Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Removing Christendom from Halloween

Halloween is a controversial subject in many ways, several folks I know and respect in the UK have been campaigning to get alternatives to horror movie imagery available in shops, with some success. others worry about the increasingly global practice of trick or treat. Christians worry about occultism, witchcraft, and obsession with death and the dead. Pagans want to reclaim their festival from the Christians and the shops. So why do i as a Christian want to suggest that Christendom is the major problem here and want to remove it from Halloween?

Firstly note I said Christendom and not Christianity, but the two are of course linked in the churches history. so lets take a brief tour of the history of Halloween, familiar territory but I hope to add a few insights that may lie behind the current controversy on route and show why I want to get Christendom removed from Halloween.

firstly before there was Halloween there was a Pagan festival in northern Europe at least called Samhain (pronounced sow-ain) this was a version of the 'day of the dead' known in many cultures. The dead were remembered, ancestors honoured and the line between death and life was seen as thin at this time. This meant things could cross over, the dead might walk abroad, and other creatures associated with the underworld too. this meant the festival was also about confronting fear and acknowledging the fear of death and the unknown.

when Christianity spread across Europe the missionaries often adopted Pagan custom because they felt it explained the new faith in terms people understood and because it helped cement the new faith in people's lives by getting into the character of previously Pagan festivals. Christmas is another case in point. it is for this reason that the feast of All Hallows, we would now say All Saints, was placed on the 1st of November, following the old Samhain festival crossing from nighttime on the 31st of October to morning of the 1st of November. following Jewish tradition early Christian festivals began on the evening of the previous day, as happens today at the Christmas Eve services. So the festival of All Hallows began at All Hallows Eve, that is Halloween. as such the very name of the festival tells us it is a Christian rather than a Pagan festival, albeit one deliberately adopting a Pagan predecessor. This is significant I would argue as many of the controversies of Halloween today come from its Christendom history.

The churches at All Hallows continued the remembrance of the dead, and added to this a particular remembrance of the lives of the saints, hence the name All Hallows. However a strong element of Christian faith is life beyond death and the theme of resurrection, indeed from the 1st century the idea that in Jesus death the power of evil and death were conquered was a central tenet of faith. So this was celebrated also, altering the character of the Pagan exploration of death at this time. in this sense i think the Christianization of the older festival was a good adaptation of the important themes Samhain explored appropriate for those with a Christian faith.

But Christendom was also a political animal and part of its agenda was to ensure it had no rivals. so Halloween became peopled with devils and ghouls that might get those who misbehaved and witches created as a propaganda tool against the persistence of Pagan faith as an underground religion. i find it interesting to compare the Halloween witches mask with the Nazi depiction of Jews, you will find them rather similar with hooked noses, green skin and warts. and this is the bit so many folks don't get, the wearing of these masks at Halloween is not a celebration of evil or witchcraft, but actually a piece of anti-Pagan propaganda invented by Christians and stemming from medieval Christian celebrations of All Hallows Eve.

today of course as with so many things Christendom has passed and the Halloween legacy handed over to those who have commercialised it, creating the Halloween that churches now complain about rather than celebrate. oddly i think the Passing of Christendom possibly unites rather than divides modern Pagans and Christians in this area. Pagans want to celebrate an important festival they do not want it turned into a commercial bonanza devoid of its true meaning, and i certainly doubt they'd morn the passing of the anti-pagan propaganda imagery of medieval Christendom. Christians too want to celebrate their different but related festival without these things, having ironically forgotten how much of what they now don't like was their invention. so how about a properly informed collaboration between Pagans and Christians to remove Christendom from Halloween? leaving both faiths free to celebrate a festival centred around their beliefs about the important subject of death and the relationship with our dead ancestors?

if we do this i add one thing that should not be banished, a place to also acknowledge our fear of death, the supernatural and evil. banishing the imagery of this from Halloween won't take away the fear, it just relegates it to places where we cannot face it together and handle it constructively, if differently in our two faith traditions. so i make a plea for renewed celebrations not to lose this element at least from both the medieval Halloween and its Pagan forerunner.

