Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Christian Holiday that Christians Hate

Some Christians believe Halloween is a holiday of evil, but there’s an ironic twist to this.

It’s a Christian holiday.

Some people reading this might be thinking, “Wait, wasn’t that a Celtic holiday or something?” Well, it gets a bit more complicated than that. On November 1st, the Celts of ancient Ireland and Britain celebrated the festival of Samhain and they believed the souls of the dead went back to their old homes to visit. Some time later, the 7th century Pope Boniface IV established All Saints Day on May 13 to commemorate the saints. The next century after that, All Saints Day was moved to November 1st, possibly in an effort to supplant the Celtic holiday. The day before All Saints Day was then to have another Christian observance before it, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. Halloween is the start of a three-day Christian holiday period called Allhallowtide with the third day being All Souls Day.

While Halloween itself is a Christian holiday, at least originally, with time a more secularized variety emerged and some of the elements seem to have been borrowed from the November 1st Celtic holiday that All Saints Day was meant to replace, such as the tradition of wearing masks (which in the Celtic holiday were used to hide from the souls wandering the room). Notably though, the Halloween tradition of Jack O’ Lantern stems from Irish folklore in which a guy named Jack tricked the devil for financial gain. When Jack died God didn’t permit him to be in heaven, the devil didn’t want him in hell, and so Jack wandered the earth. Scary faces carved in turnips were to scare him away, but when the Irish immigrated to the United States they used pumpkins instead.

If you want to celebrate Halloween via some Christian services and the old Allhallowtide tradition, go ahead. If you just want to hand out candy and dress up as costumes on that day, fine. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with celebrating it as a Christian or secular holiday. But what seems not quite right to me is calling it a holiday of evil while being completely ignorant of what the holiday is: something that originated as a Christian holiday even if the secular version became a bit of mishmash from old Celtic customs and Irish Christian folklore.

A symptom of something more serious.

The fact that so many Christians are willing to denounce it as evil while being so ignorant strikes me as symptomatic of a sort of anti-intellectualism that’s plagued evangelical Christianity as I’ve blogged on before. Another symptom is the attitude of many Christians of evolution, with some important historical and cultural information unknown to them. For example, here’s an excerpt of one of William Lane Craig’s theology lectures:
During the 19th century, literary scholars tended to regard these ancient creation myths as a kind of proto-science; that is to say, a sort of crude pre-scientific attempt to explain how the world and the things in it came about. Accounts that are now rendered obsolete in light of modern science. So the 19th century had a rather unsympathetic view toward these ancient creation myths. They were regarded as basically obsolete and crude science. But during the 20th century, scholars of mythology do not see them as a kind of crude proto-science. Rather, they tend to be seen as symbolic or figurative accounts of the creation of the world or of various things in it. So they weren’t intended to be taken literally. These were symbolic accounts. These were figurative or metaphorical accounts that shouldn’t be understood as pre-scientific attempts to explain the way the world is.
William Lane Craig has doctorates in theology and philosophy, and is himself a Christian devoted to Biblical inerrancy. He’s also said this one of his lectures:
Historically, it is interesting to note that many of the church fathers and the rabbis down through history did not take Genesis 1 to refer to literal 24-hour days. People like Augustine and Origen and Justin Martyr and others of the church fathers took these to be not 24-hour periods of time. There has always been, among the church fathers and among Jewish rabbis, a latitude of interpretation – a recognition of alternative interpretations. Some of the church fathers and rabbis did take this passage literally, but others took it figuratively. It has never been a touchstone of orthodoxy to ask whether or not you believe that the world was created in six literal 24-hour days.
Interpreting the Genesis creation story non-literally should at least be a viable option, but many aren’t aware of this sort of background.

So what can we do? One thing we can do is remember and teach what Scripture has taught us. Christians should remember verses like Matthew 22:37 where Jesus commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Modern Christian culture emphasizes the heart and soul part but not so much the mind part unfortunately, and we need to emphasize that part to in our own lives, in the ministry, and in our children. The same church I went to that had William Lane Craig teaching adult Sunday school classes (from which the aforementioned theology lectures come from) also had a book on logic in the bookstore! I remember thinking, “God bless this church.” This is the kind of ministry we need. Jesus may have been a carpenter, but he also exhibited erudition (John 7:15) and taught people to be innocent as doves but as shrewd as snakes (Matthew 10:16). In addition to doing some reading, consider getting a doctorate in your own field, and certainly encourage your children (if you have any) to achieve academic excellence and teach them apologetics. If you’re new, I recommend On Guard as a good start.