Ah, it’s that time of year again when the leaves are falling, the mornings are brisk, the baseball season is finishing up, and churches are celebrating Halloweerrr no… they’re celebrating the autumn season with “Harvest Festivals” and “Trunk or Treats” all coincidentally coordinating with that other big holiday of the season—Halloween.
Halloween is one of those weird cultural holidays that conservative Christians have had a sort of love-hate relationship with for some time. There is a group that says that Halloween stems from a pagan holiday and is all about worshipping evil and therefore should be avoided all together. Some are uncomfortable with the holiday in itself but take advantage of the tradition of kids and candy by sponsoring “harvest festivals” and such. A third approach that has seemingly become the thing to do is the so-called “trunk or treat” where church members decorate their trunks, then line the church parking lot, creating a gauntlet of candy for the un-churched neighborhood kids to descend upon en-mass.
“Trunk or Treat” has the added benefit of attracting neighbors to the church without them actually having to make the intimidating walk into the church. Out in the parking lot, it’s a lot easier to avoid the overzealous proselytizer with all the open space—pews and doors make for a veritable maze when trying to steer clear of the old timers who look at young families like a tiger drooling over red meat.
Yet, even within the brilliance of the “trunk or treat” lies a dilemma, namely, how should the trunks be decorated? Since most churches are trying so hard to avoid the ghosts and goblins culture of Halloween, many “trunk or treats” mandate that all decorating be biblically themed. What’s comical about this is that in trying to “sanitize” Halloween and make it more kid-friendly, most trunks reveal some of the most horrific, gruesome tales in the Bible.
What’s horrifying about a Bible story themed “trunk or treat?” How about a man getting his head cut off (David and Goliath)? Or, there’s three men being burned alive (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). There’s of course the story of a deity approving a genocidal slaughter of an entire city (Jericho). There’s the story of a young woman forced into marrying and old perverted king (Esther). There’s the story of an entire army suffering an agonizing death by drowning (Pharoah’s army). There’s of course the story of a man getting eaten by a whale (Jonah). And lest we forget, the story of God murdering the entire human population save eight (the Flood). Anyone with any biblical knowledge will recognize what’s meant to be a G-rated, kid friendly event is instead something far more gruesome and terrifying. What we find in these biblical stories and others like them would turn the stomachs of most horror movie aficionados. Forget watching the latest installment of SAW or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just read a Bible.
This is the problem of a Christianity that tries to white-wash scripture, that tries to sell this book as “the Word of God, inerrant and inspired.” What ends up happening is that same Christianity finds itself defending a book full of rape, incest, adultery, torture, and murder. The story of Noah and the flood is wonderful if you forget about the people murdered by God. It’s fun to read of the battlefield successes of the Israelite army if you disregard the brutal killing of women and children. Ironically, that Christianized Halloween “trunk or treat” looks pretty sick and twisted in the end.
Here’s the thing. Those are just stories. They are not divinely inspired, they are not sent down from heaven. The Bible is full of stories written by people trying to make sense of their human experience and the divine. The Bible is also full of stories about groups seeking to justify their own beliefs, of overzealous proselytizers trying to prove that a rigid purity is what God desires. The Bible is also full of humans telling their fellow humans to care for the poor, the foreigners, and the outcasts. This mishmash of stories is what the Bible is and we’ve got to accept it for what it is—a book written by humans trying to make sense of their human experience and their encounter with the divine. I take the Bible seriously not because it is “inspired” or “the Word of God,” but because it recounts the struggle of humans throughout the ages trying to make sense of this experience we call life and trying to find meaning beyond it in what we have labeled “God.”