I was always told, as a youngster, that it is wrong (or, at least, bad form) to boast. And of course, as a Christian, it was hammered into me that you MUST be humble, the reason given was purportedly because God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud (Prov 3:34, Jas 4:6, 1Pet 5:5). But in my view, those who didn’t like people boasting were usually those who didn’t feel like they had anything to boast about themselves and were therefore threatened by it.
Anyhow, I no longer agree. If something is worth telling, boast away!
Don’t get me wrong; no-one likes a braggart; a proud and arrogant person who is so conceited that all he can talk about is himself. That’s not what I’m talking about here.
In fact I would go as far as to say that humility and boasting are actually unrelated. You can have a conceited person (someone who is really full of themselves) who doesn’t boast, and a humble person who does boast.
Here’s a post from an online friend of mine:
“I’m seeing a lot of posts about humility. And to be honest I’m feeling kinda pissed off about them. What is so awful about owning your strengths and talents? What is so unforgivable about going bold or being loud? The worst thing I could be is unteachable. So I’m going to laugh too loud and be too much! I’m going to think I’m pretty ******* amazing because I’ve paid a hell of a price to be here! No more apologizing for who I am or what I can do or what I know. This is me! If that’s conceited I don’t give a ****.”
I replied thus:
“I don’t really think humility is about not being open about our strengths and our gifts. I’m humble, yes, but I’m also brilliant at loads of things, and yes I do mean loads. But I am fully cognizant that it is God has gifted me with all this, and I think that to deny our gifts is to deny how brilliant God is at making us the way we are. Boasting in the Lord (as the Scripture apparently allows!) includes boasting about how God has made us, like David does in Psalm 139. The only people who have any right to feel bad about those who are gifted, are those people who haven’t yet discovered their own gifts. A proper perspective on God being the Giver of all that is Good takes away all jealousy, covetousness and envy of another’s gifts, and instead allows us to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15) and also enjoy our own gifts at the same time. That’s why covetousness is so painful: because it blocks us from rejoicing in our own blessings including our gifts.”
As for what humility actually looks like, consider what C. S. Lewis had to say about it in ‘Mere Chistianity’:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
“Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
“If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
So, don’t be afraid to tell of the things God has done. Just remember to be sensitive to those who haven’t yet found their own giftings and, if you can at all do so, maybe help them to find such giftings!
Finally, here’s another thought. So many people these days, ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’ alike, believe either consciously or subconsciously that God is somehow a mixture of good and evil. He’s not. In God, there is no balance. His mercy is not balanced by His judgement, and His love is not balanced by His ‘holiness’ (as some Christians understand it, as meaning stand-offishness). No, He’s all good, and in Him there is no darkness.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 says this:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who practises steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
Now that’s something else worth boasting about!
Peace and Grace to you 🙂
Note: Some swear-words have been redacted in this piece for the sole reason that some people (not including myself) find them offensive, and I don’t want to distract such sensitive people from the message I am trying to communicate. Some people have the incredible capacity to become more focused on the swear-words than they do on the point of the article, and that’s why I am leaving the words out. I do not believe in censorship, because I know that most sensible people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions without being told what to think or what not to look at! For more information on this kind of consideration, take a look at this article.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
The way some Christians live their lives is a far cry from the peace and rest that Jesus talks about. Of course, if they really believe in Hell, then this should really be the consequence of that belief: a frantic, endless struggle to get those people ‘saved’ who would otherwise be candidates for the furnace of Hell.
Here’s a great piece by Jeff Turner, whose work I quote a lot on my blog. In it, he talks about how his struggles in this arena eventually led him to a place of peace and rest like Jesus describes:
I’m halfway to 72 (36).
I was a Pastor for 12 of those 36 years, and have been seriously attempting Christianity for about 23 of those 36 years.
For right around three years, I prayed 8-12 hours a day, and began and failed more forty day fasts than probably anyone else on the planet. I preached hellfire, brimstone, and, due to the strictness of God and extreme lostness of man, a mostly empty heaven. I “prophesied” until my face was covered in perspiration and my neck veins resembled tree roots. For more than a few years, I would toss and turn at night if I had not “preached” to at least one “unbeliever” that day, and would finally succumb to sleep only after being thoroughly exhausted by my guilty conscience. I’ve passed out enough tracts to paper the Great Wall of China, and spent a child’s lifetime awake, “petitioning heaven” at all night prayer vigils.
What I mean to say is, I gave extreme Christianity my best go. Not to sound arrogant, but I would be so bold as to say that I’ve only ever met a handful of people who were as intense as I was, and who actually backed up their intensity with actions.
I hit a wall.
I realized that what I was attempting was impossible.
Christianity, that is. None of us can or will ever do it.
And so, more than ten years ago now, I learned that I could not become “like God.” But it was then that it dawned on me that I didn’t need to. God, in Jesus, has become what I am. He has exalted it (what I am) to the highest place, changed the rules of the game, and called the humanity which I was attempting to escape “like Him.” Therefore, when I simply am what I am, I am what he is. Since what I am has been glorified through the incarnation and ascension, to be me is to be like God.
Interestingly enough, once I understood this, all those virtues I tried so hard to attain seemed to appear in my life naturally. The more I knew I did not need to be anyone but myself, the more I naturally rose above some of the not-so-good aspects of my personality.
That’s just the way it works.
Call it Grace, or call it Frank for all I care. It works. When you realize you suck at Christianity, and stop trying to be a Christian, the more the nature of the Christ you adore will be diffused through your life.
We suck at this. So stop trying, and you’ll succeed.
A few weeks ago I went up to a sort of seminar thingy at a friend’s church in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. At the seminar, we were privileged to have Phil Drysdale as the guest speaker/facilitator for a whole day of discussion about the new things God is doing in these days.
Something I heard repeatedly in that session was this: “Once you have seen this, you can’t unsee it”. And that has been true for me these last few years.
The life-changing revelation that actually God is not mega-pissed with you as some people would like you to believe, but, in fact, that He loves you – and indeed likes you! – more than you know, and just as you are. He’s not looking for you to change before He will come and walk by your side.
He doesn’t stand far away from you because of how bad you might feel about yourself, maybe because of what others have told you. He’s not a right radgy miserable old grump up in the clouds clutching a handful of thunderbolts; no, in fact He is just like Jesus. For in Jesus Christ, everything about God lives in a human body, and in Him we too have been given everything we ever needed (Col 2:9-10). This is the completely one-sided, unfair, unearned, shocking, life-changing truth of the Gospel – which really is Good News. All of it.
Here’s the truth: if the god that people have told you about does not look just like Jesus, then it’s not the true God they have told you about. Period.
Today I am going to let you into the Church’s big secret on tithing.
I’m going to share with you a Scripture that you will never hear preached on from any pulpit you can think of.
But first, a bit of background.
Like quite a few other doctrines*, the doctrine of ‘Tithing’ is a contentious one. It refers to the practice of giving to the Church, or whatever religious organisation a person is part of, a certain proportion of (or sometimes a set amount of) one’s income. Usually, this proportion is one tenth of one’s income.
