August 19, 2019

The Internet Monk Annual Halloween Rant

Originally published at the Steve Brown, Etc. Guest Room Blog. You also might enjoy “The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast,” from deep in the IM archives. Here’s a good post on “How to have a great Catholic Halloween.” No Protestants are harmed. It’s OK.

As October 31st looms, it’s time for true confessions.

I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.

We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”

We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.

And we were big time into Halloween.

No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.

From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for–all fundamentalist Baptists–were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.

We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.

The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it!

No, this wasn’t “Judgment House” or “Hell House” or whatever else evangelicals have done with a similar skill set today. It was fun. Simple, old-fashioned, fun. No one tried to fly a broom or talk to the dead. Everyone tried to have fun. Innocent play in the name of an American custom.

And then, things changed.

Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.

Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.

Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.

A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches.

Occult ministries exploited these fears, and ministries like Bob Larson found it was profitable and powerful to make rock music, drug use, occult worship and Halloween one big package.

Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church.

In the ministry where I serve, we can’t have fall festivals. Putting out a pumpkin is risky. Any costume other than dressing up like Billy Graham is taboo.

Halloween experts have proliferated in evangelicalism. Where did these people learn all this stuff? Oh yes, The Onion. That’s right.

Those great, fun, harmless, safe, nostalgic, exciting, slightly scary and completely un-demonic Halloweens of the past? Gone, gone, gone with the evangelical hot air.

Does it bother me? You bet it does. It bothers me that we fall for such lame, ridiculous manipulators as the crowd that made all of those Halloweens past into satanic events.

It bothers me that any lie, exaggeration or fiction will find thousands of eager believers to pass it along.

It bothers me that the Biblical message about Satan would be co-opted by the fear-mongering and manipulation of the hucksters. (Read The Screwtape Letters for some real Satanism.)

It bothers me that such a wonderful part of my childhood and of American life has been turned into an example of evangelical paranoia and gullibility. We ruined something good, and everyone knows it but us.

I know all about the sophisticated responses thoughtful Christians have about Reformation day and All Saints Day. That’s fine, but it’s not the same. I just want my grandkids to be able to dress up in cute outfits and trick or treat without the local church designating them for exorcism.

Shame on those of us–evangelicals–who allowed Halloween to be taken away from families and many communities, all because we prefer to believe that life is a Frank Paretti novel.

Boo. I hope I scared you.
___________________

Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk (www.internetmonk.com), is a campus minister, communicator and inexplicably successful blogger living in Kentucky. When he was a kid, he would go trick or treating as a scarecrow, but now he wants to dress up like Steve Brown.

Comments

  1. I grew up with trick-or-treating. When my kids were young (up to just a couple years ago), I took them trick-or-treating. There were no razors in apples. No LSD. What we did found was a unique opportunity to knock on some neighbors’ doors and have them gladly opened, because of the kids. Our older neighbors seemed particularly appreciative.

    It may be no surprise that positive-thinking guru’s have become so popular at a time when the overall evangelical outlook upon the world has become so dark, cynical, and pessimistic. It could be that deep down inside no one can be so negative all the time. I think people are screaming on the inside for someone to save them from themselves.

    Evangelicals are more than willing to use the world to make money and accumulate stuff, but beyond that it severs all relationships in horror of dangers of mixing with the wicked and unwashed. It’s no wonder we herd our children into church harvest festivals to protect them from our neighbors. We are teaching them at an early age that the church is a gnostic, other-worldly place, totally detached from real life. The result are children who dump church when they grow up and find their way into that real life. A view of the world which avoids relationships within it is completely antithetical to a gospel which proclaims that the Son of God left heaven to seek and save the lost.

  2. I’m with iMonk on this one. (From the NRP blog last year)

    http://www.newreformationpress.com/blog/2007/10/08/christians-on-halloween/

  3. My small, central urban neighborhood is populated by parents who, like me, were tired of wishing Halloween were like it used to be, and we re-made it the way it was. Halloween here is now a big multi-block neighborhood party, where parents and over-12 siblings escort small children around for candy. By virtue of peer pressure, yard decorations are creative but non-scary, and older kids dare not get too rambunctious, because we know where they live. We all communicate, in person and via e-mail and newsletter, so we’re all on the same page on this.

    Stop whining about Halloween not being like it used to be (I don’t mean you, Michael); start talking to your neighbors, and take it *back*.

