Rev Dr Timothy Bradshaw, Oxford University theology department

AS IN so many aspects of our culture, Halloween has a very Christian base.

All Hallows Eve in the Christian calendar was the time for remembering the dead, the faithful departed and those who died for their faith in martyrdom.

It has mutated via the theme of death and darkness into a fun festival based on witches, ghouls and ghosts haunting graveyards, zombies or humanoid figures without personality or inner life, and vampires of the Bram Stoker type who are evil beings clothed in human beauty to prey on luckless victims.

This festival has become a focus on the macabre, for children to make mischief with ‘trick or treat’ visitation to local homes as part of the jollity.

But this focus can become scary and in adult hands can become downright violent, as the petrol bombs hurled at police trying to quieten down a Halloween rave testify.

The Halloween scary version dominates even programmes on television such as Strictly Come Dancing – an ideal opportunity for contestants to cover over clumsy footwork.

However daft we may think this autumnal fun fest of the grotesque is, we could take it as a prompt to ponder what evil actually is. Our news broadcasts and papers are certainly not short of examples.

The raging warfare of the Middle East dominates the headlines, and the consequential flow of refugees is now often described as being of ‘biblical proportions’.

Indeed that very strange final book of the Bible, Revelation, speaks of the ‘four horsemen’ – military conquest, warfare and the removal of peace, destruction of food production, and finally the ‘pale horse’ of death, famine and pestilence.

This vision is equally applicable to our 21st century newscasts, as it seemed to John the Seer in his exile on Patmos as he gave his theological picture of the ancient world at war with itself. And that indeed is very obvious evil.

Hannah Arendt, the well known Jewish intellectual of the mid 20th century, probed the ‘nice’ face of evil in a famous essay Banality and Conscience written at the trial of the Nazi concentration camp officer Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem after the Second World War.

Eichmann defended himself on the grounds that he was just doing his job, obeying orders, and was no monster at all, simply shouldering an unpleasant task.

He went home in the evenings, listened to Mozart over a glass of wine, an ordinary middle class sort of fellow.

The sheer banality of his life and self understanding seemed to Hannah Arendt a grotesque clash with the enormity of his crime of organising mass murder day by day. Here was apparently no demonic thug but a weak and absurd individual devoid of nobility even in his evil doing. And this is the most terrifying kind of human wrongdoing: just going along with what we are told, thinking we are quite normal, putting all self criticism to one side, and, as St Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans: ‘We repress the truth’. Hannah Arendt did not agree with the execution of Eichmann, and he went to his death unrepentant and rejecting any Christianity at all, and making a banal grandstanding speech as his last act.

It is truly frightening what the human race can be manipulated into doing, in evil great and small. Facing the truth is the start of repairing ourselves, and for the Christian looking at Jesus, the one who innocently suffered judicial murder and forgave his tormentors, it is the key to creative, honest repentance and renewal.