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A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?
October 28th, 2011
02:30 PM ET

A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?

Editor's note: Listen to the CNN Radio broadcast about the debate: By Jim Roope, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) - For many American Christians, Halloween is innocent, harmless and fun, and they trick-or-treat, carve pumpkins and don costumes with gusto.

For others, though – especially for some conservative and fundamentalist Christians - Halloween is a celebration of evil and has no place in the life of a believer.

Halloween fun facts: Spending, eating and carving

“We don’t endorse that or we don’t celebrate that,” said Joe Hernandez, pastor of Worshipwalk Church in Los Angeles, which belongs to the conservative Pentecostal tradition. “People are celebrating the devil’s holiday.”

Halloween’s roots are believed to date back 1,400 years, to the Irish-pagan New Year’s celebration. The Celtic New Year began on November 1. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits.

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Some Christians, like Hernandez, believe Halloween’s pagan roots can open the door to evil. That’s why Worshipwalk is hosting a harvest festival in its church parking lot on Monday, with kids’ games and face painting.

Hernandez calls it harvesting hearts for God.

Some conservative churches go a step further, attempting to co-opt the holiday with haunted houses - called “hell houses” - that are designed to give a glimpse of eternal damnation in hopes of strengthening faith.

“There’s Satan’s lies and there’s Jesus’ redemption and there’s a message that will change your life,” said Keenan Roberts, who says he is the inventor of the hell house, which people walk or call through, just as they would a haunted house.

I was a zombie movie extra

“It’s designed to reach the ‘sight and sound’ age,” said Roberts. “The message is sacred but the method is not.”

Hell houses can be graphic. In Roberts’ hell house – which he markets through his Hell House Ministries – live actors depict scenes of abortion, rape, suicide and murder, though the journey through the house culminates in scenes of redemption through Jesus.

Pastor of the fundamentalist New Destiny church near Denver, Colorado, Roberts said that his ministry has received a lot of criticism for what critics say is “going too far.”

But he said today’s kids are so desensitized that he will do whatever it takes to get the message of salvation to take root.

Avoiding sexy costumes for kids

Mainline Protestants tend to take a much softer line on Halloween, with some mainline churches embracing it.

“Halloween for me is a time to have fun,” said Wayne Walters, pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Burbank, California. “I remember growing up - on Halloween I went trick-or-treating. I was in it for the candy.”

“And at Christmas I put out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, who always took time to sit down and enjoy them,” he continued. “None of those I think had a negative influence, destroyed or diminished my faith, he said.”

Walters says that many non-religious traditions associated with Christian holidays, including Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, hardly mean those holidays are non-Christian.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Halloween

soundoff (3,144 Responses)
  1. LD

    Halloween is a Christian Holiday!!! People are just dumb and should go to a library. It was create like Christmas to incorporate religious and cultural celebrations of converts (willing and unwilling) by the Christian Clergy.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  2. uSabi?

    Most "Christian" holidays parallel previously established pagan holidays. People of European descent followed these pagan dates long before their exposure to Christianity. Rock,Sun, paper scissors. Who wins?

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Chumbawumba

      Of the Abrahimic faiths, Christians are the only ones that allow ancient pre-Christian traditions to be weaved into the expression of their faith. Muslims and Jews of a fundamentalist mindset do not allow this within their respective faiths. It is an interesting conflict with Christians. It makes them feel good, so they do it, but there is every reason not to continue traditions like Halloween and Christmas. In fact, even Easter is tainted. The word Easter itself has pagan roots. Magic bunnies that lay eggs? That has pagan roots too. Something to consider the next time you see an Easter Egg Hunt at a local church. Again, if it makes them feel good, they do it. That isn't exactly what Jesus' ministry was all about.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "Many Christians celebrate Halloween, but some churches oppose it because of its pagan roots."

    HAHAHA...someone quick, destroy all the evidence that Christmas has pagan roots...we wouldn't want their heads to explode (would we?).

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • meemee

      All the Christian holidays have "pagan" roots, as does the actual story of Christ as the "son of god" virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and all in a number of then contemporary religious myths like Zoroastrianism, and Mithraism.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • McJesus

      Unfortunately knowledge and understanding requires thought... and most christians simply don't want such knowledge about the 'roots' of their religion, or that they were essentially the last in a VERY LONG line of pre-science magic-myths, and most of their 'beliefs', as expressed in the bible, were borrowed from 'heathens' and redrafted in the context of monotheism. Though early biblical revisions weren't quite monotheistic in nature. Yahweh, for example, is a god of war among other gods.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  4. Chumbawumba

