Christianity and Halloween: A Middle Road

So the past few years I have advocated what many cultural apologists have advocated: taking back the types of literature and films that are put forward in the world. To review my essential point, the modern horror movie and horror novelists like Stephen King come from the Gothic novel; a form of literature in which the monsters represent divine justice. As cultural apologists in the tradition associated with Francis Schaeffer have noted, we can trace the changes in the literature to the west’s changes of worldview. Thus, for example, Bram Stoker, in his epistolary novel Dracula clearly treats Dracula as a monster, but the evils that Dracula represents in Stoker’s novel have become a type of anti-hero in modern culture through writers like Anne Rice. Similarly, “torture porn” movies like the Saw and Hostel franchises have become a new tour deforce as people seem to take the same type of pleasure in watching human suffering that the Romans took in the gladiatorial events. This would be unthinkable in past generations.

But one major issue that commonly comes up is the question of Halloween, the time of year when horror movies are central, is one that many Christians think all Christians should avoid. This, again, is a question that I think Schaeffer answers. To those unfamiliar with Schaeffer, Schaeffer was a Christian apologist who brought discussions of worldview back to the table, there are of course issues with this approach. Schaeffer painted with a very broad brush—something that is necessary when worldview scholarship is focused on simple or simplistic comparisons, since worldviews are very large things. Sometimes in so doing his work could lack accuracy (though one of the writers following in Schaeffer’s tradition, Nancy Pearcy who came to know Jesus as Savior through his ministry at l’abri does a much better job in this regard, and her book Total Truth and the follow up works are a must read in the modern world).

When I was a teenager I fell into the anti-Halloween, anti-rock music, anti-modern subculture within some pockets of fundamentalism. These arguments, frankly, had a point,  but this seems to have changed as the rebellion by the modern west from its Christian heritage is so complete that, “if it feels right do it,” is no longer radical, it is typical. Similarly, in the late sixties and early seventies, occultic themes began to develop, as did interests in religions such as Buddhism and other Eastern religions. A sensationalist involved in occultic practices named Anton LeVey published The Satanic Bible, and started the first Satanic church in the mid-sixties; his movement and various splinter factions (such as Setianism, focusing on the Egyptian deity usually identified as either Set or Sutekh, who in at least later versions of the myth was the killer of Osiris, and the antagonist to Horus and Isis), were publicity hounds. During the eighties my family engaged in trick or treating, but the childish fun that was the hallmark of elementary school days began to change as a few Satanist inspired murders began to create a mass panic about Satanic ritual abuse (it was later demonstrated that there was no evidence to support most of the allegations featured on talk shows such as Geraldo Rivera’s, but the allegations tragically led to a number of false convictions that were later overturned). Within Christianity, conspiracy theorists, such as Jack Chick, or Texe Marrs began to argue that there was a secret cabal of Satanists that were secretly taking control of society, following a tradition of poor reasoning and research that is emblematic of Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylon’s.

Yet, there are children who have had no exposure to the gospel coming to our doors. Nor do we wish to teach our children that Christianity means missing out. There is, of course, the fact that we do not  want to teach our children that begging is the way to get things, but this is a different story.

Here is where I think Francis Schaeffer is helpful. My first readings in Schaeffer was the book The Great Evangelical Disaster, which when I was at Bob Jones was considered proof of the superiority of the Fundamentalist position over the Evangelical one. Later, after grad school during my early married years, I read several other books by Schaeffer. It opened my eyes to art and human creativity in ways I had not understood in a seminary education, and it appealed both to my natural eclecticism and tendency for seeking academic breadth as well as depth. The “touch not, taste not, mingle not” approaches to topics such as literature or music assumes only two approaches to literature are possible, we can consume and approve it and allow it to subtly affect our worldview, or we can avoid it entirely. This creates the question of where to draw lines; for example, are we going to reject only modern horror, or Dracula as well? Do we do the same thing with Beowulf due to the growth of neo-paganism? Is it ok to read Greek Mythology, which has both had a massive impact on our literature and represents a real, pagan belief system? Take the old debate about church music; some reformed groups still argue that the only songs that should ever be used in worship are those that are directly quoting Scripture (fortunately they allow translations even if they do not allow paraphrases), everything else that might be produced has been touched at some point by human depravity because it has been handled by human hands and is no longer divine (but again, they sing these Psalms through human translations).