these are the links to the Halloween synchroblog, and they are very eclectic and also come from different faith views, so well worth checking out

The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
John Morehead at John Morehead's Musings
Vampire Protection by Sonja Andrews
What's So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
Halloween....why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
Mike Bursell at Mike's Musings
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
Encountering hallow-tide creatively by
Sally Coleman
Kay at Chaotic Spirit
Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
Why Christians don't like Zombies at Hollow Again
Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
Halloween: My experiences by Lew A
Timothy Victor at Tim Victor's Musings
Making Space for Halloween by Nic Paton

Friday, July 13, 2007

U-Topia or My-Topia (synchroblog)

many of us dream of utopias, but what of these dreams? i find the U in utopia something worth reflecting on. we all have our dreams of the perfect world, our utopia. what would your perfect world be? i can certainly offer some thoughts of the world i'd like to live in. but would this be my world, a me world, a my-topia? now i don't see myself as a selfish person, my dreams of utopia when i am honest or perhaps i should say responding to the deep levels of who i am, are not the dreams of personal gratification, though like all people i have those! but are my visions of the best for all really just that, MY dreams? i fear it may be so easy for my vision of our perfect world to be just that. indeed it is so easy for us to asume my-topia is your-topia is u-topia.

so how do we find u-topia, our-topia? i have two thoughts. the first relates to the 'u'. i suspect it begins when I strive not for My- topia but for U-topia, when my goal becomes building a dream world for 'u', when i look to build a world for others, for 'u'. but secondly where is the place i can escape my own weakness, my own self-vision? for me this lies in the vision of God. Jesus didn't come preaching church, or a religious system, or how to worship in a particular style; he came preaching the Kingdom of God, a true utopia. a vision of freedom for captives, sight for blind, good news for poor...this is u-topia, a vision i need beacuase mine will fall so far short. it reminds me i need God's spirit to make this true to inspire me to make my-topia u-topia

see others below

Steve Hayes at Notes from
the Underground

John Morehead at John
Morehead's Musings

Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Utopia Today: Living Above Consumerism at Be the Revolution
Nowhere Will Be Here at Igneous Quill
A This-Worldly Faith at Elizaphanian
Bridging the Gap at Calacirian
The Ostrich and the Utopian Myth at Decompressing Faith
Being Content in the Present at One Hand Clapping
Eternity in their Hearts by Tim Abbott
Relationship - The catch-22 of the Internet Utopia at Jeremiah's Blog
U-topia or My-topia? at On Earth as in Heaven
A SecondLife Utopia at Mike's

Mrs. Brown and the Kingdom of God at Eternal Echoes

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Gospel according to Buffy (synchroblog)

This is part of a SynchroBlog on Christianity and film, follow the links below for others taking part, and enter the debate on this and other sites!

the Vampire genre as classically represented by the Dracula character, has within it Christendom assumptions. vampires are undead, without souls and damned by God. they are warded off by Crosses and Holy Water. communion wafers placed in their coffins render them homeless. the average vampire slayer is some sort of a priest. so what happens to vampire slaying in a post-Christendom world?

Enter Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an American teen who only enters churches in the dead of night to fight vampires rising from coffins. She uses crosses and Holy water but these seem no longer to connect to any faith, they have become magic charms. here superhuman strength and kung fu fighting skills, given her by ancient shamanic priests who created the slayers to fight demons and vampires, are far more important than the remnants of Christianity. over seven series she gathers round her other US teens who with her go through high school and enter young adult life. none of these either seems to have a faith, save one who starts the series Jewish and part way through becomes a practicing Wiccan.

at the start of the second series our heroine encounters a group of evangelists working with down an outs in a city centre district. but they are in fact demons in disguise, enslaving and ultimately destroying the people they claim to help. the final series sees the gang battling the 'ultimate evil', whose sidekick is a misogynist priest in black with collar, who brutal murders people. apart from this churches are sometimes settings for weddings or funerals. The Buffyverse is clearly not a place where God, and certainly not the church, is involved in the fight against evil. this instead must fall to Buffy. so how does she defeat the 'ultimate evil', and what are the messages that make up the 'gospel according to Buffy'?

