Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All That Ain't Hallowed - Part 2

For Part 1, click here.

Treat or Trick?

Believers in Christ should exercise discretion with Halloween because it exists today as a component of modern, pagan Wicca. But its early years didn't lend much to its credibility as a Gospel-honoring observance either.

As ancient Celts, Druids, and other pagans would celebrate it, Samhain played on the superstitions, fears, and outright ignorance of the day in dark and mysterious practices. There was very little then that could be termed fun by modern evangelicals who consider today's Halloween a harmless diversion.

Believing that spirits and ghosts were literally wandering around during Samhaim, early celebrants of the festival would place bowls of food outside their homes for the otherworldly visitors to eat, hoping to reduce the likelihood these ghosts would want to come inside. If people had to venture outside, they'd wear disguises to avoid being recognized by apparitions which would be sharing the streets with them.

In ancient Dublin, small groups of children began roaming the streets during Samhain dressed in clothes and masks designed to startle passers-by. These children would then pester people by asking for apples or nuts to “help the Hallow E’en party.”

As time passed, the ritual of collecting food on Halloween became oriented towards older teenage boys. They'd travel considerable distances and use their Hallow E’en haul for more organized parties with music, dancing, feasting, etc. It became customary for these young men to rove the countryside in gangs, lubricated with alcohol, blowing horns and blackmailing farmers for food or money as an honor to the deity of Samhain. Minor acts of mischief became commonplace, like removing a fence gate from its hinges and laying it on the ground, but rarely was significant damage done.

The current practice of sending costumed children out into neighborhoods is actually a revival of the ancient Dublin tradition by early 20th century school trustees and community activists here in the United States, anxious to stem a growing tide of vandalism on October 31. Starting with the Great Irish Potato Famine, immigrants flooded large North American cities with Celtic traditions that sometimes got out of hand. Surprisingly, however, the phrase “trick or treat” is relatively new, not entering the American lexicon until the Great Depression.

Churches Try to Claim Some of the Fun

As secular society increasingly tolerated and then welcomed Halloween into conventional cultural dialog, some churches sought to parlay America's dalliance with the dark holiday into a twisted redemptive venture. Their prevailing theory held that believers should shove Halloween back in the Devil's face in an exhibition of our victory with Christ over death and the grave.

Some believers encouraged children to wear costumes mimicking devilish features like horns and a tail, all constructed of red or black velvet. Of course, having cherubic little boys and girls become impish little scamps for Halloween actually reflected more of the fallen nature of man than a mockery of Satan, who probably reveled in the deceit believers were perpetrating on themselves.

Yes, Christ has defeated death, Hell, and Satan for us. But the victory is ours "through" Christ. The victory isn't ours because of anything we can do. God warns us to be on guard against attacks from the Devil; He says nothing about going out and figuratively kicking his shin or taunting him. God tells us to resist the Devil, not dawdle or take one last look at the fun we could have had at his party. (Um, yeah, Mrs. Lott; I'm still talking to you).

I mean, picture a schoolyard bully being placed into detention by the principal, only to have the little kid who had been bullied sticking out his tongue at his nemesis as the door closed. Should we underestimate that bully, or the Devil?

Halloween Obscures an Event Worth Celebrating

And for a bunch of Protestants who for 364 days out of the year believe today's Roman Catholic Church is a borderline cult, it seems farcical and disingenuous to suddenly embrace a contrived Catholic holiday which celebrates the antithesis of evangelical orthodoxy.

Martin Luther is fabled to have nailed his 95 Theses onto the heavy wooden doors of Wittenburg's Castle Church on All Hallows Eve, October 31, because he knew that the next day, All Saints Day, throngs of worshipers would be passing through those doors for services.

How shameful that the very act which has been credited with establishing evangelical Christianity's pivotal break from Roman Catholicism has been co-opted by a festival which perpetuates some of the very fallacies Luther sought to condemn, including church leaders ingratiating themselves to populist ideology and minimizing doctrine for the sake of carnality.

So as a moderately reformed Presbyterian, I can think of no better way to end my exegesis of Halloween's infidelity with the Gospel, as well as invite anybody with proofs to the contrary to make their case, than to recite one of the grandest hymns in the entire evangelical praise repertoire: none other than Martin Luther's own "A Mighty Fortress."

1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

PS - To corroborate the facts I've presented in this essay, I contemplated providing links to my references. But I don't want to tacitly endorse any e-connections to such vile websites, so I'll just let you research any doubts you may have about my facts on your own.

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