For many years, evangelicals waged a loud and obnoxious war on Halloween. It figured prominently in their culture wars during the Satanic Panic, but even years afterward they regurgitated the propaganda they’d absorbed during those critical years. Somewhere around 2018, though, I wonder if they got tired of fighting Halloween. These days, they’ve quieted down on the topic.
But old culture wars never die. They just get absorbed into evangelicals’ collective subconscious, ready to pounce again at those old trigger points. Let’s see how this one still manifests today.
(From introduction: The comment about ouzo.)
(This post first went live on Patreon on 10/31/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available now <3)
The eternal question about Halloween
For a long time during the 2010s, articles poured out of the Christ-o-sphere that asked the same question: Why were evangelicals so scared of Halloween?
Especially considering the holiday’s indelible early roots in Christianity, it’s weird that Halloween turned into such a boogeyman for evangelicals.
(The answers, if you’re wondering, ranged from them not Jesusing hard enough to them not understanding the SHEER JESUS POWAH they held in their little bitty hands.)
To an extent, those articles were always evergreen and enduring. And they’re still coming out. They just aren’t being written anew with the same frequency, nor being asked in the same circles. As late as 2020, I spotted an evangelical asking that same question in a guest post over at a Satanist’s blog. The evangelical, John Morehead, concludes that evangelicals fear Halloween for two main reasons:
- To be evangelical is to be afraid. It is a worldview rooted in fear. Its leaders capitalize on their followers’ hyper-vigilance regarding potential threats as well as their risk aversion.
- Evangelical tribalism paints various outgroups as disgusting, subhuman, and terrifying. Thus, Halloween exists as a threat that evangelical leaders can use to reinforce tribalistic boundaries.
For what it’s worth, I fully agree on both counts. Evangelicalism offers substitutes for a lot of hard lessons: self-improvement, compassion, humility, being wrong and correcting oneself, learning and growing, dealing with humanity’s biggest fears, real accountability, playing nicely with others, accepting confrontation and handling it in mature ways, and more.
And oh boy, I’ve never met a more fearful lot than modern evangelicals. Their tribalistic worldview soothes those fears, though it does so artificially through fantasizing and magical thinking.
If evangelicals could handle that tough stuff, then they’d have no need for evangelicalism itself. Evangelicalism lets them off the hook with tribe-approved substitutes for all of it. The few decent human beings in evangelicalism are the ones who tackle that stuff without the substitutes—and it sounds like that’s what John Morehead has done.
How modern evangelicals respond to Halloween fearmongering
Beyond Morehead’s Halloween post, I haven’t really seen a lot of evangelicals tackling the holiday. None of the big sites seems interested in talking about it. Christian Post, which is one of the most tabloid-y right-wing evangelical sites, has a few articles up, but none of them are particularly successful in terms of persuasion:
- “My God is bigger than your Halloween,” by Selah Ally Tower. She claims the once-popular Satanic Panic testimony. Her article is a manic burst of rationalizations. She ends it by soaring proclamation that Halloween is just another day to someone who Jesuses as hard as she does. (Her picture looks like the antithesis of Wicca, more like “regular middle-aged Midwestern Cluster B mom who’s noticed that it’s getting harder and harder for her to get attention.”)
- “Ex-witch says its OK for Christians celebrate Halloween but should avoid ‘web of darkness‘,” by Nicole Alcindor. Tower shows up here as well, along with a Hispanic lady, Herminia Galvez, who claims that she once dabbled a bit in witchcraft. The headline concerns Tower’s reassurances, because Galvez has a far more traditionalist Satanic Panic opinion of such celebrations. She actually thinks evildoers sacrifice animals on Halloween. There’s never been any proof of pagans or formal Satanists doing anything of the kind. But Galvez has swallowed the Satanic Panic whole and won’t be dissuaded.
“This is as close to Hell as I ever wanna get” also appeared on the podcast Be Afraid from Christianity Today. It appears to suggest that even skeptical people get scared by stories about Hell and demonic possession. That happens because Hell and demons are totes for realsies.
Jesusing through Halloween in the QAnon age
A few years ago, I theorized that maybe QAnon had lapped the Satanic Panic. That old moral panic seems quaint and fuddy-duddy now beside the conspiracy theories QAnon believers embrace. It’s long gone the way of Pizza Blasts and freaking the mundanes with “gospel conversations” and disruptive prayers at the local Taco Bell.
