Let me set the record straight right up front. I love Halloween. I had fun as a kid, dressing in my costume and racing through the neighborhood gathering up the goodies. I had fun as a teenager going to Halloween parties. And I've had the most fun on Halloween as I walked through our neighborhood with our kids...holding their hand in the dark and then just holding the flashlight when they were too old to want to hold hands. I've prompted them to ring the bell and say "trick or treat". And of course, I prompted them to say "thank you" once the loot had been delivered. I've even participated in some Samhain rituals in pagan celebration of the season. So as you can see, I've got no intrinsic problem with the holiday.
But I am troubled by how it has been co-opted by groups for their own purposes. In the 90's we were treated to Hell Houses - church sponsored horror shows designed the scare the crap out of people with their interpretation of all the evils in the world such as abortion and drinking. Talk about taking the fun out of a haunted house...these folks knew just how to suck all the joy out of a holiday and turn it into a sledgehammer-to-the-head approach to winning people over to their view of Christianity.
Eventually, Hell Houses became a bit too gruesome and controversial so a newer, milder version of Hell Houses hit the scene. These new guided tours are known as Judgement House, a different dramatic presentation about the "truth of people's choices". In fact, Judgement House (the two "e's" are their idea, not mine) has been around since the early 80's, but seemed to really grow in popularity in the early part of this decade as Hell Houses faded from popularity.
Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against religious groups sharing their beliefs and values. But the Hell House movement was extreme. However, it was not the most extreme horror show on this little tour.
Oh no, that honor goes to the Tribulation Trail. Located in the woods of southern Georgia, the Tribulation Trail is a 90-minute walk through the woods sponsored by the Mount Vernon Baptist Church. It bills itself as a "walk through drama portraying the end of times". What it really is, as reported by one participant, is an "intensely violent rendition of standard end-times scenarios". Six of the twelve scenes involve executions including a teenager watching his young sister beaten to death. Participants are "guided" from scene to scene by men and teenage boys carrying automatic rifles. Yet, the official website for the Tribulation Trail says it is fine for kids 10 years of age and older. And perhaps the most frightening thing of all...25,000 people a year buy tickets and take the walk and this year it is sold out.
So someone explain this to me. When so many religious groups are wanting to avoid Halloween because it isn't safe or "kid friendly"...costumes are too scary...there is too much "evil" associated with it...etc...etc...how is it that religious groups are also bringing us some of the most revolting moments of Halloween horror? Can these types of events really convert people? Or is it merely a faith-promoting tool for the believers?
I understand their purpose. I'm just very confused by their tactics. Confused and appalled. I'm very clear that these activities do not represent my values. And I'm clear that I don't believe this is what Halloween is all about...whether you believe in the spirituality of Samhain, Day of the Dead, or just want a good Snickers.