Halloween: Should Christians Participate?/Program 3

By: Dr. John Weldon, Dr. James Bjornstad; ©1996
Why is it that ghosts, skeletons, haunted houses and poltergeists are associated with Halloween? Why are ghosts so fascinating to us today?



Ankerberg: Soon Halloween will be here. Hundreds of thousands of children will put on costumes and go door-to-door yelling, “Trick or Treat!” and collecting as much candy as they can. Many of these children will dress up as ghosts and skeletons, and they will visit haunted houses. Why do they do this? Let’s admit that, even without Halloween, ghost stories are everywhere today. Literally dozens of TV specials and segments on programs such as “Tales from the Crypt,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” “The X Files,” “Sightings,” “The Extraordinary,” and “Paranormal Borderline” captivate millions of viewers. In fact, although Halloween comes and goes every year, interest continues in the interesting phenomenon of ghosts or poltergeists which find their way into immensely popular movies concerning ghosts, such as “Ghost Dad” with Bill Cosby; “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze and “Ghost Busters.” Why are ghosts so fascinating to us today?
I asked this question to Dr. John Weldon. He has three earned Masters degrees and two Doctorates, one in Comparative Religions and the other in Contemporary Religious Movements. He has coauthored with me over 52 different books, including our The Facts on Halloween book. Here’s why he thinks ghosts are so fascinating for all of us.
Weldon: Ghosts, of course, are fascinating to just about everyone because of the implication. If ghosts are real, then there is life after death. Many of the kids on Halloween dress up in various ghost costumes and masks that are related to things like poltergeists. What are poltergeists? The term “poltergeist” comes from two German words: polter, which means to make noise, and geist, or ghost. So the idea is, we have a noisy spirit. Most of the viewers are probably familiar with the different poltergeist movies that are brought out on Halloween for television audiences. Poltergeists are something that relate to Halloween with the idea of children dressing in all kinds of grotesque masks and ghost costumes and with the theme of haunted houses that are popular that children can go visit.
Ankerberg: Your next question would be, “John, you don’t really think that ghosts are real, do you?” Before I tell you my answer, I’d like you to listen to a professor of philosophy at Cedarville College in Cedarville, Ohio. Listen to Professor Dr. James Bjornstad.
Bjornstad: Are ghosts real? It would seem to me that there are two ways that we could approach this. First of all, let me take the scientific or the empirical way. There are many reports today of sightings of ghosts, of hearing strange sounds, of seeing apparitions, the idea of a haunted house. And it is true that many of them may be nothing more than hallucinations, an illusion of something; perhaps some explanation by wind or some other means and thereby nothing supernatural is involved. But it would also seem that there are times when things have happened which we cannot explain apart from some understanding of the supernatural, something more than basically just what was there in the setting itself. So I would say, first of all, that empirically I think there are indications. There are lots of people that would bear witness they have encountered these things. Some of them may be false and may be fooled, but at least some of them are legitimate. And so I think there is indication, first of all, that there is a reality that does exist that the title ghost has been given to a spirit of some form.
A second way of looking at it would be biblical; and that would be God’s understanding of all things. I mean, God who knows everything looks at what we have here and gives us information in His Word. And in the Bible it speaks of the idea of ghosts, but more the idea of demons; the idea even of demons impersonating the dead, that demons could do certain things. And so I would say to begin with that, yes, there is a reality to the idea of ghosts, empirically, also biblically.
Ankerberg: Now, in listening to this you might be saying, “Yeah, but the scientists in our world today, the skeptics don’t give a lot of credence to the biblical idea of spirits.” Rather, our major universities today with departments of parapsychological research have developed their own theories for ghosts and poltergeists. Dr. John Weldon explains the three major views.
Weldon: There are about a dozen different explanations for what a poltergeist or ghost is, but three are dominant. One is the mediumistic view; that is, the view that’s offered by mediums who partake in séances and have spirits speak through them. That is the view that poltergeists are spirits of the dead who are troubled or earthbound and unable to progress beyond the plane that’s closest to the earth into higher spiritual dimensions or levels.
The second dominant theory is that poltergeist manifestations are solely a human phenomenon. Usually they are believed to be associated with an adolescent emerging into adulthood and poltergeist manifestations are a result of repressed fears. Parapsychologists call this RSPK, Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho Kinesis; that there is a recurring, spontaneous manifestation of mental psychic power that goes outside the person and produces poltergeist events.
The third common view is that poltergeists represent a biblical demon; that they’re really not the spirits of the dead and they’re really not mental powers; they are actually evil spirits the Bible identifies are demons.
Ankerberg: Now, even if these are the three different explanations for ghosts, obviously non-Christian scientists and philosophers do not give a lot of credibility to the biblical view. So what evidence, both logical and empirical, would point a thinking person toward the biblical view? Dr. John Weldon answers.
Weldon: It’s interesting that those who research poltergeists don’t give a lot of credence to the demonic theory. In other words, that poltergeist manifestations are, in fact, the manifestations of demons. But when you look at individual poltergeist cases, you find that only the demonic theory adequately explains all poltergeist cases. Certainly the kinds of things poltergeists do cannot be explained by some kind of psychic or psychokinetic power in adolescents or other people. And certainly, biblically speaking, we can’t explain poltergeists are contacting the human dead because the Bible is very clear that the unsaved dead are confined in punishment and that the saved dead are with Christ. So there’s no possible basis for the human dead to be making contact with the living.
The only really credible option that we have is the demonic theory. And when we look at that, we see that is what really explains the phenomena of the poltergeists. I think it’s very interesting that traditionally the poltergeists have been associated with witchcraft and demons and that even some psychical researchers who do not personally believe the demonic theory, nevertheless state that it certainly seems to make a lot of sense.
