Facebook made me aware of this: 10 Reasons I Kissed Halloween Goodbye.
The article really bothers me; I’m sure it will show below. Let me say up front that I know that Ms. Blake and those who advocate her views simply wish to honor Christ. I don’t question her motives. I question her view of reality. In my opinion this boils down to some basic convictions about the nature of the world, and so the faith that nests within it.
Here are my initial off the cuff, knee-jerk reactions:
Leaving the oft repeated, but dubious history of the holiday that she espouses to one side, and ignoring the assumption that any of the practices, language, concepts and traditions that she participates in are free from ‘pagan origins’ (I haven’t the heart to begin with that), her arguments have been used to bind tender consciences against all sorts of things besides the celebration of Halloween: reading fiction, attending the theater, dancing etc.
I know this from experience. My parents had tender consciences, and that because of their love. Growing up, our home avoided all ‘Hollywood’ movies. I once received a Cootie game as a birthday present. It was thrown out because it required the use of dice. Gamblers used dice. There was our testimony to consider, and the clear admonition to ‘be ye separate.’ Small things, lead to big things. This is so very familiar.
Syncopated music…. playing cards… what has light to do with darkness? To this we can add the celebration of Easter and Christmas. I’ve sat through many a sermon against the pagan Christmas tree. I’m thankful that silliness had little impact on my parents.
So I don’t find this sort of appeal very compelling. When I note the things that are allowed in the lives of those who condemn Halloween- though deemed obviously illicit by others because of the very arguments here presented, I go ‘Hmmm.’ It seems to me that the answer in each of these cases ought to be intentionality and discernment. When the response is a blanket ‘don’t taste; don’t touch’, children resent the loss. Perhaps more importantly they come to be embarrassed by (or worse, to embrace) the view of reality that the position assumes.
Perhaps Evangelicals would do well to explore the limits of the Modernity that is foundation of their tradition by considering more ancient visions of the Christian faith. If they were to explore other writers- Chesterton, MacDonald, etc they might find…
* God told Job that chaotic monsters were his good playthings. Things spooky and uncanny didn’t arrive with the fall, and like each of the other creatures, they were meant to point God-ward (here and here )- CS Lewis commented on the role of uncanny experiences (and by extension, things) in teaching human beings about the numinous nature of God and all things holy:
‘Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a might spirit in the room” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.’
We can speak of ‘fearful awe’ until we’re blue in the face, but the mundane experiences that give meaning to the concept have much to do with the shiver that compels us to look over our shoulder on moonlit walks, or wrap our coat more closely when the dog howls mournfully in the distance. Deny or avoid these types of experiences, and ‘Awesomeness’ can only mean ‘Cool’ or ‘Wow.’
*All stories- as Tolkien insisted- are about the fall. Things Gothic are a focused consideration of things fallen. They allow us to Recover (in the Tolkienian sense) the reality we’ve become blind to.
What are werewolves, if not the concrete representation of the reality of ourselves, neighborhoods and markets: beasts disguised as men and women, devouring one another. Want to know what fallen reality is truly like- what you and I are really like at heart? I’d suggest Curse of the Werewolf.
What are vampiric beings who live on the blood of others, if not an anti-image of God. Fallen humanity lives precisely unlike the one who gives his own blood that others might live. Want to know what that means- what my selfish response to the person in the other car truly looks like? Watch The Horror of Dracula.
Zombies? Does Xianity know anything of those who wonder through life, though dead?
Frankenstein? There is no end to the Xian lessons of Frankenstein.
Want to know what all the manicured lawns and beautiful homes of the American Dream are hiding from us? Watch Poltergeist.
How can such focused opportunities for teaching truth (one of the themes that St. Paul required the Philippians to earnestly study) be missed? Fantasy (of which horror and the Gothic is a subset) is uniquely able to reveal the true nature of the lies, which we find the most attractive. Halloween gives us a focused night to reveal the grossness of the tune that the world dances to. I would think for a Xian, that is what Halloween is for.
*Things grotesque and uncanny stand in opposition to the rationalistic arrogance of modernity. They remind us that everything can’t be explained, that ‘All’ is mystery in the end- more than we really know or understand. Gargoyles and haunts snicker at our neat formulas and efforts.
The tacit reductionism of the prevalent worldview is dehumanizing. I suspect that the opportunity to get our heads above its smothering layers is a chief reason for the popularity of Halloween. Where else are people to affirm this part of our humanity? Certainly not in the sterile gatherings of most conservative ‘worship services.’ You go there to learn stuff – ironically, often the biblical ‘magic spell’ which will solve one’s particular problem.
You can’t fix something with nothing, and evangelicalism has little with which to resist modernity’s reductionism. Of course catholicism (whether that of Rome, Canterbury, Geneva or Wittenberg) has a Eucharist in which Christ’s body and blood are present. Wild stuff- not empirically approved or rationally definable- like things uncanny and grotesque, but Dabney and Hodge rejected this Calvinistic inheritance on the grounds that it was unintelligible. Just so.
Sacrament as flannel graph hardly scratches the itch created by modernity’s rationalism. Theologies that presume to aim for the diminution of mystery are superstitions of a kind that are much more hateful than that which is associated with things macabre. It seems to me that in the end, those who avoid black cats understand reality more truthfully than those represented by the ‘bible believing’ pastor I once had, who insisted that anointing the sick with oil for effectual healing is superstition. It seems to me that the latter could learn a lot about God’s world by visiting a haunted house. Just my opinion.