    If you don't like Halloween, Christmas should also be a disturbing holiday. The date, December 25th, was adopted from the Roman Empire as the worship day of Sol Invictus. The Mithraic cults, widely followed throughout the Roman Legions (and oddly enough Emporer Constantine himself, the Christian Emporer) worshipped the ressurection of Mithras on December 25th of our Gregorian calender, a tradition they adopted from the Zoroastian Persians. There is nothing in the bible about a European evergreen tree with lights and presents. And there is certainly no magical fat man with a magical sled pulled by magical riendeer from a magical north pole, possessing the judgement of good and bad, in the bible. All of these have roots in things that are extraneous to scripture (at best). If you want pure Christianity, and I mean first century belief in Christ, you have to ditch yourself of modern tradition, and stick to only the scripture.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  5. Ed

    Christian here, totally support Halloween and also a HUGE heavy metal fan, all the stuff that makes people's skin crawl. The god I believe in has a sense of humor and knows my heart, doesn't care how I dress or what music I listen to.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • McJesus

      I let go of that stuff at about the time I gave up my blanky and discovered the toothfairy wasn't putting quarters under my pillow.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  6. Newt

    They mostly come at night. Mostly.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  7. Anthony

    Christianity itself has its roots in paganism.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  8. Lucifer

    WINNING!!

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  9. Kingdomofdave

    It's not the "Christian Debate," but the fundamentalist/evangelical debate. Please don't group mainstream believers in with these uneducated fanatics.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  10. Anomic Office Drone

    Why does there have to be a debate? Can't people who don't want to participate in something just mind their own business and stay home? It's not like those people have anything to say about the holiday that's worth hearing. Devil's holiday? Really? Grow up, religious nut jobs.

    If you don't like Halloween, just don't celebrate it.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  11. Bible Clown

    Apparently that old zombie, Jesus, has stolen all your BRAIIINNNNSSS.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. T Stafford

    Oh, and Christmas doesn't have its own Pagan origins? Religion is the opiate of the masses and this drug is being consumed in ever increasing dosages.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Religion is the opiate of the masses? On some people, it's more like PCP.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Beatrice

      Either you have not been educated in a school or have not study history. Christianity don't have pagan roots. And your quote, is bein repeated from the one who propagated, Carl Marx, an atheist.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Smart Potato

      "Christian debate" = oxymoron.

      And like every OTHER holiday isn't based on pagan rituals, bloodshed, or non-American traditions: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's... even Easter is based on an Iranian worship of Nawrooz and the bloodshed of the murder of Jesus. Ugh.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • midwstrngrl

      christianity adopted pagan practices. its called apostasy.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Loren

      Beatrice, I hate to break it to you, but Dante is getting it from someone else now....

      Seriously, hon, you need to do a half hour of research on the web. Christianity most certainly DOES have pagan roots. Look up Mithraism and Zoroastrianism for a start. Nearly every aspect of Christianity that Paul promoted was lifted wholesale from pre-existing mystery cults. By the way, even the bible will tell you that Paul was NOT an apostle, that he NEVER even met Jesus and never heard him preach. He had a nervous breakdown and hallucinated on the road to Damascus, and now everyone believes what he has to say about Jesus and the proper way to be a christian??!! Yeah right, a man who never met the real Jesus (assuming there even WAS one) is the ultimate authority on the meaning of his preaching and his life. You wouldn't (I hope) accept that kind of hooey from any one today, so why accept it from a Jew who spent three years killing fellow Jews for following Jesus?

      The bible may have some interesting and worthwhile moral precepts, but don't delude your self into thinking there is nothing pagan in the roots of modern Christianity. You'd be wrong.

      October 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  13. biketrip

    CNN and other liberal media have been trying to divide people of 'faith' from conservative Christians for a long time. The Christians they don't like are pretty much the real ones, imho..

    October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      Extremism and fundamentalism don't deserve to be taken seriously.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Like you? Ha ha ha ha. Pride is a sin, not a way to go to heaven. You are certainly arrogant enough to be a preacher.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • biketrip

      Yeah, and I always take intrepretations from Bible clowns seriously 🙂

      October 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • McJesus

      Which of the 3000 Christian(tm) denominations are 'Real(tm)'? I assume your denomination got it right, and the others are all false. Correct?

      October 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • biketrip

      McJesus – meet Bible Clown. Bible Clown – McJesus. Check foursquare, maybe you're both at Occupy Wallstreet

      October 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • McJesus

      Biketrip – So which denomination has it right? The Mormons with Joseph Smith and the golden tablets? The Pentacostals with their speaking in tongues? The Catholics with their trinity and idolatry? The 7th Day Adventists, after their 'end of world' reformation when it didn't come about as they 'knew' it would? The Evangelicals, who discarded the old testament? The Baptists? Maybe the Shakers who effectively went extinct due to their inability to procreate? Ah I got it. The Amish! Right? Ok. Maybe not them. Lutherans? Anglicans? Methodists? Presbytarians? Calvinists? Mennonites? Orthodox? Please educate me, so I know who has it 'right'. Like you do.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • biketrip

      McJesus – I'll give you this, your question seems sincere and my last comment was not called for. Sorry. As for which religion has it right, that doesn't hold any water. None of them do, you know it, I know it. God never made an outline for the perfect church. The book of 1st John says that if we say we have no sin, we make Him a liar, and his truth has no place in us. I'm a Baptist, the church I attend is Calvinist and I love it, even though I'm not a true Calvinist.

