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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.

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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.

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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. james

    Why aren't they fighting Christmas for its Pagan roots as the winter solstice? Halloween is fun, get a grip.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  2. Imagine

    Taking some things from pagan tradition and weaving them into Christian holidays is an act of human culture. It is hard to give up a way of life for another and often times people would come to understand the truth of Christianity and try to change the old pagan ways. Keeping some of the old tradition like using greenery and mistletoe for example are not, on the surface offensive. Halloween on the contrary is clearly a celebration of eveil spirits etc. there is no masking over it. Has it become very innocent? Yes, but it may offend many Christians and I think it perfectly understandable for any Christian to rebuff Halloween. Personally, after becoming "born again" I do not like to have any kids wear a "scary" costume that depicts evil. I think it is counterproductive to the message Christ shared, yet i do let my kids dress in fun costumes like an animals or a superhero etc for the fun of it. Also, at our church, we offer an alternative for the community with a Fall festival" open to the community. It draws hundreds of kids! I think there is a desire to participate in an alternative program that encourages love and fellowship rather than evil. For years it has proven true as a majority of the comminty come to our church and the streets are rather empty of trick or treaters.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  3. Barry G.

    TR6,

    Jesus taught his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. (He was nailed to a cross.)

    Jesus taught us to put the interests of others ahead of our own and to serve others.

    Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Imagine

      Barry, thanks for sharing. It still amazes me that people will criticize or even put down christianity when Christs message is all about love. Yet, we should not be surprised as christ was clear that this would happen. Pretty sad.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • TR6

      Please learn to use the Reply option

      October 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Herby Sagues

      @imagine:
      I understand your point, but you also have to understand something. If one doesn't think God exist (and it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do given the total lack of real evidence that a God is needed for the universe to exist as it is) it doesn't matter if Jesus message was one of peace and love. There were many alleged deities in history that professed a message of love and peace, and you are OK with not beleiving in those as deities. So you have to understand that some people might see Christ as a great person with wonderful ideals, but not a god.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  4. SPW

    This just in: Kids dressing up like Superman and Batman are now sinners!

    Please, no where does it in imply in the Christian texts that Halloween has in correlation with the Devil or any form of Evil. Halloween has no connection to Christianity other than those that feel dressing up and having fun is somehow worshiping the Devil.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Imagine

      "In the Christian text" ? Are you speaking of the Bible? If so, Halloween was not around then. How could it speak of Halloween? If you mean any kind of similar celebration, then you are wrong. The Bible clearly teaches to stay away from sinful nature or evil. Today we do see Halloween as an innocent fun time, but the truth is, it has it's roots in dealing with evil spirits. The Bible teaches that if you have accepted Christ that alone will ward off evil spirits. The rituals of the original All Hallows Day were to clearly practice interacting with the spirit world.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      @Imagine – no. Just no. Halloween and its roots were around a very long time before the bible, and you're 'imagining' there's anything evil about it. I'm begging you to read a book besides the bible. Quit looking for evil where there is none.

      October 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Smiley

    Orthodoxy = taking oneself too seriously. As a Muslim, I see debate over silly issues like Halloween regularly. If all the "religious" people in the world stopped trying to figure out which shoe to put on first, and did something productive to help people (isn't that in the Bible/Koran/Torah/Whatever else?), we'll see a better world.

    Until then, Happy Halloween, as long as you won't burn in hell for it. By the way, weren't calendars at the center of polytheistic religious practices? Time to do away with those too!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  6. Tha Chikin

    “People are celebrating the devil’s holiday.”

    This has gotten on my last nerve. Halloween b.k.a. Samhain is a PAGAN holiday. Contrary to popular belief, Pagans do not worship the devil. Those that worship the devil perverse everything that relates to religion and are a completely different beast from the Pagans. See, Pagans do not believe in God... or the devil for that matter. How can you worship something you don't believe in? Pagans worship the Moon and the Earth and celebrate the turning of the wheel that we know as seasons. I wish these extreme bible thumpers would get their facts straight and stop basing their opinions on 1,000+ year old propaganda.

    Besides... pretty much every Christian holiday is based on... you guessed it, PAGAN HOLIDAYS. Don't believe me? Look it up.

    Merry Christmas = Happy Yule
    Happy Easter = Happy Ostara

    If anything... Christians should get their own holidays and quit complaining about it.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  7. hellhere

    I guess Halloween gets in the way of raping children.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  8. BOO HOO

    oh right, believers in religious fantasies tell non-believers what to believe in, like we're really listening.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  9. merindres

    Again – there should be no pressure in this country to celebrate anything if you don't want to. And their should be no damnation threats called out to those who do celebrate. Everyone mind your own business and don't have a cow if someone Does or Does NOT join in on a particular holiday. None of them are Mandatory.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  10. lroy

    These pastors are way off. A little research and a quick Google will tell you that the origin is not pagan but All Hallow's Eve that is on November 1. It is also called All Saints Day.
    My brother and I also went trick or treating in costume until we were 12.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  11. Ryan in Miami

    Being a stick-in-the-mud wont get you into heaven any easier.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • merindres

      Stick-in-the-mud, or standing up for one's own beliefs, or not standing up and going with the flow, or embracing it or whatever – The holidays are not mandatory – they are elective.
      Don't spread hate and division – spread tollerance.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Steve Brinkhoff

    Christmas used to be celebrated on January 5, until Constantine had the date moved to honor his favorite god, Sol Invictus. It's all nonsense, let them have their pagan rites.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Nate

      Christmas is still celebrated on January 5th in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  13. proud53percent

    I was accused one time by a preacher of being a pagan warlock child because I was born on Halloween.

