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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. Glenn

    II agree with Tam. It's just a time to dress up and eat/distribute candy. That said hide your black cats. There are people who will abuse them.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Good suggestion, Glenn. You are right-there a many shelters that will not allow adoptions of black cats around Halloween for that very reason.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oops-"there are many shelters".

      October 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      My little black cat is grateful for your concern.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  2. CaliforniaBC

    I have a suggestion...STOP making such a big deal about EVERYTHING!!

    October 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  3. Thor

    Duuuuuhhhhhhhh!!!

    October 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  4. Sane Person

    omg. Leave it to the ultra conservative right to freak out over snickers bars and princess costumes. Why dont they focus thier power on solving world hunger or curing some disease rather than getting wrapped around the axle over nothing.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Alex

      Solving world hunger or curing cancer. Nice cliches buddy. Most people who say that aren't willing to lift a finger to help their own neighbor. Since you are so concerned, how about shutting down your computer and helping some soup kitchen?

      October 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Sane Person

      I'm not the one out preaching to get people to change harmless activities. You have no idea what I do, keep your preaching to yourself.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Alex

      Yes, I know what you do, you spent Saturday afternoons TALKING about solving world hunger. I also know, as everybody else, that people who do something about world hunger never talk about it. The article is not trying to convert you, an obvious non-believer, to stop having fun at Halloween. It is just saying that some Christians believe that such celebration contradicts their faith. Let me know if it is forbidden now in America to ponder about religous consistency.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  5. DrDiomedes

    Many Americans are Christian; and many Americans celebrate Halloween. If one overlaps the sets, then one sees there are Christians who celebrate Halloween. I would surmise that many Christians enjoy the holiday ... its just good fun! (BTW I am an Atheist who celebrates Halloween because it is fun!)

    October 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Alex

      You are correct sir.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  6. JJ White

    There will ALWAYS be religious extremist in every religion on the planet, because of plain and simple ignorance of other religions and beliefs. One group will claim Holloween is the devils work, because they simply are not educated enough to seek out the facts and truth about Holloween. Just like radical Muslims who believe in the Koran tells them to kill anyone not Muslim. The Koran says nothing about that, its the radical Muslim holy roller leaders that interpret and falsly tell Muslims that is what the Koran says, and its sad they actually believe their holy roller leaders and radical government leaders. Its just plain and simple ignorance on the part of MOST people who are against another belief. Here is a SIMPLE solution ..... ban any OUTWARD recognition and advertising of ANY and ALL religious and personal beliefs, keep it in the homes and churches and mosques around the world. Make it illegal to express your religious beliefs in outward ways (like going around preaching and praying in public..etc...) Basically KEEP IT TO YOURSELF, because all it causes is hatred against you and your beliefs. NO ONE on this plent has the 100% truth about where we came from and who we are.....bottom line its not important. What is important is where we are going and the survival of this planet that we are raping each and everyday to feed the masses that is ever growing. You want to believe that Holloween is the "devil's Holiday"...nothing wrong with that, but keep it to yourself, because its not a shared and PROVEN 100% fact. The ignorance in the human species is astonding to say the least (and we are suppose to be the smartest species on this planet, what a laugh), and we are getting dumber each generation. Oh and BTW I do believe in god, but NOT man's created religions, all they cause and death, pain, hatred for other not like them, and suffering for everyone....now that is 100% proven fact! So if you want to believe in something, beleive that we are destroying ourselves because of beliefs that we cannot 100% prove, but that we 100% are destroying this planet that is here for our survival. So try believing in FACTs, like this beautiful planet we are destroying which supports us. Kill it, and we kill ourselves...another 100% fact.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Alex

      You don't make any sense and you have murdered the English language – 100% fact.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • withoutgod

      You believe in God, but not man's created religions? What non man made gods are there?

      October 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  7. Burka

    if you know the light easy to know dark

    October 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Zoeyj

    As a half Jew I am confused..........Hopefully some of you right wing christians can help me out.
    So Halloween is EVIL, the devil and BAD for the soul and.............................................................................................................
    At Christmas Santa and Elves bring the baby Jesus and then at Easter Christ is crucified and on the third day he comes back as a rabbit bringing candy???
    HaPpY HaUnTinG HaLLoWeEn !!!

    HAPPY HALLOWEEN !!!

    October 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Alex

      I don't know if you were trying to be funny or smart. At any rate, you have failed at both.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Whereas you, Alex, have succeeded marvelously at being pompous and dull.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Alex

      Feel free to think that elves bringing the baby Jesus is an extremely smart (or funny) statement. Thank God we live in a free country.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  9. vahellbilly

    The christians already have their answer to Halloween, it's called "All Saints Day". christians have also adopted and modified other Pagan holidays such as Christmas and Easter and made them their own, just like ancient Pagan worship cites and temples have become churches. The victors get to write history/religion I guess...

