From the Archives: Halloween at the Huntington

Forget vampires, ghosts, and Trumpies. The Huntington Library has put together a truly terrifying collection of monsters, from the 1600s through the 1800s. Check out the whole batch here.

huntington ipes

Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de Plancy (1794–1881), “Ipes,” a demon in Dictionnaire infernal: Repertoire universel des etres, Paris: H. Plon, 1863

huntington bear head

Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522–1605), “Cynocephalus (dog-headed man) in Vlyssis Aldrouandi …Monstrorum historia: Cum Paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium, Bologna, 1642.

huntington buer

Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de Plancy (1794–1881), “Buer,” a demon in Dictionnaire infernal: Repertoire universel des etres, Paris: H. Plon, 1863

huntington boas

Edward Topsell (1572–1625),“The Boas” in The historie of foure-footed beastes, London: William Iaggard, 1607.

huntington amon

Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de Plancy (1794–1881), “Amon,” a demon in Dictionnaire infernal: Repertoire universel des etres, Paris: H. Plon, 1863

Boo.

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Yale + Halloween = Kardashian

Do we dare not to care?  You’ve seen the news by now: Students and administrators at Yale fretted that thoughtless Halloween costumes might subject them to “cultural appropriation” and steal from them their “voice” and “agency.”  Certainly, it’s easy enough to poke fun at this sort of holiday “snowflake”-ism.  But there’s another question we should also ask: Why do we care?

Insensitive appropriation of cats?...pirates? ...bad taste?

Insensitive appropriation of cats?…pirates? …bad taste?

In case you’ve been preoccupied with real life, the story can be told quickly.  (If you’d like more detail, try here, here, or here.)  Yale’s administration issued an email suggesting that students should think in advance about the cultural sensitivity of their costumes.  Don’t use blackface.  Don’t go as a “wild Indian.”  Etc.  One faculty member, Erica Christakis, responded that such warnings reduced adult Yale students to quivering infants.  Can’t we all be trusted, she asked, to act a little subversive on Halloween?

The response was swift and sure.  Students and their allies denounced Christakis and called for her removal.  They denounced her intentions and racist and oppressive, though she had explicitly supported “concerns about cultural and personal representation.”

It is easy enough to bemoan Yalies’ response to this Halloween email as another egregious overreach by “Snowflake Totalitarians,” privileged students who censor and shout down any smidge of a disturbing idea.  It is also fairly easy to defend the students, in the words of one writer, “to understand why people of color would feel marginalized by the email and the university.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I tend to agree with the protestors.  Or, at least, I’m happier to see students morally outraged—perhaps to excess—than to see students drinking their way through country-club collegiate life.

But let’s consider a different question today: Why do we care?  Why is it so very interesting to so many of us what goes on at Yale?  After all, hardly anyone actually goes to school there.  For almost everyone, college life is worlds removed from the elite goings-on at Yale, or Princeton, or Harvard.  And, if we measure college by relative earnings, Yale comes out near the bottom.yale low rank

So why do we care?  I’d like to suggest two possible reasons and I’ll welcome suggestions and denunciations.  In essence, though, I think we’re seeing here the higher-educational fruits of Americans’ ferocious love/hate relationship with celebrities.

First, I think there’s some amount of schadenfreude at play.  Just as ratings skyrocket when Kim Kardashian stumbles through another atrocious episode of her public life, we regular folk outside of the Ivy League love to see those snobs act stupid.  More proof, if we needed it, that those grapes were sour to begin with.

Also, I detect among academic schlubs like myself a certain titillation with the celebrity factor.  No one doesn’t know Yale.  Americans are excited and interested in the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

When Ivy-League students act with predictably adolescent over-zealousness to each new situation, do we all have to talk about it so much?  Or will it be culturally insensitive of us to take Professor Nicholas Christakis’s advice and “look away”?

Can Jesus Stop Kids from Trick-or-Treating in Public Schools?

Halloween time again!  Time for costumes and candy.  Time for Charlie Brown getting rocks in his sack.

