My favorite holidays take place around this time of year: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. And with Halloween upon us today, I’ll even fess up to liking candy corn sometimes. But Halloween represents some scary ideas to quite a few Christians. I’ll show you what those fears are today.
That Glorious Time of the Year.
More than any other holiday, Halloween gives Christians an opportunity to play pretend even harder than usual.
Oh sure, they may love the thrill of torture porn that comes with Easter. Christmas may give them the chance to beat their chests and bellow incoherently about how persecuted they are, which is always fun and welcome for Christians who otherwise might otherwise be lulled into thinking that they’re still a dominant majority in America. (Seriously!)
But Halloween is that magical time of year when Christians can dial up to 11 their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Games. It is their everything. They can swan around pretending to engage in spiritual warfare, which is Christianese for sobbing and shrieking at the ceiling extra-hard, and they can pretend that they’re totally persecuted by dark demonic forces that totally exist–because if the one side exists then the other must as well. The made-up threat of demons and witches and evildoers of all stripes makes their made-up ideology look a little bit more credible.
Then November 1st rolls past and all that fun withers like a narcissus flower, gone but far from forgotten for another year.
Meanwhile, you can pretty much tell what kind of Christian you’re dealing with by how they in turn deal with Halloween. If they scorn fundagelical nonsense about it, then they’re probably okay. Probably. If they get wide-eyed and gasp something about Satanism or witches kidnapping kittens to sacrifice, you can safely check out of anything else they have to say.1
Those second sorts of Christians need Halloween to be a real-deal annual event about ghosts, ghouls, witches, and demons running rampant.
1999-ish: Cas Leaves a Forum.
Even really nice Christians can freak out about Halloween.
One of the first forums I ever hung out on (a few years out from deconversion) had a load of those. Ostensibly we snarked advice columnists. However, when Halloween rolled around that first year I was there, someone started a ZOMG OH NOES HALLOWEEN YAWL WATCH YOUR CHILDREN WATCH YOUR PETS thread. There, she wrung her hands about animal torture and baby kidnapping and necromantic rituals.
I told her those were just Christian urban legends. Heck, I even offered her links to the relevant Snopes debunks (Snopes was around even back then, and was one of the only skeptic sites I knew about for a long time). She retorted with a long typed-out lecture about how I had no idea what dark forces were capable of leading people to do.
Technically, I suppose she was correct there.
Nobody has any idea what a nonexistent force is capable of because those forces are, um, nonexistent.
I wish I’d screencapped her wall-o-text, but even if I’d done so it’d probably be lost to the mists of time by now, I guess.
Face to Face With Wacky.
I was simply floored by the realization that this lady, who’d seemed so sensible in so many other ways, who wasn’t even particularly religious-acting, turned out to be that buggy about Halloween. As far as I could see, nobody on that board was even fundagelical. All the same, every other regular on that forum joined her in wringing their hands.
Halloween passed without incident as they all do. The next year, an identical thread got started and gained considerable traction from the exact same people who’d wrung their hands the year before. I re-posted almost verbatim what I’d written a year previously. This time, my objections garnered a considerable number of snide comments and petty vindictiveness.
Taking their response as a cue, I left without looking back.
I didn’t know at the time why the Christians there acted that way. Nor could I understand why they’d had to mistreat me when I objected to it.
At the time, I didn’t know that fretting about dark forces helped solidify in Christians’ minds the reality of some supernatural realm. There, their Christian beliefs could also exist and be real.
Innocent Fun or Spiritual Deception?
The problem is, there’s good money in scaring gullible Christians. That is exactly why Christian leaders do it.
From Chuck Smith, for example, we get a DVD lecture called “Halloween: Innocent Fun or Spiritual Deception?” Given what I know about fundagelicals generally, it isn’t hard to guess what the DVD’s creators think. They would have been adults when the Satanic Panic was in full swing, and it shows. (In the same fashion, the oldest fundagelicals these days are still dealing with the Red Scare that was concocted by their own leaders long ago. Christians never really resolve their moral panics. Instead, they just keep adding each new one to the tribe’s pile of existing panics until they die.)
The trailer’s hilarious though. It opens with a fake interview. One old white Christian guy asks all wide-eyed and disingenuous, “What’s the big deal about [Halloween]?” He asks this as if fundagelicals aren’t told the answer to that question every half hour on the half hour around this time of year.
He first squints meaningfully as he all but spits word salad.
“It’s perhaps thought of as a harmless holiday. As a Christian, should I be involved in things that have the origins?”
Really. That’s what he says, as verbatim as I can get it.
Ginning Up Fear.
What, did he miss the lecture on How to Talk Like a Human that week in infiltration class? Were he and Mark Driscoll out egging houses at the time or something?
Chuck Smith blames the way Halloween is celebrated in modern days on ancient druids. I’m not sure where he’s getting that idea other than Jack Chick tracts (especially in blaming Catholics for the holiday’s survival). There really isn’t a whole lot of historical evidence either which way for any flavor of druidry. The Celts didn’t leave behind any writings. Consequently, most of what we do know was written by invaders like the Romans, who might not have been concerned with strict accuracy.
Basically all the myths and urban legends about Halloween that Christians have invented over the years, these two guys think are totally true. They briefly cover the Salem Witch Trials. There, I’m hard-pressed to figure out if they know that the women who were accused weren’t actually witches and didn’t actually do anything supernatural.
