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Monday, October 31, 2005

Generosity, Sin, and Halloween.

Today is October 31st and, as many of you know already, that means that today is Halloween. For those of my readers who aren't from countries more or less directly derived from the British Empire (i.e. anyone not from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, the U.S., Australia, or New Zealand) Halloween is a yearly holiday when we celebrate... well... um... it's kinda hard to say. I'm not sure we celebrate much of anything, really, but it's fun!

More seriously, we have costume parties devoted primarily to the morbid and the macabre. For adults, this is a chance to get drunk and play-act a bit. Really, however, adults are only peripherally involved in Halloween. The major observance at Halloween (at least in the U.S.) is the practice of trick-or-treating, in which costumed children go door-to-door, ring the bell, and then call out "Trick or treat!" when the occupants answer. These occupants, according to tradition, are then obligated to provide a "treat" (usually candy or fruit though, occasionally, you may receive a toothbrush from a particularly humorless dentist) or else run the risk of being the victims of a "trick." Tricks are many, but the usual are covering a house or yard in thrown rolls of toilet paper, or throwing eggs at the house. There may also be some destruction of the carved pumpkins, known as jack-o'-lanterns, that are traditional decorations for this holiday. As a general rule, however, very little vandalism actually takes place.

So, why am I talking about Halloween today? Sheer fun? Unusual topicality? Well... no. I'm talking about it because not everyone in the U.S. and, I presume, the rest of the world, regards Halloween as an innocent bit of fun for the kids. Instead, some sects of fundamentalist Christians regard Halloween as a Satanic holiday rife with dark power. And no, I'm not kidding, as this article from the ChristianAnswers website attests:

The October 31st holiday that we today know as Halloween has strong roots in paganism and is closely connected with worship of the Enemy of this world, Satan. It is a holiday that generally glorifies the dark things of this world, rather than the light of Jesus Christ, The Truth.

Have you noticed how costumes and masks are getting generally more bloody, gory, and depraved each year? Unfortunately, the gruesome and grotesque and the occult are increasingly glorified in American society, not only on Halloween, but throughout the year in horror movies and in television programs.

My family does not celebrate it or participate in it. We do not believe that our children are "missing out," and neither do they. Other days are used for costumes and parties. Happily, all of our children have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. We have found that Halloween provides an excellent time to remind our children that, as Christians, we are different, and not of this world (Heb. 11:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:11).

Indeed, you can hardly blame them when you think about how gruesome Halloween costumes are getting. Why, look at some of these examples:

Check out those horns! Clearly this woman is in league with the devil himself!

I don't know what this is, but I think it's gotta be evil. He has a face in his chest! A clear metaphor for demonic possession!

This may look like a woman in costume but it's really a glorification of witchcraft, which diverts many otherwise godly women from more appropriate pursuits: like cooking, cleaning, and having babies!

This, at least, is an honest costime. The stripes and the pumpkin face are a metaphor for this prison in which your soul is placed by participation in such a godless holiday! Just by participating in a non-Christian holiday this poor baby is accumulating a ton of sin!

Whoops! Heh heh. How did that get in there? I guess there's a fine line between "gruesome" and "godly," eh?

So, you know, we can hardly blame the fundamentalists for condemning such an evil day. I'd suggest that, perhaps, the fundamentalists could simply participate in a more secular version of Halloween but, as it happens, that's right out as well:

What about church "Harvest Festivals" held on October 31? Although we understand the rational and good intentions behind them, we don't think they are the best approach. Our family tends to agree with the author of an article called "Are 'Harvest Parties' for Christians?" (written by a self-avowed former witch and now active Christian). Harvest parties on October 31 tend to assume that "our children need something to take the place of Halloween, since they won't be participating in the secular and pagan celebrations. It suggests our kids are missing out on something. And indeed they are, if we allow them to spend Halloween in celebration." There are better things to do on Halloween than partying.

So, to paraphrase the Soup Nazi: No party for you!

Now, really, I don't have a problem with the fundamentalist rejection of Halloween. Seriously, I don't. I mean, of all the things they do that I could object to, Halloween-avoidance is so low on my list of priorities, I hardly notice it. Moreover, while I think it's a shame their kids won't get to participate in the yearly orgy feast of candy (I admit it- wrong word choice there) it's really not my place to tell people how to worship their personal invisible friend in the sky. What I think is a shame, though, is that the kids don't get to participate in something else embedded in the Halloween holiday: generosity.

In Sociology we have a concept known as "generalized exchange," which is when individuals give to others with no expectation of recompense from that particular other. A classic example is the person who stops to help a motorist with a flat tire. Odds are, that person will never receive a similar service from the same motorist, but they do it anyway. Generalized exchange is a real phenomenon, and is one of those things that sociologists often use in arguments with economists, who frequently prefer a rational choice framework. Given that rational choice should make generalized exchange more or less impossible, it gives some sociologists a club with which to batter our colleagues in the field of economics. (As a side note, I'm sure my blogging pal Tom could provide any number of counters to my preceding straw man argument. I'd enjoy it if he did, but accurately portraying the Economics/Sociology slap-fight isn't my motivation right now.)

In any case, generalized exchange is one of those things that tends to make the world a more enjoyable place to be. If people often give assistance and aid to others without expectation of return, then we all get to experience a community that is supportive and warm. Halloween is one of those times in American society when communities engage in wholesale generalized exchange. Certainly parents can expect that their own children will receive candy, and so should give it out themselves, but many single people, or childless couples, participate in Halloween as well. So, while the decency of this holiday is sometimes marred by certain individuals, Halloween is a time when children can learn the value of community, of generosity, and see the world as a warmer, better, friendlier place. And that message, obviously, is entirely antithetical to Christianity.



Blogger UltimateWriter said...

This is a cool game with a nice little Halloween surprise. Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 31, 2005 1:33:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Bozzo said...

Economics v. sociology really isn't my slap-fight. Anyway, I don't think economists would view "generalized exchange" as described here as anything that was necessarily inconsistent with a rational choice model of behavior. That is, it would be a mistake to assume the necessity of a reciprocal exchange -- a non-reciprocal exchange of some sort will suffice to produce 'rational altruism.'

Of course, there are famous religious parables that make the point that most people basically suck and wouldn't get off the cellphone to avoid running down their own mother in their big-ass SUVs, so maybe there's also an exception-that-proves-the-rule thing going on, too.

Monday, October 31, 2005 1:46:00 PM  
Blogger freethoughtguy said...

Happy Halloween!

Friday, November 04, 2005 4:06:00 PM  

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