Friday, October 28, 2011

A Christian Defense Of Halloween

I am a born-again, conservative, evangelical Christian.  And I love Halloween.

Not exactly the common perspective and comment among such Christians, but frankly I get a little tired of hearing churches and Christians come down on the holiday.  I know there are plenty of sites and emails touting the horrible, pagan events surrounding Halloween and why Christians should run as far away as possible from these events.  But let me give some of my reasons why I hold a different opinion.

First, let's look at the origins of Halloween.  The name itself originates from "All-Hallow-E'en", or the evening before All Hallows Day.  Also called All Saints Day, this is a solemn holiday on November 1st celebrated by many Christian denominations.  The day commemorates all who have attained sainthood and hold a special place in Heaven.  The name Halloween was first used in the 16th century.

The events around Halloween are mostly attributed to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, though older origins have been suspected.  Samhain was seen as an end to the "light" part of the year and the beginning of the "dark" part of the year.  The day was not a celebration of the darkness, but a recognition of the transition from one part of the year to the other and usually involved bonfires to ward away the darkness and evil spirits.  Yes, modern Wiccans do still recognize the holiday, but as a way to honor and pay respect to people who have passed on, not to perform evil ceremonies.

Most of the traditions we now associate with Halloween were actually used to trick or ward off evil spirits, not encourage them!  Costumes and masks were used by the Gaels to trick ghosts and other evil beings into thinking that the people were actually some of their own kind, and therefore not anyone to try and harass or possess.  Pumpkin-carving originated with large turnips that were hollowed out and placed in windows with lit candles inside as a way to repel evil spirits (while turnips were common in Scotland and Ireland, where the practice began, immigrants to America used the larger and more common pumpkins as an alternative).  The practice of carving pumpkins was a harvest-time tradition in America and didn't become specifically associated with Halloween until the late 1800s.

So as you can see, the day of Halloween stems from a belief that evil and ghosts more easily walked the earth on this night of transition from light to darkness, and the desire of the people to protect themselves against such horrible things.  As Christians, we should very much support such ideas and traditions, as we also should seek to prevent and ward off evil influences.  Costumes, pumpkins, and other things associated with Halloween are supported by our fight against Satan and his minions.  There is NOTHING inherently evil about these things, and nothing against God.

What about all of the pagan symbols associated with Halloween?  Shouldn't we avoid it because of such things?  Yes, we should not support anything that is going to promote a view other than that the Bible is true, Jesus is the messiah, and God is the supreme power in the world.  We should worship only God, and nothing or no one else.  But is participating in Halloween supporting pagan rituals?  I hardly think so.  Anyone who can't discern between worshiping Gaia, casting a spell in a circle of candles, and dressing in a costume among friends needs to get a big dose of reality-check.

Okay, so what about the pagan origins of the holiday?  Yes, Samhain started among the pre-Christian Celts and Gaels.  So?  If we ignore or lambast Halloween because it has a few traditions that started among non-Christians and pagans, then we also need to get rid of our two big Christian celebrations:  Easter and Christmas.  Don't believe me?  Let's look at a few things very briefly. 

One of the biggest symbols of Easter in modern culture is the Easter egg.  Painted eggs date back to the ancient Zoroastrians many centuries before Christ was born.  Christians have looked at the egg as a symbol of new life, renewal, and resurrection.  However, similar beliefs of the symbolism of eggs were also held by ancient Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Gauls, and Chinese.  A rabbit associated with the date can have origins with the goddess Eostre. Notice her name?  The monk Bede wrote that Easter derives its name from this diety, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring.

Christmas has even more pagan influences!  First of all, the date is nowhere near when Jesus would have been born.  If you read and analyze the Biblical accounts, Christ was born in the Spring.  So why do we celebrate it in December?  Around that time of year the Winter solstice occurs, which was a major pagan holiday as the longest night of the year.  There are various debates as to why this time was chosen to celebrate Christ's birth, but many believe that it was a method of the church to entice pagans to celebrate Christ by associating their existing holidays with Christian ones.  The church couldn't get rid of the celebrations already established during this time, so they provided alternate ones.  The Roman holiday of Saturnalia is most commonly associated as the source of the date, and involved gift-giving and celebration.  The colors of red and green traditionally represent the fertility of males and incubation of females, a rather pagan viewpoint.  Red berries, mistletoe, holly, and wreaths all have pre-Christian origins among pagan beliefs.  Christmas trees were first used as such in the mid-15th century.  However, pagans commonly looked at evergreens as a symbol of everlasting life, and would use them in their celebrations.

