The mainline churches miss a trick when they denounce Halloween. In a culture which is so unashamedly materialist, it’s nice that we take a moment to contemplate the supernatural – even if it is by dressing up as Freddy Krueger and hitting on Janet from marketing. Christians should surely have no fear of this devil fancying. In a recent editorial for Fox News, the author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, writes that he never grasped why people found his book so scary. He intended it to be, “a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story – in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through.” He was inspired by the possession of a boy that occurred while Blatty was at Georgetown University in 1949. He explains, “I remember thinking, ‘Someday, somebody’s got to write about this, because if an investigation were to prove that possession is real, what a help it would be to the struggling faith of possibly millions, for if there were demons, I reasoned, then why not angels? Why not God?’”
Blatty makes an excellent point. Acknowledging the existence of the Devil is a first (albeit tortuous) step towards acknowledging the existence of God, for one is proof positive of the other. For this reason, genuine Satanists (and a few probably exist) have bet on the wrong team and are nothing to be afraid of. To accept the Devil is to accept God is to accept the Biblical narrative of their conflict. And the Biblical narrative ends with the Devil’s defeat and God’s victory. QED, Goths, Wiccans, Satanists, and Ozzy Osbourne are all witnesses to the eventual triumph of Yahweh over everything. They are Bible bashers in every sense.
I grew up in an odd age in Britain in which there were still only four TV channels, but we suddenly had VHS – which meant you could theoretically watch everything that was on them. As a kid, that opened up Halloween for me. Year after year, there’d be a slew of movies shown around midnight that I could record and watch the next day, while skipping school. Even during my malevolent teens, I was struck by how moral most horror movies are. That might just be a product of form: getting the audience on side requires pitting identifiable good against tangible evil (Van Helsing vs. Dracula). But creakiness of the movies helped, too: for every shudder at a bitten neck, there was a giggle at a pair of plastic fangs. The fact that I could see the wires holding up the bats, or occasionally hear someone shouting “action”, proved that it was pure artifice. The Devil/Frankenstein/Mummy/Dracula was being set up for a fall, much as you could guarantee seeing Christopher Lee fall on his backside in the final reel (and then try to act like it was in the script). I suspect that our exposure to crappy late night movies explains a lot of the cynicism of my generation.
I’ve been impressed with Los Angeles’ preparations for Halloween. One house two doors down has covered the shrubbery in sugar cobwebs and planted tombstones in the lawn. Another building has a skeleton hanging from a tree that moans. There will be a street parade soon and roads are already being blocked off. In an unrelated incident, a drunken girl dressed as Wonder Woman sat on my apartment block lawn last night and shouted obscenities at the moon. Several residents shouted back and the foul language reached a fascinating crescendo around 11pm, when the cops finally arrived. The lady, who was struggling with that ancient conundrum of which breast to try to keep inside one’s costume when there just ain’t room enough for two, told the officers, “I’ve had a bit to drink.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” came a cry from the apartment next to mine.
The writer Charles Coulombe has a nice summary of the various things one can do in Los Angeles this weekend, and he notes that part of the fun is the naysayers. “From his desert stronghold, evangelist Jack Chick annually unleashes his horde of comic-book tracts upon unwary trick-or-treaters. Numerous other evangelical preachers vociferate against the proceedings’ evil nature, allowing various atheists to prattle on about how stupid the Christians are. Each side is thus able to enjoy Halloween in their own way. It is truly a festival for everyone.” In the sense that it gets us all talking about the supernatural in one form or another, it’s all probably good for the soul.