  4. Enough about halloween… I can’t wait until Christmas cause I got a hot sermon on “Satan Claws”

  5. sue kephart says

    Have the kids dress up like Bible characters. Have them learn about the person who they are dressing up as.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It may be no surprise that positive-thinking guru’s have become so popular at a time when the overall evangelical outlook upon the world has become so dark, cynical, and pessimistic. It could be that deep down inside no one can be so negative all the time. I think people are screaming on the inside for someone to save them from themselves. — Dumb Ox

    That explains Obama and Messiah Politics…

    You can walk in total darkness and pessimism only so long before you go crazy, nihilistic, suicidal, or all three. Before that, self-preservation usually kicks in and you grab for a Savior. Any Savior. Just to make the Darkness stop.

    Have the kids dress up like Bible characters. Have them learn about the person who they are dressing up as. — Sue Kephart

    Now that’s getting into Christian Bizarro World country. That’s the same mentality that gave us “Harvest Festivals” — “Just like Halloween, except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”

    And like Bizarro World from DC Comics, it usually results in an imperfect, inferior copy of the original. To the point that “Christian = Shoddy and Lame”. See the last paragraph of Dumb Ox’s comment above.

  7. Warnke finds evil in things other than Halloween. Some years ago he spoke at a Baptist church my son attended. Warnke spent most of his message damning the Democrats to hell. Afterwards, my son took his turn moving past Warnke at the door and said to him, “You don’t want to shake my hand since I’m one of those hell-bound democrats you spoke about.” Nothing was ever spoken by the pastor as to the right or wrong of Warnke’s presentation. A lesson to be learned is that when mostly judgement and fear spews from the mouth of a so-called evangelical……whether about Halloween or any other subject, one should let the words float away and just melt into the universe.

  8. Yes. Thank you. I have a similar annual rant. My latest one takes a different form and can be found at:
    http://www.videorideo.wordpress.com

  9. This has never really been a hill for me to die on one way or the other. I too have some rather fond memories of the good old days. Ultimately, though, I have always tried to respect the convictions of others on this issue.

    On the other hand I am convicted about the pious nose-in-the-air attitude that is often perceived of Christians by the nonbelieving community when it comes to cultural issues such as this. It just seems to me that there ought to be some area of middle ground here in which believers can engage the culture without compromising their convictions. It’s one thing to curse the darkness. It’s quite another to turn on the Light.

  10. I loved Halloween as a kid. My mom’s only rule was that we couldn’t dress as either witches or devils.

    And my Catholic parish encourages kids to wear their costumes to All Saints’ Eve mass before they go out knocking on doors. That oughta stir up the folks who go looking for the devil wherever they can find him.

  11. I was a child “trick or treating” in the late 60s. I hated it. I loved the candy but I hated costumes. My mom would tell my brother to take off his mask in the car because it would always freak me out.

    As the parent of three children (all are now adults), I did not allow them to participate in the festivities of the neighborhood. They now tell me they did “not” feel left out. They do not think they have missed anything.

    One of my co-workers is Wiccan. Halloween is her favorite holiday. She really likes that Celtic music. IM, do you think my co-worker has been caught up in all the hoopla of the Celtic history of the holiday? That is to say, are the Wiccans just as wrapped up in the false demonization of Halloween?

  12. One of the biggest reasons I dont like Halloween is what others are doing that night. We used to live in San Diego and would hear about all the street kids in TJ that were missing the next day and the deaths reported that night. We lived next to a lady and her teen who was, she said, involved in a coven for many years. The teen said every year at Halloween, she felt the coven “calling her back”. She had regressed and had the mind of a 5 year old. That Halloween morning, my husband and I woke up to what sounded like an animal in the neighboring condo (the lady and her teens), it was the girl – going berserk, tearing the sink off the wall, saying they were calling again….

    I just couldn’t see having a fun time when its life and death for others, you know.

    That said, we do try to make it fun for our kids anyway, lots of candy, a movie, or a harvest festival with friends.

    Last year I tried something different, I invited 2 other Christian families to go to a corn maze. They are now no longer my friends, I guess I was a heathen to have even had that crazy idea…

  13. I love iMonk’s annual Halloween rants!

    I hear what atruefaith.com is saying about the way it’s celebrated today in our culture. And I say “AMEN!!” to Bob Sacremento when he says “See, this is what happens to a thing when all the Christians pull out.” As Nathan Briscoe wrote on his blog [http://nathanbriscoe.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/i-hate-halloween/], Halloween is a celebration of darkness, death, and fear. Darkness, death and fear are realities in this world and, yes, the world does seem to celebrate them in unChristian ways. But, a more appropriate response than turning the lights off and hiding in our living rooms is to ask ourselves, “What does Scripture teach us about death and evil?”, “What does Christ’s Kingdom have to offer to the world in relation to death and evil?”, and, “Is this something to celebrate?” I say, “Yes it is!” As a follower of Christ who believes in the realities of sin, evil, and satan, I choose to celebrate Halloween as an opportunity to teach important scriptural truths to my children (and remind myself, as well). To avoid it makes kids think we’re afraid of something, when the truth is that that “something” is afraid of us!