Schaeffer instead argues for reading and understanding the worldview that is implicit in literature and music. That is, it is not merely a question of Christians either avoiding secular literature or imbibing it, but rather do we read it critically? Do we understand literature within it’s own cultural context? Can we take it, and illustrate how Christianity answers the longings of the human heart in ways that other worldviews cannot? There is, in this sense, a middle ground between the two extremes; there is Scriptural warrant for this middle ground, no believer should argue that Paul’s works are something less than Scripture, and yet those Pauline epistles we count as Scripture quote pagan poets. Paul borrowed language from the stoics, though he adapted said language for his own purposes. Similarly, as we live in an increasingly sub-Christian culture it becomes necessary to be able to communicate with that culture within terms it will understand. The modern world has its myths, both in propagandistic takes on history but also in its literature, most notably it’s fantasy, science fiction and horror literature where the existential fears, hopes, and dreams of the generation are recorded. Part of our humanity is represented in our creativity, including  our tendency to communicate our concepts of truth in the forms of stories. Even the most basic texts in philosophy, texts that are still read as a guide for teaching the dialogical method in philosophy classrooms take the form of fictional, literary dialogues. We should not engage with Halloween or anything else with our mind’s turned off, we should filter it through the prism of Scripture and Christian theology and philosophy, but we cannot act as ostriches either if we are to fulfill our role as salt and light.

I won’t tell others how they should respond to Halloween, that is not my point, and I believe texts like Romans 14:10-12 gives us a warning to be cautious in judging other believers in doubtful things. But I hope this backs up the point I have made from C S Lewis in recent years, as Christians we need to engage not only the arguments of the lost, but their imaginations as well, and we do so in large part by engaging the culture with our minds being alert. Schaeffer’s extraordinary legacy is that, when most people were simply laughing at the hippy counter-culture, Schaeffer was winning them to Jesus Christ.


