More and more I see local churches replacing Halloween with a generic harvest festival or even more egregious, Reformation Day where they celebrate the achievements of Martin Luther and rampant sectarianism. And of course, at the crazy extreme many self-righteous christians are rejecting the day altogether as too symbolic of paganism which to their minds is only a veneer of ancient culture spread thinly over the reality of devil-worship.
We all know that Halloween started out as a pagan holiday, but why does that immediately make it evil in the minds of so many. Pagans weren’t devil worshippers and they weren’t monsters and they’ve contributed a great deal to our culture. Perhaps their ancient traditions might deserve a day of recognition rather than being tarred with the brush of Satanism and discarded.
I’ve got a different idea of how christians should deal with Halloween. It seems to me that it would be a perfect day of atonement for them. The church is supposed to teach humility and responsibility, so perhaps its time that christians as a whole, regardless of sect, acknowledge the excesses of their faith and make amends for some of those outrages. Let’s start with the Catholics. Halloween is a perfect symbol of their past history as a cannibalistic cult which consumed other religions, absorbing and perverting their holy days – like Halloween – and then persecuting their members and enslaving them. From the time of Rome into the modern era the Catholic church practiced aggressive syncretism, moving their own holidays to coincide with major events of the pagan year to make conversion less of a change for their missionary targets. They even changed basic elements of the faith, turning the Virgin Mary into a mother goddess figure, almost co-equal with Jesus in order to appeal to cultures with mother goddess based religions. All of this with the aim of seducing people away from their traditional beliefs, suppressing their cultural traditions and ultimately making them dependent on the church not only for faith, but in many cases economically in a state of literal serfdom to religious institutions which owned huge amounts of land and required peasant labor to make the land profitable. Perhaps on Halloween Catholics could spend a little time apologizing to all of our ancestors for this history of exploitation and oppression.
Then there are the protestent sects, starting with Martin Luther and his followers who in addition to reforming the church also displayed a particular bloodthirsty zeal for stamping out any kind of religious deviation even where it existed only in their imagination. It is their Reformation which brought us the Witch Craze in Europe and later in America, with thousands tortured, burnt and hanged. To a large extent they are even responsible for the crimes of the Catholic Inquisition, because it gained great power in response to the pressure put on the church in response to protestantism. Most of the witches condemned during this era were not practicing pagans or practicing witches or anything but crazy old women who irritated their neighbors and fit the stereotypical image of the witch. Nonetheless they were dragged in and tortured, forced to give confessions and name those who consorted with the devil with them, and then those innocents were hauled in too and more forced confessions would lead to more accusations and ultimately more torture and murder of the innocent. Maybe the Episcopalians and Anglicans should apologize for the outrages of Matthew Hopkins the self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ of England. American protestants can remember those killed and imprisoned in the Salem Witch Trials. And perhaps Lutherans should make amends for the 60,000 supposed witches killed in Germany in the great Witch Craze of the 16th century.
The spriit of the witch hunt isn’t exactly gone today. Modern christian extremists – particularly American fundamentalists – continue to ostracize, persecute and stygmatize those who don’t want to conform to their ideas of faith and morality. The attacks on Halloween are part of this, but it includes their hatred of homosexuals, neo-pagans, moslems, unwed-mothers, fornicators, secularists and even other christian sects, especially Catholics. Their attempts to eliminate Halloween are characteristic of this intolerance of anything which isn’t sufficiently sanctimonious. Perhaps they could set Halloween aside as a day to do something unfamiliar – practice a bit of tolerance and the forgotten value of christian charity.
Of course, the real victims of all of this are the kids. For them Halloween isn’t about religion, it’s about fun and dressing up and candy. These are valuable parts of childhood, and those who want to do away with the traditions of the holiday are doing so at the expense of the joys which make childhood special. Intolerance against groups and religions is part of history, but when the weight of that bigotry falls on our kids today then it has gone too far. The desire to insert religion into every aspect of life is a sickness. It causes people to be unable to differentiate between harmless fun and the seduction of the devil. People who can’t draw that line probably shouldn’t be in positions where they can make decisions like changing Halloween into a harvest festival or banishing trick or treating to the local mall. They may think of themselves as godly, but I just think of them as killjoys.