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

      That is messed up on all levels – people who spread intollerance for the other side are evil.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • lroy

      Actually you're pretty much on the mark because Christmas lasts until the Feast of the Epiphany which is on Jan 6. That's like Easter lasts until Pentecost which is 50 days afterwards.
      You do realize this is especially, but not exclusively, for Catholics.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • lroy

      Oh, you poor baby. As long as you don't dress up in a devil's costume (may I recommend a nun), you're safe in my book.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  14. Loss4Words

    Really, just leave it to the Roman Catholics to ruin a perfectly good celebration from another religious or cultural beliefs system. I guess Dia de los Muertos and all those pagans will rue the day they crossed up the Pentecostal Church. Have your thinly veiled celebration, call it anything you like, the rest of the world will hand out candy to ghouls, goblins and ghosts and princesses, and OWS protesters should they come knocking!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  15. dabble53

    Of course, the religious nuts have selective memory, as usual. christmas itself was a co-opting of the pagan winter holidays.
    No way were the shepherds out in the hills tending their flocks in the middle of winter! Not that there is anything in the bible to indicate the time of year anyway......just during a census call, and considering the travel modes available at the time, you can be pretty sure again that it would not be done in the middle of winter.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  16. Bill

    Ah, give your pompous neck a rest, Padre - right, the holy Pentecostals of LA, Inc, impressive. Ain't a Christian Holiday with any historical accuracy to it to begin with, Christmas and Easter were intentionally whipped into the calendars exactly OPPOSITE other celebrations - not because they actually happened on those dates. Yeah, it's all fun and games until the uptight LA Pentecostals get involved.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  17. Red

    There is a HUGE difference between preaching a message of salvation and preaching a warning of damnation...some people live in the wrong path...

    October 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • 40acres

      Some people need to be shown the way and others apparently need to be frightened into not going some other way. But we all end up following our own chosen path don't we? If our path is coerced is it really our path?

      October 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  18. Kweso

    The so-called conservative christians are people who have lost touch with their history and ancestory. Just what did early Europeans believe before Christianity? People behave as though the word 'God' never existed in european vocabulary prior to christianity.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  19. Anthrogrl

    I'm Catholic, and in my experience it has only been Protestant denominations that have a problem with Halloween. I think this is mainly due to a misunderstanding of how/when/where/why the day originated- Oct. 31 is the Solemnity of the Feast of All Saints in the Catholic liturgical calendar. Nov. 1st is All Saints Day and Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. And in the part of the U.S. that I live in, "Dia de los Muertos" (Day of the Dead) plays a big cultural role.

    So, to say that Halloween is the devil's holiday is, IMO, a little ridiculous. It's a beautiful and solmen time to remember past loved ones.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • mbane18

      I aggre. As a Catholic I love holloween. It's the nutcase denominations that have issues.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • 144000Elohim

      And why did the Catholics choose those specific Days to proclaim a Holy season? The same reason they choose Dec 25 as the "mass of Christ". Look into Pagan traditions and you will find the root of most all Catholic "holi"days, Simon Magnus has done a great deception over all those who claim Christ as their savour, by taking away Passover and replacing it with "Easter" (research festival of the goddess Easter and you will begin to see what your priests have been hidding with there choices)

      Look into the Catholic Encyclopeadia, they know why and as a Catholic, so should you. Everything mentioned in this posting is factual and proovable if you are willing to learn where your beliefs originate. Sadly most will not venture there.

      "Do not add to (Christmas, Easter, Valentines, Patricks, May day, Sunday and all other Pagan days) nor take away from (Passover, God's commanded Holy Days, Sabbaths) the words of this book"

      October 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • lroy

      My sister! Precisely my thoughts (I'm Catholic too...and converts count too!). This is why it is so much fun having the entire Church united as one. Mucho Luv.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  20. Jeff

    My Christian neighboors told their kids that people in California sacrafice babies on Halloween, and their is no way their going to let them celebrate that! These are the most arrogant hated people in the neighborhood because they are so judgemental of everyone else, and their kids are all screwed up. BTW Christians, don't forget that the very wedding ring you are wearing, your church steeple, the nice clothes you wear on Sunday morning, the pulpit, the music, the "pastor", the sermon and many many other things in the church all have pagan beginnings. Happy Halloween!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • David

      Sorry to hear about your neighbors...I suppose every religion and movement has a handful of those. You seem like an intelligent person, and I would simply encourage you not to raise your children to be so close-minded and judgemental, including towards us Christians. That single family does not represent us.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • TR6

      I’ve lived in California all my life and I can assure you we do not sacrifice babies on Halloween. We do that at Christmas.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:43 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.