Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Warning

I just received an email to warn me about the dangers of Halloween. I appreciate the effort to counter acceptance of the occult, and to warn of other unhealthy trends, but I also tend to disagree with the alarmed tone of the message, and the implication that any celebration of Halloween is in opposition to our Christian values. Here are my thoughts regarding the issues raised.

Halloween originated as a Pagan festival.
While we do know that Halloween developed out of All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, the exact details of All Saints Day's early development have been partially lost to history. We do know that the Catholic Church has often “Baptized” pagan celebrations to make them Christian Holy Days, and we know that Autumn Harvest Celebrations of different kinds have been celebrated in most every culture since the dawn of agriculture, so it is reasonable to assume that All Saints Day was placed on October 31st to take the place of those kinds of celebrations. It wasn't until recently that All Saints Day was displaced, and we developed the modern American celebration of Halloween.

Halloween is still celebrated by pagans.
Here, the connotation is that pagans have always been celebrating this “dark holiday,” and that by joining them in the celebration we are participating in their pagan religious activities.

Really, many modern pagan movements make references to ancient religions, but they can draw no real lines of continuity. This is not their holiday, it is a Christian holiday that became a secular American holiday, and the pagans are latching on to that secular holiday.

People sacrifice cats on Halloween.
While this is disturbing, it has nothing to do with my family, or any celebration of Halloween I have ever been a part of. I don't feel getting drunk and pinching people has much to do with St. Patrick either.

Teenage girls dress in sexy Halloween costumes.
Another disturbing trend, but once again, this is just one thing for parents to watch out for and avoid in their own families. Really this is a question of general modesty, not just a problem on one day.

Are there benefits to Halloween?
Yes, aside from being fun for children, I believe it gives us a good chance to familiarize ourselves with our neighbors. Also, this is the one day of the year when everyone in a neighborhood engages in sharing with each other. If only this were more of an example for the rest of the year.

Can't we just have our own unrelated Harvest Festival?
Here we go. This is the solution a lot of churches come up with. The first thing you should notice is that they are mimicking what the Catholic Church did. They are trying to de-paganize a celebration they see as pagan. The problem is that Halloween is not rooted in paganism, but in the All Saints Day remembrance of the Christians who have gone to heaven before us. By stripping this away, and making it a generic “harvest festival” they've actually taken the final step in de-Christianizing the holiday.

The real problem isn't that we dress up and share candy on Halloween. The real problem is that we forget All Saints Day. Isn't this the same thing Christians are fighting hard not to do with Christmas and Easter? Yet it was the early radical Protestant rejection of all Holy Days that led to the climate in America where Halloween would be celebrated while All Saints Day was forgotten.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Questions about Mary

Because of a recent discussion between my wife and her friend regarding Mary, I'm going to go through a (hopefully) quick discussion of Catholic Marian beliefs. I'm not going to do a lot of digging right now on this, so there is definitely more that can be said on these issues.

When I decided to join the Catholic Church a few years back, one of the last hurdles I faced was Mary. This seems to be common in those who come from a Protestant background. Let me get into the basics real quick, and I'll end with the thing that gave me the most trouble.

Why do Catholics call Mary the "Mother of God?"
This doctrine was highlighted in the controversy with Nestorius in 431 AD who taught a disunion between Christ's human and divine natures, and said that Mary was only the mother of his human nature. The Church then reaffirmed that Christ's human and divine natures were united. A part of making this point was making clear that Mary was the mother of the Person, Jesus Christ, and as he was one person with both divine and human natures, Mary could rightly be called "Mother of God." Certainly the title honors Mary, but more importantly, it reaffirms that from his conception, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Notable supporters of this doctrine's importance include Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Perpetual Virginity... what about Jesus' "brothers?"
The term "brothers" in this context can literally mean "brothers," but it can also mean"kinsmen" or "cousins." Either way, Mary needn't have had children. It was common belief in the early church that Joseph was an elderly widower, and had children from his previous marriage. It is thought, for one thing, that Joseph would treat the woman who bore God in her womb with a special reverence, as Jews would be accustomed to treating things touched in a special way by God, like the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies, and the ground in front of the burning bush. Such an idea might seem odd to modern Christians, but first century Jews knew that when the wrong person touched the Ark of the Covenant, they dropped dead. Supporters of this belief once again include Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary... wasn't Jesus the only person without sin?
The Bible doesn't actually say that Jesus was the only person without sin (though we could get into verses that seem to suggest this). There is a fundamental difference between Mary's sinlessness and the sinlessness of our Lord. Jesus was sinless by his own power, as God. Mary was only preserved from sin by the external Grace of God. This Grace was bestowed upon her because God was preparing a fitting mother for his son, a fitting womb to bear God.

To better understand some of these things and what the Bible says to suggest them we'd have to go into discussions of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, and Mary as the New Eve. This is certainly key, but it's also a bit complex, so I'll leave this to another occasion, or to those better equipped than I.