Many American evangelical Christians are opposed to Halloween because of its pagan origins, and demonic tie-ins. And I can’t disagree with their historical data. But telling the culture in general that Halloween is Satanic comes off sounding ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous because the vast majority of Americans, both kids and adults, are not trying to worship Satan or conjure up the dead during Halloween, but just have some fun. After all, what’s wrong with dressing up in a costume and eating some candy?
Since our family are missionaries in Thailand, we usually have the privilege of missing out on both Halloween and the accompanying intramural debate among Christians concerning the holiday. But this year, we are in the U.S. and everywhere I look, the signs of Halloween stare me in the face - ghosts, devils, witches, skeletons, bloody sawed-off heads, and so forth. All of these represent ideas and realities that are diametrically opposed to the Christian faith. I simply find no delight in them.
However, the most problematic aspect of Halloween is not ghoulish images surrounding me for a month and half. The real problem is the trivialization of spiritual realities that need to be taken with great seriousness. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote that the best way for Satan to gain victory over humanity was to either convince them to worship him or to get them to deny his existence altogether. If you don’t know that you have an enemy, then you are left extremely vulnerable to being attacked. And therein lies the problem.
The Devil’s primary strategy for Halloween has little to do with getting your average man on the street to sacrifice animals in his backyard or cast spells on his neighbor. Rather, it is through the barage of silly and unbelievable images of the demonic and death that the Devil wants to divert people from any serious consideration of dark spiritual realities. The stereotyped images of devils, witches, and ghosts that are found everywhere during Halloween are the stuff of fairy tales and are not intended to be taken seriously. When people see the red-suited horned devil that shows up in the popular media and hear that Christians believe that the Devil is real, that belief sounds just as ludicrous as if I said that I believed in Mickey Mouse or Thomas the Tank Engine.
However, the spiritual realities that are celebrated in America with all the seriousness of a cartoon are all too real to people in Thailand. The majority of Thai light candles, burn incense, and offer food to various spirits in an attempt to gain their favor or ward off evil. I haven’t seen obvious demonic activity with my own eyes, but there are too many stories in Thailand, from both Christians and Buddhists, about encounters with the demonic that I am forced to take them seriously. For many, demonic oppression is real. Ghosts of some sort have appeared to them. Others feel bound to offer food to dead relatives or territorial spirits to prevent negative consequences. Granted, some of the demonic activity in Thailand is more imagination that reality. But there is the real McCoy too.
In Thailand, Satan holds many people in bondage through actual worship of him, or one of his aliases. In America, the idea of a real personal devil who attacks people is commonly regarded as pre-modern fairy tale. The images of Satan that are trotted out every Halloween just confirm that idea in people’s minds. But it is through this hellish marketing campaign of silly “scary” images that Satan gains his victory. It is easy to deceive, steal, and destroy when no one thinks that you are a real threat. But death is real and so is the devil.
What will happen to us when we die? Is there heaven, hell, or nothing beyond the grave? These are serious questions that deserve serious attention by everyone. No one wants to think about these questions and the silliness of Halloween helps people to avoid them. But what if the devil is not a funny looking horned fellow in red tights? What if he is real and much more sinister than Halloween would ever lead us to believe?