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Michael Craven Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides, and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating.  That is what it held for my now post-Halloween-age children as well.  As a result, I’ve had a built-in resistance to those Christians who bash October 31st as a pagan festival that followers of Christ have no business supporting, much less engaging.  I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free of pagan roots, and the idea that donning a costume and receiving a mini-Snicker bar was an invitation to the occult was ludicrous to my thinking.

                                  

I still hold to the child-like fun the night can hold, but I no longer view the day itself as innocuous.

                                       

For example, in an article in the New York Times titled, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” Stephanie Rosenbloom writes of the changing nature of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years.  Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt does not seem en route to her grandmother’s house.  Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed.  And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a – well, you get the point.  As Rosenbloom notes, the images “are more strip club than storybook.”  It’s a wonder, she adds, that “gyms do not have ‘get in shape for Halloween’ specials.”

 

Of course, experts are often trotted out to speak of this as the “empowering” of women as they embrace their sexuality, and look for deep and positive meanings in the evolution of Cinderella from virgin to vixen.  But take a walk through your neighborhood mall’s costume store, as I recently did – mine featured a prominent “no one under 18 allowed without a parent” sign out front – and you can cut through the sociological analysis. 

 

It is, as comedian Carols Mencia jokes, “Dress-Like-A-Whore” day.”  And need I even delve into the gore side of things?

 

This growing debasement is coupled with another trend: the Christmas-ization of Halloween.  There are now Halloween trees decorated with ghosts and pumpkins, orange lights on houses, and even Halloween displays on lawns.  In an article in USA Today on how Halloween is getting “Christmassy,” Maria Puente writes that “Halloween…is second only to the December holiday in spending.”  According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $840 million this year on Halloween decorating alone.  Just a few years ago, Halloween was a one-night affair; now, like Christmas, it’s becoming a month-long excuse to decorate.

 

This may be the most insidious dynamic of all.  Christmas has already been on a long slide into a secular celebration of emotion divorced from content.  But at least the trappings of Christmas pointed us to the promise of meaning.  Now, through the co-opting of Christmas by Halloween, even that may be lost.

 

So we string our lights and decorate our trees, and dress as Little Bo “Peep Show” and Miss Foul Play.  Welcome to the anti-Christmas, and a reminder that we probably missed out on what was really demonic about Halloween all along.

 

James Emery White

 

 

Sources

 

Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.

 

Maria Puente, “Halloween décor is getting Christmassy,” USA Today, Friday, October 13, 2006, p. D1.

 

 

The Christmas season is once again upon us and with it overwhelming encouragement from Madison Avenue to spend what we have not earned to buy what we cannot afford. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday (indicating the point at which retailers are in the black—or at least hope to be), signaled the start of the “holiday shopping season.” That very phrase reveals the commercialized emphasis that has come to define Christmas for many Americans. If that wasn’t enough, we now have “Small Business Saturday” and “Cyber Monday,” the latest allurements to the altar of consumerism.  

The thrust of this consumerist message is that the holiday is most fully realized through the acquisition of “things.” Advertisements bombard us with images of bountiful Christmas scenes in which beautiful packages surround the tree, and “happiness” is achieved upon the receipt of this or that consumer product. Credit card issuers alone (those most interested in seeing you spend what you don’t have) spend more than $150 million on holiday advertising and promotions. Evidence that these messages work is found in the fact that more than 50 percent of Christmas shoppers will spend well over what they planned to and go further into debt, according to famed financial guru Dave Ramsey. 

As to the severity of this debt, Ramsey points out that “more than $70 billion, over half of what was charged last year, ended up as revolving debt and the interest on last year’s gifts are still being paid today.” On average, “two-thirds (65 percent) of shoppers overspent their budget by $100–$500 and 75 percent overspent by $50–$100.”

Of course this consumerist philosophy—rooted in the notion that making more money, which enables you to buy more things, will result in greater life satisfaction and happiness—is a pervasive message year-round in America. Recent studies show that most Americans believe they would be “perfectly happy” with just 20 percent more income. And according to Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor’s 1998 bestseller, The Overspent American, “one-quarter of Americans making $100,000 believe they don’t have enough cash” (In 2012, the US average wage index was $44,321).

However, renowned economist, Richard Easterlin observed “once a society’s basic needs—food, shelter, employment—are satisfied, the accumulation of greater and greater wealth does not generate greater collective or personal happiness over the long run” (USC Trojan Family Magazine). This has become known as the Easterlin Paradox.

In the early seventies “Easterlin sifted through numerous surveys asking Americans how happy they were. The explosion in wealth created by the postwar boom had not made a dent, he discovered. Although the average family was 60 percent richer in 1974, levels of contentment remained unchanged from 1945.” These findings “flew in the face of the assumption held by most economists and politicians that populations get happier as national wealth increases.” Also according to the article “today, no one disputes the truth of the Easterlin Paradox.” 

Despite our present economic challenges, the United States is still far richer in 2013 than it was 1974 and yet our levels of personal contentment haven’t improved one iota. In fact, every measurement of personal well being—psychological, emotional, and spiritual—demonstrates that despite our increased abundance we are less satisfied and more depressed than ever. 

