SMASHING THE GREAT PUMPKIN: LET’S END THE RELIGION OF SUFFERING
The year 1966 brought the founding of old Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and the premiere of Charles M. Schultz’s seminal Halloween TV special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
These two media creations have a few things in common. They’ve both endured far longer than the original producers probably expected. They both enjoy at least some resurgence of public interest once October rolls around. And they’re both frankly pretty awkward and dated at this point.
The big difference is that I still find religious fulfillment in Charlie Brown, although not for the same reasons other people do. In fact, truth be known I think most Great Pumpkin preachers are out of their gourds.
By the way, is it just me or can anyone else picture Charlie Brown as a young LaVey? Not to say all bald people look alike, but this makes a kind of emotional sense that I’m probably not fully prepared to confront.
For 52 straight years now, Linus Van Pelt spends Halloween on an all-night pumpkin patch vigil. It occurs to me if nothing else that pumpkin patch could use some basic nighttime security, but I guess it was a simpler time. When trespassing on farmland was a holiday tradition, and dogs worked through wartime PTSD on their own.
In 2012, critic Michael Atkinson joined the chorus of voices declaring that “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” reads like a religious parable: “This holiday special is the Passion of Linus, who spends it as an outcast, crying out in the wilderness against ‘hypocrisy,’ for ‘sincerity,’”
Atkinson translates Linus as a heroic figure and an “uncompromising individualist,” calling his pumpkin patch put-on “courageous resistance.”
Director Michael Koresky dubbed Linus “one of pop art’s great emblematic figures of human spirituality.” To Koresky, the Great Pumpkin routine is a “lucid depiction of the struggle between existentialism and religious determinism.” Dogs with aviator goggles and delusions of grandeur often resolve such conflicts, I’m told
And just last week the blog Courageous Christian Father (a title seemingly tailored to make me break out in hives) called the cartoon “a great example of how much faith we should have in Jesus.”
“Linus knew the Great Pumpkin would bring special things to those who are in the pumpkin patch,” CCF says. “He cared for his friends and didn’t want to see his friends get left out.”
I’m not entirely confident CCF watched the whole cartoon. Or maybe just didn’t read the whole Bible? Either way, an annually fruitless gourd stakeout is probably not the grand selling point he seems to think it is. (Although I suppose we should chastise Linus for not realizing that the Great Pumpkin will probably wait the industry standard three days to rise.)
Let’s clear up a few things. First, the whole gag with the Great Pumpkin is that Linus looks like a rube. Yes, it’s endearing, but the big punchline is that no matter how many times he’s let down he never learns.
Second, we can’t even really pretend that some day his faith will be rewarded. The Great Pumpkin is never actually going to come, because the cartoon is the same every year. At this point it’s a rerun. (Not to be confused with Rerun.)
Third, if anyone is up for a Great Pumpkin-based seasonal Wicker Man cult I’ll definitely respond to your Facebook invite. That’s off-topic but I just wanted to float it out there.
Linus seems like a noble figure to some people because we’re haunted by prejudices in favor of martyrdom. Persistently, we’re told that suffering means we’re doing religion right.
“If your goal is to avoid suffering, that is not a good goal,” apologist John Oakes lectured in 2010. “The Christian life is intimately associated with suffering. It is, according to Peter, one principle way we come to know Christ.”
“Take up [your] cross and suffer willingly for Christ’s sake,” ur-fascist Christian blogger Nathan Duff ordered readers in 2013, recalling centuries of ritualized Christian deprivation that laid the groundwork for modern faith.
Well that all sounds like a fucking horrorshow. If Linus is a martyr to ceremonial silliness, how is that a mark in his favor? How does it favor anyone?
“I don’t know about you, but I want my life to stand for more than just enduring an intolerable situation for a long time,” University of South Carolina professor D. B. Dillard-Wright observed in a 2017 blog. Martyrdom, Dillar-Wright points out, is great for prolonging terrible circumstances but not much else.
If you ask me, our religious role models should be Charlie Brown and the other Peanuts kids. Their Halloween night rituals—candy, parties, friends, beagles—seem far more fulfilling.
Suffering is bad dogma. I can suffer well enough without religion. As Satanists, our religious calling should be toward better living, or at least a better night out. Otherwise why bother?