Buffy needs to be seen operating on two levels. at one level the various monsters faced are less important then the background situations. At this level Buffy is about the difficulties of school, friendship, romance, finding ones identity etc etc. this is handled with a mixture of humour and some depth. the key messages are about the importance of friendship, sacrifice for others, the shallowness of popularity, the importance of goals in life, the embracing of those of different cultures and sexualities, and above all the empowerment of women in a man's world and the taking of responsibility for ones own life and facing it's challenges head on.

on another level Buffy and her friends fight demons and vampires and every now and then have to save the world. Evil is overcome week by week through Buffy's powers, Willow the Wiccan's magic and the study of ancient texts followed by resourceful action of those who are part of 'Buffy's gang'. the values seen in the plot lines become the key to these victories too.

But there are other themes too. In the 7th and final series redemption becomes a major theme. a number of key characters manage to accumulate or come with some very dodgy pasts. At the top of the list is Spike the vampire, he has spent a good century plus murdering and draining life. He first appears as a major opponent of Buffy but as the series progress he falls 'in love with her' in inverted commas, vampires have no soul and love is rather challenging for them. Buffy sort of falls for him, but there's a subtext of her own self doubt which becomes sometimes self loathing, coupled with her appalling track record of relationships, and an attraction to those she becomes locked in combat with, that makes this not quite 'healthy'. always likely to end in tears, that include obsession, rage and at one stage attempted rape of Buffy by Spike. at the end of series 6 Spike has gone to see if he can be given back his soul and return to Buffy a changed vampire. then there's the Wiccan Willow, a key member of the gang, but in series 5 suffering magic addiction, the episodes are i think intended to explore drug addiction but i can assure magic addiction is very similar in real life. like any addict she messes up her life and those around her. in series 6 her girlfriend (she has by this stage 'come out' as lesbian, and i think this is handled like many other issues well) is shot and killed, by accident Buffy is the intended victim. Willow enters grief that turns to rage that fuels an apocalyptic magic spree that makes her 'mad, bad and dangerous to know'. she also flays alive the murder of her girlfriend, possibly the most brutal crime committed by anyone in the entire run of series. at the end of series 6 she is destroying the world, literally. then there's Faith, a slayer called on one of the occasions Buffy dies and is later bought becomes an occupational hazard for her... Faith has 'issues' and they mean she finds it hard to trust and work with others. this leads her to abuse her powers, kill humans and ultimately help the evil mayor become a giant demonic serpent (yes this is the regular buffyverse in operation...but i must say i was hooked and loved almost every minute, its ability to not take itself too seriously making up for the plot lines! ). but we haven't finished! then there's Anya, a vengeance demon used to helping wronged women deliver gruesome ends to their male abusers. And finally there's Andrew, part occultist part nerd. it was the leader of his group that killed Willow's girlfriend and gets flayed alive as a result. this character comes back, but it's really the 'ultimate evil' that can be 'ant dead person it wants to be', and persuades Andrew to ritually kill his best friend to open a satanic seal in the school basement. and so as we enter series 7 a motley crew who need to be redeemed are part of the plot.

so redemption in a world in which the church is pretty unlikely to play a part. well for each character it works out, and not 'lightly', indeed often very movingly. so interesting that the theme of can the bad people be redeemed, is so positively handled. so what happens? we'll save Spike till last, because his role becomes so important! but at this point let us say he does indeed go to hell and get his soul back...itself interesting, after 'testing' by a demon he gets his soul, though this gets strangely related to the ghost of Christendom as he tells this to Buffy in a darkened church and then embraces a cross, which burns his vampire flesh, soul or no soul. BTW the experience of getting his soul has driven him half mad. Faith returns and through experiences when her self willed bravado lead to bad ends, learns to trust and work with others. Andrew has lived in a fantasy world in which he turns life into comic strip stories to avoid facing the truth. eventually Buffy forces him to confront his actions and his tears of repentance close the demonic seal he opened. Anya having gone back to her vengeance ways is going to be killed by Buffy, but she gets a another chance, which involves her getting her soul back to in a rather 'interesting' take on penal substitution. OK i have no idea if that is how the producer saw it but hear me out! she has to ask for it again from a demon, who says that he will grant it but he must take a demons life in forfeit, we all assume it will be Anya's but she is willing for the price to be paid believing she will she will have to pay it. But the demon has other ideas, and kills an other demon who has been Anya's friend, so an other's life pays the necessary price! this neatly gets Anya to the end of the series but is not viewed in a 'positive light'. Willow is stopped by a friend's love, in the face of her initially wounding him with her destructive magic, and 'the true source of magic' that is working for good in her. clearly magic is a source of good even if the church isn't.