      Thanks for staying true to your message, even though we can't agree on this, you're question struck me as sincere and I'll try to rope in my sarcasm.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • McJesus

      It is a question I often ask my friends, and it is quite a difficult question to answer, I realize. Your answer is actually quite good. I'd agree, none of them have it right. I actually grew up in a rather unique situation. My mother, Muslim. My father, protestant. As a child I experienced those, plus baptist, catholic, and a few other churches as we moved over the years. While the message between them was similar, the difference I saw was in the showmanship. I had the feeling that most just end up in the religion of their parents, as they don't have choice as children. Being brought up in this environment effectively dictates what one will believe as an adult. My opinion mainly swerved away from religion around 8 years old at Sunday school. When I'd ask questions about stories from the bible which were not believable, I got ignored and outcast. As a child. Yes. Well, at that point I came to realize they had no idea what they were talking about. They were fed facts, and regurgitated it to others. This lack of curiosity or deep understanding in what they were speaking of made me realize: I have to think for myself instead.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • biketrip

      Funny that my childhood was exactly opposite. Raised by an atheist and agnostic. I found Christianity at the age of 19. I've come to appreciate the advantages of that, no pressure whatsoever, and yet I came to believe. So I wasn't coerced at all, and of course had to deal with parents wondering if I was just going through a stage, a fad. Decades later I still believe and I do worry that my kids won't think for themselves. But if you believe something is truth, you have to teach it, as best you can. But my kids will have to make their own decision about that, and I try to be a loving dad and we have fun probably a little unorthidox. But in your situation, which I admit is pretty unique, I pray for your peace. If your decisions bring you real peace, then no one can take it from you.

      October 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  14. D

    Why don't we celebrate it however we want? I do disagree with the "hell house" approach, but if they're not trying to pass it off as something else, those who go into it do so of their on volition.

    Christians, enjoy (or don't) your holidays how you see fit. I will do the same. Everybody's happy. Why does anyone, Christian or not, want to push their way on anyone else?

    October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  15. Dennis

    Response to Colin,
    I consider myself a devout Christian, although maybe not what some would call a Fundamentalist.

    1. You honestly believe, despite everything we have been taught by cosmology, astronomy, geology, biology, history, paleontology and archeology, that the World began about 6,000 years ago
    Answer: I do not believe that the world is only 6,000 years old. The Bible nowhere gives a start date. The Bible in the book Genesis simply states that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. There is a really good website that goes into this in detail, just Google Does God Exist.
    2. You think that, despite Jesus getting it wrong,
    Answer: Jesus getting it wrong? Where do you get that? Jesus said that only God knows when the end of time will be and that we should be prepared. Again nowhere does the Bible give a date for the end of time. I think you are confusing what people say with what the Bible says. Always go with the Bible not what some man tries to make it say, including myself.
    3. You accept the “leap of faith” as a valid basis for believing in god
    Answer: I think there is a leap of faith; you either have to believe that matter has always existed or the something existed to create matter. There are actually evidences that show (yes, not prove) that God does exist. Again I would refer you to the Does God Exist website. They do a good job of showing some of those.
    4. You consider simple thoughts like lust and mast.urbation a sin, but have no issue with the disgusting, degenerate way your Bible treats women and $ex and, even today, admire people like Michele Bachmann who consider women second class citizens to men.
    Answer: Nowhere in the Bible does God say that we should treat Women in the way you described. The Bible does show examples of that, but God is not condoning it. In the book of Corinthians it says men are to love our wives as ourselves.
    5. You likely deny global warming
    Answer: I do not deny global warming. After God created the earth he charged man with taking care of it, see book of Genesis. We should take care of the earth for the future generations, whether there is global warming or not. My personal opinion is that some people deny global warming because some people seem to try and place all the blame for it on white American males. There is lots of blame for it to go around.
    6. You will regularly be ripped off and cheated by charismatic “preachers” who are obviously crooks to everybody but you. Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggard, Eddie Long,
    Answer: I don’t consider those men you mentioned true preachers. Actually they make me mad, because way too many people associate them with true Christians and they are deceiving so many people into following them.
    7. You spout off about the importance of charity and generosity as Biblical principles, but likely support movements like the tea party that promote the evisceration of social policies.
    Answer: Not all Christians support tea party. Jesus said render unto Caesars what is Caesars. Personally I wouldn’t have such a hard time in paying the crazy amount of taxes that I do, if the government would just try to take more responsibility in spending wisely. Also, I give to other charities besides my local church, as many other Christians that I know do.
    8. You fail to see that, given your personality, the only reason you are not a fundamentalist Jew, Hindu or Muslim is an accident of where you were born. Had you been born in Iran, you would be one of those bearded half-wits that burns American flags.
    Answer: In some ways I have to agree with you on that, at least the part about being born in a country where I had the freedom to be a Christian, or whatever else religion I chose to be. But just speaking for myself, when I got out on my own I did investigate my faith and what I believed. I didn’t just accept it as something that was true just because someone else told me it was.
    9. You will defend the Bible, an Iron Age collection of Middle Eastern mythology, despite it being indisputable wrong and literally infested with outdated morality, contradictions and barbaric cruelty.
    Answer: Can you point out somewhere where the Bible is wrong, not just something you heard from someone? I haven’t found anything that is wrong or contradictions in the Bible, just sometimes what other people try to make it say. Outdated morality, what, one man having one wife? At least I know I have cut my chances down of getting some weird disease.
    10. You believe that anybody who does not accept your silly faith will burn in hell. You don’t have to kill, you don’t have to rob, hell, you don’t even have to litter. All you have to do is reject a belief in the Christian god and he will inflict a punishment upon you infinite times worse than the death penalty….and he loves you. You see no contradiction in using the same sky-fairy as both the carrot and the stick.
    Answer: It isn’t just a matter of accepting a faith, and here is where I differ from what some would call Fundamentalist Christians. I believe you also have to do other things, not doing other things to be saved, but because you are a Christian you want to good works. In the book of James it says that even the daemons believe.

