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. mark midland

    I got better things to do with my money than stand at my door and give it away.The halloween industry will suffer more this year than in any other decade since WWII.I could care less what other people do with thier money. However if every person that gives away 40 to 50 dollars in candy would donate to penicillin drive more lives would change rather making the yacht payment for your dentist.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • SIGH.

      $40 to $50 in candy? What are you giving out? Chocolate covered quarters? Go over to the dollar store and buy 10 bags for $10. I mean, don't participate if you don't like it, but geez. Is there a Halloween equivalent for Scrooge? Lol

      October 29, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dane

      what a party pooper. So we should not spend any money on fun stuff for children until all the worlds problems are solved? You sound like a bitter d:ck. I hope you dont have kids.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Little White Lies

      Please post address.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • JPX

      Gee, Mark, you sound like a lot of fun. Do you keep kids' baseballs when they land in your yard?

      October 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • JC

      I actually agree with you Mark...why spend money on celebrating evil and glorifying it as if it's all sweet and cozy? These types of celebrations are a way to boost more money into the pockets of industries but the message behind it, I don't condone.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • SciFiChickie

      You will be lucky if you escape the eggs being thrown at your home & car...

      October 29, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  2. John


    October 29, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  3. Andrew D

    This nonsense of the none beliviever to belittle the believer with thier wisdumb of there flesh driven ways as it is seen today from words written long before thier selling of doing anything as a right, over the God given wisdom of reason. Turning to a vile and debased mind doing the things you wish not to do, and unable to do the things of the heart. Giving into the ways of the creature, and unwilling to be of a disciplined mind to his will, living in the fruitlessness of thier own thoughts of a flesh driven nature. Man's self proclaimed knowledge you can see in the wars, greed, and the putting of the rust and dust above a living being. Very sad and very true.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • JT

      You obviously haven't taken your medication today or your religion has caused irreversible brain damage.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • The 53%

      You didn't make one lick of sense in this post. When did you learn to write, the middle ages?

      October 29, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Geezus

      Huh? What?

      October 29, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Mark

      Wow, I'm sorry your religion brainwashed you so much. I hope one day you start using the thing between your ears, and not just being a pathetic lamb of religious fairy tales

      October 29, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • djslinkk

      Firstly, Andrew D, perhaps you should return to the fifth grade and retake a grammar class. Secondly, believe it or not, Christianity borrows heavily from several pagan religions. Heaven, hell, prophecy, daemon possession, sacrifice, initiation by baptism, communion with God through a holy meal, the Holy Spirit, monotheism, immortality of the soul, and many other "Christian" ideas all belonged to earlier, older Pagan faiths. They were simply part of ancient Mediterranean culture. Along with miracle working sons of God, born of a mortal woman, they were common elements of pre-Christian Pagan religion.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  4. duh

    I dont get it cnn. Must you only talk about the extremes? Every family has its weirdos. Look at your own.

    Most Christians I know are nonchalant about halloween. They know that there are other things more important than condemning this holiday, like serving, compassion, and sharing the gospel.

    Please cnn, continue taking irrelevant and silly stabs at my religion

    October 29, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Andrew D

      Well said my brother

      October 29, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Eric G

      Still waiting for you to present verifiable evidence that your god exists. Without this evidence, it is you who makes your religion irrelevant and silly.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Jonboy

      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.

      I think CNN did a fine job of making this distinction, but if you think it just doesn't happen and that its only a few select whackos, that isn't true either. There are numerous fundamentalists who feel this way, particularly in the bible belt. I should know as I grew up in one of these churches.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  5. Katherine

    I LOVE Halloween but I'm more grateful that I live in a country where people have the right to decide to participate or not based on their religious beliefs. I also believe with that right comes the duty of the rest of us not to mock or discriminate them because they are following their core beliefs. Our country should stand on respect towards others.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Andy Anderson

      When you believe in laughable things, don't be surprised when people laugh at you.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  6. Jonboy

