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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.

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“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. Melissa

    Christians need to grow up and get over this idiocy. Its just something fun to do. It doesn't hold the meaning it once did. Get over it.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Steve

    LOL!!! I'm a Christian, but everything in this article is so hypocritical. Can't celebrate Halloween because of Pagan origins??? Umm, what about Christmas or Easter? Do you not have anything representing spring like flowers or bunnies or eggs on Easter, because those are from the pagan spring festival. Oh, and Haunted Houses are OK as long as its the devil in hell, but not if its something else scary??? Come on people!

    October 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Tha Chikin

      You are correct!

      Christmas = Pagan holiday called Yule
      Easter = Pagan holiday called Ostara

      Essentially all Christian holidays are based on Pagan holidays.

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

    Happy Samhain! Don't worry, Yule is just around the corner!

    October 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Tha Chikin

      Bessed be!

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

      Nice!!

      October 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  4. George Marshall

    One despairs at the idiocy of these criticism of Halloween, a harmless and fun time for many. The fundamentalist Christians are the scary ones. There is nothing that some of them would like better than to torture and burn you at the stake because you don't hold with their beliefs. Certainly not all, but many fundamentalist Christians would do Torquemada proud.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  5. Steve

    If Christians are upset about Halloween because of its Pagan roots there's another holiday they need to rally against. Its called Christmas. Where do you think the tree came from? It was a Pagan ritual to feast, exchange gifts and decorate evergreen trees during the harsh winter. Don't forget Easter. The bunny and the eggs are symbols of life and fertility. What does it have to do with the death of Christ? Nothing.

    Christianity stole most of its holidays and practices from other religions. Christians shouldn't hate on Pagans. Without Pagans Christianity wouldn't be what it is today. Actually most of the fun things about Christianity wouldn't exist. Pagans knew how to party and enjoy life.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • TR6

      @Steve: “Actually most of the fun things about Christianity wouldn't exist.”
      And there are many many Christians that wish it didn’t

      October 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • TR6

      @Caleb: “Wrong almost every pagan holiday has Christian roots!!!!!” Wrong, pagans were here first

      October 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  6. Fern

    Almost every Christian holiday has pagan roots or pagan elements.

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

      Wrong almost every pagan holiday has Christian roots!!!!!

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

      Caleb, genius, the Christians came LONG after the Pagans!! Read up on your history before you make an another idiot comment like that!!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Loren

      Erm, Caleb, no, you are quite wrong. Virtually EVERY major christian "holiday" (short for holy day) is derived from previously existing pagan celebrations, most based on recurring astronomical events during the year. The quarters – Ostara, summer solstice, Mabon, winter solstice – were turned into Easter (Ostara, spring equinox), feasts of SS Peter and Paul (summer solstice, these feasts are marked with celebrations involving fire like the pagan observances of summer solstice), feast of St Matthew the Evangelist (Mabon, fall equinox) and Christmas (Yule, winter solstice). The cross quarters, based on the changes of seasons, were changed into Candlemas (Imbolc, the start of spring and celebrates the lengthening of light during the day), May Day(Beltane, the start of summer celebrated with fire and flowers, like the celebrations honoring Mary on May 1, also frequently the celebration of Pentecost occurs near or on this day), in August, Lammas, the start of fall, is flanked by the christian celebrations of the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, and, of course, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day and the following All Souls Day, is Samhain, the end of the year and the beginning of winter and the night when the veil between the living and the dead is considered thinnest.

      Many Protestant churches elected NOT to observe these catholic feasts precisely BECAUSE they were, as everyone knew, based on Pagan celebrations. Even Christmas was not celebrated by many conservative sects, including the Puritans who founded Massachusetts, because they were acutely aware that all the symbolism surrounding the celebrations of that day were taken from ages old Pagan activities.

      So, you are quite wrong. If you study the subject even more in depth, you can find mention of MANY other major and minor feasts and holy days that are related to pagan celebrations all over Europe. Some of the Christian observances also have roots in Mithraism and/or Zoroastrianism. If you REALLY believe that the major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter have no basis in earlier customs, I urge you to do an hour of research on the web. Your mind will be either enlightened or officially blown.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  7. bartonfunk

    The christian believe in a magical being that lives in the sky. Who cares what they think. They have a mental illness. And anyway, they celebrate "pagan" holidays already. Like Christmas (Tree, Santa, yule log, mistletoe, gifts, Kris Kringle, wreath) and Easter (fertility holiday, bunny). It's just a joke to say you are Christian. It's like saying you believe in Norse gods or Greek Gods. Crazy!

    October 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      Cool! Does this mean I can wear my Jesus costume?!

