Boo to All That!
“What is it that drives people to dress like that for Halloween?” my wife asked me.
She wasn’t talking about little girls dressed like ballerinas and fairies, but folks of any age play-acting the monster variety. Why, indeed, would anyone want to pretend to be a zombie, a vampire, or a ghost for a few hours?
We’d had this conversation many times before, and we always return to our original answer: because of the symbolism, we don’t do Halloween. I know, and we’ve explained to our kids, 99 out of 100 people don’t give it a second thought, and that may be more like 9999 out of ten thousand. Still, we try to be people who follow the Lord with some conscious thought about what we’re doing and what we’re communicating.
And the usual Halloween routine communicates a couple of ideas which are polar opposites and both wrong.
The first idea is that there’s nothing to the idea of demons, witches, and all the monstrosities we associate with the holiday. All superstition and ghost stories, they say. Nothing more than play acting at Halloween, all just good clean fun.
There’s a problem with that. Even if that’s true, it’s all just a game, people don’t just assume the fantastic shapes, the Frankensteins and werewolves of old black-and-white movies. They’re dressing in a lot of too-real ideas like victims of domestic violence and survivors of gruesome accidents and criminals of all sorts. Worse yet are the sick sexual fantasies, the pornographic teases of “naughty school girls” and wayward French housemaids and such. You can’t let the kids look at costume catalogs.
Even if these things are not real, there are people who think they are. Joe Leaphorn, the Navaho police detective featured in Tony Hillerman’s mystery stories, often encounters stories of “skin-walkers,” the shape shifters of Navaho legend. Leaphorn says in one of the early novels, “I don’t believe in skin-walkers, but I believe in people who do.” What he meant was that whether such things exist was immaterial; there are unmistakably real people who do believe in them and because of that belief, do things which have a real impact on those around them.
Missionaries encounter this all the time. Whether the local witch doctor or shaman has real spiritual power or not is somewhat beside the point; if the local people believe he has power, they fear him and defer to his will. The missionary has to overcome the social power this figure wields in order to free the people to follow Christ—the real spiritual power.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t make light of real tragedy and real sin—don’t sugar coat it—as if it’s all a game. R.C. Sproul Jr. observed that erecting toy tombstones in your yard isn’t a laughing matter; death is real, and for many of us, a very, very bad prospect. It’s not a joke.
The second idea is that ghoulies and ghosties are real, but it’s okay to pretend about them. The Bible sort of squelches that for us.
Consider that when God established His people in a formal way, in the national identity of Israel, He explicitly told them to stay away from that stuff and the people that practice it:
There shall not be found among you … anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV)
In fact, He made it a capital offense to follow these teachings (Leviticus 20:27) or consult with those who do (Leviticus 20:6). It’s one of the reasons He wiped out the ancient Canaanites and gave their land to the Jews.
It’s interesting that He doesn’t suggest that these people are truly powerful—He simply says we have to avoid it all. For them (and us), it’s a prostitution, seeking after forbidden spirituality when you’ve already met the source of true spiritual power, no different than seeking sexual adventures outside of your marriage—except this time you’re cheating on God, and you can’t sneak around on Him.
It kinda takes the fun out of Harry Potter and Ouija boards.
The other option is that spiritual things are real, both good and bad. And if you believe the Bible and believe what Jesus Himself said, you have to take that as given.
Are there bad spirits in every tree and stone beside the road? I don’t see any evidence of it in Scripture or nature. But it’s plain to me that besides the evil that men do, there are spiritual forces, even personal ones, we need to take seriously. Jesus wasn’t playing make believe or joshing along the cultural superstitions when He confronted demons: there are many incidents in the Gospels where Jesus displayed his power over them, casting out unclean spirits which had oppressed individuals a variety of ways.  Jesus never backed away from correcting misunderstandings and human additions to God’s word, even in the face of mob violence and physical threat to Himself, but He never “corrects” the “mythological” view that evil spirits are at work in some people’s lives. Instead, He defeats them, then teaches His people to understand their nature (see Luke 11:14-26, for example) and how to combat them (Mark 9:28-29, Matthew 17:19-21) He took it seriously, as did the apostles.
If we believe the Bible, and we believe Jesus, then we need to believe that whatever nonsense and mythologies humans may have created in addition to the truth, there is a fundamental reality—there are beings and powers we need to be aware of and avoid, not toy with. Christ has overcome them on earth, and God overrules them throughout the universe, but we need to keep out of their reach just the same.
And for that reason, well, let’s just say we don’t get into the spirit of Halloween.
(More tomorrow, on why boys in particular may be attracted, and what that suggests about our parenting them!)