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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.

Movies that scare the people who scare us

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.

I was a zombie movie extra

“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. kigol

    What if you are in a situation where food is nowhere to be found except fro that candy which is unclean...and you are almost starve to death...will you still not pick up that candy because for you it is unclean?

    October 31, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      That probably wouldn't happen. I have two emergency boxes of candy attached to the wall of my living room, one full of clean and the other unclean. The emergency procedure is clear: In case of starvation break glass of clean first – if starvation continues, then, and only then do i break the glass and pig out on the unclean candy.

      November 1, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Ichigo

      I think that if all that remained left to eat were crappy refined sugar loaded candy it would be better to starve than remain alive in such crappy health.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:19 am |
  2. Where

    CNN- there is nothing to debate over something that celebrates death.

    October 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • O Happy day

      On the contrary , there is every reason to celebrate life and the promise of Salvation!

      October 31, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Free

      If anything, Halloween celebrates life by reminding us of death. Most importantly it lessens fear and superst.ition, which is probably what those who oppose it panic about the most.

      October 31, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Anakaraya

      it doesn't celebrate death. It was used to treat those who have died with respect. Like lay out food for your dead friends and Relatives. I do that in my house. It is to show respect.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  3. Gus

    chad is just stupid. He can't help it.

    October 31, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  4. White Lotus

    Once again, may I remind you all that it is not just your form of Christianity or nothing? Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Native Americans, Shintoists, Taoists and many other serious, valid faiths exist. They may or may not, as individuals or sects, see Halloween as a harmless costume party. As may you. I find your prejudices - and what is with all the anti-Catholic nonsense? - appalling.

    October 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Toby

      Truth is an absolute. It's not subjective. It's not my truth and it's not your truth. There is only one truth.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Free

      Toby
      And you're suggesting that truth cannot be shared amongst all religions and other belief systems?

      October 31, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  5. Dave

    Take the wind out of the sails of the zealots. Attend a hell house with a large group of friends, and have everyone laugh out loud at all the scenes inside. Especially the "jesus" ones.

    October 31, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  6. RightTurnClyde

    Halloween is a childish obsession with things "scary." (skeletons, ghosts, bats, vampires). So many Americans aged 21 and over (into their 50's and 60's) fail to grow up. They remain childish long into (supposedly adult life). Mid-life crisis, late life crisis. The view the state as their parent.

    October 31, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • TakeOffYour WhiteWigAndStopJudging

      Clyde,

      I suppose that as adults, we are never supposed to have fun? You must live a sad existence.

      October 31, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  7. Polis

    How would be celebrating Halloween be like worshipping Satan? Wouldn't the contemporary Satan not want people to celebrate since the point of Halloween is to scare away evil spirits?

    If anything, not celebrating the spirit of Halloween is falling into Satan's trap, keeping evil spirits around and formenting restlessness amongst the populous.

    October 31, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Al

      Polis
      Swap out "restlessness" for "fear" and I think you're onto something, but it's not part of any Satan's agenda. Who, besides the Religious Right, benefits from keeping the populace in fear?

      October 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Nikki

      The only way to get rid of an evil spirit is to call on the name of Jesus/ rebuke that spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Al

      Nikki
      Ah, the Exorcist. Good, scary movie. It'll be on TV tonight I'll bet.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  8. Shrug

    Do you and I'll do me. I'm a Christian. There are a lot of Christians out there that are not "christian". To be a Christian you must have a personal connection and relationship with Jesus Christ. It is more than just quoting the Bible and going to church. When you have this relationship, God will convict you personally about the things in your life. To some it weighs heavily on their hearts that Halloween is bad. They feel the need to tell others not becuase they simply like to talk, but becuase the passion in their heart propels them to. I see nothing wrong with dressing up in costumes and collecting candy. But I think its stupid to dress our children up in the very same things that give them horrors and nightmares. I don't celebrate Halloween because I don't want to.
    And also I think that some of these comments are just so hateful. I can understand that you feel a certain way, but please do not insult Christianity. It is not fair and it is not right. And please do not say Christians provoke. That is very immature. If you think we started this all, then find a way to end it.

