But I’m a big believer in the power of ordinary common-sense — a power celebrated by Catholic intellectuals from Aquinas to Newman. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, so when human beings are involved, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud.
At Halloween, that’s a lot of darkness. But here are four silver linings:
1: At Halloween, mainstream culture finally admits that the supernatural is real.
The philosopher Charles Taylor makes a key distinction between the way we see ourselves now vs. the way people always saw themselves before.
We used to have “porous selves” he said — we were beings existing in a world that included lots of inhabitants, seen and unseen, that impact us daily, from our own souls, to spirits distinct from ourselves. Now we are “buffered selves” — autonomous, sovereign individuals, less like porous sponges and more like billiard balls that bounce off each other.
This self-conception seems impenetrable and unchangeable, until Halloween, when we forget all that and admit it: There is another layer to reality, dimensions beyond what we can see and explain, or explain away.
2: And that means Halloween reminds us that we are not ultimately in control.
Horror movies and Halloween frights work by convincing us that there is a malevolent force in the world that means us harm and can have its way with us if we fall prey to it. In other words, Halloween confronts us with the truth that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
This is a wonderful corrective to the decades-long “culture of narcissism” we live in, where each of us is convinced we are the main character in our story while others have mere walk-on roles in the story of our lives.
But Halloween reminds us that there is something lurking out there, waiting for us to trip up — and, if Christians do their job, we show that there is good, too, waiting to lend us a hand.
3: Halloween reminds us that the dead are not really gone.
Scientific materialism tells us that our bodies are all there is. That leads to the feeling that life is meaningless, or that life’s only point is to amass what power, pleasure, or wealth we can get.
But then, each Halloween the culture collectively admits that we all agree that ghosts (all three kinds) might be real. And that introduces the unnerving feeling that we will one day have to reckon with an afterlife and account for what we did.
4: Last and most importantly: Halloween reminds us that we owe our neighbors candy.
But we adults tend to over-analyze things. Children understand these things a lot better. Just as kids know that the real meaning of Christmas is receiving gifts, they also know the real meaning of Halloween: You get candy.
I remember hearing a priest who moved to America as a child tell the story of the reaction he and his brother had when they realized that you could go door to door and get free candy on Halloween.
“My brother didn’t believe me, so he watched me go to the first door all alone. After that, we ran from door to door until we were physically exhaused. It amazed us. We had never even imagined that such a thing was even possible.”
The fact is, Halloween is an outpouring of neighborliness that is remarkable and beautiful. “Love thy neighbor” is the Second Greatest Commandment, and Halloween is a huge victory for charity in a world that badly needs it.
In short, Halloween reminds us that we are all in this together.
Our culture is too often a culture of death, so it’s important to heed the warnings about Halloween excesses. But you can’t evangelize a culture you don’t love, so it’s also important to identify and celebrate all that is best in our culture.
Halloween reminds us that we, the living, exist in a world populated by more than what we can see, and we will last for longer than we can imagine. That makes Halloween the perfect Vigil for Nov. 1, the day we celebrate those who lived God’s will on earth, and remind ourselves of what we must do for each other so that we can join them.