Kirk Cameron has stirred the ghouls and goblins to manifest prematurely this “Hallowe’en” season, especially in the press. The funny part is, he has done nothing but resurrect a fairly traditional view of Halloween, and little more than hint at a deeper theological view of Christmas symbols; and for this, a mad Grinch mob composed of secularists and fundamentalists alike has assailed the man.
The secularists howl because Kirk dared suggest a traditional Christian rationale for Halloween: Christian mockery of the forces of evil that are defeated by Christ. Secularists, like the editors at Raw Story, HuffPost, and the foul-mouthed Jezebel.com, can’t stand to hear Kirk’s view because they know the real history of Halloween—the Celtic worship of death and departed spirits, Samhain. And these Jezebels won’t let that history stay buried, probably because their secularist readers need it to make it feel meaningful when they play Wicca and Ouija boards in their mom’s basement. I mean, black nail polish alone only goes so far.
But behold, a greater than Samhain has arrived. Of course, even the name “Hallowe’en” speaks of Christian influence. It is from “All Hallows Eve,” the evening before All Saints Day on the old liturgical calendar. And while the ancient part of the history is generally true, Samhain (and other similar pagan) celebrations of the dead did precede Halloween, the Halloween interpretations western history remembers are all Christian and infused with Christian meanings. And there’s good reason for that: it’s called dominion.
An excerpt from my book Manifested in the Flesh will help explain how the adoption and reinterpretation of certain pagan rituals was both pastoral and triumphal:
[S]ince these pagan appendages to Christian practice did not come along until the fourth century, they certainly speak of a certain idea of evangelism, and not of any of the earliest formative ideas of the Church.
This hits on the question of why Christianity later adopted certain pagan practices. The simple answer is that the Church remained immovable on essential doctrines, but quite flexible on the outward forms and expressions of worship. The leaders had no problem coopting pagan symbols and gestures where they could be reinterpreted without threatening the purity of the faith. Yale historian Roland Bainton explains that converts from pagan religions would tend to see parallels in parts of the Christian faith as well, because they would bring the baggage of the pagan mysteries with them and interpret Christian doctrine by their experience. He wrote that they would “tend to think of the resurrection as the rebirth of a nature god, and Easter would become a fertility rite centering on eggs and rabbits.” He continues,
Against such misreadings the Church was required to be on guard. Her general principle was one of intransigence at the core and flexibility at the periphery. The cardinal doctrines could not be recast, but there was no objection to setting the celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25, the winter solstice on Julian calendar, the birthday of the sun god Mithras. By setting the Christian festival on the same day, converts from Mithraism were preserved from relapsing on that occasion.62
Thus the practice was one of pastoral concern for new converts. It is quite possible that a convert would have been at a mithraic meal one week and then in Christ’s kingdom the next. These people required special discipleship.
Add to this that the adoption of some practices was a mark of the triumph of Christianity over the pagan religion. One case in point, the Syrian version of the Astarte and Adonis myth had its own regional peculiarities. Drawing from ancient Canaanite culture, their religion used the term “baal” to describe their gods. “Baal” appears commonly throughout the Old Testament as it was a general title meaning “lord” or “master.” One false “baal” in the Old Testament is “Ashtaroth” (also known by “Astarte” or “Ishtar”). From “Ishtar” it is quite evident that we derive the word “Easter,” but we have no reason to gasp at such a fact. While atheists would love to point to it as “proof ” that Christianity borrowed its religion from paganism, their simplistic understanding needs a bit of basic historical education. Christians did not adopt paganism, but conquered it by using its own symbols. The pagan mysteries are dead and gone for a reason. True, we may have a hard time fitting eggs and rabbits into any mental picture of Christian worship, but we do only think of Easter as a season of the Christian Church. The reason Astarte and Ishtar sound like strange names dug up out of obscure history books is because they are. Christ conquered what those false gods had hold of, and now they have long since gone down the memory hole. The only place they live on is in the fictional works of neo-gnostics and pagans who have to ignore or reinterpret the best parts of history in order to write their books.
Add to that list of conquered pagan superstitions one called Samhain—properly pronounced “Sah-win,” as in “sawin’ off the branch you’re sitting on.” That’s what all non-Christians systems of life and thought do: they are self-destructive in the long-run.
It’s probably apparent, given Kirk’s newfound positive outlook on biblical theology and history—see his movies Monumental and Unstoppable—that this theological view of Halloween reflects the influence of James B. Jordan, as once posted here on American Vision as “Concerning Halloween.” I am not sure I agree with every point Jordan makes there (and certainly not in general), but the general thrust of the dominion of Christ in that article is right. Whether or not certain pagan practices preceded Halloween games makes little difference if they are sanitized and reinterpreted in the light of Christ.
I will let parents decide whether any given game is prudent in this day and age. I personally prefer church-based Reformation Day celebrations, but some neighborhoods may not be too bad for other things.