    October 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Polis

      Ummm... it makes perfect sense to have children dress up as what "gives them nightmares". The idea is that the idea of a monster or whatever will become nearly comical or they will partially take on the role of being the scary thing, emboldening their psyche.

      How is Halloween "bad"? That is like saying Christmas is "bad" because there are Christmas trees and holly, all pagan traditions. Santa Clause is more Christian than a Christmas tree, at least he was a saint.

      The problem with the "conservative/fundamentalist Christian churches" is the lack of theological and historical context in which they preach. The phalicy of Biblical literalism is so obvious but yet the preachers glaze over reality in favor of their own "fantasies", and I'm not talking about the content of the Bible, rather the fact it was written by man, who is inherently flawed, but yet seen as "perfect" in it's english incarnation. Now they go about attacking Halloween, but their argument is so flawed it's mind boggling.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Many (perhaps most) Christians are not Christian (but like the Halloween celebrants they like the idea of it). But you missed the boat too because there is a set of tenets the belief of which are crucial to BEING Christian. You are correct that bible quoting is NOT a Christian doctrine. Nor are "sacraments" nor are transubstantiation or absolution or extreme unction. Hierarchical organization is not Christian (it is Roman). So 99% of Christianity is form-only and not a true faith. (Many will say "I am Christian just in case...")

      October 31, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  9. Andrew

    Satan is a character just as mythological as all of the gods and goddesses of all the pagan traditions. All these stories have a deeper esoteric meaning than anyone of us neophytes could not understand. All pagan traditions have roots that go back father than the christian church, and for one church to say that a holiday should not be celebrated because it does not mix with their theology is total bunk. Also, let us never forget the burning times, when the christian church killed everyone who did not subscribe to the doctrine. Celebrate All Hallows Eve in which ever way you celebrate and remind one certain church we are not under their tyranical rule! Happy Halloween!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  10. itguy

    How do you know when you're in a Christian bookstore? No humor section...

    October 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Ted H

      Good one !

      October 31, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  11. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r13CP387sc&w=640&h=360]

    October 31, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • felix66502

      Well, This video is correct for just the first 20 seconds. after that it was a waste of time to watch. More people trying to change pagan holiday's into something wrong. Most Pagans don't even acknowledge Satan as anything more than a myth of the Abrahamic religions.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  12. Hashim

    For more information on this read novel – king of Bat'ha

    October 31, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Norm

    People believe such silly things.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  14. Do origins matter?

    Maybe you feel that the origins of holidays have little to do with how they are celebrated today. Do origins really matter? Yes! To illustrate: Suppose you saw a piece of candy lying in the gutter. Would you pick up that candy and eat it? Of course not! That candy is unclean. Like that candy, holidays may seem sweet, but they have been picked up from unclean places. To take a stand for true worship, we need to have a viewpoint like that of the prophet Isaiah, who told true worshipers: “Touch nothing unclean.”—Isaiah 52:11.

    Each person has to answer for himself whether the origins of a custom matter. Origins do matter. For example, most people would get upset if their neighbors got dressed up as Nazis. Why? Because of the origins of Nazi uniforms and what they stand for—principles that most people find offensive. The principles that the devil, wicked spirits, and witches represent, are offensive. It’s good to think about the choices we make and our reasons for making them and to make choices based on principle rather than on what is popular.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Duh

      "Would you pick up that candy and eat it? Of course not! That candy is unclean."

      I've seen a homeless person pickup and eat things even worse than that, it's funny how you left them out of your thoughts.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Bervi Alva

      Well said!!!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • UJellyBro

      Are you serious... half the holidays in Christianity are carried over from former pagan holidays celebrated in the Roman Empire. I thought most Christians know by now that Jesus was born during springtime, not Dec 25. That was the winter solstice celebration for pagans.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • crazypete

      Yeah, but people also don't like using the Swastika, even though the origin of that is Hinduism and Buddhism and not the Nazis. So in that case the origin doesn't matter to them. What matters is the present day association. The real point is that people are dumb, and using 'what people generally do or feel' as an example of what is right and wrong is logically incorrect.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Norm

      That's just silly.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Freethinksman

      "Do origins really matter? Yes! "

      Which is why cosmologists and physicists spend so much time and effort trying to learn about the origins of the universe. If origins didn't matter, they'd simply stop trying to find real answers and simply give a god the credit.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Chris

