In following up my post from last week on questions and thoughts to consider about whether or not Christians can or should practice yoga, I thought I would hit on another debated topic. What should Christians do with Halloween. Since today is Halloween I don’t really expect that I will be either liberating any abstainers to gather candy from their neighbors (on many occasions, literally accepting candy from strangers), nor do I expect to convince some ghouled-up and seasoned trick-or-treaters to stay home. It is however interesting to reflect on Halloween and keep our faith firmly in mind as we approach our various and varied celebrations.
The first thing to consider about Halloween is its history. Before the last day of October was the holiday known as Halloween, it was a celebration called Reformation Day. However, reformer Martin Luther picked October 31st for Reformation Day to correspond to the Catholic holiday All Hallow’s Eve (which is where we get the word Halloween, if you were wondering) a day for celebrating all the Catholic saints (hence its other name All Saints’ Day). So we can begin by saying that Christians celebrating on October 31st is controversy free. The real issues are what and how we celebrate.
As I consider the celebration of Halloween, I think there are three issues that come to my mind:
- Celebration as education
- Association vs. Affirmation
- The Conscience and the Critic
Allow me to unpack these a bit.
Celebration as Education
Thanks to the work of theologian James K.A. Smith I have recently come to see the depths of what he calls cultural liturgies. Long story short, a cultural liturgy is a habit or reoccurring practice that shapes our desires (what we love) and worldview (what we believe). Chief among these liturgies are our celebrations. The what, why, and how of our holidays teaches us to love certain things, which in turn teaches us to believe certain things. This is to say that our holidays are educational. This should really come as no surprise since the Bible talks about holidays in terms of instruction. Think about the Pentateuch’s various festivals and the instructions given for when children ask about a celebration or monument. If Dr. Smith is right, and I believe he is, then our theology can be shaped by a cultural liturgy like the celebration of Halloween. We should then take care to ask ourselves what am I teaching myself by my celebration? By the costume that I put on (does it celebrate death or inappropriate sexuality? Does it deny the dignity of an individual or make light of a serious issue? If it is a class of people (police, military, public service) is it honoring to them? Is how I am celebrating promoting death, sex, drugs, or inappropriate “alternative-lifestyles”?
Association vs. Affirmation
I tend to think that most people who abstain from Halloween celebrations do so either with the belief that Halloween necessarily celebrates death, evil, satan, and unbridled sexuality or that (and somewhat in tandem) that Halloween is for sinners and there is a desire not to associate with sinners. The problem with this view is a failure to understand the distinction between association and affirmation. Any reader of the gospels knows that Jesus regularly associated with sinners without affirming their lifestyles and actions. He even celebrated with sinners (think the retirement party for Levi the tax collector turned disciple). So the first thing to say is that association does not necessitate affirmation. Second thing to say is that Jesus often voluntarily found himself in socially awkward situations for the religious elite. We should not be scared of uncomfortable situations as if sin is contagious. It is and you and I already have it, but it is being put to death by the work of Christ (through his Spirit and word) in us. Having, then, Christ we have something to offer our non-believing friends. We can abstain from Halloween or we can enter into celebration as Christians informed by the two great commandments (love of God and love of Neighbor). For this question I think we need to ask ourselves if our celebrations honor Christ or could invite conversation of him.
The Conscience and the Critic
This is really the end all issue. You may want to abstain because you think you would be tempted to sins of heart and/or body by immodestly dressed presidential candidates and late night hosts. The conscience is not a full proof guide, but heed it and you will avoid many sins and errors. So, if you feel convicted to abstain or maybe participate in a baptize version (Trunk-or-Treat in the church parking lot), then you should do so. Similar to having conviction against Halloween, I abstained from Halloween parties for years because of a conviction to not be misunderstood. Today I am not so sure this was right—it certainly was not Jesus’ approach. Essentially, many people knew I was a Christian and some knew I worked at a church, so seeing me in what might be mistaken for a compromising situation seemed like a bad idea. Again, I am not sure if I would take the same position today, but I want to say that at the root of the decision was the desire to not cause a weaker brother to stumble. This is still an issue. You should be wary of what you might be promoting because, though it may not be sinful for you, it may be for someone else.
Maybe that will help, maybe not. Either way have a happy Halloween.