A joint study conducted by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School revealed that the US has the highest rate of depression among a survey group of fourteen countries. Conversely the poorest nations reported the lowest levels of depression. Researchers suggest that this may be due to differing expectations. Precisely! Americans—saturated with consumerism—have been conditioned to expect that happiness and satisfaction flow from economic prosperity and the acquisition of things. That is the whole point of consumer advertising: to make you discontent with what you have by promising an improved life through the purchase of the latest product—an expectation that very quickly evaporates after we have purchased said product. 

Rationally we know this promise is ridiculous; however, emotionally (perhaps even spiritually) we find ourselves often seduced into believing this foolishness. As Easterlin has confirmed, as we acquire possessions, our aspirations rise in proportion to the gains, leaving us no happier than before. Indeed, the more we earn the more we want! This misguided (and idolatrous) expectation sets us up for perpetual disappointment because as the evidence demonstrates, prosperity always fails as a source of lasting contentment and life satisfaction. 

The first remedy is to simply recognize the false “gospel” offered by consumerism. This alone offers some degree of immunity from the insidious and seductive voice of consumerism. Second, from a purely financial perspective, Dave Ramsey offers some practical advice relative to Christmas:

• Make a list of everyone you are buying a gift for and put a dollar amount by every name. Total it at the bottom. This is your Christmas budget. The people in the mall have a plan to get your money—get a game plan for your shopping so you can keep some money. There is no excuse for financing Christmas.

Pay cash. Put the total from your budget in an envelope and when the cash is gone, stop spending. This will help keep you on budget because if you overspend on Aunt Sue, Uncle Harry won’t get a gift. 

• 69 percent of Americans bought a gift for themselves last year. Don’t buy yourself a gift! This is the season to give not to receive … from yourself. 

If you find yourself swept up in the rush of consumerism, stop! Remember that Christmas is about the arrival of the Messiah, the beginning of Christ’s kingdom coming to earth in order to set right all that sin has set wrong. Revel in these days in the way that God has designed us to enjoy the many gifts of life such as family, friends, food, music, and worship. 

Christmas reminds us that we who were without hope, weary and discontent, slaves to sin and sorrow, now have a real and present hope. We can be saved from this dreadful condition and finally discover true satisfaction and contentment not because we received the latest gadget but because “God so loved the word that He sent His only begotten Son!” We can be reconciled with God, ourselves, others, and creation! So this Christmas let us not be swept away by the illusory claims of consumerism; instead, let us revel in God’s gracious gifts, to drink deeply the wonder of relationships and life and every moment of this season—these will leave you truly satisfied and debt free!

© 2013 by S. Michael Craven

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S. Michael Craven is the president of Battle for Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.

As we, once again, approach this national day of “thanksgiving” I thought it necessary to reflect upon our nation’s long history of acknowledging and giving thanks to the Almighty God. 

On October 3, 1789 George Washington issued the nation’s first presidential proclamation in which he called the nation to set aside a day for giving thanks to that “great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….”

President Washington gave under his official hand the following words:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…

Furthermore President Washington acknowledged that he was joined by the Congress in his appeal to the nation:

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness… 

This presidential proclamation represented—in unequivocal terms—the government’s call upon the people of this nation to acknowledge and give thanks to God. These were not benign religious platitudes but unambiguous statements reflecting the consensus view of life and reality, which acknowledged that there is one God; the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture, in nature and in the person of Jesus Christ. Sadly much has changed; today our government institutions panic at the slightest reference to God and crumble in the face of every challenge to remove religious perspectives from the public square. 

This weak-kneed posture stands in stark contrast to the ideals set forth by our Founding Fathers. Consider President Washington’s concluding appeal in his momentous proclamation:

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best (emphasis mine).

Seventy-four years later, in the midst of the great Civil War, President Lincoln would issue a similar call to the nation acknowledging the nation’s many blessings from the Lord, “…who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” President Lincoln, like our first president, would once again call the nation to national thanksgiving and repentance with these words: 

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience…and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

America, in its folly, has been in the process of reordering its national identity and severing dependence from the God who has given it birth and blessed it for so long. Therefore, it seems that we might be well served to recall the proclamation of these great men set aside for this Thanksgiving holiday and once again give thanks to Almighty God for His longsuffering patience and mercy toward this nation and humbly repent of our national rebellion and wanton disregard for all that is holy and just. 

This national repentance begins in the Church, which has seemingly lost its way—abandoned (practically speaking) its first love and so often conformed to the world. May we on this Thanksgiving Day acknowledge the many and abundant blessings of Almighty God accompanied by a deep and sorrowful repentance for our individual, corporate and national sins. This, my dear brothers and sisters is our only hope and it is for this real hope and the promise of forgiveness that we can give thanks indeed! 

May the Lord, in His great mercy, pour out his Spirit upon you, your families, His Church and this nation this Thanksgiving Day!

© 2013 by S. Michael Craven

Respond to this article here.

Subscribe to Michael's commentary here.

S. Michael Craven is the president of Battle for Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.

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