The Ghost of Chuck Smith
I saw the ghost of Chuck Smith last night. The recently-deceased founder and minister of the Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California was hovering in my kitchen, a white evangelical vapor. In the 1960s, Chuck co-opted flower power and became a key figure in the Jesus Movement. His sermons featured a laid-back form of fire and brimstone geared for baby boomers. In Chuck’s gospel, evil took the form of heavy metal music and Jack ‘O Lanterns. Now, as a cloudy apparition in my kitchen, he looked like a prop at goth Halloween gig.
"Welcome to this edition of The Pagan Invasion,” Chuck’s ghost said. I was both frightened and amused. “By participating in the customs of Halloween — whether in fun or ignorance — you, Nathan, are continuing in practices which have been consecrated to Satan." Holy crap, I thought. I must be a child of the Devil.
Or maybe not.
Either way, “consecrated to Satan” is just the kind of thing “living” Chuck would had said and apparently “dead” Chuck can’t give up the ghost of planting fear. His obituaries called him a great spiritual leader, but his actions were old-school hysteric paranoid. When he was alive, Chuck said that Halloween represented "the favorite holy day of witches, sorcerers and devil worshippers” who were all part of "a highly organized network of Satanists operating in America." Producing videotapes like The Pagan Invasion, Smith encouraged his congregation to purify October 31 — ridding it of demons, ghosts, and Satan himself. Now, ironically, Chuck the Ghost, floated over to my pantry helping himself to some Hav a Chips.
“Get out of my kitchen,” I said. Chuck broke open the bag and started munching.
Back in 1960s, Chuck’s mass baptisms at Pirate's Cove in Corona del Mar attracted a variety of faith-based thrill-seekers — including ex-hippies, tired of drugs, but desperate to remain in an alternate reality. Always the clever one, Chuck marketed his father figure personae, message and manner to that mindset.
“One of the biggest promoters of Halloween is the public school system,” Chuck once said. "Education officials admit that more effort is put into the celebration of Halloween than any other holiday, including Christmas and Easter." Apparently, Chuck reasoned that the separation of Church and state is part of Satan’s master plan.
In The Pagan Invasion, Chuck enlisted Hal Lindsay (the author of that Armageddon classic The Late Great Planet Earth) to help ratchet up the baby boomer paranoia."The real Satanists — the hardcore Satanists,” Lindsay said, “are involved in criminal activity and for that reason they are going to try and look as normal as possible the better able to deceive you.” Normal looking Chuck Smith nodded in agreement. Lindsay went on to identify Satanists in the workplace. “They're doctors, they're lawyers, they're teachers,” he said. “They are often times people who are in positions of great influence over small children."
Like small children, the congregation at Calvary Chapel responded to Chuck’s paranoid message and the modern Orange County born-again overly suspicious parent was born. But Halloween survived. In fact, it flourished. Why? Because it’s fun — spooky fun, loud and crazy fun, sometimes over the top fun, but none-the-less, fun. At Halloween, Satan is mocked, death is diminished, egos are shed, and for a brief time you can be anyone and anything — even a ghost.
After I got over the fear of seeing the ghost of Chuck Smith in my kitchen, I went over to offer him a drink and share my condolences about his recent death. But instead of staying, Chuck flitted away through the screen door. As he rose up into the full moon night, I called out “Happy Halloween,” hoping Chuck would have a less-paranoid existence, now that he’s in the realm of ghosts.
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