Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween: A Christian view

(Note - this is not the Christian view - it is a Christian view. Some Christians will disagree with me. Strongly.)

There is something about dressing up and make believe that seems to worry rather a lot of people. When I was a youngster, some friends of our family didn’t allow their sons to play with toy guns. They clearly believed that playing at homicide was shocking and improper. The fact that it was only playing didn’t seem to make any difference to them. Shooting people was wrong, and hence even to play at shooting people was wrong.

The same thing came out when Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi when going to a fancy dress party. Except this time, it wasn’t just my parents’ rather serious friends - it was pretty much the whole of the British political establishment. Nazis were evil, and the fact that Prince Harry was merely going to a fancy dress party made no difference to these people.

I reflected on Halloween at the time. When I was young, I had a devil mask. “Surely”, I thought to myself, “the devil is more evil than any Nazi. Therefore, wearing a devil mask must, in the minds of all these serious people who are condemning Prince Harry, be a deeply shocking thing to do.”

Fortunately, most people don’t take that viewpoint. Alas, many Christians do, including many of my friends. They regard Halloween as, at best, unhealthy, and at worst, diabolical. I see that the Vatican seems to agree with them.

The concern seems to be exactly the same as the thinking of those who disapprove of toy guns and of Prince Harry’s swastika armband. "If you let children play with guns, then they may be tempted to take homicide lightly." "If people start dressing up as Nazis, then National Socialism may gain respectability." "If you allow children to dress up as witches and ghouls, then you are sending a message that occult activity is acceptable."

In my view, this is complete and utter nonsense. Children can tell the difference between make-believe and reality. Playing at being a cowboy did not leave me with any desire to heard cattle, ride a horse, wear a gun, hang around the saloon, or exterminate native Americans. Nor does dressing up as Guy Fawkes and wondering around Westminster incite people to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Nor does dressing up as Nazis contribute to the rehabilitation of National Socialism. Nor did people wearing George W. Bush masks influence large numbers of people to vote Republican in last year's American presidential election. And nor does dressing up in a scary costume encourage Satanism.

There are plenty of more important things for Christians to be concerned about. There is a real risk here of straining out gnats and swallowing camels.


Benjamin of Wight said...

From my Orthodox point of view, Halloween allows the Devil, a real, evil and malign personage, an entry into children's souls through the trivialisation of Satanist practices. of course this is portrayed as cuddly, fun and harmless; but he isn't known as the Prince of Lies for nothing.

From a secular point of view I dislike the commercialism and demanding money with menaces that I will have to put up with tonight (The little darlings are usually not happy with Icon cards of St. Boniface...)

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, and thanks for your thoughtful comments. It is an honour to have you drop by.

I agree that the Deceiver is very deceptive.

My view is that there are thousands of other things that are more subtle, more deceptive, more cuddly, that he uses. For every person who is led astray by the demonic (or even the 'pretend demonic'), a million are led astray by other things that look much more innocent.

As for "the trivialisation of Satanist practices", dressing up as a ghost and going around saying "trick or treat" is not a Satanist practice. I'm not even sure that it is akin to Satanist practices.

Yes, I confess that I did go trick or treating in my childhood - to selected friends, under the eye of my parents! But I don't think it did me much spiritual harm. In fact, I think that reading a lot of the books in the average "Christian bookshop" would probably do some people more harm than going trick or treating.

(By the way, I'm lucky that the youngsters in my area tend to be well behaved at this time of year!)

Benjamin of Wight said...

And thank you for a courteous blog fellow bear.

Of course as an Orthodox Christian libertarian, anyone who wants too can do the pumpkin dance, free will and all that.

Much prefer celebrating the attempted blowing up of parliament however! (Though of course from my perspective it was one bunch of heretics exploding another bunch of heretics...)

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thank you. We bears must stick together. Even when we don't agree.

Though of course from my perspective it was one bunch of heretics exploding another bunch of heretics...

