26 October 2010

All Sacralist's Eve

A discussion regarding Halloween.

In recent years there's been a considerable shift in the discussion regarding Halloween. Without probing too deep, I can immediately think of two reasons for this.

First, it has exploded culturally. The retail sector has marketed this holiday relentlessly and elevated it to the status of a major annual event. In the 1970's and 80's, most kids were content with a last minute homemade costume or a cheap plastic cape type item from the grocery store. It was culturally speaking, a pretty minor event.

Today, it has become a colossus. The shopping mall nearest to us has several vacant spots and every year around September a Halloween store moves in and for the next 45 days or so does quite a brisk business. Out of morbid curiosity we wandered in one afternoon just to have a look. Not only has it become more lucrative, it's become more gruesome and evil. My seven year old daughter was traumatized and has suffered bad dreams from it. We were in there all of five minutes.

So whether you like or not, it's part of the culture and thanks to greed, it's bigger than ever.

Secondly, Kuyperian Worldview teaching or Dominionism demands a Christian response to all cultural activity and endeavours. With Halloween, you have two options.

1. Defeat it and campaign to do away with it. Or,

2. Conquer it and claim it as your own.

They've chosen option number two. Astonishingly we have Evangelical Protestants leaning on Roman Catholic tradition and theology and arguing that Halloween is a Christian holiday (holy-day.)

There's nothing Christian about it. It's quite anti-Christian, but it's very Sacralist. In fact it's sort of perfect picture of the kind of syncretism that Constantinian Sacralism has brought us. Here's a perfect example of pagan practice appropriated by the 'church' in the Middle Ages and transformed into a Christian holyday.

We could argue against this on many fronts but we'll focus on just a few.

First, the historical argument that Halloween is somehow Christian. All Hallow's Eve was thus named because 1 November is known in the liturgical calendar as All Saints Day. Thus, since it was such a holy day, the night before was sort of demonic Fat Tuesday/Mardis Gras, a last chance for mischief and wickedness. Then depending on where you lived, your culture had various traditions of how to scare of these demons, protect yourself etc….

The Bible explicitly rejects the Roman Catholic cult of the saints. There is only one mediator between God and man…Christ Jesus. All Christians are saints, not merely those who have escaped the fictional purging fires of purgatory. And we do not venerate dead Christians nor do we ask them to intercede for us. Don't get caught up in the comical Roman arguments concerning latria v. doulia or worship v. service.

We know historically the cult of the saints was little more than a re-casting of pagan polytheism. Perun became St. Elijah for the Slavs, and more often than not the Venus or any of the other goddesses became the virgin Mary.

It's pagan in origin, superstitious in practice, and thoroughly heretical. Any Evangelical appealing to this history as some kind of Christian validation for All Saints Day either does not understand the theology involved or like Chuck Colson who argues this way…does not understand the basics of the gospel. I'm sorry if that's harsh, but it seems pretty plain.

So then we must ask…well what's the harm? What if we embrace the holiday fun but reject all the bad theology and tradition? What's wrong with kids dressing up etc…?

Actually if it was Fall Fun Nite or something, some kind of Americana tradition…that would be one thing. But it's Halloween….like it or not, that name is associated with certain superstitions regarding demonic movement and dark activities. An Ecclesiastical argument makes it even worse, an explicit rejection of Sola Scriptura and an embrace of the superstition and tradition. You can't really win here.

What about Churches offering a substitute, a Fall Harvest Festival or something? Well, while I appreciate the attempt to maintain something of an antithesis…why are you having this harvest fest….hmmm, right around the end of October? Let's be honest, you're doing Halloween, you're just trying to offer a Christian alternative.

Do you think in ancient Israel they had Fall Fish Day as an alternative to all those in their community who might have been tempted to worship the Philistine Dagon? Or how about Spring Thunderstorm Fest in lieu of worshipping Baal the storm god?

We need to have the courage to just simply say…it's wrong. These types of issues were a big deal to the Protoprotestant groups and even the Reformed/Calvinistic wing of the Protestant Reformation. Right or wrong they were committed to the Scriptures governing the Church and the Christian life. If we believe the Scriptures are sufficient, we don't add All Saints Day, let alone the theology that goes with it, and we certainly don't celebrate the eve of such a day.