Nothing’s Complete Without a Few Testimonies!
I think this is a grab of the video the trailer is advertising. Whether it is or not, it’s even more hilarious than the trailer. Chuck Smith’s people interview an honest-to-goodness Real Actual For Realsies Totally True Ex-Satanist, Glenn Hobbs. This earnest young man left Satanism and now rocks a proper 80s mullet and fuzzy sweater.
He claims the usual stuff we expect to see out of Satanic Panic “testimony.” See, he was totally a generational Satanist with parents and grandparents who were all Satanists. They totally groomed him from an early age to become totally a High Priest. Totally.
There is somethin’ not quite right about this guy. Even by fundagelical standards it’s a really sketchy story.
He gets more and more into his unhealthily lurid descriptions. His story is so preposterous that we are just going to have to revisit him sometime soon as one of our Cult of “Before” Stories features.
After showing lots of obviously out-of-context modern-day neo-pagan Druid rituals, the hosts interview an actual pagan who denounces sacrifices and what he calls “barbarism.” He says that the fuss over potential sacrifices is “a red herring,” and not something pagans like to talk about. The interview ends sharply there before reality can wreck Christians’ fun too much.
The video moves on to other, better-known liars-for-Jesus like Bill Schnoebelen and Randy Emon, a cop who bought lock-stock-and-barrel into the Satanic Panic a few decades ago and traveled in the same circles as all the rest of ’em. Then there’s the inevitable exhortation to any “sinners” who might be watching. Finally, hooray it’s over.
The Solution, According to Chuck Smith.
Chuck Smith’s solution to what he views as a Satanic attack upon Americans is to use the opportunity to sneak indoctrinating materials and conversations onto any kids who are foolish enough to knock on his door on Halloween night. The disingenuous guy with him in the trailer explains that yes, candy is necessary. However, he insists that Christians also give kids lots of Bibles and religious tracts. He doesn’t even mention the obvious: his website sells stuff like that.3
This is serious business for Christians like him. His crowd is well aware of what they call the 4-14 Window. That’s the narrow band of time within which children are most successfully indoctrinated. Before 4, they don’t understand anything. After 14, they grow too old to feed fairy tales as truth. Christians like Chuck Smith will do literally anything to sneak their toxic ideas into young children. They know perfectly well that if they don’t, then their religion is even more doomed than it is now.
That’s why their solution to the problem of Halloween is to participate in it in a half-assed way.
I don’t know about you, but if I seriously thought that a holiday or movement was used for the kind of evil that Chuck Smith and his sheep think it’s used for, to murder and abuse animals and children and bring evil to the world, I sure wouldn’t participate in any of it at all no matter what. I couldn’t participate even dishonestly, not even to trick anybody vulnerable into reading any religious twaddle. Smith’s strategy doesn’t match his moral outrage over the holiday.
Moral Panics’ Similarity.
In a lot of ways, Christians’ hand-wringing over Halloween really reminds me of how they posture and swan about while denouncing abortion. They build up this totally false mythology about what it is, its history, and how it’s done. But then they react to that mythology in a way that indicates that they don’t believe a word they just said.
Imagine someone taking all that rhetoric seriously after seeing that video above. I can easily see his parents facing serious repercussions for their son’s lies. Those parents are, after all, according to his earnest testimony, murdering, torturing, and abusing animals and children every year for Halloween. Worse, his whole family has been at it for decades if not centuries.
But clearly Glenn Hobbs doesn’t perceive any kind of threat. He’s not even worried about the fact that he just revealed eyewitness evidence of that stuff happening. In fact, I’m sure he’d be totally horrified if someone took him too seriously.4
Seems to me like Christians say they hate compromise, sure. But what they mean is that they hate anything that takes power away from themselves. When it comes to compromising with the evil forces they see as the source of Halloween joy, they’re all for it as long as they can sucker in a few new faces.
We’re gonna return to the Satanic Panic days soon. Holy cow, the more I read about that one guy, the funnier everything gets. I’ve even emailed him to ask a few questions! Hopefully before too long we’ll be ready to rock there.
Until then, I hope your Halloween was fun!
1 Judging by the actual Wiccans and Satanists I’ve known, chances are that if they get hold of a kitten, they’re going to cuddle it and give it a nice warm place to sleep–not hurt it in any way. Christians may be projecting here a little, and that’s an alarming thought. (Back to the post!)
2 Hooktube.com works like archive.today. Substitute the word “youtube” with “hooktube” in any YouTube video link, and it’ll pull up a HookTube screen instead–and the people you don’t wanna give clicks or views to won’t get them. On that note, a refresher course on archive.today: when you pull up the site, you’ll see an input box for the complete URL of the site you want to archive. Enter that, and it’ll create a brand-new URL that looks like alphabet soup. Copy that link and use it instead of the original one. You can also bookmark the new link for yourself and even search their site to see if someone’s already archived the link you need, but I don’t worry about that myself. (Back to the post!)
3 Any time I see a Christian leader suggesting the handing-out of printed material, I immediately wonder if that Christian just happens to be selling tracts on their site somewhere. Indeed, these guys’ Christian site sells a whole bunch of exactly these kinds of materials–no tracts that I could see, but lots of other stuff. (Back to the post!)
4 Obviously this blog comes down super-hard on violence to anybody. This example was used only as an example, not as any sort of suggestion. (Back to the post!)
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(Cas tidied up this post on October 24, 2019.)