A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

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No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween, Or, Christianity and the Creepy Part II

Halloween is over, and so we can reasonably expect debate on the subject to cease for a good ten months, before it resumes again in August or September of 2006. If this is a prospect that makes your heart leap for joy, then you should skip today's blog entry, because, despite today being All Saint's Day, I'm going to comment on some of the anti-Halloween rhetoric out there. (And then I'm going to go to the noon mass, so don't you fret for my soul.)

There are, as I understand it, four possible objections to Christians celebrating Halloween:

1) Halloween is pagan in origin, and Christians must not make use of pagan culture at all.

2) Not all "borrowings" from paganism are bad, but Halloween is clearly occult, and should be avoided.

3) Halloween doesn't just celebrate the occult: it actually IS a chance for spirits to roam free and do bad things. We shouldn't encourage them.

4) Halloween is just too scary.

My previous entry on "Christianity and the creepy" addressed point number 4 while ignoring the first two points. One might think that this is an excellent time for me to go back and talk about the relationship of Christianity to paganism. However, I'm not going to do that, because I feel that plenty of people have already done that. Consider, for instance, this Catholics United for the Faith article.

I'm also not going to address Point #3 in much depth, except to say that this is a superstition, not a Christian teaching, and I'd be very wary of any source which used this as its main argument. Furthermore, even if this were true, there's no evidence that dressing up in costumes and putting out scary decorations actually encourages evil spirits. Since I closed my last post with a throw-away line about gargoyles, I will take the time to point out now that one traditional (though now challenged) explanation of gargoyles is that they were there to frighten away the evil spirits. Gargoyles, with their distorted, sometimes frightening faces, are guardians of the sanctuary. Is it so much of a stretch to think that Jack O'Lanterns and silly outdoor decorations might stem from the same tradition of scaring the devil away with the grotesque? Regardless of whether one accepts the idea that the grotesque can be turned against the devil somehow, it should be clear from the use of the gargoyles that the grotesque (the "creepy" as I called it) is not necessarily helping demonic forces. This means that a simple verision of Point #3 simply doesn't work.

I want to say a little more about point 4, however, because the arguments based on this point are what trouble me the most. I'm motivated to discuss this issue by a comment made in response to one of Michelle Arnold's posts on One commentor said that "The defence of the whole <*sputter with anger*> holi-day is that its fun for me." And he's right. A lot of the defence of Halloween comes down to "I enjoy it, and I'm Christian, so there must be nothing wrong with it from a Christian perspective." However, what this comment ignores is that the reason many people defend the holiday this way is that there are so many Argument #4 people out there, whose reaction against Halloween simply comes down to "It's scary, and I think it's too scary." These people will sometimes tack on a line like "God is not a God of fear" or "How is it godly to glorify fear?" This is what I take issue with. There's nothing wrong with deciding that Halloween is too scary for you and your children, but there is something wrong with making a theological judgment against the holiday based on its scariness.

In fact, our God did use fear quite a bit in the Old Testament. Sometimes, as in the case of the medium at Endor who summoned Samuel's spirit, the stories are intended to tell us what not to do- but that's not always the case. God was not averse to using fear or the creepy to drive home a pedagogical point. Consider the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, especially the plague of darkness. Those three days of blackness that covered the land in Exodus 10 must have been pretty scary, I'd imagine. One may reasonably argue that there's a difference between God using fear to motivate the Egyptians to let the Israelites go, and God using (or even allowing) fear to affect his people. But God does, in fact, use the creepy as a sign for the chosen nation. For example, there's also the famous incident of the dry bones, found in Ezezial 37, when God first animates, then resurrects (by returning the spirit to) a pile of bones. Sounds creepy, no? For a moment -before verses 9-10- there were actually Undead on the Earth. (I'm still waiting for a great zombie movie to be made from this passage!) Then God restored the corpses to full life. It was a dramatic sign to the prophet of God's ability to restore His spirit to a lifeless nation- but it definitely makes use of the "creepy" to make its point.

Can I conclusively prove from the Bible that celebrating Halloween is just fine for Christians? No, of course not, and I'm not trying to do that. I'm merely trying to offer more evidence in support of the Chrisitan use of the creepy. God made use of the macabre in the Old Testament to drive home some points, and, as my previous post suggested, Christians made use of it throughout the Middle Ages as a reminder of mortality. Those who are opposed to Halloween on the grounds that God is somehow against "scary" stuff need to work through these aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order to show why we can't use "the creepy" today.

Photo courtesy of this Gargoyle page, which contains many good photos of old churches and other gargoyle-adorned buildings.


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