Ankerberg: Now, in a moment we’re going to ask, “Should Christians be involved in Halloween and dressing up their children in costumes of ghosts at Halloween? But before we do, what difference does it make? Why is it necessary to assign a supernatural cause to ghost or poltergeist manifestations at all? Why is it that the empirical evidence does not lead to the conclusion that this is only an adolescent giving off psychic energy?
Well, here is some pertinent data that comes right out of the parapsychological research today. This comes from Herbert Thurston’s book entitled, Ghosts and Poltergeists, where he describes what has been observed to take place: “Objects are projected with alarming velocity, and often seem directly aimed at some human target…. Another peculiarity is the waving path, quite irreconcilable with gravitational laws, which these projectiles often seem to follow. They turn corners, swerve in and out and behave, in fact, like a bird which is free to pick its own way. Not less surprising is… that the stones and other missiles are for the most part invisible at the beginning of their flight. They do not come into view until they are just a few feet off. They enter closed rooms and seem to drop from the ceilings or to penetrate doors and windows without leaving a trace of their passage.” Dr. John Weldon comments further on Herbert Thurston’s graphic description of poltergeists and what they do.
Weldon: Now, obviously, things like this cannot be explained on the basis of some kind of human psychic power. If we look at the compilation of poltergeist works in English over the last hundred years by Michael Goss, this is a compilation of 1,100 different books on poltergeists, we find that there are things like showers of stones, earth, mud, sticks, fruit and shells; that objects such as furniture can be thrown across rooms; that small objects may disappear; that bedclothes, linen garments and curtains may be torn, slashed or set on fire; that electrical equipment may malfunction, phones may ring off and on; there are footsteps that are heard. There’s all kinds of bizarre manifestations that can only have a supernatural source.
Ankerberg: Well, now, let’s get down to it. If there’s empirical evidence from parapsychological research taking place in our universities today that poltergeists are supernatural phenomena, the only question is, what interpretation do you put upon it? Who or what are the ghosts, the poltergeists? Why are they manifesting themselves? I asked Professor Jim Bjornstad to answer the question: “Should we be concerned about ghosts in our scientific era?” Here’s his answer.
Bjornstad: Should we be concerned about ghosts? My answer to that would be yes. In fact, my answer would be yes if you came at it from the viewpoint of spiritualism. Because there are many, many cases where spiritualists have said these are nothing more than the souls of departed people, only to find out that the spirits have hurt the people; have tried to kill them. So I would argue that if you think that this is nothing more than the dead that have come back, it is extremely dangerous even from that viewpoint. And the reason that I think it is because spiritists misunderstand the phenomena. It’s not the dead that are returning, it is the demons that impersonate the dead. In fact, when I think of the word medium in the Old Testament, it’s interesting that the word itself is constructed out of a phrase, baalah ov. And ba al, Baal, would be “master.” But here we have the feminine form, “mistress of an ov,” an ungodly spirit. We’re not talking about communication or a person that’s a go-between the world of the dead and the world that is here. We’re talking about demons, ungodly spirits that impersonate the dead. So these are very dangerous things from God’s viewpoint. Harmful to humankind. They do everything that they can in order to be opposed to God and to try to destroy His Kingdom.
Ankerberg: Next, obviously at Halloween we make a big deal about ghosts. We put pictures of them on our bulletin boards in our public schools. They are all over our food stores and drug stores. We dress up our children in ghost costumes. In light of what Dr. Bjornstad just said, I asked him pointblank: Is it okay for Christian parents to dress up their children in ghost costumes and send them out Trick or Treating at Halloween? Here’s what he said.
Bjornstad: Why on Halloween are we so concerned about graveyards and tombstones and poltergeists and ghosts and Halloween? Well, again, when we go back in history on this day we discover that it is the day that is given over to the Lord of the Dead. That’s the tradition in Celtic history. And so what the Celts would do is they understood that the spirits of the dead were wandering around the area and, therefore, if you were going to have contact with them, one of the practices we know that happened is that people would go over and they would lay on the grave of a loved ones. So graves were very important. Tombstones were important, because it was the place where the dead would be roaming. And so we see parts of that even today, the interest in that. When you think of ghosts, again, the roaming of allegedly the dead, good and evil, that were here, ghosts today. You think of haunted houses as the ghosts went around, as the dead went around back at that time. There would be certain manifestations. They would see certain signs; there would be certain places they would inhabit. And the idea of the haunted house comes out of that. And so the things that we associate with Halloween are really nothing new. What we are doing is celebrating the things that existed back then in the time prior to Christ in the world of the occult, the world of things that relate to Satan and not of God.
Ankerberg: So, should Christians participate in Halloween activities? Here is what Dr. John Weldon said.
Weldon: I think a very strong argument can be made that Christians should not be involved in Halloween, principally because of everything that is involved in the day of Halloween itself historically and today. Historically it’s related to paganism and spiritism and things like human sacrifice. Today it’s related to exactly those same things. Therefore, to dress up one’s child in costumes and to have them go Trick or Treating and to have all the other symbols and practices and activities associated with Halloween in some way, even indirectly, is associating oneself or giving some kind of credence to what occurs on a day that the world of the occult has made one of its most special days. I don’t think this is something that Christians should be involved in when God is so very clear in His Word telling us that we are to avoid all appearances of evil; that we are not to learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations and because they are profitless.
Ankerberg: Thanks for tuning in today. Next week our topic will be, “Why do we buy pumpkins, carve a face in them, and place a candle inside to light up the face? What does that symbolize? Why are Ouija boards, séances, white witchcraft, black witchcraft, even Satanism associated with Halloween? All of that we’ll look at next week. I hope that you’ll join me.


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