Halloween, Ignorance, and the Genetic Fallacy

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Jack-o-latern

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Some Christian churches condemn trick-or-treating as if it were a branch of witchcraft. Instead, they have “fall festivals” in which children dress up like Bible characters or (in the Catholic tradition) like saints. Halloween is, in the literature of Fundamentalist Christianity, connected with Satanism. Even in some less rigid Evangelical traditions Halloween is considered to be pagan.

These are ignorant positions. So what is Halloween? It is the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is why it is sometimes called “All Hallows Eve.” In the ancient Druidic religion of the Celts, it was considered a day in which spirits could pass through to this world. These spirits were not necessarily evil; some were benevolent, others not so much. To protect themselves from harmful spirits, Celts would dress up as spirits to ward off the bad ones. Other customs, such as the jack-0-lantern, arose from the Roman Catholic tradition, from the practice of placing a candle in a turnip to remember souls in Purgatory. Since the souls in Purgatory will be in Heaven one day, remembering them was not considered to be a frightening occasion.

By the late nineteenth century, the elements that would later make up trick-or-treating were in place, but trick-or-treating did not become common practice until the twentieth century. Halloween was not historically associated with Satanism despite Fundamentalists who seem to find Satan around every corner except their own.

Roman Catholics have been, for the most part, friendly to trick-or-treating–even Fr. Gabriel Amroth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, has no problem with trick-or-treating as long as it is only play. Mainline Protestants also have no problem with celebrating Halloween. But other Protestants and a few rigid Roman Catholics insist that Halloween remains a pagan festival even today that is wrong for Christians to celebrate.

The fallacy in the Fundamentalists’ argument is obvious: they assume that because a certain celebration began as x, it is always x. That is, they assume that if Halloween began as a pagan celebration, then any celebration of Halloween must be a pagan festival. This is a version of the genetic fallacy, which involves the assumption that because a practice originally had one meaning that it necessarily has that same meaning today. This is a common error some Christians (and many others) make, but the conclusion does not follow from the premise.

As a child, I loved trick-0r-treating. As long as precautions are taken against cruel people who would harm children during trick-or-treating, I believe it is a fun activity in which children can engage.

Fundamentalists and Afterdeath Communication

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Comfort in Grief

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I listened to a fine talk tonight at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina by Louis LaGrand on extraordinary experiences of those grieving a loved one. Many of these individuals have an experience of the loved one communicating with them, ranging from an intuition of the deceased person’s presence to a full-body apparition carrying on a conversation with the surviving loved one. Many people who have such experiences, which as LaGrand noted, are really “ordinary” rather than “extraordinary” (millions of people have them) are given a cold shoulder by fundamentalists from two camps: the religious and the secular.

Secular fundamentalists who accept materialism as their religion would reject such experiences as subjective hallucinations. No matter what veridical evidence the grieving person offered, the secular fundamentalist would automatically reject it. These secular fundamentalists are often college and university professors who should be open minded, but who would not hesitate to ostracize or even threaten the job of an academic who dares to take these experiences as possibly objective or real. If secular fundamentalists are wrong about exceptional experiences being hallucinatory only, then their entire world view would be undermined. Their religious faith in secularism would be destroyed. And since many secularists are still in adolescent rebellion against an overly rigid religious upbringing, they will insist that any evidence contrary to their own views is invalid, the facts be damned.

The same is true of religious fundamentalists. Protestant fundamentalists, for example, will say, “The Bible says the dead don’t contact us and we shouldn’t contact them. If anything does contact us, it’s probably a demon rather than a loved one.” Of course they ignore Samuel’s vision of Saul rising up from Sheol, but they claim that was a one-time exception due to the permission of God.

The ignorance of Christian fundamentalists lies primarily in their claiming to know more than they really do. How do they know what state human souls are in between death and resurrection? How do they know whether the Biblical injunctions against mediumship and communication with the dead applied to such practices in pagan religious circles? How do they know that God would not give permission to a deceased individual, in certain cases, to communicate with a living person who needs comfort? I have always been impressed by the intellectual pretense and arrogance of fundamentalism, both Christian and secular. Both ignore the possibility that deceased loved ones may indeed be contacting their grieving friends and relatives. Both ignore a potential way through exceptional experiences to comfort the grieving in their loss.

The Freedom of Christian Orthodoxy

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Anglican Catholic Church

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Over and over I hear opinion leaders say that traditional religion is constricting, and I will admit that some forms of traditional religion are. Radical Islam, radical Fundamentalist Christianity, and other fringe movements have given traditional religion a bad name. But I found since entering the Anglican Catholic Church in 1989 that orthodox Christianity is freeing, not binding.

All my life I have been a thinker, a philosopher, someone who wonders at the hows and whys of the world. Growing up in Fundamentalist Christianity was not healthy for that kind of thought. But neither was my short stay in liberal Protestantism. For liberal Protestantism, there is no place to set one’s feet. Sands shift, opinions blow in the wind, and the only heresy is orthodoxy. Speculation without some foundation from which to speculate turns into anarchy, which is every bit as imprisoning as Fundamentalism. Contemporary liberal Protestantism reduces Christianity to a distortion of social justice, with the mantra of “race, class, gender” the only words that its brainwashed adherents can speak. To say that there is anything about Christianity that is important other than the political will get you excommunicated from liberal Christianity. I felt like a puppet on a string–I had more intellectual freedom in Fundamentalism.

When I discovered orthodox Anglicanism, I discovered the richness and breadth of the Catholic tradition. Within the boundaries of the great Creeds–the Apostle’s, the Nicene, and the Athanasian–and under the teaching of the bishops on moral and theological matters I could speculate to my heart’s content as long as such speculation did not become an idol. Within Christian orthodoxy, I can accept any metaphysics compatible with the basic teachings of Christianity. I am a Thomist along the lines of the late Fr. Norris Clarke of Fordham University, but I could hold many other metaphysical frameworks and still remain an orthodox Christian. There is even room for psychical research and parapsychology–even the most traditional Anglicans have been generally open-minded about psychical research in England, and European Roman Catholics, including Pope Pius XII, had no problem with research on electronic voice phenomena. If someone at the Rhine Center or SPR asked me how I could be such a traditional Christian and still accept psi and be open to the existence of ghosts, I would ask that person, “Why not?” Orthodox Christianity has boundaries, of course, but knowing those boundaries makes me comfortable in exploring what I can within those boundaries. The world remains full of wonder, and like a child I can explore it to my heart’s content as long as I remain within the limits God has set. I am grateful for that.