Ghosts and ghouls for the godless


Christians face a bit of a dilemma around Halloween time. On the one hand, it’s a Christian holiday (All Hallow’s Eve, the day before All Saints Day); on the other hand, it glorifies ghosts and devils and all sorts of other anti-Christian kind of stuff. But what about atheists? Should it be a dilemma for us as well?

Certainly Halloween has religious roots, however secularized and diluted the original meaning of the thing has become. Even if you want to assume (with good reason) that it was probably a pagan holiday long before the Christians snapped it up, paganism isn’t atheism — it’s just superstition without the overlay of rigorous codification that turns a superstition into a religion.

But let’s face it, if atheists shun every activity that’s been co-opted by the God-botherers, we wouldn’t have very much left to do for fun, would we? And we shouldn’t dismiss superstition (or religion) out of hand. There may well be profound psychological underpinnings to which superstition, paganism and other religions are a response.

Maybe mid-autumn (in Europe and North America), when leaves are dying and the icy bleakness of winter is beginning to approach, is just a natural time for people to think about death and other creepy things. Maybe that’s why religions in temperate climates evolved to use this time of year for reflection on such things.

There’s no reason we atheists — just as human, just as evolved, just as engaged in the world as anybody else — can’t acknowledge those underpinnings and even revel in them.

(cartoon via

5 responses to this post.

  1. What gets me about modern Hallow’een is that we aren’t “allowed” to dress up as truly scary things.

    Dress up as the devil, or a ghost, or a were-wolf and nobody cares.

    Dress up as Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer or Osama Bin Laden and you’re labeled as being insensitive. Isn’t the whole point Hallow’een to dress up as what truly frightens you? I haven’t been scared of the devil or ghosts in a while.

    Werewolves still get me, though 😉

    (I actually never dress up for Hallow’een. Costumes are too much of a pain in the butt)


  2. Posted by Stepan on October 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Oh come, on! For an atheist, there is no dilemma in Halloween, is there? Or is there someone really wondering whether celebrating the holiday (OMG, I just said “holy”!) somehow encroaches on their godlessness cred?

    In my eyes, a kid dressed up as Hitler is actually tasteless. When it comes to costumes for grownups, it doesn’t always seem to be about stuff that truly frightens you. Unless people are frightened by sexy nurse outfits and such. 😀

    BTW, what gets me about Halloween is pedants putting that little apostrophe in the name – especially when they place it in the wrong spot. 😉


  3. I always forget where the apostrophe goes. Is it ‘een or e’en? Don’t let me wallow in ignorance! 🙂


    • Posted by brachinus on October 30, 2009 at 9:50 am

      It’s “e’en” since it’s a shortening of “even” (which itself is a shortening of “evening”).


  4. Thanks. Now I know. Or, I could just write Halloween and not try to appear smarter than I actually am.


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