It’s not only contentious within a group; it’s usually contentious outside the group as well, in that one of the big turn-offs for non-churchgoers is the idea that giving money to some random (and usually non-accountable) organisation is not something that sane people would do. They just can’t believe that anyone would want to do that, and they want no part of it. And I don’t blame them. I can still remember one time before I became a Christian, hearing that the Jehovah’s Witnesses** give a tenth of their income to their Organisation. My response was something like, “They do what??!!” And that sentiment is shared by many, both inside and outside the church.
Of course, there are many varied practices involved in this giving model, in fact probably about as many as there are churches. I have shared before on this subject, and it is probably worth reading at least this article before you read this present article, for a bit of background, and my lead-in for this other article for more. However the later part of that last article does go into some pretty heavy Biblical study and is probably best left alone for the time being.
Suffice it to say that many Christian denominations and organisations have of course abused the ideas around tithing and made it a legalistic practice instead of a Grace-filled one. Drawing on predictable bullying, carrot-and-stick, and straightforward prosperity-doctrine tactics, they have set up a whole mythology around tithing, usually promising good returns on one’s tithe by emphasising certain Scriptures and, of course, ripping them brutally out of their proper context to serve their own ends, and ignoring completely Jesus’s teaching on giving being a secret practice between God and Man, and not done for the approval of humans (Mt 6:1-3). I won’t even begin to go in to the convoluted arguments and justifications that money-grabbing religious organisations use to extort money and other things from their people. It’s sickening, though.
You have probably gathered by now what I think about this 😉
But let’s look at the two main Scriptures abused used by some Christian groups to ‘encourage’ (a euphemism, folks!) people to give the whole tithe (meaning the whole ten per cent, although I have never once heard a church moan about anyone giving more).
The first is, naturally, an Old Testament (OT) text; the OT of course being the number-one destination for preachers wanting to find a choice verse to introduce yet another Rule to weigh down their people with. You want Rules? Begin with the OT. This is simply because few people know much about the OT, its background, and the cultural references in there, and in any case it all sounds (and reads) very stern and forbidding, and the god of the OT is a right misery who is pretty pissed at most people for most of the time anyway.
Here’s the main verse used in this way. I’ll leave it in the KJV language to make it sound more authoritative and threatening. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the number one tithing text: Malachi 3 verses 8-12!
(Mal 3:8-12 (KJV))
There is so much wrong with using this Scripture in the typical combination manner it is usually used: the carrot-and-stick approach to tithing – the carrot being the ‘promise’ of blessings, and the stick being the promise of a ‘curse’. I’m afraid I’m not going to give an exegesis of this passage right now, because I’m trying to get to my point!
The second Scripture normally thrown at believers about tithing is in 2Cor 9:6-15, of which I will present just verses 6-11.
Note how the latter part of the preceding verse, verse 5, (2Cor 9:5) is always missed out (so they begin the reading at verse 6), verse 5 being the bit about not giving grudgingly (and this omission is excused because in the most popular translation, the NIV (New International Version) it comes before the ‘heading’ (inserted by the translators) of ‘Generosity Encouraged’).
When hearing this Scripture read out in public, you will also hear verse 7 (about ‘reluctantly or under compulsion’) being skipped over without emphasis, maybe even read in a quieter voice, or maybe faster so you don’t hear it. Or a combination of these tricks. (Yes, these deceptive practices do indeed go on! And it makes outsiders sick and repelled by the whole business). And this is how the context of this verse is destroyed. But again it’s the carrot approach – although this time no stick – but even then some people would in fact take the ‘grudgingly/reluctantly/compulsion’ bit and make it condemnatory: that it is the giver’s fault that they feel like that. But I have ranted enough. And you can believe that you will never, ever, hear or read me preaching on the subject of giving in this manner.
Now at last I want to share with you the Scripture you will never hear read publicly, at least not from someone who is after your money. Nor will you hear anyone preaching a sermon from it.
This is why I have called this post ‘The Sermon You Will Never Hear’.
I’m not going to do any exposition on the passage; I will let you and Holy Spirit together form your own conclusions and applications for it. My purpose here is just to blow the secret wide open! 😀
It’s Deuteronomy 14, verses 22-27:
What do you make of that, then? 😉
Unsurprisingly, I have never ONCE heard anyone preach on that passage (not even the final sentence, because that would mean revealing the entire passage!), which I discovered more than two decades ago – when I was still a legalistic Christian! And a wise elder a couple of years later told me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that he was sure I never would hear such preaching, either! And remember that many, many Christians do not read their Bibles (especially the Old Testament, of which this passage is a part); they only read the parts that their leaders tell them to, so how would they ever discover this for themselves?
But I had indeed discovered it, the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and I decided to apply the Deut 14 teaching in my own life. This was my first step towards freedom from the onerous doctrine of tithing, and also my first step out from under legalism itself. That it also coincided with a complete loss of confidence in church leadership was simply the icing on the cake. Nobody ever told us that, despite our being a young couple living on the breadline, maybe we didn’t have to give as much as everyone else.
This kind of thing can only go on for so long. Twenty-five years ago, our ‘stewardship’ shifted from trusting others with God’s money, to deciding for ourselves where we wanted to place the money. We stopped ‘tithing’, and started setting aside money ‘for God’s Work’. Bottom line: I didn’t trust my church leadership to manage my giving for me. And I have never looked back. Good stewardship, then, means cutting out the middle man. And it also means being generous!
That’s not to say we didn’t continue to give; of course we did. It’s also not to say that I don’t give nowadays; I do. Naturally I’m not going to go into details except to say that my giving nowadays is done in the way it was always supposed to be done, as described in that 2Cor9 passage. It’s done liberally (that is, with total freedom); cheerfully; it’s done to bless others; it’s honouring to God; it’s done secretly (which I have always done; the idea of having to declare to the church how much we were giving ‘for budgeting purposes’ has always rankled with me!) and it’s done with great joy and motivated by the desire to bless people with the abundance God has given me, and continues to give me. And it’s not just in terms of money either. Work it out for yourself; I don’t want to be a model for anyone else’s giving, except in my attitudes.
And so I am sharing this secret with you today! The cat really is out of the bag, so to speak; ask your leadership about it and don’t let them wriggle off the hook until they have given you a satisfactory response!
Who knows; you may be the first person ever to preach on that Scripture!
Don’t get me wrong: it is far from my intention to use the Bible to set up any Rules for or against tithing or giving. I am neither a Biblical literalist nor a Biblical lawyer; I do not tell people what to do based on a document composed of books some of which are 4,000 years old. I don’t tell people what to do at all, in fact! Especially using Deuteronomy. As always in my blog, though, I am using the Bible as a tool to show that even where there are people who take the Bible literally and consider it inerrant, still there are passages that they use inconsistently and legalistically, and in some cases (like this one) they ignore them altogether.
Giving from a position of freedom is simply so liberating, I cannot imagine it ever being intended to be done in any other way.
Rejoice and be blessed, for the freedom of God’s children (Rom 8:21) is yours to use as you will. Never let anyone take it away from you!