Protestant Sacralists legislated against innovative holy days. Christmas was outlawed for these same reasons. I would argue, we don't need to employ force (the sword) to stop the pagans being pagans, nor do we need to transform what they do. Our calling is to be Christians in a fallen world.

Halloween is simply an expression of Sacralism. I realize the majority of the culture doesn't give one whit in regard to its ties with Christendom. And so if it is just a cultural event….why then would we participate? Ghouls, werewolves, and demons are no laughing matter. I'm not be superstitious and saying we're participated in occultic ritual by going to a Halloween party or by your daughter dressing up as Tinkerbell. But why are you doing it? This isn't something innocent like Mother's Day. Halloween is a little different.

If we started a cultural tradition today where we had Native American Night….everyone dresses up as American Indians and dances around fires and people tied it in with animism and shamanism….we would without hesitation reject it. What's the difference? Could we celebrate it in a Christian fashion? An argument could be made….but most would say, let's just skip it, and they would be right to do so. Halloween is no different.

Culturally we need to reject it and theologically and historically we MUST reject it.

What about the Dominionist argument? Do we just 'let it go,' let the pagans have it? Yes. This is a false dilemma generated by Transformationalist thought. We can't conquer it or redeem it. There's nothing to redeem. Do away with it? There are many things the world would be better without. If you want your neighbours to quit celebrating Halloween, bring them into Christ's Kingdom, a realm where His Word is the Authority….and then you won't have to worry about it anymore. Sacralism might give lip service to the Word, but Culture and Civilization are treated as equal authorities.

What about the kids? They'll want to do it, all their friends are? Now isn't this interesting? Here's an opportunity, and frankly a very easy one to be a witness. People argue we should send our kids to the pagan schools etc…. to be a witness. Well here's a time when we can and you don't even have to do anything, and it speaks quite loudly. Rather than acquiesce to the pressure, stand firm. No, don't hand out tracts, turn off the porch light. Go grocery shopping that night, stay home, whatever. We don't have to protest either. Just live, be Christians, but speak when the opportunities come up. "Why don't you do it?" people will ask. Tell them with meekness. If your children protest…I know this is shocking…be a parent and teach them.

Explain to people and even your children, how Christ came to redeem the world, and we are servants. He died to deliver us from demonic power, we shouldn't make it into something fun or funny. Don't be self-righteous, be truthful. People will respect you more than if you have Harvest Party at your church and try to invite all the neighbourhood kids. The only people being fooled by that are the Christians attending it. Everyone else knows what you're doing…you're celebrating Halloween.

Let's not glorify evil.

What about other civil holidays like Thanksgiving or the 4th of July?

Christian liberty and wisdom.

If it really is a mere cultural event, then fine. But if you attach Christian meaning to it…then I have to judge it by a different standard.

Why? Soon enough I intend to delve these matters, but for now I'll simply say once again, we must avoid the error of Judaizing, that is bringing forward types and shadows from the Old Testament that were fulfilled when Christ came. And we must also avoid Paganizing, blending Christianity with cultural practices not sanctioned or sanctified by God Himself. Since we don't have Prophets today to tell us, the standard is His Word. If we needed All Saints Day, Paul would have told us. I can see some rolling their eyes. I would ask them, what is the Bible? What's it for? What did Paul mean in 2 Tim. 3.16? If it's not sufficient, if we can have or need to have tradition…then Protestantism doesn't have a leg to stand on. We are guilty of schism and heresy and need to head as quick as we can for Rome or Constantinople.

So with regard to Ecclesiastical practices….I'm turning to the Bible for guidance.

With regard to cultural activities and special days….if Ecclesiastical meaning is attached, I'm going to the Bible. If not, then as a Christian I will judge to what extent I will or will not participate.

I will happily watch fireworks on the 4th of July, but if I'm with people who are treating the day as holy, because of theological/historical narrative and their perceptions about what was happening in 1776…then I will have to examine that versus Scripture, and will probably leave.

In conclusion, Halloween must be rejected, but especially when it is cast in Christian terms. The Roman Catholic/Medieval argument is indefensible. The Dominionist argument is in the end a form of bondage. I am the Lord's free man, and I will not submit to their yoke insisting that I and my children must participate in something that has no sound argument to mandate or sanction it.

