Friday, October 12, 2007

Halloween: A Satanic Trick...or a Harmless Treat?

Much has been said and expressed among Christians today regarding participation in the activities normally associated with Halloween in the American culture. Many believers are confused by all the arguments which go both ways and wonder what the Bible has to say about such activities as children dressing up in costume and going out “trick or treating”, or even adults disguising themselves as ghoulish creatures and participating in the office Halloween party. Because of this confusion, the purpose of this article is to set forth some of the issues in this discussion, and to express what is hopefully a biblical viewpoint on this controversial issue.

First of all, is all the hoopla really much ado about nothing? Is there really any harm in what goes on at Halloween? To understand the answer to that question, we must first under­stand how Halloween originated, what it means to certain groups, and how it has developed over the past several years.

Originally, the Celts, the barbaric peoples of ancient Britain, celebrated a holiday called Samhain on October 31st, which held tremendous religious significance for them. They believed that on that night the barrier between the physical world and the spirit world was at its weakest and that the spirits of the dead were free to roam the earth. The Celts’ religious caste, the Druids, would hold ceremonies designed to protect the crops and herds from these demonic forces and would offer both animal and human sacrifices to appease the gods or spirits. The Celts’ celebration also had its lighter side which included young people roasting nuts in the Samhain bonfire in an effort to determine who they would marry and bobbing for apples in a tub of water with the belief that success at this activity would bring a year of good luck. At one point in the Samhain celebration, the people would dress up as evil spirits in an effort to confuse the “real” spirits who may have been sent to plague them.

As time progressed, this celebration became such an integral part of the culture that by the time the Roman Catholic Church became the dominant religious force in the European society, it was faced with the problem of how to deal with this obviously pagan holiday. In an effort to combat the influence of Samhain, the Catholic Church designated the day after October 31st as “All Saints Day,” a day to honor all of the departed saints of the Church. The evening before All Saints Day was the evening before the hallowed day; therefore, “Hallowed Evening” or “Hallowed E’en.” Over the years, the words were put together into the one word we have today—Halloween. Even to this day, the Satanist Church recognizes Halloween as one of their most sacred days; a day to worship Satan and offer sacrifices in his honor. The Satanist Bible states that “after one’s own birthday, the two major Satanic holidays are Walpurgisnacht (April 30) and Hallow­een...”

Over the past few decades, Halloween has changed dramatically in the United States. Forty years ago, Halloween was a day when children dressed up as some type of character—most of the time the character represented some harmless persona; i.e., cowboys, hobos, angels, clowns, animals, etc.—and went door-to-door to collect candy from all the neighbors. Occasionally one of the neighborhood children dressed up as a witch or a ghost, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

As time passed, a very subtle change took place. More and more older children and adults began to participate and the costumes became increasingly grotesque and horrifying in appearance, concentrating on such characters as zombies, chain saw murderers, and bloody disembow­eled corpses. The whole perspective became focused on death and occultic, hellish behavior. In effect, what was once a relative­ly minor “holiday” of sorts for children became a major “dark” entertainment experience for their parents. Children still go out “trick or treating,” but because of safety concerns in our society, that aspect of the day has greatly diminished.

What does the Bible teach about the activities which are represented in the Halloween celebration? Moses, writing the law to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, stated, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.” Obviously God did not take as tolerant a view about such people among His chosen people as does the American society about such people within it. If God views such types of occultic practices with such disdain and hatred, should Christians participate in a celebration that glorifies such matters, if only in a humorous manner? Is it really harm­less? Perhaps we need to realize that we may be sending a subtle message to our children that there really isn’t all that much wrong with the occult and its satanic forces, as represented by mutilated, bleeding bodies, vicious killers, vampires, witches, and demonic beings.

What about the issue of “trick or treating”? While there may be no harm in children going from house to house requesting candy be tossed into their open sacks, what explanation for the term itself—”trick or treat”—is a Christian parent supposed to give his or her child which will be in accordance with bibli­cal principles? Nowhere in Scripture can one find a passage or verse which says that it is okay to threaten someone with some type of mean or nasty trick if they don’t give in to a demand for a treat. I realize that for most children that phrase is just a harmless group of words which they have been told to say when they go to the door, and they would never perform such actions if faced with someone who did not give them candy, but I am also a realist who has many times seen the damage done by those individ­uals who do. It is certainly difficult for children to rational­ize in their young, developing minds why their parents who always teach them respect for others property and proper Christian behavior have no qualms about explaining what is meant by “trick or treat.”

So, what should Christians who are concerned about such issues do each October 31st when their children’s friends are out collecting all their sugar-filled loot? Should they develop a monastic, ascetic attitude that says, “My kids will never participate in anything on such a pagan day!”? Or is some alternative acceptable? Some would tell us that Christians should totally ignore Halloween as if it didn’t exist and that by participating in some alternative activity, we are really acqui­escing to the world’s actions. While such a position is certain­ly within a believer’s prerogative and may be the most appropri­ate response for certain individuals, the faultiness of that argument is that many of those same believers would never dream of not having a “Christian” wedding for their daughter, not realizing that such wedding ceremony activities as exchanging rings, wearing veils, eating cake, and speaking vows are directly related to ancient pagan Roman wedding ceremonies. Most of these people also celebrate Christmas with its traditional tree and gift giving, not realizing that it also originally started as an alternative activity for Christians to a pagan worship day. The point is that the issue is internal, not external. What the significance of a specific day is to any of us is a matter of the heart, not what some man has determined it to be. Paul told the Colossians, “do not let anyone judge you…with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2:16).

However, those believers who do choose to celebrate Halloween must recognize that Scripture also gives some guidelines about participating in such activities. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, addressed the issue of eating meat which had been sacrificed to idols, and he said that while they had the “right” to do so, they needed to be careful about exercising their “rights” so as not to become a stumbling block to a weaker Christian. When we consider many of the activities associated with Halloween, we are in exactly the same situation. Bobbing for apples, dressing up as evil creatures, witches, and spirits, and other similar activities have their origins in the practice of sorcery and witchcraft, and although we rightly recognize that these are harmless to us because “an idol is nothing at all in the world and…there is no God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:4), we must also recognize that as an example to those in the occult and out of concern for our weaker Christian brothers and sisters, we must be very careful about what Halloween activi­ties we participate in so as to avoid becoming a stumbling block. While “all things are lawful…not all things are profitable…” (1 Corinthians 6:12, NASB), either for others or our­selves.

Is there some other position that can be acceptable for Christians in regard to this issue? I believe there is. If believers wish to provide alternative activities for their children on Halloween so that the young people have something to do other than participate in the glorification of evil behavior, spirits, and people, there is no biblical prohibition against it. Many churches and Christian schools sponsor “Harvest Time” parties or “Fall Festival” activities for the chil­dren, where the kids are provided an opportunity to get together with others to play games, watch Christian videos, dress up as animals on Noah’s ark or Bible characters, and share candy. Such activi­ties can become an opportunity to share the Gospel with unsaved friends, as they can observe a very tangible difference between the Christians and themselves. Christians should not attempt to “whitewash” pagan rituals into some kind of “Chris­tian” activity, but legitimate efforts to provide Christ-centered alternatives can minister to both believers and unbelievers alike.

Believers need to recognize that Christianity is, and has always been, a matter of the heart and not external conformity to a list of rules and regulations. We are to be separate and different from the world in our behavior and love for one another (1 John 3:14, 17-18), and we are not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather to expose them (Ephe­sians 5:11). But that does not mean that we cannot provide alternative activities for our children when they are confronted with a society-wide activity in which we find it unacceptable for them to participate.

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