*A ‘doctrine’ is a particular position or idea held to be true (and usually ‘essential belief’) by a religious – or in fact any, not just religious – group. And it’s usually restrictive rather than liberating!
**Not that I am singling out the JWs for special ‘naming and shaming’; just that they were the first organisation I had heard of that practised tithing 🙂
‘Deconstruction’ is quite simply the shedding or ‘deconstruction’ of old belief systems and modifying or replacing them with something new. In many ways, the process of spiritual growth could be seen as a continuous deconstruction and reconstruction process as our beliefs change over the years.
But here’s an interesting thought. The people we refer to as the ‘early Church’ – the people in the book of Acts in the Bible, for example – were also essentially deconstructionists. They looked at their old ‘religion’ (if indeed they had one; just like people today, some probably didn’t) and they reinterpreted their beliefs, their viewpoints, and their Scriptures, in the light of the Risen Christ that they knew personally.
Today’s deconstructionsists are not all that different. We are reinterpreting the Scriptures and our beliefs in the light of what that same Risen Christ is telling us now, and not just to us individually, but to other believers like us, all across the world, and we are being told the same things.
This is nothing short of remarkable. And yet, given that we serve the same Jesus, it is also unsurprising.
Over the last few months, I have been writing my series of posts on the Stages of Spiritual Growth, and we have come a long way on our journey of discovery in this fascinating subject. We’ve read about what it can be like in all the different stages, their characteristics, their advantages and disadvantages, the transitions and the hurdles on the path. We’ve heard about the frustrations, the joys and the challenges, while all the while acknowledging that these are but stages in a journey; a path and indeed a lifetime of discovery of the wonders of God.
It’s been quite a ride.
So here, then, I present a final essay in which I will make some concluding comments about how we can apply our new knowledge.
And I’m sorry it has taken so long to get this piece to publication – but I have had to put a lot of thought into it. Some of it’s recap; some of it is comment and application.
When talking about the Stages of Faith/Stages of Spiritual Growth, I think it’s very important to remember two related points.
Firstly, the ‘Stages’ concept is only a model (shh!)  and it does not necessarily apply to everyone. Not everyone goes through the Stages in the same way, and some do not go through them at all, in the strictest sense.
Secondly, we must be careful not to try to place others on some sort of ‘progress scale’ that in fact they may not even be on. For example, ‘She’s going through Stage 4’, or ‘That’s typical Stage 3 behaviour’. Having said that, we may well recognise for ourselves our own place in the growth Stages, but that’s fine because that’s about ourselves, not others. Anyway, the take-home message is that the Stages are not intended to be used for labelling people; this is something I am quite averse to anyway, because to my mind, labels introduce limitations and increase preconceptions and judgmentalism. The Stages of Faith are not intended to be yet another set of criteria for Christians to use to judge others. So let’s not go there, ok?
Equally, though, there needs to be a consciousness, especially in Church leadership, that some people do indeed go through these Stages, and virtually all Christians must and will grow in their faith as part of their Christian walk, even if it is not via recognisable Stages. As we have already seen, what this will look like is going to be different for each individual, but the main manifestation of such growth is going to be change. You can’t have growth without change, because growth is by definition a change from one state to another.
A Safe Place
Having studied this subject in considerable depth, I have come to the place where I believe that not everyone is called to change in the way that movement through the Stages would suggest. For most people, just getting on with their normal Church life is all that God requires. Here’s an excerpt from a blog by my friend Peter, whose article I will link to in my references at the end of this piece:
“I am very conscious of the need to recognise that only some committed Christians are being called outside the walls of traditional Christianity at this time. The journey is often referred to as a time of detox or a wilderness experience […] Many people have attempted to describe how faith changes, matures and develops through life. Fowler uses ‘Stages of Faith’ (that tends to suggest a logical hierarchical approach), others have referred to styles or zones of faith (less rigid and allowing for overlap).
“For many people their experience of faith changes with adulthood – sometimes radically and unalterably transformed as they move into new ‘phases’ of faith.
“The great majority who attend church regularly could probably be described as in a ‘conformist stage’ where they are acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and where there is the security of being part of a like-minded community. I see this as a valid position for many church-going Christians that should not be disturbed.
“Many are committed workers with strong loyalty to their church community, often with deep but unexamined convictions. They often focus on relationships with God and the important people in their lives – a strong sense of the church as an extended family – there to support each other.
Because of this, they tend to find conflict and controversy threatening to them. They tend to see opposites such as good and bad; sacred and secular; Christian and non-Christian; saved and unsaved. They don’t have an independent perspective.
“(This seems to be a reasonable starting point although it is certainly open to discussion – perhaps it is particularly true of some Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches).
“Problems are thought to arise when some (possibly prompted by the Holy Spirit) become dissatisfied or disillusioned. Because of the ‘walled in’ secure feeling, it often takes a major upset for any transition beyond this stage to take place.
“The nature of pastoral care needs change over time – the need to understand the differing perspectives – we can all be vulnerable at times – the need for patience! There seems to be a need for Safe Havens – especially for older people?. A need for ministry at many levels – beware of the risk of concentrating only on those in the earlier stages.” 
And this is fine. It really does take all sorts, you know.
Problems, however, can arise – with both self, others and ‘leadership’ – when the person moving through the Stages is part of a congregation where they have what I might call ‘over-accountability’, or overbearing leadership structures similar to that found in what was formerly called the ‘heavy shepherding’ movement.
People in congregations which practise such accountability are usually highly ‘conformist’ and, as such, they seem to think that what they have is the ‘ultimate’ faith beyond which there is nothing better, and they would find it extremely hard to move out of that Stage and would possibly stagnate, barring a move of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I know this because I was once like that. For such congregations, the problem seems to be that they think there’s nothing else beyond what they have and so it’s harder for them to accept the growth of others – especially members of their group, but also including outsiders too – into faith regions beyond what they have themselves experienced. They feel secure in their knowledge and they usually feel threatened (either consciously or unconsciously) by people being ‘different’, even (and especially) if it’s one of their own number that has changed/is changing. Invariably, this results in people, who are moving onwards in their faith walk, in a way that the group ‘don’t like’, being labelled as ‘backsliders’, ‘heretics’ or other derogatory terms including the questioning of their salvation. This is so common it gets boring to see. And yet it’s understandable; there is a very real, though usually unacknowledged, fear in some congregants’ minds where they fear departing from the ‘norm’ in case they ‘get their theology wrong’ or ‘get their doctrines wrong’, which is tantamount to ‘getting God wrong’ and then (oh guess what) hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Hell you go 😉 Needless to say, this kind of background stifles growth almost completely. 
In fact, the idea of spiritual growth means that we have to assume that we haven’t got it all right, something that Fundamentalists find difficult. Paradoxically, then, those who firmly believe that their doctrines are set in stone, and believe that with all their heart, are in fact those who will find it more difficult to grow spiritually. In fact, hard-set and firmly held beliefs actually make spiritual growth virtually impossible. We need honesty and repentance to grow out of that mindset.
