The Black And White Of Halloween

The only genuinely “gray” issue described in the Bible was the decision whether or not to eat meat offered to idols, and that, as it turned out, wasn’t gray at all.

Paul brought the issue up in his letter to the Corinthian church. He said, in essence, idols are nothing but a hunk of wood or metal shaped by man. They have no power and offer the Christian no threat. Therefore meat offered to them is not tainted or evil and eating of it is not an endorsement of the false gods.

However, some people who are not strong in their faith may be swayed into idol worship. If they see a mature Christian eating meat offered to idols, they may feel a freedom to involve themselves with the idol worshiping culture and eventually slip into paganism.

Consequently, Paul says, for the sake of these vulnerable Christians, a mature Christian should stay away from meat offered to idols.

However, that doesn’t mean he has to go to the extreme and conduct an investigation every time he eats at someone else’s house. He doesn’t need to ask a potential host before accepting an invitation if the menu includes any idol meat.

If on the other hand, someone volunteers that information, the mature believer, for the sake of the one telling him, was to refrain from eating. (See I Corinthians 10:19-33).

Acts 21:25 sums up the position of the church leaders in Jerusalem:

“But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (emphasis mine).

Now how am I tying this discussion with Halloween? In yesterday’s post, I suggested that celebrating Halloween is a genuinely biblical gray area (unlike other issues that have been shoved into this category today because of our cultural tendencies – i. e. A Christian shouldn’t say dang because a weak believer might then think it’s OK to swear.)

Without a doubt, Halloween has pagan underpinnings (see Wikipedia), though Catholics and Anglicans also see it as having religious connotations. What’s a believer to do?

Is this day wicked because pagans hundreds of years ago said it was? Are all the trappings and traditions associated with it evil because they once were (and in some circles, still are) wrapped in pagan worship?

Or, as C. S. Lewis believed about myth, can Halloween be “redeemed” because of Christ’s work on the cross? Can Christians use the holiday, as Morgan suggested in her comment to yesterday’s post, to reach out to our neighbors and show the love of Christ?

A third option. Can Halloween be as innocuous as, say, video games? 😈

Ah-ha! Most people know there are video games and there are EVIL video games. Seriously.

Might not Halloween be viewed in the same way? Some people enjoy it as a cultural event, a fun time with family or friends, a chance to create memories around traditions such as carving a pumpkin or dressing up in a costume. Others see the side of Halloween that promotes violence and gore and glorifies evil spirits.

Both are right. Both are present in the celebration. Consequently, a believer might choose to stay away from the holiday altogether or to participate in the “sanitized” version of it.

The key thing in what a Christian decides about Halloween, I think, is grace, not legalism. What I decide does not have to be what my neighbor decides. In other words, if I choose to open my door, distribute candy and hand out tracts in the process, I must not look down my nose at my Christian brother who only hands out candy.

Nor should the believer who decides to stay away from the holiday hang a sign on their door chastising everyone else for choosing to celebrate it. Conversely, the Christian who celebrates Halloween with gusto must not treat those staying away from the holiday or substituting a harvest festival for it with a superior attitude.

The only movement away from a personally held belief about the holiday should be by a mature Christian on behalf of a believer who could be at risk, either because of violent images or pagan influences. I think that covers many parents and teachers. For them, Halloween may end up, just like the “gray” area in the Bible, being pretty black and white.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 Comments

  1. Becky,

    Before I became a Christian 27 years ago, I was into the occult. I can tell you with certainty, that Halloween is a day/night of extreme evil in many occult circles. It is a “high holy day,” and really bad things happen. Knowing this and other things I will not detail here, there is no way that I could view it as a gray area, nor could I ever celebrate it in any way. I don’t even acknowledge it. Everyone has to do what they are led to do, of course. But my opinion, a sanitized version of Halloween is like participating in something just a little bit evil – but evil nonetheless. Just my opinion. 🙂

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  2. I think Halloween is like alcohol. There are some people who should stay away from it completely and some people for whom it is okay, but only to a point. I think that people who have come out of the occult, such as the poster above me, should definitely not participate in Halloween – just as a recovering alcoholic should not consume alcohol. But their Halloween experience is doubtless very different from that of the majority of Americans. My Halloween experience growing up was to dress up like a princess and go to a harvest party at my church (my mom didn’t think trick-or-treating was safe). If you did that on any other day of the year, nobody would think that was bad. So is it bad because it’s somehow connected to practices that I had no part in and, frankly, didn’t even know about? How does that work exactly – were my actions evil because somebody else somewhere in the world was doing something evil on the same day? Is the *day* October 31 itself evil? I believe every day of the year belongs to God; Satan can try to get control, but he doesn’t own anything. (By the way, as I understand it, Halloween is and has always been a Catholic holiday, All Hallows Eve; the pagan holiday it attempted to replace is Samhain).

