice occultism are the initiated into the ‘secret’ arts.  Often witchcraft is considered to be occultism.

In discussing Halloween, we must be careful to avoid the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy says that the origin of something determines its truth or falsity (or in this case, whether it is good or bad). Keep in mind that the truth of something comes from whether it corresponds to reality. In the case of whether celebrating Halloween is good, one should have in mind what exactly Halloween is. For those Christians that celebrate it, some say that Halloween is simply a day for kids to dress up and get candy. If parents allow children to wear costumes and get treats any other day of the year, why keep your children from these things on this day?

Certainly the way children or adults dress is significant (as stated in #2 above). All should keep this in mind. For example, dressing up as demons may trivialize the reality and danger of the demonic realm. Similarly, dressing as a witch – yes, even an allegedly ‘good’ witch (Scripture says ALL witchcraft is evil) – can promote the idea in our children that witchcraft is harmless fantasy. The Bible does not entertain any idea of witchcraft as innocent or fun. Christians should be wise in how they dress. They can also use Halloween as a day to educate their children about the spiritual forces of darkness that battle against the Christian. On Halloween and every other day of the year remember: the way people dress matters.

Christians should realize that ‘demonic’ forces have no extra power on Halloween. If you think this way, is there a chance that you’re not giving to God what is God’s? After all, every day and all the earth belong to the Lord (Ps. 24:1). Christians should be careful not to give to the devil what belongs to the Lord alone.

A valuable question that can be raised is whether the origin of Halloween is intrinsic to it. In other words, can you participate in Halloween without linking the ‘celebration’ to any alleged pagan origin? Is it possible to make Halloween about something else? Can it simply be a special day to get dressed up and receive candy? There are certainly lots of people that celebrate Christmas without linking it to the significant event it marks for Christians. If non-Christians can do this for Christmas, is it not equally legitimate for Christians to separate the ‘pagan’ meaning mentioned above from their participation in Halloween? Again, these questions are for each individual to weigh.

Romans 14 provides guidance about matters that fall into a complex middle ground about which Christians disagree. The acknowledgement of middle ground doesn’t mean there is no right or wrong. There are plenty of areas that are not complicated and which are absolutely forbidden (worshipping other gods, murder, etc.). On the contrary, Romans 14 acknowledges the many dimensions of reality and that certain things are left to each individual to decide. If one invokes the celebration of Halloween as an area belonging to Romans 14, then participation is best left to each person’s (or the parents’ in the case of children) conscience. We are told that there are certain debated issues between believers that are not clearly answered in Scripture to which each person must have a clear conscience before the Lord (and it is to Him that we are to ultimately give an account). One major area of guidance from Romans 14 is that we are to do nothing to cause a weaker brother to stumble.

Personally, I know of Christians that use this day for evangelism and education about the Christianity. It provides an opportunity to discuss the triumph of light over darkness, of life over death, and of the Christian worldview over the realm of the occult. Shouldn’t we seize every opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with unbelievers?

What are things in every day life that can cause people to stumble? Some may struggle with drugs, lust, gambling, idolatry, or even occultism. Thus, we must not expose our weaker brothers (or sisters) to things that cause them to sin.

One concern of our family is that we desire to protect our children from certain evils. Our kids are sensitive to scary images and easily have nightmares when they've seen something scary. Due to this, we are careful in what we expose them to in media as well as in public (some costumes are absolutely terrifying to them). The exposure to different amounts of evil is something that each family needs to decide for themselves (after all, we can't escape from all evil or we'd need to leave this world). 

At the end of the day, remember three things: do everything in love, test all things, and hold fast to what is good. (1 Cor. 16; 1 Thess. 5:21). 

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