    Funny, how there seems to be a copy-cat or an erase effect with christianity and old beliefs and ways. I bet they'd hate to read any stories/myths from the Sumerian culture. They may find a whole lot of other things borrowed there that appear in the Torah/Old Testament and their belief system.

    Get your own holidays!

    October 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  10. KevinB

    This type of "discussion" board is impossible to follow. Please change it the kind you have for regular news articles.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  11. NoGod

    Remember, Lions eat Christians, and thats a fact!

    October 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  12. Dean

    Christians, Muslims and all other religious people are either heavily brainwashed from early childhood or just plain stupid. There is no other explanation for accepting these primitive 'belief' systems in the 21st century...

    October 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Alex

      For as long as there has been religious people, there has been people like you who do not believe. The time a bellief has been held has no impact, positive or negative, upon its veracity. Christians also believe that atheists and agnostics have been brainwashed. It is an easy word to throw around about anybody who is different from us or our beliefs.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Very few people have been brought up going to a special school on Saturday or Sunday to spend an hour learning about atheism. Very few people have been taught to hold some sort of small atheist ceremony before every meal. Religion IS typically crammed into kids' heads throughout their most formative years. Kids are told to believe very specific unobservable things and told that they are bad beyond measure if they don't. It is indeed a highly questionable practice that has lasting impacts, by no means all of them good (quite the contrary).

      October 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Alex

      You pose a rather absurd scenario, parents teaching kids about the inexistence of something. This is the reason why Atheists parents refrain from teaching atheism to their children. Christian parents, on the other hand, have the right to teach their children as they see fit. Just like Muslim parents or Hindu parents. Once they become adults, they can verify the truth for themselves.

      October 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Ben

    The author here fails to mention that the Church co-opted Halloween long ago when it designated Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, and Halloween became known as All Hallows Eve. Churches that have cropped up that decide to offer "harvest walks" or "fall festivals" are embracing more of the pagan/celtic celebration of Halloween than they want to admit, but Halloween is a perfectly fine and safe way for Christians to remember to commemorate one of the holiest days on our calendar.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  14. Jeebus

    Xtianity is a myth and cult. Halloween, like Xmas, was based on pagan myths and has become merely an economic tool.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Alex

      The concept of cult implies in the existence of a true religion, since a cult is a deviation from religious truth. Your statement implies that you either do not understand English language, or believe that your religion is superior. Best case scenario, you are ignorant, worst case scenario, you are arrogant.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, Alex, the definition of cult has nothing to do with "religious truth"

      As dictionary.com puts it, a cult is "a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies."

      Therefore Jeebus was correct and you are the mistaken one.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Alex

      Actually tallulah13, this is the positive meaning of the word cult. Anytime is an individual uses the word cult in a negative light, and it is clear this was the intention here, cult is any other religious sect, or group that is different from yours. Case in point: the Catholics at first called the Protestant groups cults; any conservative Protestant will call Jehova Witnesses or Mormons, cults. Please, if you are going to engage yourself into any kind of discussion, contextualize your answer first.

      October 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Jeebus

      Alex – I will make it a life goal to not offend you ever again. When I get this sent, I will nail myself to a cross as penance for posting something you didn't like. Deities, demons, dragons, trolls, fairies are all pretend. Worship is a result of delusion. Peace.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:03 am |
  15. Alex

    It seems obvious that the article is talking about Christians who are trying to get to grips with the whole concept of Halloween. It does not make any reference to Christians trying to stop people from going trick or treating or wearing dumb costumes. Whatever you believe, be consistent with your beliefs and tolerant with others.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Raevyn

      The article is talking about christians spreading the message that Halloween is about satan. I will be more tolerant of christians who do not spread lies. They are also proselytizing, which makes them fair targets for those with diametrically opposed opinions.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Alex

      Read the article. It says in the beginning that some Christians are debating if Halloween should have any part in the BELIEVER's life. The fact that Halloween uses imagery that refer to the Devil and the occult, whether you believe it or not, is quite obvious. Some Christians just ponder about the paradox of opposing the Devil all year long and then dressing like evil in one day of the year. Almost like a Greenpeace activist dressing like dead whales one day of the year.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Jeebus

      Alex – we all thank you for explaining what the article is about.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  16. Matthew

    Halloween is for kids who have not decided on their personal faith. They enjoy eating candy on Halloween. As as adult, I no longer take part in Halloween, because "celebration" opposes my faith.