    I believe that celebrating Halloween can be innocent or can be evil, and I think the difference depends on what *you* do, not on what other people do. But then, I’ve always been of the opinion that worship and my relationship with God depend on *my* heart and not somebody else’s. I think some things people do on Halloween are definitely bad, and other things that are definitely stupid, and personally I’ve never found scaring myself entertaining so I stay away from that. But I’m a big fan of both dressing up and of candy, and I unite the two as often as I can get away with it.

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  3. Heh! Becky, I think that last paragraph hit the nail on the head! We had kids to train up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

    For us, Hallowe’en stopped being fun precisely because my son was upset and terrified by the scary, gory costumes/masks. And then as parents, we came to consider other aspects of the holiday which had been brought to the fore in the community we lived in (although not necessarily among our peer-group), and our choice of non-participation ceased to be “gray.”

    My kids still got a kick out of dressing up in costumes I made them for other events, but on Hallowe’en, we were “not at home;” nor participant elsewhere in the holiday.

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  4. I have something else to add about redeeming the holiday; this particular holiday seems to have been celebrated in western Europe longer than Christianity has been around. It’s a bit of a challenge, really, turning a holiday that celebrates what this one does into a legitimate Christian feast. I give the R.C.’s and Anglicans credit for trying, but I do worry about the syncretistic tendencies that often creep into both groups.

    And, All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day, if they’re properly celebrated by the churches who keep them is one thing, but…

    It’s a wise idea if you’ve got a black kitty–oh, let’s say in Colorado Springs, for instance–to keep it safely indoors for a while around the pagan event, or it could get sacrificed. I’ve also heard that other communities are not immune to this kind of wickedness either. And that is a very different kettle of fish…

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  5. I’m not so sure about what you’re saying, Rebecca. Yes, we shouldn’t shun our bretheren for not doing what we do; however, shouldn’t we have some agreement within the body of Christ

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  6. I wondered when the Halloween posts would start [smile]. Thanks for putting this out there because I think it’s important to remember.

    ~Luke

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  7. Love encircles a lot of things… The Bible tells us to love the Lord with all your heart, understanding, and strength… We are also given many passages describing worship before the throne of God… It includes a whole lot of respect…

    And then, Jesus tells us that if anyone causes one of His little ones to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the sea.

    I’ve seen “innocent” Halloween customs frighten children and adults… Some of those fears run so deep that they are even afraid to trust God… Therefore, we have no right to tear down anyone’s faith in our desire to follow tradition…

    Just because we are called the children of God and are supposed to imitate our Lord, it is only sensible that we forget about this pagan tradition, and put our hearts into showing love and respect for our Savior over all man-made traditions… Halloween does not show love or respect for God, who has loved us so dearly.

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  8. Lovin’ the new site, Becky!

    Okay, so I totally agree with Becky here. And I think some of the more ridged lines in the above posts are missing her point.

    Yes, it is an “evil” day when evil people do evil things, but when is a day on this planet NOT and evil day? People get raped and murdered on Christmas just as likely as they do next Wednesday (and Christmas isn’t even really a holy day anyway–Jesus was born in the Spring). The point Paul was trying to make in Corinthians was that “man” is evil and superstition has no real power other than what we give it.

    I grew up unable to celebrate Halloween, told to fear it, and not having any real clue why. There was a demon in every door knob according to my mom and her sister and we needed to NOT TOUCH THOSE DEOMONY DOOR KNOBS! Fear ruled my life in fear in so many things, I can’t even recall them all. And then beyond the fear lay guilt.

    Well, when I got my own family, I broke from that tradition. My children would never fear. Why should we? We have the Light of Christ within us! We carry the greatest weapon of all! The only one we should fear is God.

    At the same time, as God freed me from things my family had put on me, I didn’t run around saying: okay world! It’s all good. You can all read Harry Potter and it’ll be okay. You can all trick or treat and it won’t be a sin. Cause for them it still was a sin. So, I ate my “idol burger” on my own time and didn’t push it on anyone else.

    This is the same thing, what Becky is saying.

    *Did you know that Christmas is actually a pagan Roman holiday? The church made it a “holy day” to get converts–don’t wanna cancel the fave holiday of the community so we’ll just co-opt it and make sure no one gets sacrificed. Sure eat and drink and be merry–just don’t slaughter anyone. Ta-da: holy day!

    *Easter also has pagan origins dating all the way back to the time of Baal and Ishtar. Consider why we don’t celebrate it at the time of Passover when it would actually be accurate, but instead we calculate the date according to the phases of the moon–cause that doesn’t sound pagan at all.

