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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. richphitzwell

    I guess some have an issue with christmas due to its pagan roots as well. Heck by all accounts christ birth was closer to summer than winter. Christmas tree, oh right pagan tradition. All i say is who cares, make it whatever you want to make it. Make it a celebration of the dead or a night of pure evil or just enjoy the night. Its up to you and i for one will enjoy my sugar high

    October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  2. Brad Waldbaum

    Christmas sprung out of Paganism also... yet you don't hear any churches saying they don't celebrate Christmas. Strange.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  3. njp

    These churches should also ban Christmas, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost because they all come from pagan holidays. Early Christian churches absorbed these holidays and applied Christian meanings to them in order to convince pagans to convert. There is substantial evidence to prove that Jesus Christ was born some time in April or May, not the middle of December.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Darkanine

    I'd like to apply to be an editor so that articles like this don't get published to millions of people with mistakes like "People would light bonfires and wearing costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits." Where do I send my resume?

    October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  5. Doc Vestibule

    "God bless those pagans."
    – Homer Simpson

    October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Sam

      Thank's Homer.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  6. Hasa Diga Eebowai

    Funny from a group of people waiting for a zombie to come back.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • julie

      exactly

      October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The Easter Zombie is the worst kind!
      He doesn't just want your delicious brains, he also wants your soul.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Sam

      Oh, you mean, oh yeah, he's dead isn't he?

      October 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  7. Dave

    Can someone tell me what worldly problem religion has ever solved? While you're at it, tell me what page in the bible Christmas is on. Oh wait? It's a pagan tradition? Band by Americans and the British? What!? And, how is a book with no author more believable than a book with an author? I know Christians, I ask the TOUGH questions and the truth does hurt once in awhile. There's no boogeyman either. Sorry. Does anybody have a map to heaven? I've flown 37,000 feet in the air and haven't seen a golden gate once. Happy Halloween folks!!!!!

    October 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Sam

      You asked for a map. Amazon.com has probably sent you 3 e-mails by now.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Scott

      For what it's worth, churches have been quietly helping the poor, sick, and discarded in society for centuries. Before government social services, it was churches who took in orphans, refugees, the terminally ill, and the mentally ill. They have brought education, clean water, and medical supplies to countless forgotten and poor communities. They have run hospitals, orphanages, and unviversities. If all religious charities ceased tomorrow, you would be stunned at the number of needy that would suddenly be dying on the streets. I can make a list of problems associated with religion as long as anyone. But don't pretend they've never done any good.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Scott

      Whoops; typo. Either that, or I should have attended one of those "unviversities."

      October 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • TC

      Great answer Scott – Christian community are the ones who advanced medicine, education, civil rights well before any secular or government group.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  8. reverance

    Personally I think Christmas has more Pagan roots than Halloween. Most Christian holidays like their old churches are built upon Pagan roots. Holy is Holy.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  9. Rich

    @ Colin. That was very funny (and true). I sent it to some of my friends. You should make t-shirts and coffee mugs.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Tom F. San Diego

    We have much more to fear from fundamentalist Christians than we do from non-existent evil spirits.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Sam

      THAT, is so true.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  11. Embarrassed Christian

    As a Christian, I am embarrassed by the lengths that some in the religious community go to in order to find evil in the things that make them uncomfortable (Halloween, Harry Potter, Rock n Roll, to name a few). From those of us who are not paraniod and realize that we should be more concerned about tooth decay than damnation on Halloween, I apologize.

    For too many years I tried to agree with the church's stance on these things, thinking it stupid all the while (while quietly allowing my kids to watch HP movies and dress up on Halloween). Frankly, the debate over these topics has done more to turn me off to religion than the activities that are being debated.