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when He spoke to the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-27; Lk 18:18-23), or that the sick need the doctor, not the healthy (Mt 9:12; Mk 2:17; Lk 5:31). Those who believe they do not need Jesus’s help to change – because they don’t see the need to change – also end up missing out on His company; the Bible is full of examples of God saying that He draws near to those who are less than perfect. God humbles the proud, but lifts up the humble (James 4:6). Maybe that’s what that means.
But, at the same time, I do not believe it is possible to ‘decide’ to move on in our spiritual growth. Everyone grows differently in their faith, and much of the impetus for growth actually springs naturally from our simple everyday walk with Jesus. He leads us where He wants us to go. Maybe the best we can ‘do’, for want of a better term, is to decide in advance that we will co-operate with what the Spirit says to us, even if that appears to contradict our current belief systems – which is in fact what we should expect to some extent, since growth and change mean that things will be different, and that invariably involves belief changes. That, and the confidence in God that allows us to function without fear in the growth environment. There is a lot of depth to Jesus’s words in John 16:12, where He said, “I have so much more to tell you, but you are unable to bear it right now”. Meditate on that for a while…
The Old ‘Me’
One of the problems I have found with looking back on my former Stages is that I do feel some animosity towards (a) the person I was back then, and (b) the fact that there are other, equally obstinate, people still in those Stages who are just as dogmatic and unbending as I was then. It’s not so bad when they keep to themselves, but sometimes it seems they just can’t. But equally, I do not now consider myself to have reached any kind of stage of perfection or anything like that; I have simply grown. And so the temptation to judge my old self, or those like my old self, must be avoided because there is no ‘supremacy’ involved, nor should there be. In a way, we need to keep the good stuff from previous stages while discarding, or at least holding at a distance, the rest. And you can’t fully understand the next stage until you are actually in it, and even then it’s a learning curve.
To summarise this latter set of ideas, remember Love. Under the umbrella of God’s Love for us, and our love for each other as believers, let’s just love one another, and not criticise or judge. Sometimes we need to recognise where our temptation to criticism is coming from; usually it’s a fear of something ‘different’ that threatens our comfortable, secure mindset. I understand that, believe me. As an Autistic person, it’s actually worse for me to cope with than it can be for others. But, as part of loving one another, and as part of encouraging one another’s growth, it’s necessary for us to move outside of that self-protection instinct, and at the very least to not criticise others just because of our own insecurities. If we are threatened by someone else’s growth, maybe we should look at what the root of our own security is, and how that is being threatened by what someone else is doing or even thinking.
The Surprise of the Supernatural
Another point is that the person who interprets the Bible in the Literalist, Inerrantist manner (that is, they take the Bible word-for-word literally, and affirm that it is without error ) often has no room for imagination, no belief that the stories they read in their infallible and inerrant Bible could ever be true, or happen for real, for them in their existence here and now. This, possibly unconscious, position of seeing the supernatural as irrelevant is held despite a dogged insistence that the stories of supernatural occurrences, that the Bible is so full of, are in fact true, and actually did happen. In a lot of ways, this is the ironic tragedy of absolute Biblical dependency, in that anything that is not ‘in the Book’ is not valid, or worse, is ‘evil’ or ‘of the devil’. Because of this attitude, it’s as if these people are locked in a dark box which takes (usually) a supernatural breakthrough by the Holy Spirit to enlighten their hearts. That will probably come as quite a surprise!
Despite this, keeping – and in some cases treasuring – the ‘good stuff’ from previous stages is important. For example, the unlearned and automatic and complete trust of the small infant in Stage 0 is exactly the kind of trust exhibited by those in Stage 5/6; in fact, the earlier trust is in many ways more pure, and could therefore be learned from and emulated as being ‘better’ than that in later Stages. Another such example could be that the person learned very many Scriptures before their ‘wilderness experience’ (Fowler’s Stage 4) and they find that those Scriptures are still present, in their mental library, even after decades or more of deconstruction. That was certainly my experience, and I am so glad that it is the case. In this way, the ‘good parts’ of the ‘legacy’ of the previous Stages can be preserved and used by the believer in later Stages.
Learning and Growing
And it’s broader than that. Our whole lives of learning – about life itself, not just about faith issues – are always founded on lessons learned, habits picked up, attitudes assumed, and just life experience in general. We do not see our past experiences as being useless despite their sometimes being obsolete; instead we see them as necessary stones on the path towards maturity, that can be re-used or discarded later in life as required, or not. And the walk of faith is no different. We should expect that some of our ideas, doctrines, dogmas and concepts will become less important over time, and eventually we outgrow them as we learn new things. And there are also things that will always stay with us and be useful.
My personal view is that the Stage to be at is the one you are in at the moment. I think that ‘movement’ from one Stage to another is something that we don’t decide for ourselves, it just kind of happens – maybe being led by God as He reveals new things to the believer.
I also think it’s easier to look back on ‘earlier’ Stages and accept what we thought back then as foundational to who we are now, even though we may have been ‘mistaken’ in some of our beliefs in those earlier Stages, or at least we have moved on from those positions.
The converse, sadly, is not normally true: people at ‘later’ Stages are often seen by those in ‘earlier’ Stages as being ‘backsliders’ because they appear to have ‘drifted’ outside the cultural norm of their faith community. It is also sad that this means they are often seen as ‘heretics’ and are ostracised, where in fact they are actually more mature and have so much to give to their faith communities in terms of edification and growth. The mistrustful attitudes exhibited by those ‘stuck’ in, say Stage 3 (the most common one where its incumbents accuse others of ‘backsliding’) are only depriving them of their own ability to move ‘forward’. In a very real way, they are being ‘left behind’ (oh the irony!). Key to all this is to think what personal spiritual growth could look like; what does it look like if we are ‘changed from one degree of glory to another’? True growth never involves remaining exactly as we are.
The Wisdom Bit
Let’s finish the present discussion on this concept with some wise words on this subject from a couple of friends of mine. Firstly, Jeff Turner:
“One does not despise or loathe their childhood, unless of course it was one of abuse. Rather we look upon it with great fondness and nostalgia. In the case of abuse, it is more than understandable to look upon it with loathing and hatred, but for the one whose childhood was relatively happy, it would be disrespectful, to both the biological process of growth, as well as to our caregivers, to look back and complain how binding it was, and how liberating it is now that we’ve woken up to the wonders of adulthood. If one were to become an evangelistic adult, and went about trying to convert children to adulthood, we would say they’ve lost touch with reality, and were guilty of robbing children of something extremely important and vital.
“In the same way, looking back at your spiritual life and loathing a certain stage of development, is a foolish and unproductive exercise. Blasting one’s past self for not being as enlightened, awakened or rational as one’s present self is, as Alan Watts put it, akin to a bird hating the egg from which it hatched. It’s irrational. Were it not for the egg, you wouldn’t be where you are. Certainly don’t glue it back together and crawl back inside of it, but don’t, at the same time, think of it in terms of disgust. And certainly don’t start an anti-egg campaign, lest you rob the world of birds altogether!
“You aren’t better now, you’re just older and more experienced.