And James is right: the rise in awareness of pagan “origins” of things like Halloween, Easter, Christmas, etc., is nothing less than a facet of a culture war. Modern pagans want Christianity swept out of cultural practice, and they try hard with every article, news segment, law, encyclopedia article, TV show, movie, etc. Let one movie or article from Kirk peep the opposite, and you’ll see what hissing little witches those secularist writers really are.
But the most surprising (to some) element in the mix is the people who are the secularists’ greatest allies in this pagan reprisal: Christians. These are certain fundamentalist Christians, mostly dispensationalists and premillennialists, who have a form of godliness but deny its power.
For example, one MacArthurite criticized Kirk’s comments on Christmas as “a contrived allegorized reintepretation of Christmas trees.” This critic then picked a Twitter fight with Darren Doane, the movie’s producer, arguing among other things that “Christmas trees have an historical meaning attached to them. You can’t change that.”
Since when can Christians not change meanings in history to reflect biblical theology? The idea is ludicrous, of course, but Christians should understand that it reflects the defeatist, ghetto mentality of premillennialists like this critic, and others who promoted his article. These people believe the forces of evil will prevail in the world. Everything must go downhill. These believers actually want society and all culture to degrade into the hands of the forces of evil because it means their view of prophecy will be confirmed and Jesus that much closer to returning for the rapture.
The worse society gets, the more confirmed they are. Thus, when someone like Kirk comes along with a positive view and announces that there can be legitimate Christian influence in the world, it throws a wrench in the Grinchworks.
Worse yet, when a Kirk or Doane suggests we read the Bible with new, biblically-enlightened eyes, and see aspects of creation through the lenses of biblical theology, the premillennialists flail like they’re lost in space: “Does not compute.” They have confined themselves (on most issues anyway), to an overly-simplistic hermeneutical box in which a tree cannot have any other biblical meaning than a literal tree.
Now that’s about a wooden-literal as it gets.
But then again, these are the type of people who have argued the scorpion-tailed locusts of Revelation are really Cobra attack helicopters; so one can never be too certain where some professing literalists will be coming from. Some believe their literalism to a fault: for example, that the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 will be a literal 1500-mile-high pyramid (or cube, it’s unclear) with Jesus literally sitting on top. That’s no exaggeration; a leading dispensational author wrote that.
These leaders and pundits can’t think outside of their self-imposed box. When coupled with their intense demand of the inevitable demonic dominion of the world, they intensely fear any effort of dominion, cultural renewal, etc. Since, in their minds, the world is given over to the dominion of the Devil, these guys are deathly afraid to touch it. But that’s not what Christ’s New Testament authority is about. The forces of evil do not contaminate us when we they touch us culturally speaking. We don’t have to huddle fearfully into ghettos because some pagan once worshipped trees, or another thought a black cat was a witch. These things don’t harm us—because an idol is nothing, all paganism and humanism is defeated at the cross, and the devil is under the thumb of our Father. The power of Christ flows outward, so to speak, sanctifying that which it touches, and which touches it.
Lose hope, lose members
But in the symbiotic relationship between secularists and dispensationalists, the Christians won’t acknowledge that they are enabling and justifying the dominion of the pagans. It’s not so much that if they disagree with us, they’ll just step out of the way; they think they must stop us so that unbelief may steamroll the world as prophesied (so they construe it). In doing so, they roll out the red carpet for demonic Halloweens, commercialized Christmas, and every other encroachment of paganism around us.
Well excuse us if we acknowledge that God created this world, and Christ redeemed it definitively, such that He announced before His ascension to the throne, “All power in heaven and in earth has been given to me.” And yes, that includes over days, holidays, trees, pumpkins, cotton-tails, lights, and everything else, as well as all men. There is not a single area of the universe over which Christ does not claim, “Mine!” All His followers in any and every celebration should take whatever fun or historical vestige of whatever we like and reinterpret it according to His glory and dominion—pagan hopes and dreams notwithstanding.
And while these dispensational leaders are deathly afraid, many of their followers are beginning to understand the power of Christ and the optimistic projections Scripture actually teaches. The foundations of the old dispensational system are long crumbled. Young people especially are asking hard questions, and they are looking for a more biblical system by which to live their long lives in light of Christ’s declarations of power and direction for living—out from under the oppressive shadows of gloom and superstition. They are leaving dispensationalism. In reality, they are already gone; they are just looking for a more biblical system to help understand why they already see the old pessimism as nonsense.
And it is perhaps this phenomenon that has these premillennialist leaders most alarmed. Years ago they would likely have cared little about a movie on the Christian meanings of holidays and the biblical theology behind them. But today, let a former dispensational face like Kirk Cameron speak up, and they know they will lose more of their audience. Well, let me break the news to you: more will follow. Just as Christ has broken the grip of fear ancient pagans once held on masses of people, so too will He break the grip of fear that bad eschatology and theology hold over Christians within the body. We are seeing it happen. It is only a matter of time and circumstance.
And as for me, I can’t think of a better holiday to celebrate dispensationalism’s passing, when it comes, than Halloween—the day of remembrance of the dearly departed. The theology of these brethren will do its best service ever for the kingdom through its epitaph, R.I.P., in the dark, misty graveyard of bad ideas.