      If you are so concerned about the origins of Halloween because they are Pagan, then maybe you should worry about Christmas and Easter too. Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 with trees and holly because the Romans wanted to make it easier for the Pagan population to convert to Christianity. Easter is celebrated in the spring with bunnies and eggs because Pagans used that date to praise the goddess of fertility.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  15. Jessica, NJ

    '“hell houses” – that are designed to give a glimpse of eternal damnation in hopes of strengthening faith.' So what he is saying is that he hope to scare people into believing his religion. What a great religion to use fear mongering to add to the flock... pathetic.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • clay

      -Beats head against wall repeatedly- How many times do I have to say this on CNN? Stop basing your entire understanding of a whole group off of a few nut jobs. Most of the problems in our world are caused by this kind of broad brushing! If everyone would get their noses out of everyone else's problems and think solely about their own beliefs the world would be rid of extremists like you.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Jessica, NJ

      Clay, you sane types do not seem to be in control of your own religion. You are not very visible in countering the wing nuts and that leads us to believe your are all crazy. I have friends that are baptists and born again and they are put off by some of the craziness of their own religion but they refuse to speak up about it out of fear. The hate directed my direction from the religious types is overwhelming in my life and causes damage to my family financially, physically and emotionally. You and the other sane ones need to do something about the crazies please. Saying nothing is acceptance of the behavior of the nut cases.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jessica, NJ

      And Clay, there way more than "a few nut jobs" out there. They control your religion.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • clay

      I'm not saying we have to accept the nut jobs, we just need to do something about them. Which is hard to do when I have to correct them and fight off Atheists, theists, etc and work out the ones who are wrong at the same time. I also want to point out that while you're partially right about there being more then a few. When I said a few, I meant the ones who are completely off. From you're point of view, I think you're including the ones who are just... Have a few problems. Like antiho-mose-xuality. Anyway, I'm deeply sorry you've grown in a bad experience with some of the worst, I just ask that you don't judge all of us by that.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @ Clay – 50% of religious folks in the US claim that evolution is false. If that isn't crazy, I don't know what is.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Dean

      clay is nutjob example numero uno. What a whackjob he is.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Free

      clay
      "the ones who are just... Have a few problems. Like antiho-mose-xuality."

      Hom.ophobia is killing people. Some psychos are literally killing people just for being gay, and others are driving gays to take their own lives. You make it sound like some quirky little character flaw.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • TR6

      If Christian churches didn’t have hell to frighten the members with, they would lose more than half their members

      November 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  16. Ms Galaxy

    The idea that people suddenly, one day, step out of their ordinary lives and celebrate the devil, or worship Satan, is so ludicrous as to be... Well, ludicrous. Does anyone here know anyone who does that? Or do you know people who, or do you yourself, dress up as anything from faeries to Charlie Sheen? In fact, the vast majority of costumes I see are not monsters, they're superheroes and princesses (kids) or celebrities and pirates (grown up kids).

    My whole town celebrates Halloween. There's a parade down the main street (today! woohoo!) and the entire downtown plaza is blocked off for a nighttime party. We've been doing it for decades. If some Christians think letting your hair down, taking on an alter ego for a night, and having some downright fun is wrong, it gives me yet another reason to be grateful I'm a non-believer. Hail the FSM! ~R'amen!

    October 31, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  17. MYself

    Well, I am fascinated. I just helped decorate a small methodist church for halloween. I have never heard anyone completely shun the holiday.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  18. Devara

    Oh for crying out loud, will everyone just relax? If your child is so confused and easily swayed that somebody wearing a sheet or handing out candy will lure them to the "dark side", then you've done a crappy job of raising your kid as a Christian. I am a Christian, raised by Christian parents, attended church since I was small, and yes, we celebrated Halloween and went trick or treating and had a good time. None of us ended up worshiping the devil. It's this kind of histrionic nonsense that gives Christians a bad name.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Dean

      No, it's all the inquisitions, witch burnings, plus the gruesome instructions for animal sacrifice in the bible, and a whole lot of other evildoing, that gives Christians a bad name, which they deserve.