This is their Christian worldview thinking? This is the transformation of culture? This is applying the Scripture to all areas of life?

This is selling out, compromise, being transformed by the culture.

This is the story of Sacralism. Halloween is a perfect picture of it.


Anonymous said...

Have to say that this it the best that I've ever read on this subject..and as always, add so many other truths along side. Thanks much for writing, will pass it around.

Cal said...


I agree with a good portion of this, but I think even Halloween has begun to lost a little of the "evil" edge. I walk around and while there is the occasional "ghost" or "werewolf", most people I see dress up as firefighters, cops, easy made costumes. In fact, I was at a little bit of a costume party and I was a "soccer hooligan" (this was contrived, I just happened to be wearing 'thuggish' looking street cloths and a soccer jersey). Though this also becomes an outlet for girls to be marketed as hunks of meat, dressing up in skin-clad outfits. Well, as you said, Pagans will be Pagans. I love them still, willing to lay my life down if it was required.

As I'm younger without kids, I understand the apprehension in having them get involved, being subjected superstitious poison about black cats, witchcraft and all the strange pomp. People dressing up as 'demons' (horns and a pitchfork), completely missing the gravity and cunning of the demonic. People think the demonic is that which wonders around cackling, looking like Pan, and not the kindly looking neighbor who beats his wife, molests his children and backstabs everyone he knows. A little exaggerated, but it is never the one you expect.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I just came from a "Christian" post that said, in part:

"I never understood the Christian parents who got caught up in the “paganism” or “satanism” of the holiday. I respect that point of view, but I think it’s taking it way to seriously. It’s just a day for kids to dress up."

Gotta be careful we don't take Christ too seriously. Ugghhhh!!!!!

Protoprotestant said...

Thanks for the comment.

For many nowadays it might be 'just dressing up,' but why?

It seems a lot of people just want to do what everyone else is doing and they are eager to make excuses.

There are plenty of cultural things that are pretty indifferent, but I just can't fathom why so many Christians feel drawn to this day.

Whatever. If they want to do it...fine. But increasingly I'm being told I'm not being a good Christian if I ignore it and refuse to participate. That upsets me because it shows there's something at work in how people are thinking.

And when they try to bring it into the Church, that's when I get motivated to start talking.

Moderation right? These things aren't all that serious. You know maybe some things aren't, but it's that kind of attitude that frightens me. It makes me think they haven't given much thought to not only this issue and the ones that surround it....but perhaps the totality of issues surrounding the faith itself? I'll continue to hope some people just speak sometimes without thinking.

They sure don't take that kind of lax attitude when it comes to politics!

Anonymous said...

"They sure don't take that kind of lax attitude when it comes to politics!"

Perhaps they do, in a sense. They are not necessarily lax regarding emotion or passion, but some are certainly lax in at least one sense. Just as they are content to thoughtlessly go with the flow of culture in terms of their actions as Christians regarding things like Halloween, so too they are content to uncritically go with the flow of conservative politics and assess the world around them culturally rather than biblically. They do not give much thought to either. Rather, they allow their thoughts and practices to be spoon fed to them from their non-Christian surroundings.

- David

Protoprotestant said...

Obviously you know I agree with you 100%...but how do you get people to see it? That's the hard part. All I can continue to hope is that there are people sitting in pews or at home that know something is wrong, but maybe because they were brainwashed like I was into thinking Christianity=Republican American Patriot...they just don't know where to turn.

It's a massive undertaking, to slowly divest yourself of all the emotions and propaganda that you've received since probably elementary school...even before. I can clearly remember having political and cultural opinions being formed in me when I was about 5.

Massive walls have to be broken down and only then can you start over. Obviously it's the Holy Spirit that has to do it...but the Holy Spirit uses means. Maybe for some it will be stuff written here, for others it might be something else. For me, I guess it was a lot of Bible and then interacting with a lot of history and constantly being put off by Church Historians. I find most of them to be poor historians and dishonest. Then you start applying it to a broader historical scope...and then much harder...to American history and politics. It leaves one rather unsettled unless you really grasp the Bible's message about the Kingdom. Then...suddenly, it's so liberating to be outside of all this, to clearly see what's happening in history and you're left half laughing, half crying as you're watching everything that's happening right now.