The Real Problem with Bias

One of the most common claims made in modern discussions, including the truth of the Christian faith, is the argument of bias. This is best understood in politics, the millenials I work with universally refer to Fox News is biased propaganda; I know conservatives that say the same thing of CNN. This illustrates not only the very human tendency to define bias as a problem related to someone else, but also simething of the way it functions in acadamia, particularly in post-modernism and what some refer to as “the politicization of the humanities.” That is, claims of bias in studies involving race scholarship, feminist scholarship or other approaches identified as “critical theory” are based in an argument taken from the existence of bias; modern critical theory does not examine bias from the standpoint of seeking truth (as the search for truth or the search for justice are ultimately antithetical to critical theory, itself), it rather looks at bias as something to be weaponized, and to be used to proactively attack one’s ideological foes. Thus, discussions of bias are discussions of the “irrationality of my opponent,” it is the substitution of outrage and personal attack for argumentation.
This is not only a discussion of politics, however, but of the critic’s arguments against Christian, politics is merely an area where the principles of bias can, hopefully, be illustrated. Critics on a regular basis argue that Christian apologists are “biased” or “dishonest,” (often by those citing poorly argued works by Hitchens or Dawkins) and therefore apologists arguments do not require exploration. But one “riff” on this “dismiss apologists arguments,” argument is that it often uses the language associated with political arguments about “bias.” Thus, they will refer to Christian’s as engaging in “confirmation bias,” “cognitive dissonance,” “rhetorical tricks,” or they make the claim that apologetics is a money-making scheme (if the goal of apologetics is economics, well, I must be really unsuccessful).
It of course cannot be denied that bias or personal agendas exist and affect our thinking; even John Locke recognized the danger that bias or the personal stake one has in a theory could have a negative effect on philosophy. The problem, though, is that bias is a universal phenomenon not one limited solely to Christians, socialists, capitalists or atheists. The existence of bias ought to be recognized, but the problem with the post-modern approach to bias is that it fails to recognize that bias is a knife cutting both ways, and therefore is not a final answer to an argument. Let’s assume a feminist, we will call her Professor V (letter chosen at random), writes a book about the bias shown in biographies about George Washington. Professor V makes a central point that the love of Washington is actually a means of maintaining the patriarchy and thus power for an elite group of white males, and this is to Professor V the final arguments centering on Washington’s presidency. Some may find this take compelling, feeling that, of course, elite white males are profoundly biased and have skin in the game. Yet, this same argument can be made against Professor V’s thesis, itself. That is, Professor V’s feminist outlook is no less a bias than are more traditional approaches; feminism itself has it’s myths, such as the various theories of alleged peaceful matriarchal societies engaged in goddess worship (beliefs that are contrary to the evidence). Feminist discussions of patriarchy are, themselves founded on bias. Furthermore, Professor V has skin in the game, an academic seeking tenure or funding, the speaker seeking audience, or the author seeking book sales is not a disinterested, dispassionate observer. As this is a knife that cuts both ways, it is difficult to use it to make only one case.
So does this mean we abandon discussions of bias and the need for objectivity? No, it means we do not treat bias and objectivity as answers or significant elements of argumentation. Rather, when there is evidence of bias, we treat it as warrant for investigation, not an answer to the case. Let’s suppose a series of studies were published proposing that Zambonis caused cancer in their operators. Then three major studies are released that claim to debunk the claim; all three were funded in part by a Zamboni manufacturer. Whatever else has happened, the facts, tables, and argumentation in these three studies have not been overthrown on the basis of discoveries about funding, but it is certainly reasonable to attempt to verify and/or replicate the results because of the possibility of bias. Similarly, claims of bias cannot be treated as an answer to the question of theism or atheism, they rather provide warrant for further investigation into the cases being made. Secondarily, bias is inescapable. We are not wholly objective, and worldview formation leads to bias along the way. The solution ultimately to bias is to focus on the possibilities of bias in oneself, rather than in others, and to use it as an incentive to engage in argumentation, rather than as a reason to dismiss argumentation.

Politics as Outrage

During the lead up to the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing, a source called the City Journal, referred to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as “the Madame Defarge of New York.” Madame Defarge is Dicken’s vengeful knitting woman, who seeks to punish the innocent as well as the guilty in A Tale of Two Cities, and it is a remarkable take on where we are in our times. Dicken’s captures the mood of the French revolution and the massacre following. This analogy is apt, we are in many ways repeating steps that have led to bloodshed in the past. I’ve noted on this blog two separate points, the first that we thirst for a justice we cannot achieve on this earth because of human limitations. Secondarily, I noted the issue that modern society gives no room for forgiveness. The repercussion of this is that anger and hate; stored to become bitterness and wrath, are the growing motivational force in American politics.


The thing about modern American anger is it has become an issue in both parties, Conservatives and Republicans have sometimes stated they like the fact that “Trump fights back,” that is, Trump deals with Democratic party members and constituency groups the way democrats have dealt with Republican party members and constituency groups for several decades. That is, Donald Trump exemplifies the political rhetoric of Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson Lee; this is something that, I think, is often being missed in discussions of Trump’s twitter account; it is unacceptable to argue that some people are human trash, whatever else may be true about the state of our immigration policies, it is equally unacceptable to declare half of Americans to be part of the “basket of deplorables.” As Scripture warns us in Matthew 7:2-3, we will be measured with the measuring stick we use to measure others. This, along with the way he has treated women, and his actions in the Republican primaries are leading reasons why I voted for a third party candidate in the last presidential election. Death threats, doxing, and mobs, and other forms of intimidation have become weapons of choice, Charlottesville, Berkley, Portland and other cities are seeing politically motivated violence; others seek to use mobs to shut down traffic and commerce, often with threatening behavior. Republican Congressmen have been shot at, target by a far-left extremist. The group we once called the alt-right and “antifa” are forming militias, similar to the SA and the KDP aligned Red Front in the 20’s of Germany. Where once, “No Justice, no Peace” was a slogan, hinting and threatening violence, that violence is now a small, but growing reality.


