The Devil & Dobson: Thoughts on Halloween

It’s James Dobson, not the Devil and Jim Beam, that spooks me. Some people go through bouts of drinking, others through bouts of drugging. Me? I went through a bout of Dobson.

Oh. I suppose it’s not completely fair to blame it all on Dobson, although, he was the wind beneath my wanna-be-angel wings. Still, that loosey-goosey upbringing of mine was partly at fault, too.

Sidelined by Daddy’s death, Mama sat the bench when it came to parenting. She was so busy going to school and working she didn’t have a clue what us kids were doing in her absence. What we were doing was a lot of stuff we shouldn’t have been. Stuff I was bound and determined that no child of mine would be doing long as I had a ragged breath left.

I’ve repressed most of the memories of those years when fear was my constant companion and Dobson was my Medium. But the reason God gives us kids to begin with is to help Him keep track of all the knuckleheaded things we do. It’s like God said: Can I get a witness? And a chorus from my four children answered: Yes. Lord.

I am quick to remind my now adult children that they all turned out fine. None have been arrested, to my knowledge or served a night in jail, which is more than my mama can say for me or my brother. But that’s not to say that my kids didn’t suffer from the public humiliation of having me for a mom. I was, after all, the mother who pulled them out of school every Halloween and refused to allow them to go trick-or-treating.

Instead we’d turn off the lights, hide in the basement, watching Beauty and the Beast on VHS. (Another generation’s version of Blue-Ray). We had to watch movies because there was no way I was subjecting my precious babies to the satanic influences of cable network. My kids grew up thinking MTV was a little convertible designed by Fiat. The only music allowed was Veggie Tales. When they turned 16, I eased up some. They could listen to D.C. Talk and Michael W. Smith.

I took that helicopter parenting to a whole new level – I was a sniper mom. Woe to anyone who came between my kids and their idyllic childhood. I would take that intruder down like a rabid yard dog.

I don’t think Dobson ever actually said don’t allow kids to go trick-or-treating but you know how we Christians are prone to take everything out-of-context. There was a lot of talk among the folks I hung out with about Devil-worship and how Halloween was a pagan holiday.

Not having been raised in a fundamentalist environment, I was a little confused about all that. In fact, I think I had to ask my husband what a pagan was. We had a bunch of them in the trailer parks where I grew up but we just referred to them as rednecks or trailer trash. People who live in boxes on cinder blocks usually talk pretty plain. We don’t feel the need to impress people with our vast vocabulary.

Hellfire was a word commonly used by adults and children alike, but we didn’t necessarily employ it as a proper noun or a destination vacation spot. It was more of an exclamatory statement like, “What in the hellfire are you doing, Frankie? Beating on the front door with a tire-iron that a’way?” That was usually followed by some big person grabbing the tire-iron and slapping Frankie upside the head.

My kids were rarely ever spanked, much less slapped upside the head. At least one of them, however, was subjected to being held against their will while I prayed the Devil come out of them.


I don’t know where I learned that parenting technique but I know I heard it or read it because I couldn’t come up with that all on my own. If we held kids down in the trailer park it was so we could kick the crap outta them, not so we could pray the demons back to hell.

I embraced fundamentalism with a fervor that would have made Sarah Palin proud to call me friend. I listened to Focus on the Family religiously. I carved out a chunk of change from our monthly budget and sent it off to them. I bought Dobson’s books and devoured them as if they were Snicker bars swiped from somebody’s Halloween stash.

But before the Dobson-era, I was going the way of my own mother. I not only allowed the kids to go trick-or-treating – I took them. At age 5 my son won the best costume award at the VFW Hall. He went as a vampire, red blood dripping from his chin. And the Punk Rock costumes I designed for the twins were so effectively scary, the girls screamed bloody-murder when they saw each other — for hours.

By the time our last kid got old enough to trick-or-treat I’d corrected my errant ways. She won the costume award at the church harvest party. She was dressed as a Bedazzled Bible, Porter Wagner rhinestones and all.

I quit sending money to Focus on the Family when their focus became a political agenda aimed at praying the Devil out of Gays and Lesbians. Now I use that money to buy candy. We get an average of 500 trick-or-treaters every year. I keep the camera by the front door so I can snap photos of the cutest spooks.