    All Hallows’ Eve: On this day we celebrate the fact that Christ is the Light that overcomes the darkness of sin, death and evil. We observe the reality of the enemies, sin and death, and look to the promise of our resurrection and new life in Christ. We also observe the reality of evil and rejoice that God is more powerful and has already overcome it. ~ “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” ~ I Corinthians 15:55

    All Hallows’ (Saints’) Day: On this day we observe that God’s people are to reflect the Light of Christ in our lives. We celebrate and honor the lives and works of our spiritual forbearers–church fathers, martyrs and saints, known and unknown, living and dead–and recognize that only by the grace of God we too might have the faith to live holy lives as Christ commands. ~ “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.” ~Heb. 13:7~

    All Souls’ Day: On this day we observe that, God’s people are called to be lampstands, sharing the Light of Christ in both word and deed with those in the world who are still walking in darkness. We remember all souls living by proclaiming the Kingdom of God and working to bring peace into our world, to establish justice among us, to lift the burdens of those who are oppressed, to care for the sick, and to assist the poor. ~ “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:16 ~

    It is a wonderful opportunity of witness if we can craft our decorations to emphasize these truths, as well. I have done this and my daughter loves it. Who would have thought reapers and bible verses could go together?! Also, from a spiritual perspective, I created liturgies for our family to use to worship together on each of the three days, discussing the themes mentioned above. We listen to Christian “Halloween” music (Selah’s “Ain’t No Grave” and “All My Sins (Be Washed Away)” are my newest favorites, but I have a huge list), and we read about the saints. So, I have no qualm with Believers who choose not to celebrate, and understand and respect their reasons for not doing so. But, it is not the only appropriate Christian response.

  14. I have never shunned halloween cuz I thought it would pull my children into satanism but because I don’t know the people in my small town well enough to take my children house to house. I have in the past taken them to the mall or other community get togethers in place of the house to house T0rT’ing. I remember as child trick or treating but I have come to relize there are sick people out there who think nothing of harming children on just such an occasion.

  15. Betsy,

    Are you aware of any documented stories of children being harmed by their neighbors while trick or treating?

    MS

  16. Hi Erin 🙂 Have you been talking about me?!

    Halloween as celebrated by you is not Halloween as celebrated by others!

    In reality, I don’t even think you celebrate Halloween–you celebrate God’s triumph over the laws of sin and death, and I applaud you 🙂

    @Monk

    What is worldliness, and are we to flee it? Let us never ever celebrate death, darkness, or fear!

    Here is why this Christian doesn’t celebrate Halloween.

  17. Nathan,

    Originally, All Hallow’s Eve is to celebrate the Christians who died before us. Some of them died some pretty gruesome deaths, like being burned as torches at Caesar’s party.

    I think that we should celebrate their bravery in the face of certain death. (and hope that we never have to face that kind ourselves.)

  18. What is sad about the whole debate is that we need festivals. The Old Testament had seven festivals that culminated in the fall festival of Zukkot. It was a powerful and joyous experiences. Many times we forget God wants joy in our lives. Your nostalgia for Halloween reminds me that God wants us to have joy.

  19. Wow, how refreshing to hear that someone else shares your same feeling about a taboo subject within Christendom. As a younger Christian in the 70’s, I too looked upon Halloween as evil and of the devil. But I always remembered the years of fun I had as a kid and young teenager during Halloween. But I was pumped with all the input from other christians about Halloween so I also bought into it as most of us did. Now some 34 plus years later, I am so much more relaxed about this holiday. I think it falls within the whole Christian liberty issue that Romans 14 talks about. I actually don’t mind Halloween anymore. I think it’s funny and down right hysterical when I see the different displays in my neighborhood. I think all this has come with maturity and not making a mountain out of a mole hill. We Christians can be way too superstitious and read into things and not enjoy our culture.

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Evangelicals are more than willing to use the world to make money and accumulate stuff, but beyond that it severs all relationships in horror of dangers of mixing with the wicked and unwashed. — Dumb Ox

    Thus sending the message of “We hate your guts, but we’ll take your money!”