Indeed, I haven’t seen any advertisements for “Hell Houses” for years. These were expressly fundagelical versions of haunted houses that hoped to scare visitors into believing in their flavor of Christianity. (Catholics don’t approve much at all.) To slam their message home, their creators crafted gory, realistic car accidents and the like. As one former participant recently told us,
For those not in the know, a Hell House is kind of like a haunted house, but for the Lord. There are demons, there is gore and there is no shortage of fear. It’s kind of like a “scared straight” program. The idea is to so terrify a child about the consequences of sin that the child vows to live on the straight and narrow. And at the end of the Hell House experience, there is hope—for salvation and for your soul. [. . .]
After Hell House hours, we [workers] would convene in a room just off to the side of Hell. We ate Lorna Doone cookies and drank apple juice—demons and angels convening and laughing and celebrating Jesus, proud of the work we had done in His name.
Our former participant can look back at her experiences and “giggle,” but many others came out of their experiences traumatized and filled with regrets.
Whatever the case, I saw no “Hell Houses” in my state this Halloween. Instead, I saw evangelical churches offering what they called “Trunk or Treat” in their parking lots. Many also offered raffles to attendees, which seems like an effective way to get information on the local unaffiliated heathens. It seems like the Christians around my state have realized that the Hell House trend has played out.
(That said, Liberty University still runs their annual “Scaremare.” It sounds like a Hell House riff with a bigger budget. As well, “Judgment House” creator Tom Hudgins claims that his script-selling business is recovering nicely after COVID lockdowns.)
The Satanic Panic still lives in evangelicals’ hearts
As I said, old moral panics never die in evangelicalism. Evangelicals just leap ahead to the newer moral panics, but they never fully forget or reject their old ones. They can’t. Their culture lacks any way to assess claims beyond asking if it fits in with their existing worldview. If it fits, it sits. So there’s not a way for them to accept that their moral panics are based on nothing but their leaders’ fantasies.
However, their culture does allow for old moral panics to fade away. Those old ones just fester and simmer in evangelicals’ hearts like that sticky green gooey stuff in movie-cauldrons, with the newer ones thrown in atop them to gradually mix. Generally speaking, the older an evangelical is, the more old moral panics are simmering away in their cauldron. Younger evangelicals rightly recognize the older moral panics as excessive, but they jump into the newer ones all the same.
Obviously, I’ve left out some moral panics. And also obviously, I don’t track Zoomer evangelicals’ buy-in. That’s because they’re largely still stuck on all that alt-right Groyper meme bullshit they like. For that matter, no-fault divorce griping is back for Millennial evangelical men, likely because this is about the right age for them to be dealing with divorces.
Otherwise, I don’t generally see resurgences of old moral panics. New ones just hop on top of the old.
Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Halloween moral panics are fusty old memories now
Millennials seem to have largely missed the Satanic Panic scare, likely because they were either not born or were teeny little kids when its heyday occurred. Let’s face it: Unless you’re really steeped in the lore, the Satanic Panic sounds really goofy. Once-popular Chick tracts aren’t popular anymore either, for the exact same reason. They’re an artifact of the Satanic Panic as well.
For older evangelicals, though, the ones who remember, it’s all still there.
They remember all those fake Satanic Panic testimonies, these ones who thrilled to Mike Warnke’s fake tales of Satanism and orgies, these ones who handed out Chick tracts instead of candy to little kids, these ones who earnestly warned each other not to allow their black dogs or cats outside on that fateful night.
Yes, oh yes, the dark howls still whistle through their minds. The chilly air still bites at their skin. The prickles on their forearms remind them of their old night-terrors.
Evangelicals’ fear has writ their doom
To be evangelical is to be afraid. That is the simple truth of this worldview. On this one night more than any other, it’s clearly therapeutic for them to give in to those fears for just a little while, in a way that is easily harnessed and controlled by evangelical soothing-substitutes. Those substitutes can’t really address the fear or process what feeds into it. They’re not even supposed to. Instead, they soothe the fear for just a little while.
When things get out of hand again emotionally, evangelicals have no defense against any of it. They must rush back to the soothing substitute to quiet things down to a dull roar again. Over and over again, they learn dependence and helplessness in the face of their fears.
(Ask me how I know. I’ll just laugh in PTSD.)
And now, another Halloween has come and gone. Evangelicals are no closer to resolving their terrors. And their targets find their threats and scary stories less and less persuasive with each holiday that passes. If I wrote horror, I could find nothing scarier to today’s evangelicals than their own growing irrelevance and shrinking credibility. But they brought it on themselves—in large part thanks to these unending moral panics that resolve nothing at all and serve only to titillate believers, dehumanize their enemies, and help their leaders grab for power.
I could not wish irrelevance on a more deserving bunch of people.
With that sad story in mind, I wish you a happy Halloween and a grand Half-Off Candy Day tomorrow!
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