Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

A Reasonable Middle-Ground For Being A Christian At Halloween

 

It’s almost Halloween, and kids everywhere are already bracing for the impending sugar rush that is about to commence. This is also the time where Christians sometimes begin discussing the holiday, often leaving the impression that there are two options for the Christian.

Of course, the fundamentalists go bonkers at Halloween; last year someone gave me a tract that said it was the high-holiday for satanism and that cats would disappear throughout the neighborhood as the satanist conducted their yearly sacrifice (maybe Satan is a dog person too?). So, safe to say that most fundamentalists will be hiding out with the front lights off as if Halloween were that first night of passover where no one wanted to be caught outside when the spirit of death came.

Progressives on the other hand are also prone to have strong opinions on Halloween, which can often be summarized by “lighten up, folks.” Since the fundamentalist response can be so over-the-top and based on make-believe facts, I can appreciate the “lighten up” argument, but also find it to be somewhat shallow. For me, I am a Christian who stands somewhere in an awkward middle, recognizing that both sides have a worthwhile point.

Halloween isn’t a satanic holiday– it’s one that has both pagan and Christian roots. The reason why it has both is because most holidays have both– including Christmas, Easter, etc. The early Christians did this strategically as a way to influence culture; instead of creating something new, they found ways to take existing pagan celebrations, and slowly turn them Christian (in this case, the Christian holiday is All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Day).

However, the expressions we see in modern culture at Halloween are anything but Christian, and this creates the awkward middle where I find myself.

A few years ago I was hosting a colleague from India as we were both speaking at a conference in the week leading up to Halloween. As we drove through town, she was shocked at some of the Halloween displays– the depictions of violence, darkness and gore. She turned to me and asked, “how is it that your culture can’t see there’s something wrong with this?”

Honestly, I didn’t have an answer. The reality is that our cultural expressions at Halloween have grown so extreme, that it should (in my mind) be prompting a different set of questions for us. For example, just a few weeks ago a dead body was found chained to a fence– but people didn’t report it right away because they thought it was a Halloween decoration! That’s not the first time this has happened either. Previously a woman who committed suicide was left hanging in a tree because people thought it was a decoration, or then there was the case of a 75 year old who shot himself on his balcony but was left there for days, because everyone thought it was a Halloween decoration.

Here’s the deal: if Halloween has become a holiday where actual dead bodies are ignored as decorations, there needs to be force within that culture subversively pushing against those expressions. Of course, I think that’s the role of a Christian– to be people within a culture but not products of that culture; people who seek every opportunity to inject beauty into the world around us.

I would hope that if we’re actually confusing murder and suicide victims with decorations, Christians of ALL stripes and flavors would come together and say, “Yeah, something about this isn’t right. Maybe we should be an alternative expression to this kind of stuff.”

So, should Christians hunker down in fundamentalist bunkers until Halloween is over? No.

Should Christians be people who participate in Halloween in the same way as the violent and gory culture around us participates? I would submit the answer is also, no.

There is a middle ground on the issue of Halloween that I hope more Christians will find. Halloween is an opportunity to spend time with family, friends, your kids, and your neighbors– and I’d hope Christians wouldn’t pass up those opportunities; Jesus certainly didn’t. However, we can participate in ways that do not further contribute to the extreme expressions that are often seen at Halloween. We can even participate in ways that counteract it.

While Halloween isn’t some satanic holiday, there is something very dark in the way our culture adorns on it– and as Christians, we’re invited to be the light of the world.

So, find ways to go be light on Halloween!

Have fun with your kids. Spend time with your family. Use the opportunity to interact with your neighbors and the other children in your neighborhood. Load up on enough free candy that you’ll be set until Christmas.

But as Christians, may we find ways to do it differently than how others do it.

Let us, the people of Jesus, be out and about at Halloween. However, instead of expressions of death, violence, and darkness, let us use the opportunity to bear witness to life, beauty and goodness.

Part of our job in this world is to inject beauty whenever and wherever we find the opposite– and I see no expression that needs a beautiful alternative more than the darkness and gore expressed at Halloween.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • Most cultures have some sort of ‘day of the dead’, especially as winter is approaching. Samhain (pronounce like sowl-win) means End of Summer and is when the ancient Celts believed that Veil between the worlds was thin and they could commune with the spirits of dead loved ones. It was also their ‘New Years Eve’ and fires and lanterns (jack-o-lanterns?) were lit to scare away evil spirits. They and modern Wiccans (Witches) don’t even believe in satan and this Sabbat (from the French word for frolic – NOT like the Judeo-Christian SABBATH) night has nothing to do with ‘devil worship’ or evil. Much of this dark overlay was put on it by the church when Christianity took over and put All Saints’ Day Eve (Halloween) there to ‘replace’ it. Most of our modern day Halloween customs were brought here by Irish immigrants. Only fundamentalist “Christians” ignorantly turned into devil worship – it is not! And let’s face it we all love scary ‘stuff’ sometimes, books, movies, tv shows and a good ol’ Halloween party! As Wiccans say, Blessed Be!

