Monday, October 31, 2011

Resisting Halloween

This is the one day of the year when I don't enjoy being a Christian.

Because I'm always puzzled by fellow evangelicals who love Halloween. And insist fun is more important than principle.  That, plus the fact that I'm not a terribly gracious Christian.

Granted, I don't know if I'm supposed to "enjoy" being a Christian to begin with. Yes, we're supposed to "worship God and enjoy Him forever," but the "enjoyment" part is something He defines, not us. And frankly, some parts of the Christian experience aren't what I'd call very enjoyable.

Plus, I'm not wired to constantly stoke the pleasure principle like many evangelicals do. I'm not convinced having fun equals enjoyment, or that fun is even a right, although I don't think fun in itself is wrong.

But when it comes to Halloween, it really does all boil down to fun, doesn't it? Because there's not much left to redeem it. Some theologians try to rationalize history and tease some All Saints tribute out of it, but in my mind, there's a big difference between celebrating the fact that God's grace cancels out the fear of death, which is what All Saints Day commemorates, and celebrating fear with conventional hedonism.

Yet like all the other times when I disagree with conventional contemporary Christianity, I'm supposed to be the gracious one and let everybody else do what they think is right in their own eyes.  And keep my opinions to myself, so I don't ruin their fun.

But... fun?  When I think of Christ, I think of things like love, joy, and peace, or even righteous anger.  When I think of Halloween, I think of, well, a relic of a Druidic celebration observed today by real-life witches.

You know - real Satan worshippers who many evangelicals like to pretend don't exist.

Indeed, church historians who like Halloween suddenly become fuzzy with early timelines of October 31. Rather than tracing the holiday all the way back to the Druid's pagan Samheim, they eagerly trot out early renditions of the Catholic Church's recalibration of All Hallows Eve. In what is now the United Kingdom, Catholics were able to capture the popular cultural observance of Samheim and intermesh Rome's traditions for All Saints Day, like they've done with other religious holidays in other parts of the world.

David Mathis, a pastor at John Piper's (normally) doctrinally-astute Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, is one of evangelical Christianity's Halloween apologists. Last week, he posted a blog entry in support of using Halloween as an evangelical opportunity. And while I understand why some believers view evangelism as a viable use for the holiday, here's the flawed crux of why they justify this thinking:

"What posture would Jesus have us take when we are told that our 'adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour' (1 Peter 5:8)? Naïveté? Retreat? Rather: 'Resist him, firm in your faith' (verse 9). What if we had the gospel gall to trust Jesus for this promise: 'Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.' (James 4:7)? And what if resistance meant not only holding our ground, but taking his?"

Oh, if that supposition were a given in the Gospel's marching orders! Resistance implying certain advancement. It's a nice thought, but in context, I'm thinking "standing firm" is the more explicit instruction from James. Yes, advancement may occur, and inevitably, it does. But remember, the battle is not ours.  It's God's. And He's already won the victory for us. Through - and because of - His holiness.

Meanwhile, although we're never instructed to just sit around and wait for the victory party, we're to be wise and deliberately God-honoring in the forms that "resisting the Devil" takes.

How interesting to note that Mathis doesn't say pressing against the Devil to gain ground is what the Bible teaches.  He phrases what he hopes is a justification for observing Halloween in a hypothetical interrogative. Creating the illusion of fact, similar to many gory Halloween props.

Indeed, the traditional trappings of Hallow 'Een have gotten turned by some evangelicals into tools with which we can mock the Devil.  There's no Scripture that tells us to mock Satan, but Martin Luther has written about doing so, which apparently is good enough for the pleasure principle crowd.  I'm fully aware that Luther is practically the patron saint of the modern church, and understandably so, but his was no more perfect a life than yours or mine. For example, did you know Luther was a raging antisemite? Indeed, there are perfectly good reasons why none of his writings are included in the Canon of Scripture. 

Mostly because they're not inspired by God.  Which, of course, is true of what I write, too.  It's just that Luther, his antisemitism notwithstanding, was right about so many more things so much earlier than I am today.  Which gives my opinion that much less credibility.

That's why I don't rely on my opinion, but the facts.  And in the case of Halloween, having it be a modern observance of a modern religion - Wicca - is fact, not opinion. Evangelicals can choose to overlook that fact, or minimize the importance of that fact since Wicca has far fewer adherents than Christianity. But doesn't doing so place greater priority on fun than principle?

An atheist co-worker of mine once asked me why so many Christians celebrate Halloween. I told him that I really couldn't speak for everyone else, but that I don't.

Because it's an important celebration of a false religion.

He took that explanation far better, it seemed, than if I had told him Christians just wanna have fun.
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PS - Although he doesn't reach the same conclusion I do about Halloween, you might find James Harleman's essay of interest. Harleman is a pastor at Seattle, Washington's Mars Hill Church.

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