October 31, 2015
Eve of All Saints (Western Calendar)
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. (I Kings 18:27-29)
There is a long and venerable tradition of mocking evil in the Church. The Prophet Elijah taunted the devotees of the false god Baal and revealed this demon’s utter powerlessness. The righteous maiden Justina fouled the plans of the arch-sorcerer Cyprian and made light of his demonic powers to seduce her into an unlawful and sinful union. And the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ, mocked death itself and eventually defeated death by deceiving the deceiver with his outward weakness and humility.
But there is another kind of ritual mockery of evil that occurs annually around this time. It is a festival that does not take evil seriously, but mocks it as a trivial thing, a diversion from the humdrum, something to do with one’s leisure for fun. But Halloween, past surface appearances, is about much more than just pleasant diversion. And the real problem with it is not so much its dubious origin among the pagan Celts; rather, it is the hallow attitude it engenders in people toward images and representations of evil, a dangerous form of mockery that may result in laughing away the reality behind the image.
I went with my oldest daughter last week to ground zero for Halloween celebration in the northeast, the city of the infamous witch trials in colonial New England, Salem, MA. For a city of just over 40K, it is hardly able to handle the tens of thousands of tourists that clog its narrow streets for the entire month leading up to the fixed date of October 31. With still one week to spare, traffic into the city was so dense, we decided to park one town over and walk into Salem, arriving one hour later than intended, but still ahead of the cars and tour buses pouring into the city from all directions.
We came principally to see a well-reviewed play called Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop about the historic witch trials that brought Salem so much Halloween occult-related fame. Strangely enough, these actors of the seventeenth century brought sobriety and gravity to us “actors” of the 21st century. Being in their presence in the Old Town Hall of Salem for just under an hour helped snap the casual carnival-goer out of playing with evil. For though there were a few comic moments, these Puritans’ serious outlook on the dangers of underestimating forces unseen left many an audience member rethinking their own casual attitude towards things eternal.
To be sure, there were many more earthly points about justice, kindness, and being good to one’s neighbor. But the public recitation of Scripture and the lively countenances of the Actors proved a welcome contrast to the din and monotony of the vanity fair going on outside.
It made me think that instead of head-on opposition to witchcraft and modern occult practices, we ought to be more clever and creative like these actors of History Alive, many of whom are professed Christians. I myself have tried the approach of being a historic preacher on the Boston Common, convicting people of sin and proclaiming the love of God without being shunned for political incorrectness. It has the benefit of proclaiming the truth without shoving it too much in people’s faces. Those who need to hear it will hear it, while those who don’t can just write you off as a nice actor keeping alive a certain historical memory of a time long past.
For that is what we all are to some extent because that is what sin has made us: actors making light of truths we know only by the words in the script we are given to speak. We have yet to be made into the new creations we are destined to become in Christ. So while we make fun of the evil we know not of, God who knows all is calling us to overcome it in Him.