This is another recurring piece I started in PULP, intended to help answer questions people have about faith. This appeared in the October issue.
A forum for questions about belief
Is Halloween a religious holiday?
Halloween originated from the Celtic Pagan celebration known as Samhain, so yes, it is a religious holiday. Samhain is a fall harvest festival in the Celtic tradition and is often considered the mark of the Gaelic New Year. Later, Pope Gregory III moved an existing Christian holiday – All Saints Day – from the middle of May to November first. This was done with many holidays, including Christmas and Easter, to coincide with Pagan holidays with the hope of luring them toward Christianity.
Though adopted by Christian culture, the Pagan notion that Halloween bridged the gap between the worlds of the living and dead lingered, which explains the images of ghosts and goblins that we still see today. The idea of trick-or-treating is primarily a North American phenomenon, observed only sparsely elsewhere.
Where did the idea of believing in only one god come from?
Though many assume the idea of belief in a single god, which is called monotheism, arose from the so-called Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, others argue that monotheism existed as far back as ancient Egypt. The pharaoh Akhenaten was said to have destroyed images of deities worshipped prior to his reign, establishing the god Aten as the sole figurehead for Egyptian worship. Zoroastrianism also is credited sometimes as the first monotheistic faith, which had varying degrees of influence on the Abrahamic traditions, depending on which scholar you ask.
Monotheism should not be confused with monism, however, which does not distinguish between a physical and spiritual world, or pantheism, which contends that the universe itself is divine.
What is the most popular religion in the world?
Christianity boasts the most adherents with more than 2 billion people. Islam is a close second with 1.5 billion, and secularists, agnostics and atheists collectively comprise just over 1 billion folks. The smallest “major” religion is Scientology with 500,000 members worldwide, bested by Rastafarianism with 600,000 and Neo-Paganism with one million.