This becomes greater when we consider that this is true in the academy as well. One of the major movements influencing politics and education in discussions of the “politicization of the humanities,” is something known as “critical theory.” Critical theory is an application of an approach to ethics known as a “genealogical approach” which is largely descended from Nietzsche, but has been further adapted by writers such as Fouchault and socialists thinkers. Nietzsche argued that morality was a means for the weak to control the strong (his “ubermensch” which unlike the Nazi adaptation, is not a racial category). That is, to Nietzsche, morality is an illusion, but it can be used as a means to power. Nietzsche was, himself, rather critical of morality, but Fouchault adapted this thought to communist ideas, arguing initially that moral codes are a form of oppression by the strong, and in doing so seems to be making moral pronouncements to make play for his own power. Critical theory has adapted this approach, some recognize that they are themselves not making a moral argument, but they are aiming at destroying whatever they can of western culture and heritage (including Christianity), to build something new. This appears, however, to be lost among others, who do seem to think they are arguing for some type of morality, and fail to appreciate the absurdity of building an ethic from a line of argumentation that denies morality’s existence. Marxist scholars, who impose a view of class warfare on questions of morality and history have had a similar impact. But while critical theory is absurd, it seems to fan the flames of students, who then fan the flames in the streets.


Modern students aren’t arguing for a dispassionate live and let live relativist position, as was the left in the past. Increasingly, students at higher and higher levels believe it is just to use violence to silence speech, usually speech by the right, and increasingly students are in situations where they are intimidating professors about matters of curriculum among other things. The words “Nazi” and “Fascist” are used with less of an eye towards the Nazi and Fascist worldviews, and have become merely a new buzzword to drive people into hysteria.


Some will argue that I am merely picking on the left here, but as I noted before, there is a thread of pragmatism in the Trump age; the group that was called the “alt-right” will adapt these tools as we enter a phase of escalations reminiscent of Clausewitz. Antifa’s use of violence in Berkley and other places has led to the beginnings of “alt right” groups that are presenting themselves in the same light. Groups such as the “Knights of the Alt Right” present themselves as protectors of peaceful protestors, hoping to attack their rivals. Alt-right websites hint at violence, perhaps trying to draw antifa into making moves to hurt them in the press; either way it is the right’s version of “No Justice, No Peace.” Therefore, we will likely see similar protests against controversialists on the left being invited to speak in various venues, on the grounds that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What the age of Trump proves is that the type of incivility used by left can be used against the left. There will come a point when the response to Republican senators being harassed in restaurants will be the harassment of democratic senators. Both sides have what they believe to be legitimate grievances that can be stoked for votes. What has been sown to the wind, is being reaped by the whirlwind.


We are spiraling towards a civil war that may be unavoidable, we are moving towards a violent clash as mob will be matched by mob. There are steps that can be taken, but only in a bilateral way. Rebuilding civility will require a de-escalation by both sides rather than calls for unilateral rhetorical disarmament as we see now, but I do not see that happening anytime soon. There are philosophically incommensurable differences between the new left and the right, differences that, alone may leave us with the choice between a national split or a civil war. Yet these intellectual differences cannot move forward in a debate or a peaceful secession of states with the current emotionally charged political climate.


But then, when you move into a society that has such a limited understanding of justice that it is  vested solely in human beings, can it be any other way? The primal need for justice cannot be adequately met by human beings. And when a worldview has given itself no grounds for forgiveness or mercy, what else can we expect? When government is given the role of God in a worldview, how can we anticipate anything other than a fevered hysteria, appealing to such a fickle deity? In short, the erosion of Christianity is at the heart of the decay of the civil society; we are a post-truth society wallowing in the misery of our human limitations.