    I would have liked to give more detail, but I tried to keep it brief.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Rob

      I'm not quite religious but I think Dennis sounds reasonable.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "I don’t consider those men you mentioned true preachers" I do. They are ordained ministers with huge congregations. To their huge congregations, you are not a Christian. I guess you are a heretic doomed to hell, so you might as well trick-or-treat.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • McJesus

      He who hears voices in their head are considered schizophrenic. He who hears the voice of Jesus is considered blessed. To me.. both are the same. Schizophrenic.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mab

      People like you make me not even want to set foot in a church ever again. I get having blind faith in God, but stupid faith in things that (yes) MAN MADE!!! The Bible was not written by God, and angel, or even the devil. It was made by MAN years and years ago. Its a book of ideas, nothing else. Putting faith in someone else's IDEA is not very smart nor is it morally on a high ground. The crap you people believe in is mind boggling!!!

      October 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Christiannx

      LOL you are hilarious. You are only posting all this to promote the "Does God Exist" website.

      Let me ask you this..
      Do they advertise on this website?
      Do they ask for donations?

      Because we all know religion is only about money, power, and propaganda.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • fred

      Christiannx
      That is how you know the difference between the real and fake. Jesus did not get rich off religion. Jesus actually came to give and He did, He gave everything. The first chuch began with belivers giving everything. God does not need your money "give onto Ceasar what is Ceasar's"

      October 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  16. Colin

    I'm a Christian and I think this is totally ridiculous. It started as a Christian holiday anyways. People like this give Christianity a bad name...

    October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • D

      It started as a Celtic celebration called Samhain. In the 700's Pope Gregory III incorporated the religious aspect. Regardless, however people want to celebrate is fine.

      Just enjoy yourself.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Colin

      For the record – different Colin.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • McJesus

      It wasn't started as a christian holiday. Like most so-called holidays, they were commandeered/renamed/recycled. Just like most religions. A core set of themes repeat across many thousand and thousands of years. The virgin birth theory, etc. Recycled between religions because well... it was popular. It sounded cool. And gosh darn-it, the uneducated masses just ate it up and wanted to be a part of the whole burning bush, talking snake, I'm going to give you an acre of cloud-top to 'live' on after you die.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • fred

      Ten reasons your not Colin:
      1) You're Christian
      2) See number 1 eight more times, nine if you lose count

      October 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Christiannx

      you need to do some reserach buddy. Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve and Samhain.

      Both Pagan, not Christian.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  17. RayJacksonMS

    Give christmas back to the Pagans too christians. You stole that holiday from them too.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  18. John

    Christmas has Pagan roots as well. Do they want to abolish that holiday too? Heck, Christianity as any religion has roots in Paganism.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  19. botch

    the christians need to get a life...or at least a brain.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  20. A

    Sphy,... that is sooo true!!!

    October 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.