I met with some of my pastor friends here in Albuquerque the morning after Halloween. After we prayed, we hung around to schmooze for a while, and one of the pastors mentioned that his church had hosted a harvest festival the night before as an alternative to Halloween. He’d caught some flak about it, which he didn’t seem to mind much. I don’t know about the harvest festival idea, but he made a great observation: lots of believers in Yeshua worry about being defiled by contact with pagan elements, but other Yeshua-believers think that they can redeem pagan elements. In other words, some believers seem to think the power of pagan influence is stronger than the power of the spirit within, and others see it vice versa.
Now, it’s a given that there are some things that are defiling, period, but I thought my friend made a good, and biblically-rooted, point. Even in Scripture you see examples of things with pagan origins being redeemed and pressed into service for Hashem. For example, the design for the altar in Torah is the same as the design of pagan altars, with horns on the corner. The temple in Kings has the same design as pagan temples. Some of the imagery in Psalms and Prophets might reflect pagan tales, like the slaying of Leviathan, or the Rahab mentioned in Ps. 89:10 or Is. 51:9.
The point isn’t to minimize paganism, but to maximize God’s power. In some cases Hashem seems to appropriate items tainted by paganism and revamp them for his own redemptive purposes—which is part of what redemption is all about, no?
But of course there are cases in which such re-appropriation isn’t possible and we have to distance ourselves from the thing that’s tainted. For example, it’s one thing to appropriate the design for the altar; it’s another thing to appropriate an actual altar used for human sacrifice into the service of Hashem. Instead, those altars have to be torn down.
In case anyone’s worried about me, though, I’m still a Halloween curmudgeon, and mostly just boycott the holiday. Our house lights are out on Oct. 31, and we’re hiding inside the house pretending we’re not home. But I don’t have a big problem with churches that do an alternative activity that night, to help keep kids off the street, away from the preoccupation with spooks and goblins, etc. I do think it’s better to think of ourselves as spreading light and Ruach, rather than as having to watch out all the time lest we get defiled. Personally, I think this is the sort of thing that Rav Sha’ul has in mind in Colossians 2 (and not Kosher and purity laws as is often claimed):
If with Messiah you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.