“Some people grow up in secular environments and become religious. Some grow up in religious environments and become secular. Both think that the other is the unenlightened one, and that they are freer and more liberated than them. Both see the reflection of their past self in the other’s present position, and think of it as infantile and constricting. But the one whose position they view this way views the other’s position as something childish that they’ve moved past.
“We are all on a journey, and I’ve a belief about where this journey ultimately ends for all of us. However, in the meanwhile, don’t think of your spiritual and philosophical “childhood” as something worthy of mockery and derision, but rather as that which brought you to where you are. Without them, you wouldn’t be you. And future you ought to remember this when looking back at the very confident, present you as well. You may feel more liberated now that you’ve left behind a certain belief, but someone else feels just as liberated for having left behind the beliefs you presently are revelling in. People are not slaves simply because they think in ways you no longer think, and vice versa. We are all going somewhere, and since none of us begin at the same place, we will not progress at the same pace.
“May we all learn to love the former versions of ourselves, and the reflections of them that we see in both our neighbor and ‘enemy’ .”
And more from Chris Martin:
“None of us have it all figured out. We can learn so much from each other. But only if we understand we are all at different stops along our journey. Doctrines, theology, beliefs…we’re all brought up believing certain things about God and who He is. We have a number of different influences, whether it’s parents, culture, environment, pastors, teachers, etc.
“Something I’ve learned over the last couple years, and some days still learning, is to be patient with others. Not to assume. To walk in grace and understand we don’t have to agree on everything in order to press on together.
“Fighting and arguing isn’t doing anyone any good at all. Let’s be peacemakers”.
“Everyone is at a different point on their spiritual walk, and it is folly to reject that upon which our current faith structure is built. I think for me personally, the problems come when non-understanding people, who are where I was twenty years ago, talk to me as if I know bugger-all about my faith, like I have just woken up one morning and decided to become an heretic after like 38 years of faith. That’s what grates on me. My problem is to not despise the person I was back then, and, by extension, the reflection of that person I see in others who are still in that place.” – Me
“We must be extremely careful not to come off as arrogant when we discover truth others may not yet see. We are all on a journey of discovering who we are, who Papa is, and how we can all walk together in unity. Let’s not preach grace and condemn those who haven’t reached the place where we now stand. Let’s not speak of love while bashing others for their lack of love.
“Most importantly, let’s not act as if we are the only ones who have learned truth. Let’s not act as if we are the only ones receiving revelations from the Father.
“Let’s walk in grace, mercy, compassion and love.” – Chris Martin
Recognise and Remember:
Recognise that your past was important and do not despise those who are still at those stages. Bear with those people in love (Eph 4:2, Col 3:13)
Recognise that spiritual growth involves change, and you might not like what some people’s change looks like.
Remember to respect others’ individual journeys and keep each other safe (note: this does not involve criticising ‘in love’ what their beliefs are becoming like)
Remember that God is still in control and it is Jesus Who will build His Church (Mt 16:18)
“Once you say ‘higher level’ (regarding one’s level of spirituality), you appeal to the ego, and all the wrong instincts in people.” -Fr. Richard Rohr
“When you begin to refer to where you’re at on your journey as a “deeper place,” “higher level,” “another dimension,” or some other such thing, you create a space where pride, arrogance, and superiority can thrive in the name or spirituality. No, we’re journeying, and on this journey, mountains are laid low, and valleys exalted. Every place is an equal place for the sincere, it’s just that we are never all in the same place at the same time, and tend to assume wherever we’re at is the place to be.
“The place to be is wherever you are”.
– Jeff Turner
I hope this essay rounds off the series satisfactorily. If you have any comments or points to add, please feel free to comment on this or any other post in this series, as you need.
Thanks for following this subject, and I trust you have grown from reading about it 🙂
Peace and Grace to you.
References and Notes:
 From ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ – ‘Camelot!’ ‘Camelot!’ ‘Camelot!’ ‘It’s only a model!’ ‘Sssh!’
 Stages of Faith – an article on the blog Outside the Goldfish Bowl – https://outsidethegoldfishbowl.wordpress.com/stages-of-faith/
 If you personally feel that you are growing beyond such a Church structure, the decision as to whether to follow your own conscience, or instead follow someone else’s conscience, is yours, and yours alone, to make.
 Literalism and Inerrancy are all very well until one realises that different translations of the Bible very often contain different wording of the same passages (so, how can one take it literally?) and sometimes portray different meanings in one translation, from the meanings in other translations, of the same passage. So how can it be inerrant? Some people take the simple step of assuming that ‘their’ translation is the only‘correct’ one; usually that would be the King James Version (KJV), which, ironically, is actually one of the more inaccurate translations 😉
Here are yet more bite-sized wisdom goodies. I hope you are blessed by them!
Distrust all who make you feel bad about feeling good, and good about feeling bad. – Jeff Turner
Whatever a passage of Scripture means, it cannot mean that God is not Love – John Wesley
To my mind, the original sin, and what it looks like today, is the belief that God is really, really mad with us. In my opinion, all ‘bad behaviour’ flows from that – from not realising that a good, loving God actually exists and that He likes us. – Me
If your heart is kinder than your doctrine, it’s time to look at what you believe. – Joanne Glen
The Kingdom of God is not [rules and regulations], but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Why then does modern Evangelicalism major on all the negative stuff: judgement, Hell, conforming to the tribal ethos and all the other stuff? Those are all things that, believed in the Evangelical sense, actually stifle righteousness, peace and joy. – Me
“Sin is its own punishment devouring us from the inside. It’s not God’s purpose to punish it, it’s God’s joy to cure it.” – Paul Young
Don’t ever allow what someone doesn’t see affect what you do see. Walk your journey. Keep growing. Keep learning. – Chris Martin
The Gospel is good news for all, which makes it sound like bad news to some. We like the idea of a table prepared in the presence of our enemies, so long as it means they are forced to watch us feast while they starve. We don’t like the idea, however, when it means we share a table, in the presence of God, with those we consider to be enemies.
If you’re uncomfortable with the notion of an inclusive table, good! That is precisely how the Gospel transforms us – Jeff Turner
“I’m glad God’s not the asshole people think he is” – Jacob M. Wright
Perhaps if one more person tells me to read my Bible, I might get saved!? – Karen Belcher
The nature of God is not primarily manifest in what God says “no” to, but in what God says “yes” to. It is not understood by examining what God hates, but what God loves.
Consequently, then, the nature of God is not primarily manifest in *us by what we say “no” to, but in what we say “yes” to; not through what we hate, but what we choose to love. – Jeff Turner
My personal view is that it would be dishonest to read the Old Testament (OT) as if the New Testament (NT) had never been written. When people say, ‘Let Scripture interpret Scripture’, in no other way is this more true than in letting the NT interpret the OT in the light of Jesus – Me
It is better to love than to prove that you are right – Jim Palmer
It’s a well-known fact that ‘official’ Church numbers – people attending Christian churches – are on the decline. People are leaving the established churches in droves, and they’re not being replaced.*
It’s easy to see why, at any rate for those who have the eyes to see. It’s all summarised in this excellent piece by John Pavlovitz, a writer whose work I haven’t quoted for quite some time. Let’s put that omission right today, eh?