    • My former church actually had a Samhain observance every year. It was hosted by a woman who had studied the ritual in depth and who took the time to get it right. It was a wonderful experience the few times I was able to get there.

  • Halloween is SUPPOSED to be dark. Every culture has its own way of addressing people’s worst fears, like violence, death, and gore. Halloween, and the macabre manner in which we celebrate it, serves a very specific cultural function. Not everything is about your damned religion. Stop trying to turn every holiday into some alternative version of Christmas.If you don’t like it, don’t participate, but DON’T try to remake it in your own image the way Christians, as you pointed out yourself, always have.

  • tbh my view on halloween is let people have their fun, this is one day a year you get to put on a costume and let go of most restraints and get candy and this goes for both sides

  • Didn’t pick you as the creativity police Corey, have you been in a catholic church? The place looks like it has been art directed by quinten tarentino. Not to mention the blood and gore stories in the bible which challenges your idea of godly narratives.

    So what do we get next week? A lecture on how corey will allow people to celebrate Easter and Christmas that is acceptable in Corey,s sight?

  • I agree that there’s a problem with the violent imagery, but not just at Hallowe’en. It’s pervasive throughout the year; just think of how skulls are now just another design element. There’s a bigger picture here that we’re missing and need to deal with. There’s nothing wrong with a fun family time, as you suggest, Benjamin. And if we focus on the treats and set aside the tricks, we can indeed find a way to honour Christ on “All Hallow’s Eve”. Why, we might even go as far as to celebrate “All Saint’s Day” by remembering the “Saints” that stood up for their faith throughout history and the good, holy people in our lives that make every day special. Folks like you, perhaps, Benjamin.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  • *atomic
    eye roll* Im
    tired of holier than thou Christians swooping in like some ominous
    raven because they felt convicted that it was their “christian duty” to
    inform me that i am tutoring my little niece in worshiping the devil
    because she wants to dress up as a ninja and go candy raiding…..THIS
    IS WHY NOBODY LIKE US! Crap like that!!! ….im not exactly sure what about halloween is specifically
    worshipful of the devil…black friday (though not actually considered a
    federal or traditional holiday) has more satanic and evil connotations
    associated with it than halloween ever
    did…but heres the thing, on black friday, you dont have to be one of
    those low low price crazed duchebags running people down and into and on
    top of the displays….so on halloween, spend the day however you feel
    is most edifying for you, your family. Spend time with your kids trick
    or treating, there are other costumes that arnt witches or demons, or if
    your just dead set on thinking that halloween really is the devils
    holiday then do something else and dont worry about, the devil is not
    hiding behind a jackolantern waiting for you to let your guard down so
    he can convert you to halloweenism!! And for the love of God…dont
    pester people who do go out trick or treating…even if you think they
    shouldent. No matter what you believe is right or wrong, you cant
    control what other people think and do any more than they can you. And
    if you think the day is so dark, bring a little light into it….God
    knows the world can use some on ANY given day, not just Halloween!
    Bottom line, the devil dosent hold a monopoly on any particular day, or
    on what the day signifies, or what YOU do on it. In order for the devil
    to have power, you have to give it to him…….so i guess…like…
    maybe as far as has to do with you, dont give him so much credit….further
    more, i think its worth reminding everyone that Christmas was invented
    based on a pagan holiday, but we took it and made it a day thats
    (…suposed to be) characterized by generosity, good will to our
    neighbor, and to honer the day the Christ came into the world….so do
    that with halloween =) …or dont do anything, and leave everyone else in peace. Which ever….

  • Darkness is a part of life. And without the darkness you cannot even see the light. So perhaps instead of whinging about how ‘dark’ Halloween is you should take your head out of the sand, stop deluding yourself (depression is a thing, all life ends, darkness is everywhere etc etc on dark themes) and embrace the darkness because it comes for us all eventually. Halloween is a time to make light of that and face up to the theme of death, because it’s part of life. It’s healthy to see blood and gore because blood and bones sustain us. Halloween is a time to reconnect with all our ugly truths, we are just bones and flesh, we will decay and we will die.

  • When you take anything out of its full context, you can make it appear odd or meaningless. As an American, I don’t fully understand the Mexican Day of the Dead, but why should my inability to grasp it nullify the meaning that Mexico obtains from that holiday?

    You met folks from India who found Halloween dark and disturbing. I believe their culture also has some legends and customs that, to us, seem very weird and macabre when we apply only surface understandings. But we all should strive for something beyond those surface impressions; the fundamentalists have shown us why that approach is problematic.

  • The coarsening of culture has certainly included many of those who claim to have “Christian” values.

  • As an atheist, a group often cited as lacking “moral compass”, I wonder what moral compass compels anyone of any religion towards violence.

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