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.

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“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. Ben

    OK lets go through the list: Christmas: Not the birth of or Jesus but a day at the winter solstice that was celebrated by pagans. The Holy Roman Empire pick this date for the celebration of Christ's birth to bring the pagan masses into the fold. According to bible scholars Christ was not even born in December. Easter: Pagan fertility celebration merged with the Resurrection of Christ originally named for the goddess of fertility "Aster" subsequently changed to "Easter." Halloween: All Hallows Day Eve, never in history attached to the devil Satan, or Beelzebub. Hollywood has however made many movie connections to Halloween, all fantasy, all wrong. See you later, I've got to take my 11 year old trick or treating before church!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Drew

      You made an error that needs correction, Jesus wasn't even born in December because he wasn't even born. There's too much evidence available that says he never existed in the first place. 😉

      October 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • BobbaFett

      You're right about everything – but as a Christian, what we recognize *today* in holidays is more important to me. Jesus wasn't born in December, but culturally it's a nice way to share gifts and celebrate Christ's birth. Easter was a pagan holiday, but it's a nice way to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. In contrast, we don't celebrate Santa, the Easter Bunny, or death/evil during Halloween (actual witchcraft has had a small historical association during the holiday, but not mainstream). Please know that I'm not condemning what *you* do (that doesn't matter to me), but I wanted to give my perspective. It seems like CNN represents Christians as gay/secular hypocrites, or right wing fanatics. Have fun with your son/daughter!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  2. DrinkH2O

    Christians overtime changed the holidays meaning such as Christmas, and Easter. Seriously the Christmas tree also known as the Yule tree. Pagans believed that by sacrificing a tree , that their gods will help them survive the harsh winter. And lastly EASTER, What is the connection between the death of Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny?

    October 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • wilson

      They think that Jesus was crucified on rabbit hill.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  3. DSNesmith

    >implying a vast minority of stupid people represents the whole
    >implying most christians don't think the people in this article are idiots

    October 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  4. logic

    In that case, Christians should uphold and of their religious holidays, since they all stem from pagan traditions. Google Eostara for starters.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Imagine

      That's not a fair comparison. Most Christian holidays, Christmas for example, are celebrated on pagan holidays for a simple reason; not to embrace the pagan tradition, but replace a pagan tradition and make it Christian. Most biblical scholars believe Christ was not born on December 25, but sometime in the spring. It was the Pope that chose the 25th for a simple reason, he wanted to mask the pagan traditions and make them instead days when Christian's would celebrate the works of Christ.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  5. Fred

    All religion is dumb

    October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • CFSM

      Except for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Religion is Useless

      Global Warming is more likely then God showing his face anytime soon......and that says a lot!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  6. wilson

    Religion is more offensive and scary than any Halloween tradition. And besides, the Christians get to have their revenge when the shopping season arrives along with all the greed, depression and feelings of abandonment that Christmas brings. That holiday takes the cake when it comes to scary and offensiveness!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • SoCaler

      Probably because people awaken to the rubble of their lives for a moment when the season calls for getting focused on things that matter. Greed is something that can happen any time of the year and you should stay on your guard against. The commercialization of Christmas is really the problem... the fact that people are depressed around that season I think can be the reflection of the reality of what state their lives are in. The rest of the year you can keep on trucking with your blinders on and fingers in your ear with the rest of life's busy activities... "busy busy busy, I'm can't even tell that I'm a wreck, weee!"

      October 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  7. ellesgshelton

    Costumes & candy are fun for kids. Halloween doesn't have to be viewed as evil or religious in any way. Our church has held a "trunk-or-treat" event for several years, where kids dress in costume and go from one decorated car trunk to the next for candy. The car trunks are arranged in a big circle in a parking lot & decorated according to a theme (e.g. superheroes, tv shows, under the sea, etc.) & win prizes too. The event is open to the entire community, offers bounce house, refreshments, crafts, etc. too. It's a great way to bring the community & families together & have some fun.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • ellesgshelton

      p.s. I'd like to point out that I attend an evangelical church. We want to be seen as inviting, welcoming people, not scary people. Wisdom dictates the event is not directly competing with the actual Halloween night, but usually the same weekend or the weekend before. Google trunk or treat or search youtube & you'll find there are many churches that see the holiday as an opportunity for fun and outreach.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • John K

      Hey if you religious folks want to dig candy out of trunks because you can't stand to be around the rest of us that's fine by me. Just when you call it "outreach" is when my hair stands up a bit. If my children wander by please don't "outreach" at them. I like them normal and myth free.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  8. Jeff

    I am always amazed at Christians who attack anything pagan. My suggestion for all you hard core halloween hating Christians is to read the book Pagan Christianity by George Barna. Everything about your religious services are all from the pagan past, but you have no problem with that.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  9. Greg s

    The Liberal left at there finest!!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • wilson

      What you wrote make no sense.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Greg S: if you want to see the liberal left at its finest, check out the teachings of Jesus Christ. Totally liberal! It's why the religious conservatives wanted him silenced.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  10. Alex Gessong

    "...wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits" Warding off evil spirits? That should be something that any Christian (Jew, Muslim, etc.) can endorse!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • DrinkH2O

      thats why the KKK are always wearing them white robes so that they can fool the ghost, they arent really racist lol