But I swear to the barefooted Jesus, if anyone shows up at my house this year dressed up like that pagan Snooki, I’m going to hold them down and pray the trailer trash spirit right out of that child.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a DoubleWide? Zondervan, 2010.

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  • Great post! I love the old Halloween pics. too! I have to admit, Tim does kind of look like Robbie Benson with a mustache. Or was that his costume?

    • The Old Sponsor

      No costume; a silly attempt to look older than the students I was suppose to teach.

  • You’ll never believe this Karen – I did the same thing! When my oldest child was our only child, he got all the trick-or-treating we could manage with a snowsuit on under his plastic costume and mask. By the time our second son was 3 & old enough to go, we had pulled the plug on Halloween. We did the “hide in the basement” thing too, they still got candy but not from strangers. Our daughter barely knew what it was when she began school and October came along and they started talking about costumes and using tiny scissors to cut out construction paper pumpkins. My kids have made sure to let me know how I robbed them of their childhood fun, not only on October 31st but also for not allowing them to watch cable TV and play card games and various other activities they feel they were unfairly denied. They were pretty much too old for those things by the time I realized that they should have been allowed some choices.
    I love your comment about Snooki, you are too funny.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Janie: Your poor deprived kids. Too bad they didn’t have John and his chainsaw for a dad.

  • I once heard a pastor say that Christians speak more about the devil than about Jesus. I had my own bout with seeing Satan behind everything human, when really I should have been looking at the ‘magic’ that was being served up in Revival circles. After an experience like this it makes you a lot less quick to claim that you and your church or denomination are the guardians of truth. Next year, I’ll look back and realize the false thinking I bought into today, and so on until I get to heaven when I realize we all saw as in a mirror, dimly.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yep. Our eyes get weaker with age but our vision become clearer.

  • John in PDX

    Here is my public apology to my sons:
    Sorry that I not only encouraged halloween – I went along for the ride.
    Sorry for all the really scary haunted houses and the monster truck drives.
    If you have sons – wait until they are 5 before you have the guy jump out with the chainsaw. I know that was a little scary the first time.
    Sorry about your 2 cavities from all the candy you collected (I am assuming that was what it was from). I knew I should have stopped at a full bag.
    I will remember all the good times we had while I was a horrible father. I never made halloween a religious holiday.
    Rejoice in the fact that you take after your mother (she never came along).

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      John: You have satellite, don’t you?

  • John in PDX

    I am assuming that you mean that I am really out there sometimes?

  • John in PDX

    And the real answer is no. Basic cable only. I need it for the internet. My iPhone works better on wireless. I haven’t watched a DVD in a couple of years except for Christmas Vacation. The news is on for backround when it’s on. BBC is my favorite channel but I can out flip every real man that I have ever met.
    I know the boys watch TV because the discovery channel is on when I get downstairs at 4:15am.
    I had to look up who Snooki is.
    I stopped watching religious channels long before I read your book. But I know who they are. And I knew about how much trouble Hour of Power was in way before they filed.
    If I ain’t moving – I am asleep. I listen to podcasts until midnight, BBC midnight (it’s on NPR) to 3am and flip between NPR, ESPN, & Wall Street Journal until 4am when I get up.
    4:15 to 4:45 is a jaunt thru all the networks on TV. Usually I am reading a book at the same time.
    Right now I am working on a really hard puzzle and don’t leave until 5 (it’s so hard the Mike and Sandy gave up) and I listen to Imus on the way in.
    Ta Dah
    Naps are cool

  • John in PDX

    My last for the day – I can’t believe I talk so much sometimes
    On the plains of hesitation
    bleach the bones of countless millions who,
    at the dawn of decision,
    sat down to wait, and waiting died.
    Sam Ewing

  • Karen, who’s that in the very top picture, with the diamond-eye thing going? Not you, right?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      One of the twins

  • Karen, looks like you and Mark Driscoll have something in common:

  • I am glad to know I am not the only repentant Dobson fan. I actually had the girls dress as angles and deliver cookies to the neighbors on Halloween one year. It seemed like a brilliant twist on the holiday at the time but I think it scarred my girls for life. They continually remind me that I was nuts when they were little.