I'm glad to hear that you are stick firmly to your Orthodoxy. I don't know if you have read Mr. William Dalrymple's fascinating book, From the Holy Mountain. I was greatly impressed by the Orthodox monks Mr. Dalrymple met who candidly told him that because he wasn't Orthodox, he was a heretic and in danger of eternal perdition.

Benjamin of Wight said...

Ah, the men in black; My Dalrymple's book is very sympathetic. This is my lot....

Young Mr. Brown said...

So you are an Old Calendarist? In which case, I presume that you would count most of the Orthodox Churches as heterodox?

Benjamin of Wight said...

Ailing but Orthodox, the Royal road.... Old Calender history is, well, somewhat Byzantine... (to continue Gibbon's calumny)

Young Mr. Brown said...

Interesting. And also interesting how far off topic we managed to get!

patently said...

Returning (perhaps briefly) to the topic, I see something positive in devil masks for Halloween, Harry's Nazi costumes for fancy dress parties, and so on. It is that by having a day or an event at which we celebrate the other, the different, the not-normally-permitted, we both allow an outlet for the naughty, cheeky side of human nature, and also remind everyone that these icons are not normally permitted.

In other words, by allowing depictions of Satan on Halloween, we make clear that he is not permitted; that he is fearsome, that he is evil. The precise opposite, therefore, of wht is feared.

Oh - and happy All Saints day to you, Mr B!

Philip Walker said...

My concern is aesthetic: dressing children up as mass murderers just isn't particularly nice. There's also the fact that 'trick or treat' amounts to attempted extortion. The "Hallowe'en is eating children's souls!!11" rhetoric I find to be less convincing. It's my way of having my cake and eating it.

Thinking of cake, some aspects of Hallowe'en do concern me, but let me be cautious how I put this. Greggs got some pagans in to do a 'Wiccan blessing' on their range of Hallowe'en baked goods (src). Now, I'm not of the view that eating food offered to idols is necessarily wrong, nor do I think that the pagans are out to poison us all. But I do worry at that kind of event nevertheless, and it does seem to me to be verging onto the "spiritual" danger of Hallowe'en.

Happy Reformation Day for yesterday.

(PS — I really struggle to post here when I'm logged in through Google. Any ideas?)

Albert said...

I think it's an annoying "festival" that underlines the difficulty our society has to think, say or doing much of any interest.

It is possible to over do objections to it though. I think that the Catholic objection is really to do with it taking away from All Saints' Day and from praying for the departed at All Souls' tide.

I don't entirely agree that children can always easily distinguish between make-believe and real - especially when adults are involved. Moreover, it is possible to trivialise things in this way - think of how that Che Guevara poster became iconic. Presumably most of the people who liked that picture didn't know Che was a murderous thug, who would have thought little of killing them and their families.

This trivialisation is a worry: ours is a society that has lost the categories to speak intelligibly about good and evil. It also has difficulty facing death and taking it seriously. These are serious issues and though one shouldn't get unduly worked up about Hallowe'en, it is clear it is hardly helpful.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm delighted to have comments from right across the ecclesiastical spectrum. The comment zone for this post is almost as ecumenical as Nicea in the year 325!

Mr. Walker, I can see what you mean about aesthetics. Young children seem to think otherwise. It seems that it's cool to be ghoul. But you are right about this "Trick or Treat" practice. Most unethical.

Thanks for the link about the strange practice of Greggs. Greggs go down in my opinion.

I've no ideas at all about your difficulty posting. We bears are not very good at anything to do with computers.

Yes, I had a pleasant Reformation Day. No visitors. Nor did I dress up as an Augustinian Friar and go out with a hammer, some nails, and a big bit of paper.

Mr. P, I had a very peaceful All Saints' Day. But since then, my paws have been very full, and I've hardly had a moment's rest - note the date of this reply!

Interesting thought, by the way. I'll muse on it.

Albert, you are probably right that children can't always distinguish truth from make believe. The same is true of adults. I'm amazed at the number who believe what they read in the papers and see on BBC News.

And I can hardly disagree with you about trivialisation. Modern western civilisation does seem to be particularly prone to trivialisation.

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