      October 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  11. Religion is Useless

    So lets all pray to a hippie and pretend he is real.....aka christians

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Cindy

      Lol I so agree ! a hippie that did mushrooms i' m sure – which is not a bad thing but does not make him a god any more or less than anyone else. Now maybe if the mindless chri$tian did mushrooms they wake up 🙂

      October 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  12. Cindy

    People like joe hernandez and the rest of the funda- mental -ist are why I am no longer a "christian".... and why is it that insane group typically are the ones drowning their kids in bath tubs etc? ... maybe too much church is to blame instead of halloween ?! Psycho religion

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Brandon

      Having a relationship between yourself and a higher being is not a bad thing. Organized religious establishments are the ones that mess it up. I have always been a Christian, when I got older I never went to church. I did not see the point, what do these people in this building have to do with my realtionship with God? I am a happy Christian and it is probably because I do not attend organized religious functions "church service".

      October 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • bearock

      Cindy, "you are no longer a Christian" if you are not, you never were.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Love Christ

      I think you missed a verse my brother. The Church is where grace is and the truth is found.

      1 Timothy 3:15
      if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Brandon

      @ Love Christ, didn't miss the verse, I know the verse very well, pastors intrepret it as you must attend Church frequently. I interpret as the Church is where you learn about God. I have learned, now I have no need to attend Church anymore. I live my life like I am supposed to and I have a relatonship with my God. A church is not going to have any impact on that.

      October 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  13. Paul Elkins

    Stuff like this is why I've made the personal choice to just say no to religion

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Religion is Useless

      Hell yeah!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • sunpacific

      Join the party!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Nosurprise

      I'm with you.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • aginghippy

      Praise the noodley goodness of the FSM!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  14. John K

    Who cares what problems a christian has with our established holidays, I certainly don't. Lets not forget that christmas started out as a pagan holiday as well untill the religious folks took it away and I don't see them crying about not wanting to cellebrate that one. I swear do we have to run everything through a "would it offend some poor religious sob" filter? Not all of us are believers in mysticism and the supernatural and we can view holidays normally.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Melissa

    The funny thing is that these anti-Halloween churches are holding "Harvest Festivals," which is actually closer in line with the Pagan celebrations of Samhain anyway, which is the third of the autumn harvest festivals. They're so worked up about devil worship that they don't bother to learn what the original holidays were.

    Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween folks!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Pagano

      Blessed be!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  16. Please CNN...

    ...stop making entries from "The Delusion Blog" top stories. It hurts your credibility as a news organization.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Yep

      That's a good one!

      October 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  17. Mona in Tulsa

    "Samhain"was the Celtic celebration of the Fall/Winter end of Harvest, designed to ensure a rich and prosperous Harvest in the Spring/Summer. That eventually came to be known as Halloween, and everyone from the early Church to the fellows on Madison Avenue and Hallmark had their share of influence along the way. Throw in the "Dia de los Muertos" from Mexico and a dash of "Mayhem Night" from early England and you have our October "Holiday."
    It's meant to be fun and harmless. There is no significance but what you put on it. If you are "Satanist," we will I guess you will do what you must, and if you are a Christian who feels it is evil, you will do what you must. I don't side with either. It's a night for candy and fun gatherings, and to reflect that Winter will soon be here and that leads us to "Thanksgiving" and "Christmas" and don't get started on their origins! Boo...

    October 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  18. merindres

    What is wrong with NOT celebrating for whatever reason as long as you don't get preachy? What if you just don't want to do it? I am tired of being nice as pie, laughing agreeing to peoople that the choice will be a fun costume, etc. and then having people have a freak out when I don't go to a party or join in.
    People need to wrap their minds around the idea that we Do NOT Have To celebrate anything in this country if we don't want to – and if I don't moan and complain about you celebrating then you can have the courtesy to live and Let Live as well and not complain about me.
    I think many people with certain beliefs are afraid to NOT celebrate if they have children. It has become so bad that Halloween participants with opposing beliefs think it is child abuse when you don't take a child to a Halloween party or pass our candy to a child. Get a grip everyone that includes neo-conservate evangelicals who call down hellfire on party goers. Just mind your own business and tell everyone else to mind their own business too.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  19. gracebeliever

    At our church we encourage kids to learn about the customs of All
    Saints Day. The first Sunday in November we ring the chimes for all our members who have passed the previous year. We sponsor a costume show and Trunk or Treat in our parking lot so kids can get candy safely. No need to go ranting about the Devil and all that crap.

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

      Sounds like fun... but the car trunk metaphor is kind of creepy in a bad way. "Hey little girl, let me show you what I have in the trunk of my car..." lol.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Idol Girl

      My neck of the woods has mostly conservative churches but they also do the trunk-or-treating thing.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  20. Brandon

    This article is written just to stir up anti religious people and give them someting to be more upset about. This is the first time in my life I have ever seen this be an issue.

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

      Actually, it has been an issue for a while. We started having to call it "Fall Festival" in schools. We could no longer make scary faces on pumpkins. No ghosts, no goblins, and certainly no discussion about Halloween. You are lucky to have missed out.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Brandon

      That is freaking rediculous, people are taking all the fun out of life. Probably some of the same people that say we have to call Christmas trees "holiday" trees.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
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About this blog

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.