    Jesus himself condemned the strict religious "nuts" of his time. The pharisees criticized people. Jesus loved them, placing more importance on their hearts than their practices. It is my goal to do the same.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  12. penny4urthots

    We raised our children not celebrating Halloween because of the evil associated with it. They are now well- adjusted, happy adults. It was not a big deal. They did not feel like they were missing out. Like with anything we have a choice and freedom to do what we feel is best for our kids.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • reverance

      Halloween is designed to scare the evil ones away not draw them in. Intrinsically it is not an evil holiday. It may have been perverted over the years to be more evil minded but the scary costumes are to scare the demons away not party with them.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      Well, not all ignorance produces maladjusted children. It's not about evil, never was about evil, but you're still welcome to keep spreading misinformation if you like. No one said you can't. But it's hard not to point out how ridiculous it is.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Sam

      I was raised just the opposite, and I'm a well-adjusted happy adult. How is this possible?

      October 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  13. truth

    Scariest costume on the planet to any boy is a Catholic priest, bishop or pope.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Bob

    If I want to play a game of "My mythical being can beat up your mythical being", I'll play Pokemon or Magic the Gathering. Imagine how many meals or shoes for the homeless they could have provided if they used all that money on a charity instead the "harvesting hearts for God" anti-Halloween crap.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  15. jacob

    Hint: All christian holidays are pagan holidays. Easter? That's the pagan spring fertility festival. Christmas? The pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Early christian leadership set their holidays up that way to make it easier to get converts.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  16. Guillermo

    How many of these Christians are aware that both Christmas (Dec. 25) and Easter March or April) have pagan roots as well, at least as far as the times of the year?

    October 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  17. Snacklefish

    "Halloween" sounds a lot less sinister than "harvesting hearts for God".

    October 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • julie

      certainly has the zombie theme going on, doesn't it?

      October 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  18. Brian

    Halloween does not celebrate "evil." You might say that Halloween touches on the concepts of death and transformation, which thematically are not at all anti-Christian, even if Halloween is not a Christian observance.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Anon

    WE DO NOT FORGIVE

    WE DO NOT FORGET

    WE HAVE OVER 9000 HALLOWEEN COSTUMES AND THEY ARE ALL BEING SENT TO CHRISTIAN CHURCHES!

    October 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  20. Dood

    And out come the Christian bashers.

    Even if Christianity turns out to be false and there is no God, yet a Christian makes a whole-hearted effort to be a better person to those around him/her, he/she will still have lived a better quality of life than the angry, judgmental, unforgiving, cynical, self-serving atheist/agnostic.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • AnnieM

      You'll find that the agnostics and atheists are far more open minded, less judgmental and forgiving than any Christian that I've ever known...

      October 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Dave

      Dood – you sound a lot like "them"

      October 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • julie

      ruining everyone else's fun on a perfectly benign, thoroughly traditional American children's holiday because you think what you believe is a whole lot more true than what the other guy believes is not "being a better person". It's being controlling, egotistical and irrational. The banning of Harry Potter books, the business of encouraging parents to beat their children into submission and all the rest of it is just beyond maddening in the 21rst century. If you don't want to celebrate Halloween, don't but honestly, why the hell do the rest of us have to hear all about it "in the name of God"?

      October 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Sam

      I'm not angry, I just don't want religion shoved down my throat, especially Christianity.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Guest

      Hey Dood, transpose a couple of words in your comment to read as follows: An atheist/agnostic who makes a whole-hearted effort to be a better person to those around him/her will still have a better quality of life than an angry, judgemental, unforgiving, cynical, self-serving Christian. Dood, it isn't about being Christrian/Buddhist/Hindu/Muslim/atheist, it's about being a good person because it's the right thing to do and not because we fear repercussion in the next life. And THAT is what Jesus would have done.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • fred

      Sam
      Swallow………If you live in the Western world you are effected by Christianity. Christ/ God had the largest impact of any historic figure in the world. Exactly how is it shoved down your throat?

      October 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Little White Lies

      Give me an athiest anyday......
      and twice on sundays.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:16 am |
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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.