A certain YouTube video has been making its rounds about my online friends, posted by the Wretched TV program and host Todd Friel. This organization is one of the best when it comes to Biblically based discernment, and that remains mostly true in this video.
However, view this video yourself and consider: is this letter writer perhaps accepting the error of asking only, “WWTWD?TDTO — what would The World do? then do the opposite”?
A flawed foundation
What does our culture celebrate on October 31st?
Is that where Christians should begin to build their cases? I contend that will lead to more wrong thinking than right thinking that keeps the Gospel in the center, along with the fact that Christians are, like it or not, still in this world and must sometimes deal personally with sinful people (1 Corinthians 5). The apostles did not give cautions about worldliness by encouraging Christians to be contrarian: figuring out what’s popular in the world, then doing the opposite.
Yet many Christians haven’t discerned that this is exactly what they’re doing — nor do they, or can they, do this consistently without giving up all media, technology, working, breathing, etc.
Without knowing this is a potential flawed and imbalanced way of thinking, might we fall into our old instincts — the “default setting” even Christians have of lapsing toward legalism — and neglect to fix our eyes, not first upon the world we should avoid, but first upon Christ?
Shunning made-up sins
The letter-writer, Aric, continues to base his argument mainly on What the World is Doing:
If we look around at the decorations and advertising, then it is clear that death, horror, evil, and occult symbolism is the focus of the holiday. Because the evil celebrated is general, perhaps it doesn’t offend our sense of holiness as much as it should. But what if the holiday celebrated a specific evil?
“I wonder if he’s onto something here,” Friel remarked. “Yeah, it’s kinda — ghosts and goblins, and yeah, we stay away from the dark stuff. But at its core is it possible that it is the very stuff that God says He hates in Deuteronomy 18? He gives a laundry list of sins.”
Yet does that list of sins include even scary creatures such as “ghosts” and “goblins”? None of these exist. Occult practices and “witchcraft,” as in trying to contact spirits, manipulate events or be At One With Nature, do exist, and these are displeasing to God. Yet can anyone prove Biblically that dressing up as a “goblin” (a mythical creature) is also sinful by association? It might be pointless, or the person may have sinful motives. He may be saying that an imaginary bad creature is actually good in its badness — that is a sin. But imagining such a creature is not a sin. Writing stories about goblins is not a sin. Even dressing up as a goblin may not be sin.
An imaginary parallel
The letter-writer next finds more imagination, asking what-if, and positing a nonexistent world:
What if Halloween was a celebration of, oh say, abortion. The country celebrated abortion by dressing up as doctors, nurses and pregnant women. Kids went door to door, knocked and shouted, “Roe v. Wade,” and were given candy. The stores were filled with pro-abortion decorations. Advertising was centered on abortion. If that were the case, would most Christians still have their kids dress up (as alternative characters of course: farmers, princesses, bible [sic] characters, etc.) and go seeking candy just like the rest of society?
Notice I’m not saying imagination is wrong, or that what-if scenarios are always flawed. But they’re tricky to suggest in a debate, if you do not, say, prevent all analogy loopholes or take into account the fact that your made-up parallel does not exist. For the same reason, Star Trek episodes that ask what-if, and then have a story about an actual biologically androgynous alien, fails to give any legitimate challenge to Christian morality about gender roles. If such a scenario occurred in the real world, Christian ethicists would surely struggle. But so far, it is imaginary.
The same is true of National Celebrate Abortion Day. Yes, if such an event actually occurred, Christians would be wise to avoid it entirely. But what if the occasion had actually begun as a celebration of life and health care, and it just so happened that 90 percent of people ran off with perverting it into a celebration of murdering children? If most of The World takes a good Thing, such as a hospital or doctor, and tries to corrupt that into only a representation of evil, should Christians simply go along with them? 2
“We don’t want to make something a sin that is not a sin,” Friel acknowledged, adding that of course Christians are under grace. “But I’m kind of wondering if Aric is maybe, just maybe, onto something, that we have been a little desensitized to evil. … We’ve lost sight that it is a category, if you will, that God absolutely hates.”
That may be true. And I certainly don’t want to contribute to the wrong notions many well-meaning Christians have: that it’s no problem, or even fun, to glory in things like purposeless violence and horror.3 What I’m showing here is the other side. Some Christians have surely become desensitized to evil, but others have become desensitized to the real sources of sin: not Things, especially imaginary Things, but their own sin-shrapnel in their own hearts. And getting that wrong will lead Christians right back to worldliness.
Letting Christ, not the world, lead the way
Moreover, our letter-writer isn’t only suggesting that in this imagined parallel world, Christians simply avoid trick-or-treating on Celebrate Abortion Day. In effect, he’s suggesting that no Christian should even consider Wholesome Alternatives that contradict the world’s celebration of death and violence. Thus, we’d not only focus first on the world, we allow it to set the agenda.
PS: just a parting shot at the “harvest parties” thrown by many churches: is it really an alternative, or just a way for us to tell our kids that participation in Halloween is so important that we should come up with a way to still celebrate something on that specific day rather than actually not participate.
Perhaps Aric has only ever seen megachurches falling all over themselves to be popular, or in their own way to let The World set the agenda to follow. Yet it does not follow that all churches have this motivation, or that Christians who enjoy a “harvest party” ought to feel self-doubt or guilt. To correct obsessive world-gazing with more of the same defeats Christians’ whole point.
Fortunately, rather than pushing this mindset completely, Friel suggested Christians simply wrestle with this issue afresh. That seems good counsel, and I hope I’ve done that here.
Many wise Christian theologians (and Todd) have remarked about the “pendulum swing” many Christians take, going first to one extreme, then overcorrecting for that one, then coming back again in the next generation, and so on. I write not to defend Halloween (which I don’t even particularly care for, any more than yoga-esque stretching!) but to question whether “what would the world do? then do the opposite” is a Biblical concept, and if it makes sense to drag imaginary creatures, such as goblins, and practices, such as flying on brooms, into the debate.
This Halloween, let’s not fix our eyes upon The World and all that professes to be creepy and scary, at which point we try not to look, and avoid it all with legalism or “harvest parties.” Let’s instead fix our eyes on Christ. He doesn’t change us by being the world’s opposite, as if it somehow sets the agenda and leaves Him and us to contradict it, but by being Himself.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Moreover, even a sinful world can reflect some truths, even by contrast. All this “celebration” of death and destruction is often the result of pure evil. But often it is also because people truly fear death — so they laugh at it, trying to shake the thought away with feigned carelessness. Deep inside they may be hurting and genuinely frightened. What a conversation starter! Christ has vanquished all power of death and openly shamed evil spiritual forces (Colossians 2). And continuing to fear darkness, either real or imagined, makes little sense in that glorious light.
- Image courtesy of ChristArt.com (available free with credit). ↩
- Many Christians actually do this, shunning doctors and hospitals and opting only for “alternative” health care approaches — not a sin, but often done out of unnecessary and un-Godly fear of the world. ↩
- Notice I say “purposeless”; the Bible itself contains such things, yes, but always for a point — God’s glory, the Gospel and the good of His people. What we think about and even the stories we tell should reflect this direction. For example, though The Lord of the Rings contains violence and scary elements, it’s for a purpose that reflects the “true myth” of the Gospel. Yet a film franchise like Saw presents violence and horror for their own sake, and is difficult to reconcile with Scripture’s exhortations to do all things out of faith (Romans 14:23) and for God’s glory (Colossians 3:23). ↩