    I grew up in a fundamentalist household that did not celebrate Halloween or Christmas for that matter (with the Pagan tree worship excuse.) When I got older and realized how ridiculous this was, I saw the joy and fun in my own kids lives from having such a good time on these holidays as I decided to chuck that out of my life. Once your kids get older and realize that on Halloween, nobody gets possessed, the devil doesn't show up at your house and all that happens is fun, candy, and dressing up, they will resent you for it and lose respect for their naive parents. I always thought it was ridiculous that in my house, demons were more real than anything, yet somehow, we were supposed to be having a less scary and more normal childhood for not celebrating Halloween.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  7. Adrian Morgan

    Historically, Christianity has diverted traditionally pagan celebrations to use in a role different from the usual or original one. The Christmas Tree and Easter Bunny were originally pagan ritualistic symbols of probably life and fertility. Why not adopt this celebration of death?

    October 29, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • everything in moderation

      They DID.

      "hal·low (h l ). tr.v. hal·lowed, hal·low·ing, hal·lows. 1. To make or set apart as holy."

      Halloween is: All—Hallows (as in holy)—e'en (as in evening) the night before All Hallows Day.

      The pagans never trick-or-treated. This is generational forgetfulness.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • SIGH.

      It's not a celebration of death – it's an attempt to scare off any bad spirits, probably as "insurance" against a harsh winter.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  8. Zamiel

    This uptight moron probably won't like knowing that I am getting married on All Hallows Eve, either. But you know what? Screw him and the sanctimonious horse he rode in on. I don't even believe in his ridiculous "Devil" character. For me, Halloween is a day of love, generosity, and fun. Christians can go mope in the corner if they don't like it.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Matt

      No one cares that youre getting married to your "life partner"

      October 29, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  9. Charles

    Umm... dude... Satan is a middle-age anthropomorphism of a classic-age abstraction.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  10. Brandy

    Something that has to be said. People need to stop defining Christianity by looking at the Catholics. That is not the base for Christianity. Jesus is. Non-denominational faith. A lot of what is in the Catholic bible isn't biblical. Purgatory isn't real. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. There is no in between. You either go to Heaven or Hell when you die, and then at the second coming the dead in Jesus rise first, the rest raptured, and the dead in hell will be brought to judgment and be put back in hell. the judgment of the saints is for their reward in heaven. STOP LOOKING AT CATHOLICS TO SEE JESUS! Look at Him only!

    October 29, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Mark

      Well, if the Catholics didn't have purgatory, they wouldn't be able to use it as a stopping grounds to pay tolls to get to heaven. If they never created purgatory the Catholic church would have a lot less money.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • b-spring

      Fundamentalist in this article refers to protestant denominations. We're all on the same team, can't we all just get along?

      October 29, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Zamiel

      Are you really that much of an ignorant fool to think your flavor of God-worship predates Catholicism, let alone getting in some stupid argument over which flavor of faerie tale is the best one?

      Here's a hint: If you want to play "my Abrahamic religion came first" then you should bow down to the Jews and Muslims. They have you beat.

      Of course, since it's all BS anyway, you look like a child arguing that unicorns came before elves, and therefore unicorns are superior.

      I just think that those who are walking on thin intellectual/historical ice ought not to jump up and down and throw a tantrum over the other fools on the same lake's surface.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Matt

      "and the dead in hell will be brought to judgment and be put back in hell."

      God is a little redundant dont ya think?

      October 29, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • The 53%

      Brandy, as a Catholic I have to say the we view other denominations (such as whichever one you belong to) as retarded little animals who have no clue because their brains aren't capable.

      Protestants are no threat to Catholicism, in fact you all make us feel even more superior without even trying.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Cat

      Actually, Mohammad came AFTER Christ. This is why Christ is included in the Koran as a prophet. The oldest Abrahamic religion is Judaism, followed by Christianity and then Islam.