Rock Candy

Rock Candy

Can public schools participate?  Does this holiday endorse some sort of religion?  And, most intriguing, are conservative Christians going to become the leading group fighting AGAINST religion in public schools?

In a recent article in Time Magazine, Nick Gillespie decries school administrators who cancel Halloween activities.  Gillespie cites the case of Inglewood Elementary, outside of Philadelphia.  The principal explained to parents that the school had canceled Halloween activities due to religious sensitivity.  “Some holidays,” the principal wrote,

like Halloween, that some see as secular, are viewed by others as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs

Nertz, Gillespie responded.  “Unless there’s a particularly active group of druids in the district,” Gillespie argued, “or the parade ends with a ritual sacrifice, it seems unlikely that there’s much to worry about.”

But Gillespie’s missing the point.  The pressure to avoid Halloween comes not from druids but from conservative Christians.  Some such Christians have long viewed Halloween as a dangerously “pagan” holiday.  Why shouldn’t they pressure school administrators to ban such celebrations in public schools?  After all, conservative Christians often complain that their religion is the only religion to be banned from public schools.

Anyone familiar with the culture of conservative American Protestantism will recognize this theme.

To cite just one example, Linda Harvey of Mission: America complained that Halloween empowered demons and false gods.  “Everyone thinks Halloween is harmless fun,” Harvey warned on her radio show,

but just for a second, let’s look at from God’s perspective, at least from what He’s told us in His word. We’ve been taught not to worship or bow down to or in any way acknowledge any other gods. But Halloween is built around just exactly that. Behind the costumes and candy is a rebellious flirtation with fallen angels and deceptive spirits, and this definitely does not honor God. Where are these other spirits and gods you ask? Well, Halloween is all about fortune telling, magic, Ouija board, witches, it’s really hard to get away from all this. It’s definitely spiritual and that spirituality is not from our Lord.

This anti-Halloween sentiment is so strong among some conservative Protestants, it can be spoofed by any evangelical with a sense of humor.  Last year, for instance, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore offered a quick field guide to anti-Halloween sentiment among evangelicals:

An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.

A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”

A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as Zwingli and Bucer for “Reformation Day.”

A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons and angels for the church’s Judgment House community evangelism outreach.

An Emerging Church evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.

Though Moore wrote with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the humor relies on a real sentiment among some conservative Christians.  School officials like the ones Gillespie writes about are responding to real concerns.  This time, it is conservative Protestants who are fighting to keep religion out of public schools.  As they have in other cases, such as the yoga curriculum in Encinitas, California, many conservative Christians want to keep public schools as free of what they consider false religion.

 

Behind the Mask: A Halloween Guide to Telling Christians Apart

The prolific Russell Moore offers a light-hearted Halloween guide to help tell apart various types of evangelical Protestant.  For those of us outsiders trying to make sense of America’s conservative impulses, it is a handy resource.  After all, as Moore points out, there are huge differences between “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals,” between “Emerging Church evangelicals” and “confessional evangelicals.”

To start, Moore paraphrases John Mark Reynolds.  Reynolds had joked, “An evangelical is a fundamentalist who watches The Office.”

With Halloween in mind, Moore came up with the following handy guide to making sense of the kaleidoscope of American evangelicalism:

“An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.

“A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s ‘Fall Festival.’

“A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as Zwingli and Bucer for ‘Reformation Day.’

“A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons and angels for the church’s Judgment House community evangelism outreach.

“An Emerging Church evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.

“A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.”

I know Moore was just joking around, but I appreciate the field guide.  After all, those of us outside the evangelical tradition tend to have difficulty hearing the different accents among evangelicals.

I cringe when I hear some of my fellow nones or theological liberals clump together all evangelicals into dismissive categories such as “Bible Thumpers,” “Holy Rollers,” or other pejorative terms.  We liberals would never speak in such stereotyped labels about other social groups, but it seems socially acceptable among some folks to use such stereotypes to belittle conservative Protestants.

Worst of all, some of the self-professed liberal folks with whom I interact don’t seem to understand that their stereotyping reveals their expansive ignorance of the complicated intellectual kaleidoscope of evangelical belief in America.