Dr. James Emery White
Pastor, Ranked Adjunctive Professor of Theology and Culture Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides, and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating. That is what it held for my now very post-Halloween-age children as well. As a result, I’ve had a built-in resistance to those Christians who bash October 31st as a pagan festival that followers of Christ have no business supporting, much less engaging. Yes, I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free of pagan roots, and the idea that donning a costume and receiving a mini-Snicker bar is an invitation to the occult is ludicrous to my thinking.
And if you want to really push me, I’ll bring up the fact that at the very least it can be celebrated as Reformation Day (when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church).
So I still hold to the child-like fun the night can hold, but I no longer view the day itself as innocuous.
For example, the costumes (among adults, at least) might as well be advertised as “Dress like a Slut” day. This is not original with me. In an article in The New York Times titled, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” Stephanie Rosenbloom writes of the changing nature of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years.
Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt does not seem en route to her grandmother’s house. Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed. And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a – well, you get the point.
As Rosenbloom notes, the images “are more strip club than storybook.” It’s a wonder, she adds, that “gyms do not have ‘get in shape for Halloween’ specials.”
(Actually, mine does.)
Of course, experts are often trotted out to speak of this as the “empowering” of women as they embrace their sexuality, and look for deep and positive meanings in the evolution of Cinderella from virgin to vixen. But take a walk through your neighborhood mall’s costume store, as I recently did – mine featured a prominent “no one under 18 allowed without a parent” sign out front – and you can cut through the sociological analysis.
And need I even delve into the gore side of things?
Then there is the Christmas-ization of Halloween. There are now Halloween trees decorated with ghosts and pumpkins, orange lights on houses, and even Halloween displays on lawns. In an article in USA Today on how Halloween is getting “Christmassy,” Maria Puente writes that “Halloween…is second only to the December holiday in spending.”
Don’t believe it? According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $5.7 billion in 2008 on Halloween.
Yep, 5.7 billion.
But here is my biggest complaint of all: we are giving the world of the occult what it most wants.
And what does the world of the occult most want?
To be trivialized.
C.S. Lewis, in his famed Screwtape Letters, said that what demons hate most is to be mocked. Perhaps during Lewis’ time, that was true. But they’ve gotten wise. Now, I think they like it.
Why? It is one more way to mask their reality.
I was jolted into how we have removed the reality of the occult from our American culture during a recent trip to the Philippines. Reading the Manila Bulletin one morning (the nation’s leading newspaper, I saw the following headline: “93 students possessed by evil spirits.”
It was striking in how “matter of fact” it was. Just a story about what happened.
The story detailed how at least ninety-three students at a public high school in Bontoc (the Mountain Province General Comprehensive High School) were reportedly possessed by evil spirits while they were attending classes. The event led to the suspension of regular classes for several days.
They took them to the Bontoc General Hospital for treatment.
It didn’t help.
Later, they were brought to the churches in the town where they were blessed by priests, and this reportedly brought them back to their normal condition.
James Emery White
Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.
Maria Puente, “Halloween décor is getting Christmassy,” USA Today, Friday, October 13, 2006, p. D1.
For spending in 2008 on Halloween, see http://www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=News&op=viewlive&sp_id=578.
“93 students possessed by evil spirits,” Manila Bulletin, Wednesday, August 5, 2009, p. 6.