      October 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  8. Lola

    A list of holidays with pagan origins:
    Valentine's Day
    Easter
    Christmas
    Halloween

    Do they not celebrate Christmas and Easter? Both days were selected host their respective holidays because of their proximity to pagan holidays that the masses just couldn't stop celebrating.

    Makes no sense to me. And I am a Christian!

    October 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  9. William Demuth

    Halloween is the worship of a Christian girl in fishnets taking a hit on my bong while her parents think she is at church.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jason

      Alright you win, I laughed.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  10. steve

    Christians co-op'd all the other holidays over the centuries. Why not Halloween? They like being the center of the universe.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • TR6

      OH NO YOU DON’T!!! How dare you suggest we let Christians F up a perfectly good holiday

      October 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  11. John

    YAWN.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  12. jim

    If we are not careful, the next generation will loose the doctrine of Christianity through these pagan festivals we celebrate every year and it seems to be getting louder ever year. Some of our prominent leaders and their families are all into this which is a scary thing. Everything trickles down. When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding. He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people. A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Jim

      Christ is like Iron Man. A made up story to entertain children.

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

      How can you lose Christianity to these 'pagan' holidays. The pagan holidays came long before Christianity, and your goofy religion seems to be doing just fine.

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

      We can only hope that people learn to abandon Christianity(and every other religion) sooner rather than later.

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

      It's impossible to be a good person and live by every single word of the Bible. Update your lifestyle and understand what is applicable. I'm sorry for you that you burn so much energy regarding a day that is really, just a fun dress-up day.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • GodIsALie

      Let's hope Christianity and all other forms of religion are wiped from the face of the Earth. Maybe then we'll live in peace.

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

      Good! I hope we do lose some of the Christian values and go back to the Pagan traditions!! They were more open minded, accepting, morally just, and all around pleasant people. I've met very few Christians who would fit that bill!!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      At first I was thinking this might have flown better if it wasn't for the archaic phrasing, but...I was wrong.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  13. Duarte Silva

    A sad reflection on how far Christianity has fallen from its roots. Though Halloween is rooted deep in paganism, and celebrated by many non-Christians and Christians alike, it has no business in Christian life. The apostle Paul declares we should seek and celebrate all that uplifts, and beautifiesl and avoid the appearance of evil. This may sound superfically legalistic and a downer, yet what are Christians celebrating death and man-made fanatasies? Woe to those churches who create "hell – houses" to strengthen faith. What a sad, imature and selfish motive for Christian living (faith), it is about time Humans to serve the Creator not for heavenly reward or fear of hell. Motivations used for centuries which in the end do not serve nothing but create fear and selfish greed for reward. To strengthen faith, a person needs the power of the Holy Spirit and the right use of human will.
    No wonder the secular world finds Christianity to be hypocritical and false. It is a people (many, not all) who serve with their lips and don't walk the walk. A religion not seeking power from above from adhering to right-wing and left-wing politics to expand their concepts of christian living. I think of the question Jesus asked, when I return will there be faith in the earth? Much has been lost, yet much more regained if the religious leaders and laity listen to the still small voice of God calling all to buy eye-slave, gold and white clothing from the lamb.

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

      I wish God would save us from his "followers."

      October 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Rahul

      you do realize that Christmas the the co-opting of a pagan festival.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • TR6

      “it is about time Humans to serve the Creator not for heavenly reward or fear of hell”
      You get rid of the carrot and the stick and you’ll lose 80% of the Christians

      October 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  14. Martin

    I'm guessing these are the same religions that are also derived of similar pagan rituals. What a joke organized religion is. They don't remember how they were created and pass judgement on others for the same things their origins are based on.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  15. Dada

    Stop embracing bad things, christian or no Christian, Halloween is EVIL. END OF STORY

    October 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Crack Head

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

      Yep, candy is "evil." kids are "evil." drunken adult women degrading themselves is "evil" too. It's all evil.

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

      If Halloween is EVIL (end of story) then so is Easter, MLK Day, Presidents Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Christmas, New Years Eve, Veterans Day, Tim Tebow Day, and pretty much every other holiday that doesn't revolve around eating steak. END OF STORY. By the way, Dada, can I have some of your crack?

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

      How? Exactly how is it evil? I would really like to know what is so evil about it! Because I don't see it. And, if it is so evil, then why did Christians steal it from the Pagans in the first place? Answer me that while you at it!!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      See, the moment you call someone else's holiday evil, you lose all credibility. I'm not sure you care, but just FYI.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  16. wearejustparticles

    just goes to show how ignorant the church is. They have no idea how halloween even came to be, dorks.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  17. JMysh

    There is no legitimate dispute over Halloween. It is the most "holy" day for Satanists all over the world. It has nothing at all to do with Jesus Christ or His church. The world loves Halloween because they reject Christ. Professing Christians who participate in Halloween either participate in ignorance, or they have caved in to social pressures to participate, or they are merely professing Christians.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Do you realize how indoctrinated you sound?