      Christianity did co-opt a lot of the Pagan holidays/celebrations in order to try to bring those people into the "fold". Samhain (co-opted as Halloween/All Saints Day) is a celebration of those who have passed on and a close to the year. The dressing up was to deceive those spirits that were unfriendly or evil, but the friendly and familial were welcomed with open arms. The Winter Solstice (co-opted as Christmas) was a celebration of the increasing daylight and the promise of continued life. Imbolac is the celebration of the lambing. Oestara (co-opted as Easter) is a celebration of fertility and the awakening Earth. Beltane (co-opted as May Day) is another fertility celebration as the fields start to show growth ...

      In addition, the idea of a Virgin getting pregnant and giving birth to a child who later dies and is risen from the dead is NOT original to Christianity. It is contained in Zoroastrianism which was practiced in the Persian empire well before even Judaism was conceived.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Andy Anderson

      "You either go to Heaven or Hell when you die, and then at the second coming the dead in Jesus rise first, the rest raptured, and the dead in hell will be brought to judgment and be put back in hell."

      Can you *demonstrate* that what you are saying is ACTUALLY TRUE?

      If not, why should anybody take you seriously?

      October 29, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Light In The Black

      Pergutory means you can buy your way out of hell,
      so if you got money, your good to go.
      Thats why the catholic church is rich,
      i paid, now i can go play.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  11. msadr

    I think it's funny how everyone talks about Christianity "Borrowing" pagan holidays because they couldn't supress them. The fact is that Pagan holidays are natural holidays. Samhain/halloween, or whatever your culture calls it, falls on the day that is midway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. It marks the beginning of dormancy (sleep) for nature in the northern hemisphere. The holiday belongs to everyone in the northern hemisphere. It's not pagan, or christian or any other religion's property. The symbols used to celebrate are not borrowed either. American Christians didn't borrow jack-o-lanterns from the pagans. We brought them with us from Europe. We also brought apple bobbing, leaving treats at the front door, etc. These traditions are rooted in culture and built upon natural facts. It is a fact that the world seems to die at this time of year and then come back awake in the spring. How you symbolize these things is cultural and does not belong to a specific religion.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Franlin

      Thank you, it seems like at least some of us have common sense. More people need to be informed. I am also saying this for preachers, teachers, and just the general public. Once you realize there really isn't a connection can we just move on to the fun involved.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Jennifer

      Where's the like button. Best comment I've read.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Andy Anderson

      Well said. One doesn't see too many good comments on cnn.com

      October 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  12. redjewel

    Blessed Samhain..the celebration of the 3rd. harvest.. a day to remember loved ones who have passed before us. the start of the new year. the devil and hell are a christian concept not pagen. pagens do not believe in either. nor do they worship such nonsence. have a wonderful day ....Blessed Be.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Zamiel

      If you're going to tout Wiccan ideals, at least learn to spell "pagan" correctly. You do yourself a disservice.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Dude

      A Wiccan friend was asked "Do you worship Satan?".

      His reply "No I am not a Christian."

      October 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  13. Matt

    These 'Hell Houses" just prove to me how off base and mentally sick the fanatics are in this country. I've been hearing stories of children getting tricked into going to these places and coming out emotionally scarred. I'm an atheist, but I will forgive them, and I will love them, but I will not tolerate ignorance being forced down my or my children's throats.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • SIGH.

      Fundamentalist christianity should really be considered a cult. The level of psychological abuse is insane. As a child, I went to a fundie church camp where they would have "campfire night" – a special HUGE bonfire was built and the "counselors" (if you want to call people engaged in psychological torture counselors) would walk around the fire screaming and pointing at the kids, yelling stuff like, "You see this fire? Imagine being inside this fire! Imagine your skin melting off! And you beg and scream for a drop of water and none comes!!" To clarify, this was done to 8, 9, 10 year old kids. This happened every year at camp. I wouldn't allow my child to step his big toe inside a fundamentalist church. These people are sick. And that's not a judgement – it's a FACT, from experience.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Andy Anderson

      To "strengthen faith"?!