Over to John:
The Christians Making Atheists
Growing-up in the Church, I was taught that the worst thing one could be was a non-believer; that nothing was as tragic as a doomed soul that condemned itself by rejecting God. The religion of my childhood drew a sharp, clear line between the saved and the damned. All that mattered was making sure someone found themselves on the better side of this line—and the Atheists and Humanists didn’t have a shot.
In light of this supposed truth, the heart of the faith (I was told), was to live in a way that reflected the character and love of Jesus so vividly, so beautifully, that others were compelled to follow after him; that a Christian’s living testimony might be the catalyst for someone’s conversion. The Bible called it “making disciples” and it was the heart of our tradition. As the venerable hymn declared, we Jesus people were to be known by our love.
What a difference a couple of decades make.
Just ask around. People outside the Church will tell you: love is no longer our calling card. It is now condemnation, bigotry, judgment and hypocrisy. In fact, the Christianity prevalent in so much of America right now isn’t just failing to draw others to Christ, it is actively repelling them from him. By operating in a way that is in full opposition to the life and ministry of Jesus—it is understandably producing people fully opposed to the faith that bears his name.
In record numbers, the Conservative American Church is consistently and surely making Atheists—or at the very least it is making former Christians; people who no longer consider organized religion an option because the Jesus they recognize is absent. With its sky-is-falling hand-wringing, its political bed-making, and its constant venom toward diversity, it is giving people no alternative but to conclude, that based on the evidence of people professing to be Godly—that God is of little use. In fact, this God may be toxic.
And that’s the greatest irony of it all; that the very Evangelicals who’ve spent that last 50 years in this country demonizing those who reject Jesus—are now the single most compelling reason for them to do so. They are giving people who suspect that all Christians are self-righteous, hateful hypocrites, all the evidence they need. The Church is confirming the outside world’s most dire suspicions about itself.
These people aren’t stupid. They realize that bigotry, even when it is wrapped in religion or justified by the Bible or spoken from a pulpit is still bigotry. They can smell the putrid stench of phony religion from a mile away—and this version of the Church, frankly reeks of it. People are steering clear in droves, choosing to find meaning and community and something that resembles love outside its gatherings.
With every persecution of the LGBTQ community, with every unprovoked attack on Muslims, with every planet-wrecking decision, with every regressive civil rights move—the flight from Christianity continues. Meanwhile the celebrity preachers and professional Christians publicly beat their breasts about the multitudes walking away from God, oblivious to the fact that they are the impetus for the exodus.
And one day soon, these same religious folks will look around, lamenting the empty buildings and the irrelevance of the Church and a world that has no use for it, and they’ll wonder how this happened. They’ll blame a corrupt culture, or the liberal media, or a rejection of Biblical values, or the devil himself—but it will be none of those things.
No, the reason the Church soon will be teetering on the verge of extinction and irrelevance, will be because those entrusted to perpetuate the love of Jesus in the world, lost the plot so horribly, and gave the world no other option but to look elsewhere for goodness and purpose and truth.
Soon these Evangelicals will ask why so much of America has rejected Jesus, and we will remind them of these days, and assure them that they have not rejected Jesus at all—they just found no evidence of him in their Church or in them.
*This is not to say that the ‘non-established’ churches (for want of a better description) are on the decline; far from it. Many more Christians are meeting like-minded brothers and sisters online and ‘doing Church’ there instead. I am one of them, although I do go to a weekly house church meeting linked to ‘my’ CofE church that I call my home church.
Here is an excellent post from Christy Lynne Wood, one of my favourite bloggers and someone whose writing and spirituality is going from strength to strength. Her writing is always refreshing, innovative and showing immense wisdom and perception. If you have not ‘followed’ Christy’s blog yet, may I heartily recommend that you do so. There are insights on there that are absolute gold.
Over to Christy:
Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church
I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.
We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.
Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.
I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.
As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand. But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.
Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.
How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.
“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.
We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.
The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. ?
Lack of Education
The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.
The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.
Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.
Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.” Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.
Let me just close with some thoughts.
Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.
I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! ?
Well, once again, ’tis the season for Christians to moan about something else that’s ‘worldly’ and ‘Satanic’ and ‘harmful to children’.
It’s Hallowe’en, of course. And it’s today.
Should Christians get all worked up about Hallowe’en? In fact, should Christians get worked up about anything, instead of resting in the Peace of Christ and doing what they see Father doing? Answer that one for yourself!
What would Jesus do? He told us in John 5:19 – ‘I do what I see the Father doing’. He’d have been at the party for sure. Jesus loves parties, and Him going and enjoying them with ‘sinners’ was one of the main things that the dry, dusty religious legalists of His time had a real problem with. And things haven’t changed to this very day 🙂
For too long have Christians been sticks-in-the-mud about ‘pagan’ festivals that they stay away from – Hallowe’en, Christmas, birthdays, you name it – purportedly because they don’t want to be ‘seen to be’ ‘associated with evil’ (1Thess 5:22)*, or even ‘condoning it’, but actually it’s because they are a set of legalistic killjoys. They don’t want to condone people having fun; because if it’s fun, it must be sinful!
Satan is not an entity who is harmful to Christians; no, instead it’s our defeated foe, whatever form it takes. He that is in [Christians] is greater than he that is in the world (1Jn 4:4). I am not going to Scripture-bomb you with other proof-texts, but the freedom we have in Christ sets us free from the fear of this sort of thing; Christians have nothing to fear at all, and especially from a bit of harmless fun.
Anyway, enough of my prattling on. I read a wonderful article today which describes Hallowe’en from an Orthodox perspective. And when you read the article and see the idea of Hallowe’en being ‘evil’ in its true light, you will realise how far off-beam the Fundie Christian perspective is. This is a simply brilliant article which, although quite long, is really well worth reading. It’s a bit American-slanted, but this is fine for readers of other nationalities since I ubderstand that Hallowe’en is done pretty much the same in most countries that ‘practise’ it.:
One of America’s most beloved and fastest growing holidays is Halloween, and it is also the most demonized. Many of all ages, both young and old, celebrate it with innocence and a smile, yet some also condemn it with fury as an evil and violent day. The majority see Halloween as a fun children’s holiday on which they dress up in costumes and go door to door to get candy, while others view it as a remnant of paganism and a subtle celebration of satanism. Amid this confusion and dichotomy, I will attempt to set the record straight in a short yet concise manner based on the most up-to-date studies, and examine whether or not the Church is called to demonize or sanctify Halloween based on the truth.
After many years of research, observation and participation in this holiday, if I were to give the simplest and most accurate one-sentence summary for the history of Halloween, it would be this:
Halloween originated as a medieval Christian celebration that was part of the Triduum of All Hallows, or Hallowmas (All Hallows Eve, All Hallows Day and All Souls Day lasting from October 31 – November 2), and in the 19th and 20th centuries it acquired Western European and North American cultural traditions that established it as an annual celebration of these societies.
