Do not be afraid (October Synchroblog)

Better late than never – click full post for text.

A late synchroblog this month – and I’m deliberately writing it before reading any of the others just to ensure that I have a little something to say!

Our eldest has been invited to a Halloween party at his school, and my wife wondered what I made of it, ie should we let him go? I have little patience with the idea that allowing a child to attend a contemporary Halloween party is bad for their soul, but that could do with a little bit of unpacking just to make sure I’m not misunderstood. I believe that it is perfectly possible for children to enter into grave spiritual harm from exposure to the wider culture. Most of the products and mindsets advertised in between the cartoons, for example, damage the souls of children, which is why most of the TV which may children watch – and it’s highly restricted in the first place – is advertising free. I would even be open to the idea that there are elements of Halloween consumer rituals that can be specifically damaging, primarily through frightening an unwary child. Yet it seems to me that if the child of a Christian is damaged in that way then something has already gone wrong with their upbringing (or, more likely, something goes wrong with the response to the scare). What is going on at Halloween is spiritual warfare, ie the ghosties and ghoulies are released for a time (and half a time….) This is something that needs to be taught to children, ie how they are to cope with spiritual attack. (Sidetrack: one of the best things about Harry Potter is the invention of the Dementors – I’m sure that has been very helpful to parents of children who succumb to fears and depressions, and there is of course something very profound about the Expecto Patronum which dispels the fear….) To my mind there are really two key teachings that must be shared with children from the earliest age: that no demon can withstand the power of Christ, and that we carry the light of Christ within us. If a child is taught such things in a serious and considered way then I see no issue in their attending a Halloween party.

This teaching of spiritual warfare needn’t be excessively detailed – that can wait for greater age – but to teach a child that the spiritual realm is real, that imagination is important in life, and that they have the capacity to move within it for good or ill – this seems pretty sane and sensible to me. Of course, the rationalist in me says ‘why don’t you just teach them that it’s all nonsense?’ – and I wouldn’t do that because it isn’t all nonsense. The imaginative realm, the spiritual side of our life – this underlies everything else, and is more REAL than anything else. So using Halloween to talk about the spiritual life, and what steps need to be taken to preserve oneself in that realm – this seems perfectly proper.

Yet what is assumed here is that the parents are themselves able to engage in spiritual warfare – that they are themselves not emasculated by the presence of the darker side of life. I would argue that the incapacity to engage in spiritual struggle is a fairly clear indication of spiritual poverty, and that there seems to be a correlation between those who veer away from Halloween (or Harry Potter) and a shallow theological perspective. In other words, I think we as Christians are called to a much deeper and darker intimacy with the Lord than is sustainable in much contemporary Christian discussion. What I mean by this is that it’s not possible to develop any spiritual strength without literally and metaphorically getting our hands dirty, without going outside the places of safety. So often the reaction against Halloween or Harry Potter or anything else seems a replay of the Pharisaical purity laws, and a retreat into a Christian ghetto, that place of pure leaven uncontaminated by any bread, that gnostic, witless and disembodied corner of fearfulness. We are called to go outwards into the world, bearing the light, so that those who are in the darkness can be drawn to the light and thereby redeemed. If we can’t do that in the context of a Halloween party, how on earth will we be able to do that in the face of the ecological holocaust now coming down upon us?