      Are you KIDDING me?

      Why not call it what it is: a means of frightening people so they accept something as true without evidence. Why have to prove to your children that your god is real when you can just scare the s*** out of them and have them stop asking so many pesky questions like "how do you know it's true?"

      That parents WILLINGLY subject their children to this is child abuse, and these people should have their kids taken away from them. "It's just my religious belief!" should no longer be a special, untouchable excuse.

      It's 2011, and it's time we all started acting like it.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  14. Grainboy

    Aside from the fact that they are trying desperately to establish theocratic rule in this country, why does anyone care about what fundamentalists think about anything?

    October 29, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • rmtemsguy

      Amen....(pun intended, LOL) The Christian fundamentalists in this country, including some republican political candidates, appear to believe in an America with theocratic rule. They profess to represent what America wants and what America should be. This could not be farther from the truth. Whatever you opinion may be regarding the religious beliefs or practices of our founding fathers, this country was created on the foundation of FREEDOM of religion, and SEPARATION of church and state. Oh wait....those things were actually written down by our founding fathers, something these fundamentalists seem to ignore. That means that we all have the right to practice our own religion, including them, but that no particular religion should rule this land or create any of its laws! To the Christian fundamentalists out there.....keep your religion to yourself, as I do, as we all should, and definitely keep your religion out of our government!

      October 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  15. Little White Lies

    *** This whole anti Halloween issue has been created by the Liberal press,
    (Sigh) its "always" the liberal press when you dont like whats being reported.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  16. mclellag

    Christians have taken over tons of Pagan holidays, including Christmas; why are they being picky about this one now?

    October 29, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  17. Sarah

    First – most Christian holidays have pagan roots. Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25th because that was the pagan holiday celebrating the rebirth of Sol Invictus – the undefeated sun God. Many Christmas tradition are also based on northern European pagan ones.

    Second, while Halloween may have some pagan roots, it's Christian roots like in the pre-Reformation celebrations of All Souls' and All Saints' days.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  18. Roland

    Halloween IS a Christioan holiday! Don't you Christian's know anything about your religion? Halloween, is a contraction from All Hallows Evening, or the eve of All Saints Day, which is followed by All Souls Day on Nov. 2nd. All Hallows Evening was a time when Christians would collect offerings for for prayers to be said for the souls in purgatory on All Souls Day.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Brandy

      Purgatory is a Catholic belief, not a standard Christian belief. Let's be clear on that.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • bob

      Your talking about Fundamentalist Christians. They don't know how to use their brain or think, they just over react to everything and persecute and try to oppress every one that believes differently than them. And don't even try to tell them that Satan or Lucifer isn't a person, but a mis-translation of hebrew and latin words. Lucifer is the latin word for venus used for the hebrew words day star (or morningstar) when they translated the hebrew metaphor "day star, son of the dawn", and satan is actually s'tn and means to oppose or be an adversary and refers back to a person or herald, never some diabolical figure.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • mclellag

      great comment, Brandy

      October 29, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  19. Fenris

    I'm a Christian. I love Halloween and know that the Church took the old Samhain/New Year celebrations and used the same day for All Hallows, which of course gives us Hallows Eve or Halloween. These old rites & celebrations are as old as humankind. Ranting & raving against them will only make them stronger. For the vast majority of people Halloween is now simply a fun & innocent holiday and I'm going to continue to put out pumpkins & other harvest symbols and hand out candy to the kids who come by in the costumes. Happy Halloween!

    October 29, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  20. Matt

    If Mr. Hernandez is worried that celebrating holidays with "pagan roots" will somehow turn evil, then he'd better just stop celebrating Christian holidays altogether – EVERY SINGLE ONE of them is a deliberate "borrowing" of pre-Christian culture...

    October 29, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Fenris

      Matt is absolutely correct. I suggest that Mr. Hernandez do a little historical reading.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:00 am |
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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.