Hence, from this summary we learn of Halloween’s Christian origins and its evolution as an annual cultural celebration. What we don’t learn from this summary is the negative perspective of the holiday, which demonizes it and condemns it as pagan and satanic. The reason for this is that from a Christian perspective, there is no reason to demonize it nor condemn it as a pagan or satanic holiday.
If we were to trace the origins of Halloween to one specific event in history, it would be when Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated an oratory in the original Saint Peter’s Basilica of Rome in honor of all the Saints on November 1st, which initiated a local Roman custom to celebrate the feast of All Saints on November 1st. Before this time the feast of All Saints, also known as All Hallows, was celebrated throughout the Christian world since the fourth century to mainly commemorate all the Martyrs either in April or May, including Ireland. The Franks then the English were the first to follow Rome in celebrating the feast of All Saints on November 1st, and this became official under Pope Gregory VII in the early ninth century. The word “Halloween” merely refers to October 31st being the day of All Hallows Eve, and later November 2nd also became part of the Triduum with the commemoration of All Souls Day on which prayers and philanthropic acts were done on behalf of the dead, which was also part of established Christian tradition since the early centuries.
This may come as a shock to some who believe the myth that Halloween has its origins or is associated with paganism or satanism. The truth is that Halloween never was and never has been associated with paganism or satanism, though some pagans and satanists may embrace it as part of the melting pot we call America. Instead what we find is that the Church established Hallowmas as original holy days, not to sanctify an old pagan celebration among the Celts as has been popularly and falsely believed, but to celebrate an already well-established feast dedicated to all the Saints.
Up until the 19th century, Halloween in Western Europe and America was a firmly Roman Catholic feast day that acquired and developed various cultural traditions, as all major holidays did at the time and still do. The mythology that Halloween had pagan origins prior to Christian times arose for the first time in the 19th century among Celtic scholars, who had their own personal agendas in falsifying history. They came up with the idea that October 31-November 2 were days when pagan Celtic peoples celebrated a feast of the dead known as Samhain, even though there is no historical record of such a feast among the ancient Celts. How did they come up with this? It was believed at the time that Christian feast days, such as Christmas and Easter, had pagan origins, and that the Church merely Christianized established pagan celebrations to win over converts. The way the Celtic scholars explained the origins for the feast of All Saints, which was popular among the Irish of the 19th century, was by tracing it back to the ancient Celts, without historical precedence. Though these false ideas are still popularly believed today, any honest historian can easily spot the agenda in these falsifications of history, and they have been firmly discredited.
What about the connection with satanism? This first entered the popular American imagination in the 1960’s through urban mythology created by conservative fundamentalist Christians. These fundamentalist Protestants, already opposed to the Roman Catholic feast of All Saints, sought to demonize the holiday by basing their research on 19th century Celtic scholars. Through them Samhain became a pagan god, an alternative name for Satan, and that practices like trick or treating were originally established out of fear to appease dead spirits, which were really demons. They would hysterically say: “Those who oppose Christ are known to organize on Halloween to observe satanic rituals, to cast spells, to oppose churches and families, to perform sacrilegious acts, and to even offer blood sacrifices to Satan.” It didn’t help at the time that through Hollywood, 19th century monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein from Gothic literature were gaining in popularity and they became established costumes for children.
In the late 1960’s Anton LaVey, the founder of existential Satanism and the Church of Satan in San Francisco, took advantage of this urban myth among fundamentalist Christians, whom he most wanted to provoke, and established Halloween as one of the three major holidays of the Church of Satan (along with the Satanist’s own birthday, since LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic and about worship of one’s self, and Walpurgisnacht on April 30, which was also promoted among fundamentalists as a “witch holiday”). This marketing maneuver by Anton LaVey was taken seriously by fundamentalists, who already feared the holiday, and fundamentalists began to take advantage of this new connection by eventually creating what has been called the “Satanic Panic” of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Urban myths about Halloween grew during this time to scare people away from celebrating Halloween, such as making up stories of crazed adults who sought to harm innocent trick or treaters by planting poison or razor blades in children’s candy, and how pumpkins were carved to depict the facial expressions of the damned in hell. This fundamentalist literature, most popularly identified with people like Jack Chick, soon became the established opinion of just about every Christian Church in America, even among Roman Catholics who still celebrate Hallowmas between October 31 and November 2.
Since the days of the so-called Satanic Panic, Christians have generally viewed Halloween as pagan and satanic. What this has done is basically handed over the holiday to take on more of a pagan and satanic character, which it did not generally have prior to this time. This is an unfortunate lesson in what happens when the Church demonizes rather than sanctifies. Christians opened the door to the devil, and the devil has taken every advantage.
Christians can continue to associate Halloween with paganism and satanism if one’s perspective of the holiday is to demonize it in such a way, or if they choose to limit their observations to certain disagreeable elements that certain people may take advantage of on Halloween, but essentially Halloween is not pagan or satanic unless one chooses to make it so. Unfortunately this myth continues to be perpetuated by many leaders of the Church, choosing against the narrow way of researching the truth and transforming our cultural heritage for the easier path of egotistical condemnation which only extends the kingdom of the devil.
As mentioned earlier, many have tried to similarly paganize Christmas and Easter as well, creating a mythology that their origins are pagan and thus anti-christian. At the forefront of such movements are Neo-pagans and Protestant fundamentalists. They not only base this on the supposed origins of the holiday, but make observations of their modern secular celebration as being essentially pagan in nature, which is also largely a false myth. This iconoclastic attitude of fundamentalists creates mythology to provide a basis for the demonization of something that need not be demonized, and they base this on an inapplicable condemnation from Holy Scripture, and some even dare cite the Holy Fathers. In the past this used to be called a “hysteria”, popularly associated with the Inquisition and witch hunts. Some people are not satisfied with the saying of the Apostle Paul, that our enemies are not flesh and blood, but invisible enemies. Moralistic Christians segregate themselves from people or things they choose to associate with evil, instead of embracing all people and transforming rather than condemning. Hysteria dictates that it is easier to demonize something we can see and to fight against that, rather than to fight against our internal temptations and passions and transform ourselves.