      October 31, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • clay

      @Dean
      "inquisitions, witch burnings" Those were done by the Catholics at the command of their Pope. They in no way shape or form reflect the Bible.
      "plus the gruesome instructions for animal sacrifice in the bible" Which were done under Law, and are no longer necessary under grace. Your grievance is against the Jews.
      "and a whole lot of other evildoing" Specifics would be nice.
      "that gives Christians a bad name, which they deserve." It's not those things that give Christians a bad name, it's broad brushers like you.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • notatall

      Christians get a bad name because of "self proclaimed Christians". As a child, I had a Bible that had Jesus' words in red ink. I read those over and over. These are simple and true words to follow. All the other things don't really matter. Early Catholics destroyed some of the truths and many Christian branches have created doctrine that go far beyond the simple words of Jesus and those things give Christians a bad name. I sadly know such types who claimed that the Troy Davis execution was correct. That is directly contrary to Jesus' words but this is something "self proclaimed Christians" ignore.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Dean

      Nope, clay, you fail at Christian 101, like most Christians. Your Jesus creep says in the NT that the OT still applies, all its sick sacrifice laws included. Care to debate that one?

      October 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Dean

      clay, stupid twits like you give humans a bad name.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Free

      clay
      "inquisitions, witch burnings" Those were done by the Catholics at the command of their Pope. They in no way shape or form reflect the Bible."
      Ah, you are aware that those were Calvinists, and not Catholics, who put all those folks to death in Salem, right?

      October 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Free

      notatall
      "As a child, I had a Bible that had Jesus' words in red ink. I read those over and over. These are simple and true words to follow. All the other things don't really matter."
      It's more than just Catholics who step outside of the red ink and infer judgments that they feel Jesus should have made, or do you forget all the non-Catholic preaching against gays, for example? Divorce, which Jesus does speak out against most strongly, is accepted even in conservative evangelical circles, where the divorce rate is actually higher than the national average, but being gay, which Jesus never said a word on, is judged as being sinful enough to exclude someone from heaven. Odd bit of logic, that is!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Ted H

      If there was really a God, he really screwed up royal in the communication department ! Look at the chaos that is evident in this one blog ! If he was a journalist and/ or a reporter, he would've been fired by now ! Oh well, back to the drawing board ! Might as well start over and try to get it right this time !

      October 31, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • KL2121

      What Jesus said was that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Aka, you can stop sacrificing animals because he was the ultimate sacrifice. Also Dean, if you care to actually read the words of Christ you'd see that "creep" doesn't exactly describe him. I'm not a Christian, but even if I can admire the man and his words. So maybe you should just shut it and slink back under your troll bridge.

      November 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  19. walt lange

    THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO CLUE AT ALL,,,HALLOWEEN IS NOT A PAGEN HOLIDAY!

    SUCK ON THIS

    Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints' Day (also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows, Hallowtide) and All Souls' Day.[5] Falling on November 1st and 2nd respectively, collectively they were a time for honoring the Saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach heaven. By the end of the 12th century they had become days of holy obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as ringing bells for the souls in purgatory and "souling", the custom of baking bread or soul cakes for "all crysten [christened] souls".[6]

    October 31, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • yeahright

      Only a christian would try and twist it into something it's not. Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century,Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer's end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as O�che Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter's calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day.

      Oh...that's right ....the christians took over another pagan holiday to try and make it theirs, why because it's the only way they could get followers for their cult.

      October 31, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Jimbo

      walt lange
      "SUCK ON THIS"
      So which is it? Were you an alter boy or one of Ted Haggard's favorites?

      October 31, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  20. zanthra

    LOL, and Muslims don't scare you people?? With their radicalism and political influences?? Oh my goodness... has everyone lost their minds? Everyone is so against christians and not just religions themselves?? Listen to yourselves!!

    October 31, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Dean

      RTFA. The article is about Christians, so quelle surprise. There are plenty of other articles about Muslims on CNN, just not this one.

      Everyone should be against all religions and any other supersti-tions, though.

      October 31, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • LocoBurger

      Dean, when you say "Everyone should be..." you're showing yourself as just as prejudiced and ignorant as the people you're here ranting about. We all get it, you're an atheist. This is a blog about religion, so your never-ending harping on it shows you're just trolling. It's getting tiresome, dude. Move on.

      November 1, 2011 at 2:07 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.