Wednesday, October 31, 2018


According to one recent study that I saw somewhere, while there are about 1.4 million practicing Presbyterians at present in the United States, there may be as many as 1.5 million who claim to practice some form of paganism. Then, of course, there was the recent, highly insightful, almost 100-page Pew study, The Religious Typology: A New Way to Categorize Americans by Religion, the most striking finding of which (to me) was how widespread "New Age" beliefs are even among the "highly religious." These include belief in psychics, reincarnation, and astrology and the belief that spiritual energy can be located in spiritual objects, such as mountains, trees, and crystals. Thus 29% of those the study terms "Sunday Stalwarts" hold that latter belief, along with  95% of the "Diversely Devout," 99% of the "Spiritually Awake" and 98% of the "Religion Resisters."

All this suggests abundant food for thought as we face another Halloween. For many, Halloween is just an excuse for children - and increasingly all too many adults - to dress in costume and demand candy from their neighbors and even from perfect strangers. That adults do it too seems at first thought to be bizarre at best, although in a society in which adults have now for decades imitated kinds in how they dress on a daily basis, perhaps it is not so bizarre that they should imitate kids on Halloween as well. (Elsewhere, reflecting on the increasingly popularity of Halloween among adults, I suggested that my generation, having enjoyed Halloween as a happily harmless children's holiday when we were young, just don't want to give it up even after we should have long ago outgrown it!)

Halloween, however, has another dimension. An ancient pagan holiday, it was incorporated into the Christian calendar late in the first millennium when All Saints Day was moved to November 1. In effect, this ritualized the triumph of Christianity over older European paganism by celebrating the triumph of God's grace (exemplified in the saints) over sin and Satan. Now, however, more than 1000 years later, the new Halloween seems instead increasingly like a celebration of a resurgent paganism.

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