While religious holidays in America tend to be personal or family holidays that are embraced at best by a small specific community, Halloween is one of few days open to the entire community, and its secular cultural purpose is meant to show good will among neighbors. The reason for this is because in the early 20th century, Halloween was still very much a Christian holiday, but it also became a day in which the melting pot of cultural traditions gathered to form a national family secular holiday. In the European Late Middle Ages it was a custom at Christmas and on All Souls Day for poor children to go door to door and beg for money and food. In 1605 Guy Fawkes’ abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th led to the creation of Guy Fawkes Day, which became associated with mischief and violence. In mid-19th century New York poor children called “ragamuffins” combined these two traditions and began dressing up in costumes and begging for pennies on Thanksgiving Day. A tradition of vandalism among youthful boys began to spread throughout the country at this time, and with urbanization and poverty on the rise in the early 20th century, communities came to realize they needed to contain the violence and vandalism. It was decided at this time, beginning in the 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s, to make Halloween a secular family celebration of good will.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, as Halloween became a secular celebration, it had little difference with Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. People would gather in the town square and take part in a parade and play various games. Halloween also had some Victorian elements that were popular at the time, such as divination and spiritualism, which almost everyone throughout America, Europe and Russia experimented with at the time throughout the year, even respected Orthodox Christians like Dostoevsky. Slowly also the traditional British ghost story of Christmas Eve told before a fire, the most popular of which was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, slowly transferred to Halloween. The plan seemed to work to change the autumn season from a time of vandalism and violence among youth, to a time of family, fun and games. In the late 1930’s traditions such as trick or treating were established to ensure children would behave by being rewarded by neighbors with treats by dressing up in costumes and showing good behavior, rather than being mischievous tricksters who brought harm to the neighborhood. It was a clever distraction. With the rise in popularity and creativity of Comic Books and Horror Movies, these elements also became part of the costuming of children and adults alike. These elements also helped associate Halloween throughout the rest of the 20th century as a time of the macabre, though much less harmful than it was in the late 19th and early 20th century with the rise of violence and vandalism at that time. Only small elements of such mischievousness has survived in our times.
Based on all this information, what should be the response of the Church today? Do we continue to demonize this holiday by way of influence from fundamentalist Protestants and Neo-pagans, or do we separate the agreeable and disagreeable elements, the honey and the hemlock, and allow it to be as it is? Like every holiday in America, Halloween certainly has many disagreeable elements, but is this enough justification to prevent children from dressing up in a costume and having innocent childish fun? I leave this up to the reader to decide based on an educated opinion of the facts. Just keep in mind the famous saying of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
My personal suggestion is for the Church in America to embrace Halloween as much as is permissible, like any other holiday. There are no rules how to celebrate Halloween, so any disagreeable element can be ruled out. One need not go to a psychic on Halloween or participate in any pagan ceremony. It is not a rule to take on a persona of evil or become over-sexualized, or to vandalize and attend drunken parties to have fun on Halloween. Halloween is about expressing one’s self in whatever way one chooses, and costumes have come to reflect this. Christians, young and old alike, are not compelled to do what they don’t want to do on Halloween if they want to have some participation in it. It is alright for Christians to go trick or treating and give out candy on Halloween, because such practices have no evil element. In fact, I would argue that it entirely falls in line with the Christian attitude of showing neighborly love and hospitality. All Christian homes should turn on their lights and welcome their neighbor’s children on Halloween, and even more so should Christian churches. I’ve often thought that the darkest element of Halloween are those homes and churches that refuse to turn their lights on for trick or treaters. There is no need to hand out icons and have children light candles before icons to sanctify the holiday, because this is not only giving in to an element of fear, but it also can be perceived as rude by non-Orthodox Christians.
What about the macabre element of Halloween today? The macabre element of Halloween, like many apparently disagreeable and dark elements of all holidays, is really just a matter of perspective and attitude. First of all, the macabre is a natural element of the autumn season. Not only are the nights getting longer, but the weather is getting colder and the trees are stripped bare of their leaves. The colors and fragrances of death surround the atmosphere, and all we tend to see are cloudy days with lots of oranges, browns and blacks. Secondly, Gothic fiction arose in the 18th and 19th century based on the stories surrounding medieval architecture and art, as well as old superstitions and tales. Horror stories from that time on have always had an atmospheric element that appeals to one’s artistic sensibilities combined with imaginative fears. For people who enjoy horror stories and movies, this artistic and atmospheric element is realized tangibly at Halloween time not only through costumes, but in popular culture and especially the ever-popular haunted houses. These things are not created merely to scare people, but are more like museums of the macabre imagination based on old tales and fears. If these things are only created to scare without the artistic element, then they usually fail their purpose. Modern Halloween is basically defined by these two natural and fictional elements.
St. Photios the Great, in his Myriobiblion, reviews a fiction story he read, in which he concludes the following regarding fiction stories: “In the story, particularly, as in fabulous fictions of the same kind, there are two considerations most useful to notice. The first is that they show that evildoers, even if they seem to escape a thousand times, always get their punishment; the second, that they show many innocents placed in great danger often saved against all hope.” The fictional stories told around Halloween, the great majority of the time, contain these same elements St. Photios praises in his review. This is most especially evident in old Gothic tales, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even found quite often in modern horror fiction and movies.
To offer a different perspective of horror fiction, below are a few of many quotes by noted creators of horror, the sensational and the macabre, both in literature and film, that show that horror fiction is more about ourselves and our response to negative realities than just creating the element of fear for fear’s sake:
The famous horror director Guillermo del Toro says: “Monsters are living, breathing metaphors.” Horror stories, like most fiction, are usually metaphors for something deeper that teaches us about ourselves, our environment or our situations of either the past, present or future.
Noted horror author Stephen King has famously written: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” He also wrote in his masterful survey of horror, Danse Macabre, that, “Traditional Horror has a morality that would make a Puritan preacher smile.”
Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote to a friend something similar about his story that is full of metaphors: “Jekyll is a dreadful thing, I own, but the only thing I feel dreadful about is this damned old business of the war in the members. This time it came out; I hope it will stay in, in future.” The war against innate evil, says Stevenson, is more dreadful than his tale of horror.
George Romero, the director of the highly metaphorical Night of the Living Dead and the creator of the modern Zombie phenomenon, has commented: “I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”
The great silent horror actor Lon Chaney once said of the roles he played: “I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice. The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback of Notre Dame, such as The Phantom of the Opera, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three, etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do.”
Tragedy often gives birth to horror, but it cannot be denied that the most horrible elements are what we carry within ourselves. As Oscar Wilde wrote in his tale The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
G.K. Chesterton defended the sensational novel as his favorite form of fictional tale, and in his essay “Fiction as Food” he wrote: “High or low, good or bad, clever or stupid, a moral story almost always meant a murderous story. For the old Greeks a moral play was one full of madness and slaying. For the great medievals a moral play was one which exhibited the dancing of the devil and the open jaws of hell. For the great Protestant moralists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a moral story meant a story in which a parricide was struck by lightning or a boy was drowned for fishing on a Sunday. For the more rationalistic moralists of the eighteenth century, such as Hogarth, Richardson, and the author of Sandford and Merton, all agreed that shocking calamities could properly be indicated as the result of evil doing; that the more shocking those calamities were the more moral they were. It is only in our exhausted and agnostic age that the idea has been started that if one is moral one must not be melodramatic.”
Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote that to reach the deaf sometimes you have to shout. Many horror and supernatural tales have the ability to shake us out of our materialistic and naturalistic stupor to help us look deeper within ourselves as well as what is beyond ourselves. The spiritual life revolves around how we respond to temptations and trials of all kinds, and horror and supernatural tales often compel us to think what our response would be in the face of evil, temptation and suffering.
To conclude, Halloween is what we decide to make of it. Our decision is based on how we wish to perceive it and interpret it. This in itself is essentially a celebration of Halloween.
– John Sanidopoulos
*Although actually the Scripture says ‘avoiding all kinds of evil’ – somewhat less useful to the legalism brigade! More on this idea here.