    Thanks to the Roman Catholic Church we have a whole LOT of pagan origins in Christian tradition. So, Halloween may actually be the better holiday for a purist–at least we see the dagger beneath the cloak.

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  9. With respect, being into the occult and being an alcoholic isn’t really an accurate comparison in this case, because there is no desire on my part to stumble or re-enter that world, like there might be with someone who has had an alcohol addiction.God is gracious and merciful, and we know that evil has no true and lasting power over God and His children, but all of us are open to influences. I’m not a legalistic person at all, but I draw the line at Halloween, because of what I know about it. Some of the worst possible evil that most average folks can’t imagine happens on that day. There is much evil in the world that we can’t avoid of course. But before a Christian rationalizes their participation in the “light” and “fun” aspect of a day filled with darkness and spiritual evil, I sincerely encourage them to research first exactly what it is they are celebrating, what the traditions signify, and ask themselves if they will be glorifying God or celebrating evil. I know that some will make fun of me and think I am being melodramatic, but I am actually understating it. Playing with fire and winking at “scary fun” might seem innocuous enough but when it all comes down to it, either we serve God or we serve Satan. And I can tell you when God’s children celebrate even a tiny evil and encourage others to do the same, Satan and his demons rub their hands in glee.

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  10. Suzan, I see your point in distinguishing involvement in the occult with alcoholism. Certainly it’s not a perfect analogy, but I think the thing that is similar is the idea that one person who participates (indulges) might be hurt and another not.

    I agree that we cannot serve God and Satan. I agree that “scary fun” might be playing with fire.

    The thing I am saying is that for those ignorant of the meanings behind the traditions, carving a face in a pumpkin is not serving Satan or indulging in scary fun. It’s just carving a face in a pumpkin.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to spend time learning about the pagan roots of a holiday (as Rachel pointed out, there are pagan roots for a lot of our holidays) just as I don’t think it’s necessary for a parent buying a video game for a child to study all the M rated video games. Those are not in the same category as the ones he plans to buy.

    I see the trappings of Halloween in this same way. There are definite evil things—you know specifics about them—but a host of people aren’t aware of what’s happening and certainly don’t connect the trick-or-treating they do with what those steeped in the occult are doing.

    In other words, their heart is in a different place.

    Must we educate them so that their heart will feel somewhat sullied by the act of handing out candy to the neighbor children? And do we serve God better for not handing out candy to those who come to our doors?

    Some might say yes, and yes. Others might say no, and no.

    This is where I think we MUST exercise Christian charity. We need to agree to love each other no matter what we decide we must do to be consistent in our Christian witness.

    It’s not an option for us true believers to come to spiritual blows over this issue. Our marching orders are to love one another. Jesus might give this Peter a different assignment than He gives John over there. Regardless, love is to cover us.

    Becky

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  11. We can consider the love with which Paul spoke in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22… In the KJ it reads: “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from all appearance of evil.”

    In the NASB it reads: “But examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

    We do that first of all in love for our Savior, Jesus Christ…. His love for us is so profound, it would be totally wrong for our love towards Him to have an appearance of something evil…. We don’t want the world to view us as partaking in something evil — which many do as they call us hypocrites…. We don’t want Christians to think of us as having the appearance of evil, whether their faith is weak or strong…. Ultimately, it is God’s opinion of Halloween that matters and He definitely wants everything in heaven to be pure and holy…. I cannot imagine anyone in heaven rejoicing over their Halloween activities on earth.

    My bottom line is that I want to be pleasing in God’s eyes because of the greatness of His love for me…. I don’t want to “test” God’s love for me, or push God’s love to the limit…. His love is so precious that I want to return that same kind of love.

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  12. In my previous comments I think I talked about Halloween being in November. I must have been confusing it with another scary North American holiday! But when I come to think about it, I don’t really know what Halloween is about, apart from the superficial TV and film versions.

    It seems to be something about scaring away the ghosts of life before winter sets in, perhaps to ensure our survival through this tough time. We don’t really have a winter in Sydney, so I have no emotional resonance with this fear. But I did remember a colleague who had gone to work in drama in an American church talking about using Halloween in the Christian context. (Yes, he’s an Anglican.) He was very big on costumes and large figures made out of papier mache. They had a church service on Halloween. During this service a number of ghosts/spirits/demons invaded the church. They were labelled in various ways. I remember “unemployment” was one of them. The church members then drove them out of the church and ended the service in celebration and thanksgiving. I’m vague on the details, but I think I’ve conveyed the essentials of his approach.

    Holidays are always about something to do with the human condition. That’s why many have similar shapes within different traditions. If I were in a situation where Halloween was common, I think I would take my colleagues approach and attempt to redeem it for better uses.

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