How to handle Halloween and engage with our culture

Just as Christmas is one of the rare occasions (other than the deliverance of Chilean miners) when there is public reference to Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and angels, so too Halloween is increasingly a time for the mention of demons, spirits and the devil.

Whether it is small boys wandering supermarkets with the devil’s pitchfork, as I ponderously witnessed last week, or  a television weather presenter claiming to be surrounded with demons and spirits, Halloween is to the Christian an unnerving public foray into the dark side of the supernatural.

Most know little of Halloween’s history – how the church long ago sought to supplant a Celtic pagan festival that honoured the dead with a festival to remember the saints – All Hallow’s Day (preceded by All Hallow’s Eve – Hallowe’en). The battle for the spiritual heart of the occasion is still up for grabs.

Of course, at another level, most Australians reject Halloween on purely nationalistic grounds – another Americanism polluting our lives.              

But we are ruled by consumerism, a more powerful spirit yet, and so little by little retailers are cashing in and unsuspecting parents feel obliged to allow their families to participate. Afterall, they say, it’s just a bit of fun, and chance to dress up and eat lollies.

The most common Christian response is to lament the community’s unthinking  liaison with a very real and dangerous spiritual darkside. Christians caught playfully joining in are especially haunted, or hunted.

Perhaps this is itself an unthinking response. While I would be more than happy if Halloween disappeared from the calendar, along with the over-commercialisation of Easter and Christmas, when I last looked the church’s job was not to be the culture police but to be a prophetic, interpretive voice.

Perhaps it is an opportunity to engage the community with a relevant presentation of what Jesus and the Bible really say about demons and the devil. Or to see the movement of children and parents around the streets as a rare moment to place a positive alternative in their lolly-seeking hands.

At the same time be aware that while white Anglo culture has largely forgotten its deeply spiritual heritage, many people from other cultures do not need to be convinced about the reality of the spiritual realm and the darkness of the demonic. They may actually need our comfort around this time.

My real concern is that Halloween is an easy target for Christians – a sitting pumpkin for a self-righteous attack while we struggle to discern the more subtle spiritual oppression we face all year round.

It’s pretty easy for churches to say demons are bad, stay away. But how are churches equipping their members and their communities when it comes to the more subtle daily dangers of consumerism, the marginalising of family, and increasing work-life time pressures that steal away reflectiveness and the energy to serve others?

What about helping young people negotiate society’s shifting values on sexuality or discuss how environmentalism and climate change might interact with a Christian world view? How do we remain true of body, mind and spirit in a culture where truth is not even recognised?

And yes, the church should be the expert in the supernatural, able to give a right understanding of ancient spiritual truths for a society that remains spiritually hungry while being the most spiritually naive in history. Halloween might just be the right time of year to engage our neighbours in such a discussion. They might even ask…

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