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Halloween

Posted on: October 30, 2016

Category: Theology

Halloween

Halloween is one of those festivals that divides historians. On the one side, Halloween is seen as a Christianization of a Pagan harvest festival that marked the end of Autumn and the beginning of Winter. On the other side, there is doubt cast on the extent to which this festival - marking the remembrance of all the saints and departed faithful - truly emerged from previous Pagan rites. This minor historical uncertainty often divides Christians into two camps: those who celebrate pluralism and include Pagan history, and those who emphasize Christian purity and exclude Pagan influence. Of course, there are also those at the extreme who see Halloween as secular mischief regardless of its origins.

I do not know the historical details about the origins of Halloween and the extent to which it is an amalgam of Pagan and Christian practices or a unique invention of Christian culture. I would like to direct my comments to the concern for purity. There is something to notice, generally speaking, about how a religion like Christianity or any other tends to get caught up in questions about the purity and uniqueness of its practices. In the case of the origins of Halloween, Christians often seek to protect the meaning and definition of the festival both from its Pagan history and today's secular celebrations. What is behind the motivation to draw lines in the sand that define insider and outsider, including and excluding, practices and definitions?

If we look to the nature of religion beyond the confessions or beliefs of a particular religion, it is possible to see that the religious spirit attempts to break apart the lines that human beings draw in the sand. The prophet Isaiah is clear. "It is not enough for you to raise up the tribes of Jacob...I will give you as a light to the nations" (49:6). The Apostle Paul read these word and concluded that it was not enough just to be Jewish. To Paul, the meaning of Judaism extended to the gentile nations. This is how Paul read the meaning of Jesus. In the parables of Jesus, there is a similar theme: being true to ourselves, as in the Samaritan parable, means overcoming our prejudices and transcending historic forms of enmity and division. One of the central teachings of Buddhism is that you don't have to be a Buddhist to benefit from Buddhism. In fact, being good at who you really are, regardless of religion or no religion, is basically a Buddhist tenet. Karl Marx ones stated that he was not a Marxist, indicating that his thinking was bigger than only one definition of this thought. That challenge also resides in Christianity. It is not enough just to be a Christian. The nature of Christianity is bigger than the religion of Christianity.

Back to the question: why then do specific religions defy the teaching of religion with a concern for definitions that include and exclude? I would like to answer that question by saying that religions commonly forget they are human creations. In place of being the challenge of our own humanity to grow, change, and increase in both wisdom and humility, they become the storage rooms for our fears, hesitations, desires for security, and protection from the threat of the stranger. Tragically this other, awkward side, of religion is greatly advantageous for politicians as much as preachers who can trade in the business of fear and suspicion. When religions of the world forget that they are human creations, they also ironically lose their humanity. They lose their ability to call human beings beyond their egos and into the promise of our capacity to love. It often sounds like the end of religion when we affirm that religion is a human creation, but, in fact, this small admission is the beginning of the value of religion for our humanity.

Meanwhile, Halloween, no matter how it started, celebrates in play, wonder, and excitement the re-appearance of our ancestors. Its magic can remind us, or perhaps is, that the promise of the human story is bigger than any individual and any generation.

 

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