Halloween as the Festival of Fear

I have a kid who loves haunted houses. She went with a group of her classmates to the local very-scary haunted event this year, and one of her friends sheepishly exited just a few minutes in. I was sympathetic. I’d happily pay the price of admission for the privilege of not enduring half an hour in the corridors of horror.

And yet, witness the part where I drove my child to and from the event, I have no qualms whatsoever about the spooky parts of Halloween, and that is today’s topic.

Fear is Your Friend

Years ago No Fear was the marketing slogan slapped on the back windshields of pick-up trucks, and lately Faith Not Fear has been showing up on church signs. Both are symptoms of hubris and foolishness; our Lord’s dread at His pending crucifixion seems to be the definitive statement that it is normal and healthy to fear horrible things.

Fear can be disordered, as with any emotion. If you are afraid of harmless things, that’s something to work on. If you are not afraid of harmful things, that, too, is something to be addressed. A healthy, functional fear-system alerts you to potential threats, awakening your senses and urging you to proceed with caution.

Thus, the more vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to be spooked by some circumstance that turns out to be entirely harmless. That, too, is healthy: The more vulnerable you are, the more cautious you need to be, because you have fewer back-up strategies in the face of danger.

When we find ourselves in a scary situation, the healthy response is to take steps to make ourselves more safe. In bad weather, we slow down on the interstate. Late at night, we verify the identity of the person knocking at the door before we open. Before heading off into the woods, we tell someone where we’ll be going and when to expect us back.

Sometimes we let our friends talk us into taking a poor risk. The resulting uneasiness we feel is our common sense rightly rebuking our (hopefully temporary) stupidity.

Because we are not omniscient, sometimes we will experience fear when we are in no danger at all. Still, the rational response to a sense that something dangerous could be afoot is to carry out a plan to mitigate that danger. After the fact, sometimes people will think it’s foolish or silly to take have taken precautions in a situation where our fears turned out to unfounded; well, if you knew were in no danger, then yes, you were being silly — but did you know that? Probably not. That’s why your fear system was shouting at you to be careful.

So. Back to Halloween.

Saintliness Doesn’t Mean Fearlessness

On All Saints Day, November 1, we honor and give thanks for the many, many people who lived heroic lives for Jesus Christ. All of them dealt with fear of genuine dangers, and all of them showed fortitude in the face of those dangers.

Some faced the horrors of torture and martyrdom. Some faced the misery of loneliness and rejection when they were mocked for following God’s call in their life. Some lived quiet lives of faith, setting aside the natural doubts that plague us all in order to live and die in confidence of the Lord’s loving mercy and promise of eternal life for all who love Him.

Saints are people who were brave. Bravery isn’t fearlessness; bravery is doing what you need to do despite your real and valid fears.

So it is fitting that on All Saints Eve we playfully and joyfully face our fears.

Playing at Bravery Builds Bravery

When my daughter and her friends went through the haunted maze on a dark night in the middle of the countryside, they were never in any danger. The sets were scary, but they were fake. The actors were intimidating, but it said right on the waiver that at no point would an actor harm you in any way. Scary music is just noise. The whole thing was nothing but a game of pretend.

Still: It’s a valuable game of pretend. Sooner or later, every one of those kids has to face terrifying situations. Sometimes it will be physical danger; sometimes it will be the pain of an awful relationship; sometimes it will be the daunting prospects of acquiring a profession and making a living. The experience of having been scared witless in a safe setting builds up the ability to cope with other fears.

Haunted houses aren’t for everyone though — certainly they aren’t for me. No thanks. What are other Halloween activities that prepare us for a heroic life?

Children dress up as the people they admire — astronauts or disney princesses — and for an evening they put on the virtues of their heroes. Adults make fun of political figures, news events — all those monsters we can’t control.

Creepy decorations and devilish costumes, rightly used, teach us that we need not quake at the mere sight of something that gives us pause. We can overcome our natural revulsion and carry on.

Trick-or-Treating is the act, meanwhile, of finding out that your community has your back — that you have a network of people who wish you well and want good things for you in your life. In the face of real-life dangers, other people are the go-to resource.

You Can Do Halloween Wrong

Evil is real, and the humans are capable of it. If your Halloween is spent glorifying sin, you’re doing it wrong. People who take advantage of the annual festivities to harm others are the anti-Halloween. That people abuse the holiday, however, does not negate its right use.

It’s the eve of All Saints, and the feast — even among non-Christians — is rightly ordered towards a joyful exulting in our ability as humans to face down darkness.

File:Osteolaemus tetraspis - Karlsruhe Zoo 01.jpg
Photo: Dwarf Crocodile, Osteolaemus tetraspis, via Wikimedia, CC 3.0. If you don’t think crocodiles are creepy, something is wrong with you.