so to the battle against the ultimate evil, and the part of the redeemed and especially Spike in that. you see at this point there's a problem. Buffy has fought off various evils and potential apocalypses, but this is 'the ultimate evil' working with an army of 'ultimate vampires'. in a universe devoid of ultimate good it seems, and reliant on human endeavour, how can Buffy defeat the ultimate evil? well she'll clearly need some help, so Faith the renegade slayer returns, then there is an army of young women who are potential slayers who come ti join in, then there's a magic scythe forged by ancient pagan priestesses for just such a day. armed so they enter the final battle with one further twist, Willow uses the power of the scythe to enable all women to become powerful slayers, empowering not only the potentials but other women abused and oppressed around the globe. as she performs the spell she glows with white light and, in the words of her new girlfriend, becomes a goddess. but even all this is not enough! enter Spike, soul returned madness subdued and a number of painful past issues faced, wearing some jewel intended for a champion. as the battle commences the jewel 'comes to life' a great shaft of light descends from the ceiling to the Jewel which then starts to scatter the light out destroying the super vampires. ' i can feel it' he declares, 'i can feel my soul, it's really there'. and so after an emotional reconciliation between Spike and Buffy she flees after the others, as Spike stays to die in the destruction of the forces of the ultimate evil. the end.

but what kind of end? it is perhaps not surprising if Churches are simply scary places full of demons, evangelists are demonic forces praying on the vulnerably and priests are misogynist devil worshipers bent on brutality that it is to Pagan priestesses, Wiccan magic, mystic weapons, empowered women and good honest human spirit that we must turn to face the ultimate evil. it is easy to dismiss this is be angry with it, but this is how many see the church and Christianity, and we have bought some of this on ourselves. what kind of church might be a force for good in the Buffyverse where evil must be fought and redemption is so important and sensitively handled? on the other hand if we are to leave the modern world in which the demonic and the 'ultimate evil' are as much a fairytale as the Christan God. if we are to enter a world in which supernatural evil is real, how can we fight it? in the end some strange mystic light needs to come and finish off the job, indeed we need God by the back door. but which God in what form? unless the church can become something other than the caricature of the Buffyverse, then what God will come to fill this place?

follow the links to the other blogs in this series

Steve Hayes ponders The Image of Christianity in Films
Sally Coleman is Making Connections- films as a part of a mythological tradition
Adam Gonnerman pokes at The Spider's Pardon

David Fisher thinks that Jesus Loves Sci-Fi
John Morehead considers Christians and Horror Redux: From Knee- Jerk Revulsion to Critical Engagement
Marieke Schwartz lights it up with Counter-hegemony: Jesus loves Borat
Mike Bursell muses about Christianity at the Movies
Jenelle D'Alessandro tells us Why Bjork Will Never Act Again
Cobus van Wyngaard contemplates Theology and Film (as art)
Tim Abbott tells us to Bring your own meaning...?
Sonja Andrews visits The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Christ in Spaghetti Westerns
Steve Hollinghurst takes a stab at The Gospel According to Buffy
Les Chatwin insists We Don't Need Another Hero
Lance Cummings says The Wooden Wheel Keeps Turning
John Smulo weaves a tale about Spiderman 3 and the Shadow
Josh Rivera spells well with Christian Witchcraft

Phil Wyman throws out the Frisbee: Time to Toss it Back
Dr. Kim Paffenroth investigates Nihilism Lite

Sunday, March 25, 2007

a guilty conscience?