Many traditional, conservative Christians are against Halloween because of the pagan origins and images.  Yet if we applied the same analysis and criticisms in the same way to other holidays we wouldn't be able to say "Easter", have Easter eggs, Christmas trees, Christmas presents, and a host of other things that we as Christians hold dear.  If we can adopt and use pagan traditions in other holidays, or even ignore where our "Christian" traditions come from, why can't we do this with Halloween?

What does Halloween mean to us in the 21st century?  Ask a child about the holiday and they'll say that it's all about dressing in costumes and getting free candy.  They have no idea at all about anything "evil".  Yes, some of the decorations and costumes have monsters, ghouls, ghosts, and other scary things.  But such images are not inherently evil, nor are spooky stories.  The Bible has numerous stories involving ghosts, witches, demons, and the dead coming back to life.  As long as we are not holding Frankenstein and vampires above God, it's merely harmless fun.

Let's be real, folks.  Halloween is harmless fun and even its origins are about repelling evil, not celebrating it or succumbing to it.  There is nothing wrong with a Christian participating.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Christianity Is Not A Religion

Recently I bought a new t-shirt. The front says "Christianity is not a religion." Now that alone caught my attention, and me look more closely. I have a bit of a non-traditional background, having come to faith in Christ when I was 28 years old. Raised Lutheran, I was an agnostic for many years and looked into other religions. When I was "saved" it was very personal to me. I was down on my knees by myself in my one-bedroom apartment and nobody knew anything for quite some time. So I've always seen my relationship with Jesus as just that....a relationship.

The back of the shirt gives more detail. "Religion is humans trying to work their way to God. Christianity is God coming to men and women through a relationship with Jesus Christ."

I see so many "religious" people who live by rules and laws set down in their religious creeds. Even many Christians worry more about the "dos" and "don'ts" of the Bible than they do about actually seeking time with God. We can do nothing in our deeds that will make God like us more or earn us a place in Heaven. The Bible is very clear that we have a place next to God through Christ and how we know Him, not because of any other actions.

There's the old trope that "it's not what you know but who you know." This is especially true with Christianity.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32-33

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him,
we will also live with him; 

 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us; 

2 Timothy 2:11-12

Sunday, October 2, 2011

God's Dog

We have a very sweet yellow lab named Yvaine (from the movie Stardust) who is my wife's baby.  She was picked out when only one and a half weeks old and my wife eagerly anticipated her joining our family.  Since then Yvaine has been babied and spoiled to the point where she thinks she's a 61 pound lap dog.

One of the things we love is that she really wants to be with us.  She's content to curl up on the couch or bed next to us (well, mostly my wife), just being close.  When my wife leaves the room, she gets up and follows.  When we come home she jumps up an down, happy to see us whether we've been gone for an hour or a week.  It's really a very simple relationship.  She loves us (again, mostly my wife) so much and without reservation, and wants to be as close to us as possible.

Why does our relationship with God have to be complicated?  He desires nothing more than to be close to us, and wants us to be close to Him.  Yet we run away, resist, decide that we don't have time, and a million other excuses.  I think that a dog's relationship with their owner is a good example of what our relationship with God should be.  Like Yvaine with us, we should want to follow Him around, stay close to Him, and simply be in His presence.  It's not that hard to understand, yet few of us do it.

If you're a good dog owner, you completely care for them.  Our pets don't have to worry about food, shelter, medical care, or really anything.  God is certainly better than we are, so he will take care of us as well.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
    “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matthew 6:25-33)

Let's take time to be with God.  Let's follow Him around, seek His presence, and let Him take care of us.  All he wants is our attention and love, and He will take care of us in return.  Pretty simple.