As a Communications professor, I love teaching the persuasive speaking unit during an election year. The media is rich with examples of persuasive appeals to voters’ emotions (pathos), reasoning (logos), and character (ethos). Emotional appeals tend to yield quicker results than appeals to logic: it is easier to make someone laugh or cry than it is to make them think. Character is developed through experience over time and takes a long time to change. It is a function of how we have solved problems in the past, the vehicle we use to solve problems in the present, and a strong indicator of how we will solve problems in the future. Modern political campaigns focus on evoking an emotional response from the voter by fostering negative perceptions of the opposing candidate’s character.
One of the most commonly used emotional appeals is the appeal to fear. The basic premise of the fear appeal is that the choices we make can prevent something bad from happening. It gives the listener a sense of power and control over their destiny. The success of the insurance industry, the National Rifle Association (NRA), home security companies and many other industries and entities depends on their customers and constituents responding emotionally and acting out of their fears. Having been a church-going, Bible believing Christian for all of my life, I have also seen the fear appeal given from the pulpit by (mostly) well-meaning religious leaders. There is plenty of overt discussion about the fear of God, but there are also covert conversations about fear disguised as faith, wisdom or discernment.
In many Christian churches, Fear puts on a Faith costume for Halloween. The origin of Halloween is a pagan festival celebrating the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter. Superstition held that the dead walked among the living from October 31-November 2 and would play cruel tricks on those who did not give them proper treats. Other traditions, such as wearing a costume or carving a face in a gourd, were developed to ward off or trick the evil spirits.
Halloween is considered by many Christians to be a holiday that makes the young (physically or spiritually immature) more susceptible to possession by demonic spirits. With this reasoning, some devout believers argue vehemently against any recognition of the day—no costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkins, skeletons, etc. Others host alternative celebrations, like a Holy-ween Party or Harvest Festival, which typically occur on or around Halloween. The logic here is that choosing not to celebrate Halloween in the traditional way is a demonstration of faith and Christian character, as well as a means of protection from demonic influences.
Fear in a Faith costume creates a false sense of security and an illusion of control. While we should be concerned about spiritual matters, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that avoiding Halloween is relevant to protecting our children’s souls. Wearing a costume and going trick-or-treating is at the bottom of the list of potential soul snatchers when there are daily accounts of children being abused and mistreated by family, friends, teachers, coaches, and clergymen (not to mention random strangers). Does the same prayer we pray over our children the other 364 days not work on Halloween?
God looks at our intentions: it is the underlying intention that defines the true meaning behind any word or deed. Millions of non-Christians celebrate Christmas each year, and don’t acknowledge the birth of Jesus in any way (some Christians celebrate the same way). If you don’t recognize the birth of Jesus, then you are not commemorating the birth of Jesus when you celebrate Christmas. By the same token, if you don’t recognize the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, and you aren’t trying to appease or avoid the walking dead on October 31, then that is not the reason you’re celebrating Halloween. The intention is to spend time together making memories with family and friends.
As Christians, we tend to put our God in a box and our faith in our fears. Yes, there are dark, spiritual forces that influence this world, but the Bible clearly tells us over and over again “Fear not” and “Do not be afraid.” It also tells us that there will be trials and tribulations in this world—no matter what you do or don’t do, and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. This doesn’t give us permission to live recklessly, but it does give us permission to live fearlessly. What do we really believe about God, if we think our soul’s future depends on whether or not, how or if, we celebrate Halloween? Moreover, what is our relationship with God if it is primarily dictated by adherence to religious rules and rituals?
As for my house, we will serve the Lord…and go trick-or-treating. Have a safe and blessed Halloween!
What about you and your family? Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, how? If not, why not? Please share your story in the comments, and be sure to Like, Share, and Subscribe to see future posts.