Firstly sorry for such a long gap - assuming anyone is out there to read this by now ;o)

OK currently writing a book (part of reason for long gap!) a thought that came to me in this I wanted to share here....

The preaching of the gospel in much evangelism centers on forgiveness. It offers a model of salvation geared to God in Jesus paying the penalty we are due because of the things for which we are rightly judged guilty. OK there is a whole debate to be had surrounding that understanding. But at this point I am just reflecting on why in the modernist period it has become the predominant model of salvation, even this is shown by it being the model to reject. I think this has a lot to do with the place of the conscience.

As the medieval world moved into the modern, via the renaissance and then the enlightenment, society moved its centre from and ordered and re-ordained hierarchy to the autonomous individual. Morality in the old order was something ordained from above, taught by the church, socialized by your community and enforced by divinely appointed rulers. In modernity morality became a matter of personal decision, and a humanly appointed state became an enforcer of a legal but not necessarily moral order. Rationality ruled the public sphere but could only pronounce on benefit, and a utilitarian common good. It was up to you to supply from within yourself what was right and good. Hence the rising importance of the individual conscience.

The humanist could affirm the conscience because it sprang from within the person and with an optimistic view of humanity would be a sure guide. The Christian could affirm this by seeing the conscience as a 'divine spark' God convicting us of sin. Sin would thus lead to a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience needed someone to remove the guilt and pronounce pardon, to assure us of forgiveness where we knew judgment was due. This is exactly what the evangelistic preaching of the gospel of penal substitution offered.

But what might have been happening? The problem is that the idea of conversion as an individual decision based on a personal guilty conscience as a true guide is deeply dependent on a modernist view of humanity. this view both views me as an individual and secondly as a positive individual who is, if I can truly connect with myself , an individual whose reason and reaction will indeed be true. What if actually my conscience is false? What if I feel no guilt for that which God might condemn me, or feel guilt for that of which I should feel none? what if taking that into account, and in today's world both those seem to be true, my guilt was not a product of a divinely guided conscience but a product of a lapsed Christendom in which me guilt was induced by past church experience and thus able to be revived by contemporary church preaching?

If this were the real situation of the guilty conscience, then the gospel portrayed as freedom from the penalty we deserved as guilty would only be good news to those raised in Christendom. And such seems to be the case. further to this Bonhoeffer is surely correct to suggest so much preaching is about 'sniffing around in other peoples dustbins hoping to catch them out' indeed the evangelist must induce guilt if not found in order to preach its relief. OK most people do suffer feelings of guilt, but they are both often different from what Christianity suggests we ought to feel guilty about, and increasingly assuaged by the sentiment 'well I’m only human' which in modernity and especially post modernity is a perfectly good justification (I don't think it is as a Christian by the way). further to this, as the power of Christendom guilt wears off, the preaching of a gospel geared to it leads to a rejection of the gospel, either as a crutch for the weak and guilty, that is people worse than me, or as something that is moralizing and guilt inducing when no guilt is due. The gospel becomes either at best good news for the truly bad (i.e. only a few) or bad news full stop.

now none of this as I see it is to suggest, as indeed many do faced with such a gospel, that people do not need saving from what Paul would call 'the power of sin and death'. I believe we do, and need to proclaim such a gospel. My point is that this was given a peculiar modernist form in the concept of the guilty conscience that is now increasingly unhelpful. A gospel based on it is increasingly no 'good news' at all.

However, if this is so, it does not seem that people don’t dream of being 'better'. One of the interesting things to come out of the 'beyond the fringe' research was that peoples personal aspirations, not surprisingly, where for happiness, family, relationships and success. however more surprisingly people on the whole didn’t chose those who had achieved this as those hey admired, rather they chose, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and yes Jesus. Might they secretly wish they could be like that too? Might the gospel that frees us from sin and death be the gospel that says, actually you can be like Jesus? Might preaching what we could become, rather than seeking to make us feel guilty for what we are, be not only 'good news' for today?