      Cotton Mather makes you seem rational.

      Your God is a fairy tale.

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

      This world would be so much better and a lot less intolerant if God came and took the Christians away.

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

      "Professing Christians who participate in Christianity either participate in ignorance, or they have caved in to social pressures to participate, or they are merely people who believe in sorcery."

      FTFY

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

      This is true. Christianity itself is based on pagan beliefs, from the "virgin birth' the "son of god", angels, devils, resurrections from the dead, etc. All of these myths can be found in abundance in religions older and newer than Christianity. That "hell houses" exist is no suprise to me. Leave it to the misery guts religionists who hate nothing more than people enjoying themselves. Truth is that pagans appreciate "god's creation" more than Calvinists and have a much deeper connection to it. The best punishment for fundamentalists/evangelicals, etc. is each other's company.

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

      Oh bull!

      October 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • sinister1

      Um, no you are incorrect, Sir. Those holidays would be called Good Friday and Christmas. aka the murder of Christ and the proliferation of vanity and excess.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Mab

      How can it be the most holy day for Satanists, when this is a PAGAN holiday? The pagans didn't believe in Satan or hell. That wasn't even part of their vocabulary. Its CHRISTIANS who came up with SATANISTS!!!!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      I always love it when someone blindly ignorant uses the word 'ignorant'. It's just delicious irony. Or a troll.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • George Marshall

      JMysh=Torguemada

      October 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Loren

      Halloween has NOTHING to do with satanism AT ALL. The observance of Samhain was common throughout the Pagan world long before Christians melded the Arabic/Islamic "Shaitan" with the Roman "Pan" to come up with Satan. Satan was not in the bible originally; originally it was a Hebrew demi-deity whose appellation was generally translated as "the Adversary".

      Modern Neo-Pagans will tell you that Satan is a Christian deity – the Christian god of evil. Modern Pagans do not believe in Christianity or any of it's gods, including Satan. They do not worship any of it's gods, including Satan. They believe that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest on Samhain and honor the recently departed souls of friends and family on this night. (Christians chose to do the SAME thing the next two days – All Saints and All Souls Day) Pagans also mark the passage of one year and the beginning of another, and the beginning of Winter, on this night. The middle of winter they celebrate on the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice (Yule is also celebrated at this time and the whole midwinter celebration was transformed into Christmas by you-know-who), and the end of Winter is marked by Imbolc, the festival of light (co-opted into Candlemas by Christians).

      To reiterate, PAGANS DO NOT WORSHIP SATAN. CHRISTIANS DO, as their god of evil. Pagans do not worship any christian god.

      October 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  18. Buckmeat

    Religion is over rated. I have not found one Christian who is not a hypocrate. They get saved on Sundays and the other 6 days they commit the 7 deadly sins with no guilt.

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

      Amen!

      October 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Jay Cizen

      Of course that's right Buckhead – because everyone else refuses to look at their lives close enough to see the sh**. The point is that we are all messed the hell up and could never make things right with God. Jesus is after our heart, not religion. It's about 100% intention and not 100% perfection.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  19. DB

    If some fool wants to ruin a harmless kids' holiday and convince themselves that dressing up like spider-man is "the work of the devil," I guess that's their business. But why are schools allowing these killjoys to ruin it for everybody else? One school after another has canceled Halloween celebrations because the Baptists in town threatened to keep their kids out of class. So why not just tell them, "fine, keep your kid out of class as long as they still make up the work...thank you for your input but we're going ahead with it anyway"? Why are they so terrified of these jerks?

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

      Remember the crusades.....

      October 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  20. Baby Nades

    For the record, I am a Christian. I am going to play the role of the devil's advocate and give my thoughts on the issue, so pay attention. These people argue that Halloween was started as a pagan holiday; therefore, they do not want any part of it. Okay, that is understandable, but wait, let me remind them, Christmas also started off as a pagan holiday. Let me bring this thought down to earth, Halloween and Christmas are both PAGAN holidays. There is no difference between the two, but for some reason one is "wrong" and the other is "okay". While I'm on the subject of this let me say something else. Sunday, the day typical "Christians" worship God, is a pagan worship day. The word 'sunday' comes from the Norse's "Sun's Day", which was the day they would worship the sun god. Isn't it interesting how paganism has had such an influence on American Christianity? Like I said before, I am a Christian, but I am the kind that follows the Bible only and not the ideologies of the modern Christian churches, which in my opinion are greatly flawed. Follow what the Bible says by reading it yourself and try not to get sidetracked by man's interpretations. Your welcome.

    October 28, 2011 at 4:41 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.