-- Sir Toby Belch to the Puritan Malvolio, Twelfth Night
I love Hallowe'en. I love the colors, the drifts of leaves, the decorations. I love trick-or-treating and parties. I love the whimsical ghoulishness of it, too. We are not afraid of the Devil; we make fun of him, remembering Thomas More saying, "The devil . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked." Well, we mock him. "The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him," quoth Martin Luther. Which is not to say that evil is not real nor that we should think resisting the powers thereof (otherworldy or this-worldly) a trivial matter. But we will fly all our banners in defiance, for we are sure that our God will prevail. Has prevailed. And moreover, that our God bids us rejoice -- party, even -- and triumph over hell.
So that being said, I have to shake my head at all those solemn Christians who go about trying to make Hallowe'en into "Fall Festival" or "Trunk or Treat" or "Harvest Party." Okay, I guess if that works for them, fine. But why should United Methodists feel at all like we have to tiptoe around dressing up like witches and monsters that a) we don't really believe in and b) if we did, we would think have already been defeated by the victory of Jesus Christ? You know, H.L. Mencken defined a Puritan as someone who lived in constant fear that "someone, somewhere, was having fun." But Methodists aren't descended from Puritans. We're a separate offshoot of Anglicanism. Why should we wear their straitjacket?
Then there are the obsessed types who host a "Hell House," which gives them all the thrills of gore and ghoulishness, while ostensibly promoting the salvation of souls. Once again, that's okay, if it works for you. But I remember Malachi Martin referring to some evangelical Protestants as fostering "a cult of Satan," by which he did not mean that he was calling them Satanists or even "cultish." He simply meant that Satan as a figure to be talked about, which loomed large in people's spiritual lives, which formed part of the core of how they explained their faith (Satan as the enemy of God, who must be defeated and/or guarded against), was as prominent in certain forms of Protestantism as Mary was in Catholicism. (Satan and Mary are not the only figures who seem to crowd the psycho-spiritual stage; other Churches' rhetoric and piety center in a "cult of Jesus" or a "cult of the Holy Spirit." In Mainline Protestantism, I suppose you could say we have a "cult of the Kingdom of God" or a "cult of the victims of society.") In any case, I think "Hell House" seems like paying the Devil a fee to use his trademark to scare people into heaven, and I think it's more collaborating with the enemy than dressing up like vampires and ghosts is.
What I tell my congregation is, if you feel uncomfortable with Hallowe'en, that's fine. I'm not going to force anybody to dress up or anything. I won't wear fangs in the pulpit, or place a coffin filled with treats in the fellowship hall. But in my role as pastor and prophet, with all the authority vested in me by God and the Church, I tell you: Don't let the killjoys ruin the fun.
P.S. At some level, we all like to be scared, sometimes. It's healthy. That's why we watch monster movies and ride roller coasters. And when Mommy and Daddy (and church!) are there so you know it's all right, that it's safe, that makes it even more fun. It's the people who are so worried that you're going to be warped by exposure to something scary who scare me.