As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, I have invited three authors to write essays concerning this question: “Should Christians participate in the horror genres?”
I defined “participate” as follows: “We’re defining ‘participating in horror genres’ as reading/writing articles/stories/novels, watching shows/movies, viewing/creating websites, participating in forums, viewing/buying/creating art related to horror genres.”
Finally, instead of simply replying with “I agree” or “I disagree,” I encourage you to engage the authors by answering these three questions: 1) What is this author’s argument? 2) What are the strengths/weaknesses of the argument? 3) Is the argument persuasive/convincing? Why/Why not? Then, feel free to respond as you desire (within the realms of civility that I spelled out in the intro post).
Christians are free to participate in horror genres
In this essay I will discuss why Christians have freedom to participate in the horror genre. Apart from the obvious fact that there is nothing in scripture to preclude Christians from participating in the horror genre, I believe there are many reasons why Christians are free to do so and in many cases it may be beneficial for Christians to do so. But first, we need to discuss what horror actually is.
Merriam-Webster defines horror as:
1a: painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay
1b: intense aversion or repugnance
2a: the quality of inspiring horror : repulsive, horrible, or dismal quality or character
In this article, when I mention the horror genre, I am referring to that which produces an intense sense of “fear, dread, or dismay” in one’s own mind. Also, for this article, I am defining participate as the action of someone creating writings, movies, or verbal stories; as well as the action of someone reading, watching, and listening to those things that fall within the horror genre.
Horror can be used as a teaching tool
Over the centuries, the horror genre has been used in many ways. Some of the best horror stories have an underlying philosophy, morality, idea, or lesson that the story is trying to relay to it’s audience. Consider Frankensein, in this work Shelley is teaching her readers the conflict caused when man plays god by creating life, she also offers a glimpse into how she views society reacting to the strange and unknown. Some authors have written horror geared towards Christians, such as Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. Though This Present Darkness may not be wholly horror, I believe it definitely has aspects of it which fall into the definition of horror. Peretti is using his book to teach about the struggles we as Christians face in a day to day bases, while also showing the spiritual warfare going on in the background, hidden away where only spiritual eyes can see. Further, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkin’s Left Behind series takes advantage of horror in many ways. Not only are they trying to explain their apocalyptic understanding of Revelation to Christians, but they are using their words to essentially scare people into seeking the cross.
Horror can be used as a warning
Have you ever read Hansel and Gretle to your children? This story purports that if you leave home, talk to strangers, and eat their candy, then there is a good chance you’re going to burn up in a furnace and die. This definitely falls into the horror category. Many children grow up with fables and fairy tales like this, many of which uses the horror to instill a sense of fear and dread in the child, to warn the child that doing a set of actions is either wrong or could get them in big trouble. In fact, if you have ever told your child that god will freeze their face if they are making funny/ugly faces, then you have participated in the horror genre, but in reality, you are warning them that what they are doing is unacceptable and if they continue to do it, there will be consequences.
God uses Horror
If you search for Horror in the scriptures, you will see it mentioned over and over again. The word occurs over 29 times in the NASB. Many of these verses are talking about how an entity either is an object of horror or will experience horror in the future. There are some interesting things we can glean from some of these verses.
For instance, in Deuteronomy 28:37 we read, “You shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the lord drives you.” My first reaction to this verse was simple, there isn’t anything redeemable about this verse to support my argument. Then it struck me, god is lumping horror in with proverbs and taunts. Most likely because both proverbs and taunts are used as teaching tools and warnings. More importantly, though god is not condoning the use of the horror genre here, this verse does tell us that he knows people will use horror and is telling them that they will become a horror story. With this verse alone, one could argue that horror is an acceptable genre. There are similar verses found in 2 Chronicles 30:7, Jeremiah 42:18, Ezekiel 5:15, and many more like those.
We can also find examples in scripture where God uses horror in our lives. For instance, god uses horror in Genesis 2:17 when he tells Adam and Eve that they will die if they eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God uses horror in Genesis 6, when he says that he will bring a flood to destroy everything and everyone and again in Genesis 19 when he destroys the city of Sodom. In Exodus, god used horror when dealing with the Egyptians who refused to free his chosen people. God uses horror in dreams to get people to react a certain way. In one of the most amazing books of the Old Testament, god sends Jonah to warn Nineveh of their impending desctruction, if they do not change their ways. They repent and god does not destroy them.
The Horror of the Cross
Have you ever thought about what Jesus went through during his crucifixion? Imagine watching, in real life, a man who you believe is your savior being tied up and nailed to a cross, hanging there blood and sweat pouring down his face and body — your god, defeated, hanging on for dear life. As Christians, we buy paintings of this scene, hang crosses and crucifixes in our homes, teach our children about his sacrifice, and focus on it ever Easter. What Jesus did for us on the cross, though it was horrific, was the greatest news for us. His sacrifice is why we can call ourselves Christ Followers.
As Isaiah horribly prophecizes, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Are Christians free to participate in the horror genre? For our sake, I hope so.
There are many verses than have been used against the idea that Christians are free to participate in horror. Many of them presuppose that ‘horror’ is evil and thus their arguments become circular, but some of these verses still need to be taken into consideration. The most powerful of these verses comes from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
We must ask ourselves, is the horror genre…
- of good repute?
- worthy of praise?
When I consider these questions, I find myself comparing my answers to the horror we already find in scripture. Horror can reveal truth, honor, and righteousness; horror can encourage us to appreciate things that are lovely and show us the things that are of good repute; horror can produce excellence within us and allow us to see those things that are worthy of praise. Just as Job’s horror brought some of these things, even to us, I believe other horror can do the same and has already. There may be some completely unredeemable horror out there, but there is definitely some out there that is beneficial to both those who follow Christ and those who are yet to follow Christ.
(This post and the other posts in the series will also be published at “Zombie Theology.”)
Christians and Horror
- View 1: Christians are free to participate in horror genres
- View 2: Christians can participate in horror genres with limitations
- View 3: Christians should NOT participate in horror genres