When I was a Christian, Halloween always terrified me. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved dressing up in costumes for our church’s Harvest Fest, where we played games and got candy. What terrified me was Halloween itself, which I was taught to associate with witches and demons.
I grew up believing that there were real witches who worshiped Satan and communed with demons. These witches were dangerous and powerful because they got actual power from Satan himself. We believed that God would win eventually, but that for the time being Satan had a great deal of power and dominion over the world. Witches could cause real pain, because they had real power.
I grew up believing that demons were real, physical beings all around us. I read Frank Peretti – a serious mistake – and his books terrified me. I think the only way to explain this adequately is to quote the summary of the first of his books I read:
This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti, is among the classic novels of the Christian thriller genre. First published in 1986, Peretti’s book set a suspenseful standard in spiritual warfare story-telling that has rarely been met by his contemporaries. Set in the apparently innocent small town of Ashton, This Present Darkness follows an intrepid born-again Christian preacher and newspaper reporter as they unearth a New Age plot to take over the local community and eventually the entire world. Nearly every page of the book describes sulfur-breathing, black-winged, slobbering demons battling with tall, handsome, angelic warriors on a level of reality that is just beyond the senses. However, Christian believers and New Age demon-worshippers are able to influence unseen clashes between good and evil by the power of prayer. Peretti’s violent descriptions of exorcisms are especially vivid: “There were fifteen [demons], packed into Carmen’s body like crawling, superimposed maggots, boiling, writhing, a tangle of hideous arms, legs, talons, and heads.” This book is not for the squeamish. But for page-turning spiritual suspense, it’s hard to beat.
Demons were very real to me. I believed that they were battling with angels in the air around us, every day, everywhere. They were generally invisible, but I believed that they could make themselves visible if they wanted. Let’s just say that I took Frank Peretti’s portrayal VERY serious.
Of course, I believed that as a Christian I was protected from demons. I believed that our home was protected by God and that the demons could not enter it. But at the same time, I believed that a bad thought or bad book or bad music could let demons in. One of my parents’ friends told us about how she confronted a demon in the hall at night after her daughter listened to rock music. When a relative came to visit and brought a Harry Potter book he was reading, my parents made him leave it in the car for fear that it would let demons in.
Today, my fear of Halloween has almost completely disappeared. I no longer believe that there is such thing as Satan or demons. I now know that Wicca (pagan witchcraft) has nothing to do with demons or Satan. I don’t doubt that there are a few self-proclaimed witches who do claim to worship Satan, but since there’s no such thing as Satan, that doesn’t bother me. All that remains is a sort of residual fear that is not logical or rational but rather purely emotional, a sort of leftover from my past. I imagine even that feeling will decline with time.
Too often conversations between Christians and atheists focus on the question “but how can you live without God?” You know what? Being an atheist doesn’t just mean living without God, it means living without Satan. Sure I no longer believe that there are angels waiting around to help me out if I need it, but I also no longer believe that there are demons ready to torment and tempt me. Believing in the supernatural means believing in a great powerful force of good, but it also generally means believing in a great powerful sense of evil. I no longer believe in either. I no longer credit things that happen to forces beyond human control, whether good or evil. And when I’m laying in bed at night and think I hear a movement, or when I’m outside in the dark and my hair suddenly stands on end, this makes all the difference in the world.
With the removal of the supernatural world, filled with forces of evil as well as forces of good, I somehow find that the wold feels much less scary and I feel much less fearful. Yes, many things about the world suck, but they aren’t beyond our understanding or our ability to improve. We may not have a supernatural force of good to call on, but there’s also no supernatural force of evil sabotaging thing. Instead, things just are, and we have make the best of them and do the best we can.
And today I realize that the only thing “scary” about Halloween is the potential rise in drunk driving and the teenage pranks that often accompany the holiday.