Saturday, October 20, 2007


Don't Take The Devil Seriously

Among the many tracts urging Christians to boycott Halloween is one being passed around this year by one D.A. Waite, Th.D, Ph.D, (no information available what school awarded either degree). Waite is Pastor at Bible for Today Baptist Church, in Collingswood, NJ.

I appreciate the Baptist faith. Baptists added many dimensions to the Protestant Reformation lacking in the work of Martin Luther or John Calvin. Roger Williams, the apostle of religious freedom and the separation of church and state, was a Baptist. But today, there are so many doctrines presented to the world as Baptist that it is hard to know what the name means. (I highly recommend the Wittenburg Door's 2006 interview with Will D. Campbell, a native of Kentucky who understands the historic legacy of the Baptist faith better than most, although the interview unfortunately is NOT among the on-line archives.)

Waite begins by referring to October 31 as The Devil's Birthday, which is odd, since by any Christian theology concerning Satan, or The Devil, it would appear his creation came before there were such things as years, months, and dates, and dubious that he had any "birth" at all. Wasn't he created an angel? Who was his mother? Did Anton LaVey ever pick a day to serve birthday cake to his "god"?

Waite then headlines the occasion as "A Satanic Druid Holiday." Stranger still, because Satan and Druids have nothing to do with each other. Druids were pagan, heathen, practiced the abomination of human sacrifice, may not exactly have been idol-worshippers in the sense that the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans worshipped elaborate statues of their pantheon of gods and goddesses... but Druids certainly worshipped at sacred rocks, wells, and trees. However, Satanic worship is different.

Devotion to Satan is impossible without Christianity. Satanic worship is a mockery, a parody, a perversion, of the Christian faith. Satan, as Christians know him, has no precedent prior to the teachings of the Christian church. Certainly the Jewish understanding of Satan, which applies to the entire Old Testament, is not that of God's enemy, but God's tester, a role exemplified in the book of Job, and even in the Temptation of Jesus. The Druids had no notion of Satan's existence, any more than King Nebuchadnezzar did. They didn't read the Bible.

Unreal Mockery, Hence!

Then, Waite gives The Devil far more credibility than such a malicious creature deserves. "There are real witches, real spells, real rituals." REAL? Unreal mockery, hence! What power do spells have, except in the mind of those who cast them, and those who tremble at them? Does anyone believe that a modern self-styled witch, or more likely, a practitioner of Wicca, has any REAL power over anything in God's creation? Oh ye of little faith!

Remember that the most potent argument against the Salem witchcraft trials was simply that such superstitious beliefs had no real power at all. When fearful villagers blamed unknown witches for an epidemic of debilitating illness, it was in reality typhoid, or malaria, or dysentery, which have causes modern medicine has swept away, not by spells, but by hygiene and vaccination.

Wicca is not worship of Satan, any more than Druidic rituals were. But Wicca is also not a continuation of some ancient rituals or lore. Wicca was more or less invented from whole cloth by bored 19th century intellectuals, and magnified by alienated 20th century intellectuals, who wanted a romantic, nature-centered alternative to the stuffiness of post-revival established churches. Most Wiccans would cringe at the notion of human sacrifice, which is pathetic for people who think of themselves as a Druid revival.

The formal existence of the laughable nonsense that passes as "Satanic worship" is also a 20th century invention. It has no centuries of history behind it. Worship Satan? Pagans had their own gods, so they had no need to borrow devils from their Christian neighbors. Odin perhaps, but not Satan. An entirely different evil.

As to the possibility that Satanists sacrifice cats, dogs and other animals, or even their own children, let us remember that Christians were once thought to drink the blood of ritually sacrificed babies in the catacombs of Rome. No doubt there have been people who deluded themselves that they were witches or worshippers of Satan. A few have even indulged in human sacrifice. Some are serving life sentences in prison as a result. But their own delusion was a hollow one. There is no reason we should give it any credit. They were not serving a real god. Remember how Elijah mocked the priests of Baal? "You'll have to shout louder, for surely he is a god." He was no god at all. Baal did not exist.