The world is not predictable or safe. There is much more of truth in the average horror story than in the Pollyannaish productions, which some Xians seem to so appreciate. If truth is the standard, then perhaps someone does need to repent.
*In a related way, the criticism seems to me to be much more 1950, Dick Van Dyke show, middle-class-American than biblical. Scripture contains incest, murder, tent pegs through skulls, infanticide, fat bellies swallowing slicing blades, women on all fours longing for men whose genital are like that of a horse and who ejaculate like a donkey. Christ spoke of people burning in pits and worms that never die. … Given that ostensibly that is the standard, I wonder what percentage of scripture Ms. Blake must avoid in order to be faithful to her maturing conscience.
*The tacit equation of the grotesque with evil is anti-gospel. For the majority of Xians, the primary symbol of our identity is an instrument of torture. The most precious reminder of our victory is a corpse hanging on a tree. (I understand that this isn’t true for many evangelicals, but that is, in part, my point). We learn from a consideration of gothic stories that ‘Monsters’ are opportunities for hospitality. We are not to judge or exclude the distorted, disfigured or corrupt. We are to look beyond the worldly, shallow and sentimental definitions of ‘lovely’ and ‘good.’ An evening spent watching The Elephant Man is a lesson in Xian perspective. (Or a Holy Week that refuses to skip over Good Friday and Holy Saturday to arrive at Easter, for that matter)
*In the Preface to his Letters From Hell, George McDonald (CS Lewis’ favorite writer) insisted that we should ‘make righteous use of the element of horror.’ He goes on to insist that those who refuse to do so out of a Xian fear of horror (to borrow from Travis Prinzi)…
…‘dismiss something of great value: an imaginative engagement with the consequences of rebellion against God. In fact, we become cowards ourselves, comfortable in our sin, committing the very evils we say we should not be reading in a story. When we throw out the horror genre altogether out of fear of Satanic influence, we give in to fear itself, become cowards, and lose a valuable conduit for truth. This is not to throw discernment out the window in our storytelling, but we err on the other side when we Pharisaically rule out the genre altogether.’
*Incidentally, I find the criticism that Halloween was never a Xian holiday to be somewhat disingenuous when advocated by those in a tradition that condemns the very idea of Xian holidays. I have no idea if Ms. Blake is reformed, but at least the re-poster who drew my attention to her article is, and (I’m certain) familiar with the Westminster Standard’s position on things like Christmas and Easter. For anyone who is not, I’d suggest you review Dr C Matthew McMahon’s: Easter, the Devil’s Holiday.
What are we celebrating on Halloween? It depends on what is meant by ‘we.’ For both pagans and Xians, Halloween is about death; as a Xian I am celebrating victory over death. Where my ancestors cowered at the approach of winter’s darkness and the contemplation of the reality of things both unexplainable and nightmarishly evil, these things are now occasion for play, rejoicing and mockery for those on this side of Christ’s resurrection.
In days before-
To Death and her consorts.
Cold and welter nights, like this,
Cowering, loathing and dread of
But hateful pretensions
Cause us to laugh and play
Because we trust
Life has overcome
Christ has undone
‘The way its not supposed to be.’
Departed ones, without dread;
They are safe.
Terrors of the dark, no scourge;
Tonight mere flourish and farce for children at play.
A trophy raised; a prize of war:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again!
I don’t know what others are ‘celebrating.’ As for me, any attempt to escape modernity’s truncated, half-vision of creation would be reason enough to be thankful. Perhaps this is all they are up to- a vacation from the great dehumanizing lie. It’s likely that they do not celebrate Christ victory over death, but then I wouldn’t really expect them too. Perhaps- seeing that their vision of death must be different from that of the church- we should expect them to be up to something different, too. No?
But how wonderful to ask them to join us.
I acknowledge that as with all things, discernment is required. There are limits to be considered, but this is hardly only true of things horrific, grotesque or uncanny. Perhaps it is precisely those who think that their day to day lives have little to do with the themes of Halloween, that most need the lessons of Halloween.
Uncanny, spooky aspects of creation are God’s good idea for which we ought to be thankful; contemplation of the true nature and consequences of rebellion against God is needful; likewise learning that the grotesqueness of fallen things is really goodness in need of redemption- whether in a misunderstood ‘monster’ or a pagan holiday reaching for the truth- is needed; joyfully enacting the declaration “Oh grave where is thy victory” is worthwhile, and …. refusing to withdraw further into our pietistic enclaves on the one night that neighbors actually embrace community and act like neighbors- joyfully visiting one another- seems a wise course of action. At least to me.
If only as an augmentation to the vision Ms Blake endorses, I would suggest that one acquaint themselves with a more august one. Perhaps beginning with:
Taming of the Nightmare by GK Chesterton
Preface to Letters From Hell by George MacDonald
A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale by Russell Kirk found in his collection of ghost stories- Ancestral Shadows
Travis Prinzi’s The Parable of the Poltergeist in Light Shining In a Dark Place
On Fairy Stories by JRR Tolkien
Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion by Paul Leggett
Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring by Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner
Short Online pieces:
James Jordan’s Concerning Halloween
Michael Spencer’s iMonk 101: My Annual Halloween Rant (One of them) Revisited and The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast
Reclaiming the Reclamation by Martha of Ireland