In today’s society, the often excessive celebration of Halloween (particularly by adults and teens) could be seen as a symptom of a trend towards social breakdown and disintegration. In an increasingly secular and multicultural society, such apparently non-religious holidays as Halloween are celebrated all the more. The theologian and social critic Richard John Neuhaus has pointed out that current-day society delights in the fact that Halloween now generates greater commercial revenues than Easter. For persons of strongly secular opinion, this signifies the eclipse of that supposedly “problematic” religious holiday, by one of a more secular nature.
Traditionally, Halloween was more of a warning against, rather than a celebration of evil. People who take the celebration of Halloween as a basis for joking about truly evil behaviours (such as those portrayed in so many “teen-slasher” horror flicks, typically released around that date), and deride Christian reservations about the holiday, may be conditioning themselves to become increasingly receptive to major evil-doing. If Christians recognize that there exists an active principle of evil in the world, they cannot be flippant about it, and must act accordingly, if they are to be honest to themselves. Possible occult forces, in the Christian view, are NOT to be toyed with. They are to be considered with caution and seriousness. C. G. Jung, himself often criticized by Christians, recognized that what he called “the dark forces of the subconscious mind” are to be looked upon with a high degree of caution.
On the other hand, it must be said that children’s dressing up as, for example, witches, ghosts, goblins, or fairies (in costumes which are typically not elaborate) is obviously a form of play, which is not meant to comment on the reality or unreality of those phenomena. What is to prevent children of believing Christians dressing up in non-controversial costumes, such as pirates, clowns, and so forth? What may be acceptable for children, however, tends to be seen by many Christians as highly questionable when practised by adults, especially if far greater resources are committed to the costuming and attendant indulgences (which almost invariably have a transgressive/sexual element).
In today’s society, the marking of Halloween could be seen as at the same time too superficial and too earnest. Too superficial because the possible reality of evil is never taken seriously, and too earnest, because the occult is often unquestioningly valourized.
The more traditional celebration of Halloween is sometimes criticized as being based on harmful stereotypes about witches and the occult, which have led to untold suffering and persecution throughout the centuries, against hundreds of thousands of harmless women and men.
However, in recoiling against the manifestly odious Christian persecution of witches, many secular late moderns are only too willing to go to another extreme, of embracing the occult and all forces hostile to Christianity. On the one hand, they are ready to give credence to the wildest superstitions, but on the other, they look sympathetically at atheism.
If the persecution of witches is to be routinely read into the indictment against today’s Christianity and traditionalism in Western democracies – then it must be considered how thoroughgoing and vicious the programmatic policies of (to name the most prominent figures) Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot (together resulting in the deaths of over a hundred million people) were. All these policies were closely tied to radical left-wing projects of irreligion. Yet, left-liberals are rarely called to task for expressing some significant sympathies with many of these left-wing, atheist despots.
While many left-liberals tend towards secularism, they continue to have a tendency to “demonize” their enemies, viewing the world as a catalogue of “saints” and “devils.” For example, Richard Nixon is in all seriousness considered one of the most evil men in human history. Some left-liberals delight in identifying a never-ending succession of “demons du jour” – Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney, Newt Gingrich, Kenneth Starr, Pat Buchanan, Stockwell Day and so forth. These are all felt in some nebulous but resonant way to be the minions of Adolf Hitler. Indeed, among the most common cries against Christians and Western traditionalists today is the accusation of “fascism” – meaning hateful, murderous Nazism.
It appears to have been forgotten that the Nazis themselves toyed extensively with the occult. They were, philosophically, neither Christians nor conservatives. There were in fact curious convergences between the anti-clericalism of the Nazis, Soviets, and some left-liberals of that time. Liberals such as former British prime minister Lloyd George initially supported the “modern, progressive” Nazis, but opposed Franco’s regime in Spain, or even Poland, because they considered the latter “priest-ridden reactionaries.” The Nazis’ unleashing of their dark imaginings upon Europe smacks of the nightmares of the occult. It should be remembered that committed German Christians constituted among the few serious centres of resistance within Germany itself. In German-occupied Poland, particularly savage persecutions were directed against the Polish Roman Catholic and other Polish Christian clergy.
It would be helpful to remind ourselves that some of the typical boisterous excesses of Halloween (in its original etymology, Allhallows Eve or the Eve of All Saints’ Day) constituted the exception to the general religiousness, discipline, propriety, and piety of traditional Ireland, America, or Canada. Today, we seem to be reaching the situation (as celebrated in the 1980s song by the rock-group called Ministry), where “Halloween is every day.” What was once the highly unusual has become the new, presumed norm.