Co-opted Christian Festivals

It is true, as Waite says, that the Celtic festival of Samhuinn (pronounced Sam-Hayne) was co-opted by the Christian church and changed to All Saints Day. (In Celtic tradition, as in Jewish tradition, a "day" begins at sunset and ends the following sunset. So the daytime of Samhuinn became All Saints Day, and the previous night became All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.) Most Christian holidays are co-opted pagan festivals.

We have no knowledge, by history or by revelation, that baby Jesus was born December 25. This was however a popular holiday season for Christian converts from various pagan cultures. For the Romans, it was Saturnalia; for the Celts, the season of the Yule celebration. The Christian Church co-opted nearly all its holidays from pagan celebrations, and that includes Easter. Some modern Christians refuse to celebrate any of them. Halloween is no better and no worse.

If we really want to throw out all traditions tainted by pagan origins, the theme of the Divine Son of the Virgin Mother is an ancient pagan icon, known to the Egyptians, the Sumerians, and the Celts (Mabon ab Modron). Perhaps the worship of Jesus as the Son of God is "a very serious Satanic practice"? As a matter of fact, Orthodox Jewish scholars have long criticized Christian worship as a pagan syncretism precisely because it conforms to a pagan image. OK, we are not about to take the baby Jesus and the ultimate sacrifice reconciling humanity to our Creator, and throw them out with the pagan bathwater. And Halloween isn't nearly so precious. But let's lighten up a little.

Waite quotes from the World Book Encyclopedia. If he quotes accurately, the source is a very unreliable one. "The custom of using leaves, pumpkins, and cornstalks as Halloween decorations comes from the Druids." Huh? Pumpkins were unknown in Europe until well after Columbus tripped over America trying to find his was to India. Same with what we now call corn (maize) with its distinctive leaves and stalks. There were jack-o-lanterns of a sort in medieval Europe, carved out of turnips, but the Druids were entirely unfamiliar with pumpkins.

The cited article also informs Waite that "Samhain, lord of death, called together the wicked spirits..." Sorry, there was no Druid tradition of a "Lord of Death" called "Samhain." Traditions concerning the dead were more akin to modern customs in Mexico, the Dia de los Muertes. The dead might be restless, might need to be propitiated, but they were not looking around for animal bodies to inhabit, they were, on the contrary, seeking to return to their living relatives. They were fearsome, because they were dead, but not wicked. They were grandmas and uncles and aunties.

Laughing at Superstition

Christian faith is in essence the enemy of superstition. Various superstitions have been tagged onto Christianity by Greek philosophers, German tribal kings, Roman emperors and Celtic peasants. Taking these superstitions seriously has always resulted in shame for the Church. There is only one God. The others, pagan or satanic, worshipped by whole peoples or by a handful of misfits, are "silver and gold, the work of men's hands." Our God is The God, there is no other.

Martin Luther wrote "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." Thomas More said in the same spirit that the devil "the proud spirit... cannot endure to be mocked." That was the original meaning of Halloween. For a more detailed historical background, check out Biblical Horizons: Concerning Halloween. All the dressing up as ghosts and witches and goblins and devils was to mock, jeer, laugh at, the powers of evil conjured up by the human mind, not to celebrate them or give credence to them. That is the spirit of Halloween we must recapture.

Hollywood horror films, and tracts denouncing Halloween as "the devil's birthday" are flip sides of the same coin: both take the powers of evil seriously. Certainly fall festivals of corn shocks, pumpkin faces, cider, donuts, apple bobbing and trick-or-treat pose no evil. Fall is a beautiful season, October is a beautiful month. Before it gives way to cold, grey November, it is an innocent past-time to enjoy the bounty of the harvest and the beauty of empty fields. Dressing up children as ghosts, witches, goblins, devils, is just fine also, as long as they understand, we are scorning these images with our laughter, playing with their hollow identies because we are not afraid of them. We are free to make them the butt of our jests, because they have no power over us.

Chris Redford left the comment below. Blogger doesn't seem to be set up for me to post a direct response to her comment, but she has an interesting article at Secular Evangelism, and I posted a brief reply there. It is good that we can all think, and all talk to each other.