The Quality of Mercy–and Forgiveness–is not Strained

The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown: His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8


The title of the article might consider this a further in a series articles written about the Kavanaugh hearings. To be fair, that is the news of the day, and led to three articles, one on this site, one on a new sister site. But the quality of forgiveness and mercy, in a sense, has nothing to do with Kavanaugh; we cannot say a belief that Kavanaugh is guilty is justified, the case against him extremely thin, and if he is guilty there has been no request for forgiveness nor repentance. But, in another sense, it has everything to do with the social fabric that is revealed in  the public reactions by many in our post-Christian culture.

We live in a society that is increasingly being marked by paradoxes; we talk about the need for “rehabilitation” in criminal cases, but whatever might be the discussion, such a plan has been a total failure, creating an overcrowded penal system that seems to make people increasingly animalistic. The prison system seems to be based on the failed Platonic notions that ethical problems are rooted in ignorance, rather than in the human heart. We no longer talk of people paying their debts to society, this would be to give into the “primitive” ideas of retribution, and then we treat those same guilty persons as if they are still in debt to society. In some cases, the debt seems almost unpayable, and would seem to leave suicide as the only reasonable, honorable action for crimes long past their date of commitment. Physical punishment and quick executions are considered less humane than an extended social ostracism, decades in length. One of CS Lewis’s lesser known essay, “The Humanitarian Case for Punishment.”

Of course, we speak much of the need for societal forgiveness for those who have made “mistakes” in their lives, the need for those with felony records to be able to engage in meaningful, legal employment, usually in the form of a request for someone else to do something. Those deemed worthy of forgiveness also seem to be considered worthy of mercy because of sentiments of class and lack of privilege rather than a general principle of forgiveness. That is, we have more arguments that felons engaged in violence (unless it is violence against women and children) should receive societal mercy (whatever the endangerment this might entail to society) then arguments that white collar criminals should receive mercy, the original sin, the unforgiveable action of modern America no longer an action, but class based perceptions, based on questionable historical claims. In short, forgiveness is a political weapon for those influenced by critical theorists to use against enemies, not an ethical duty, or societal necessity.

In part, this is because a post-Christian society has no sufficient basis for forgiveness, within naturalism this makes sense. In many cases, a debt cannot be repaid, because a victim cannot actually be made whole. The PTSD of a survivor of sexual assault cannot simply be healed by an apology, nor can the mother or spouse of a murder victim have their child restored by repentance, there is a lack of wholeness, fueled by the natural human tendency to believe in the justness of our own actions.

This is a change, and is fueled by two things we have lost as a Post-Christian society. First, we have a different view of ourselves, in a personal sense. Christians believe that men are, by nature, basically evil, the modern believes, at least in practice, that man is basically good but some live in a bad system, but then also denies that the concept of good or evil have any real meaning. Determinism is the root of much current thought, we are machines, merely the biological automata, programmed by primarily by our genes and our habitat, freewill is merely an illusion, a useful fiction. This is as true in arguments for criminal actions as it is for the more well known arguments for human sexuality. The Christian knows better, and says “but by Christ, there go I.” This can descend to the paradox of pride in one’s humility, but is important in how we view others. The Christian sees the murderer, the sex offender, the addict, and, in admitting Christianity is true, must admit that the same problems that led this man or woman to their crimes, that is, we recognize our own hearts are made of the same degenerate spiritual stuff as the hearts of unbelievers. True humility is in remembering, we aren’t as good, great or righteous as we tend to think we are, and therefore by grace we extend grace to others.

The second thing that has been lost is the understanding of the atonement, that God became man, to atone for the sins of men. This means that whatever punishment for my sins, or anyone else, I can point to the sacrifice of something immeasurably greater. This combines, as well, with the above. I forgive, because I also am, by grace, a fugitive from God’s justice, and yet, I have obtained mercy, as the unjust in the transaction with the Just.