    The same could be said about Christmas. Only difference is that I endorse Christmas on the basis of my faith.

    Christmas is for kids who have not decided on their faith. They enjoy getting presents from Santa Claus on Christmas. As an adult, I take part in Christmas, because "celebration" supports my faith.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • Alex

      You make no sense. Take your meds please.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • everettreb

      So how do you explain it to the kids after they grow up?
      What I am saying is you are telling them while they are children that it's okay to dress up in evil or demonic costumes.
      But when they grow up you tell them that it is not okay.

      Then after all isn't that like showing them that it's okay to lie?

      October 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Pal

      Evertreb: You don't need to explain anything to an adult. Adults can make their own decisions.
      This day is just for fun, there is no evil about it. Liberty, liberty of mind... Please don't argue about our freedoms

      October 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kevin

      So you are saying that taking part is an arbitrary decision, based solely on your personal opinion. As long as you do not force that opinion onto others, have fun (or not).

      October 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Birdy

      The Bible never mentions "Christmas." It never says that Jesus was born on December 25, nor does it instruct Christians to incorporate Christ's birth into worship. Christmas started as a pagan holiday, there's no way around it. It's the same as Halloween, except for the fact that a long time ago, people started propagating lies that it had something to do with Jesus. Sure, if Halloween hurts your conscience, avoid it, but let's not lie to ourselves and say that Christmas honestly has anything to do with the faith.

      I am a Christian, by the way.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Ground Zero

      So you bribe children to be good all year by giving them gifts ?

      October 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Jeebus

      Alex is a little kranky ... i think he's constipated.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:06 am |
  17. thomascoopernola

    Anyone who knows anything about the history of Halloween knows that the Christians have already co-opted it. Halloween as we know it today is a tame and commercialized version of what began as a Celtic pagan rite and then, later, Guy Fawkes night. By the time the Puritans had their way with the holiday, it was pretty much neutered. And with the advent of mass-produced costumes and the Charlie Brown Halloween special, what you have is just a fun and goofy holiday compared with the criminal anarchy that centuries ago characterized Halloween.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Michael H

    As a nonbeliever in ANY of your religious views of the cosmos, I have to say Halloween is an idiot's holliday.
    "Celebrating" Halloween is pure commercial nonsense...

    October 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • IVY

      As opposed to X-mas, were parents literally trample each other waiting in line to buy their kids some stupid toy?

      October 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Pal

      Why do you care? we see that you don't like it. Don't buy anything and enjoy what you like. You do not have to make this day as nonsense nor people are idiots. Live your life and let others live theirs.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  19. gman

    wikipedia does not agree with the 1400 year old tradition – in fact, peer reviewed wikipedia states that the festival started after Christianity spread throughout Great Britian:
    Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)".[1] The name of the festival historically kept by the Gaels and Celts in the British Isles is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end".[1][2][3]
    According to the Oxford Dictionary of English folk lore: "Certainly Samhain was a time for festive gatherings, and medieval Irish texts and later Irish, Welsh, and Scottish folklore use it as a setting for supernatural encounters, but there is no evidence that it was connected with the dead in pre-Christian times, or that pagan religious ceremonies were held."[4]
    The Irish myths which mention Samhain were written in the 10th and 11th centuries by Christian monks. This is around 200 years after the Catholic church inaugurated All Saints Day and at least 400 years after Ireland became Christian

    October 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Ruby

      How is wikipedia "Peer Reviewed"?
      I love looking up general info on wikipedia as much as the next guy BUT it is not peer reviewed. It is watched by a community of fairly ethical editors who look for any glaring falsehoods or non-cited writing.

      Peer review entails other scholars, typically PhDs, who critically analyze a text for meaning, original research & validity. Results are usually published in a journal of some sort.

      Wikipedia is usually pretty close on topic os general knowledge BUT not a scholarly source at all.

      ALL THE SAME, people should leave halloween alone 😉

      October 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  20. cleareye1

    Zombies are as real as any of the Christian or Muslim fantasies. Have fun with it. Life is short.

    October 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • mythguy

      I wish Christians would realize that their religion is just a "mystery religion", or cult, that replaced the Roman pantheon, which we call Roman mythology today. The Bible is nothing more than a fairy tale used to teach morality to the society that existed at the time, specifically the Jews with the Old Testament and the Roman Christians with the teachings of Christ. The Bible isn't even the word of God, considering there were hundreds of books eliminated from the Bible during several councils in the early days of Roman Christendom.

      October 29, 2011 at 2:35 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.