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Three Views on Christians and Horror: 1 – Christians are free to participate in horror genres

Posted by on Jul 26, 2011 in discipleship | 19 comments

Three Views on Christians and Horror: 1 – Christians are free to participate in horror genres

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).

This article was written by Lew. You can contact him at his website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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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.

But…

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…

  1. true?
  2. honorable?
  3. right?
  4. lovely?
  5. of good repute?
  6. excellent?
  7. 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


19 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-26-2011

    “Many of them presuppose that ‘horror’ is evil and thus their arguments become circular…”

    I would say this essay takes the opposite view, and presumes that horror is inherently Godly, thus creating another circular argument. A “horror” genre comprising Frank Peretti, Left Behind, Hansel and Gretel, and the Bible will naturally measure up favorably when tested by the Biblical standard in Philippians: true, honorable, right, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise.

    “There may be some completely unredeemable horror out there…”

    I think the list of completely unredeemable works of “horror” dwarfs the one-line list above of redeemable works of the “horror” genre. The bulk of the mainstream “horror” genre relies on a mixture of demonic activity, eroticism, pornography, and hopelessness to draw in and captivate participants.

    I believe 1 Corinthians 10:23 is certainly applicable regarding Christians participating in the “horror” genre: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. So, while it may be permissible for Christians to participate in the horror genre, I won’t be looking for redemptive nuggets in that genre’s spiritual minefield any time soon.

  2. 7-26-2011

    “I think the list of completely unredeemable works of “horror” dwarfs the one-line list above of redeemable works of the “horror” genre. ”

    This is arguably true of any genre. Everything (“even” the works of the brothers Grimm and Frank Peretti) are corrupt. I don’t think Lew is defending the splaterpunk or gorefests that are out there. Invalidating the genre becuase some/most of the people out there are producing stuff that we find reprehensible on some level (although isn’t this what horror is supposed to do, horrify?) seems short sighted.

  3. 7-26-2011

    “, I won’t be looking for redemptive nuggets in that genre’s spiritual minefield any time soon.”

    Also, the world is a spiritual minefield. TV, radio, books, going to work, having dinner out, staying at home, all of these activities are frought with peril.

  4. 7-26-2011

    @Scott

    You’re correct that most genres are corrupt and the world is a minefield. I’m not going to browse the genres and places in the world that I know will be most dangerous to my heart.

  5. 7-26-2011

    Alex and Scott,

    Thanks for the discussion. Any comments on the author’s arguments? Strengths or weaknesses?

    -Alan

  6. 7-26-2011

    I believe that in this age, God is raising up Christians to go into the highways and byways to reach unbelievers. I met a Christian who is going into psychic fairs and new age conferences, speaking the languages of those cultures to reach people with God’s love. Why not horror if it is written with excellence, exposing sin but not glorifying it? Godspeed, Alan. The English Teacher

  7. 7-26-2011

    Christi,

    Thanks for the comment. Any comments on this author’s arguments?

    -Alan

  8. 7-27-2011

    Alex,

    I would not say that my essay “presumes that horror is inherently Godly”. Especially since you quoted me, saying “There may be some completely unredeemable horror out there” I find it hard to understand why you would think that I believe that horror is inherently Godly. My argument in this essay is that horror is not inherently evil.

    I would argue (and tried to in this essay) that most popular horror works are those that have underlying lessons. Even the ones that use “demonic activity, eroticism, pornography, and hopelessness” to tell their story. By the way, each of those categories can be found in scripture.

    Godspeed.
    Lew

  9. 5-1-2013

    The arguments presented by this author is Preposterous. He takes the definition of “horror” and uses a very broad application of the term – when parents warn their children not to make faces is horror? I don’t think so. When God told Adam and Eve they would die, He was giving a mandate based on His righteousness, not to evoke the shock, fear, and terror we see in today’s movies. To compare the gore, spiritual depravity, and dismemberments of today’s books and movies as a learning tool is lacking the decernment. Why do we need images of darkness (that are often against Christianity) to teach us anything when we already have God’s Word? There is a huge difference between the necessary accounts of the Bible and the twisted creations of fallen men.

  10. 5-1-2013

    Margo,

    I appreciate your comment. I have a question: When a parent tells their child not to make a certain face of “it will freeze like that”, why did the parent make that statement? What reaction does the parent desire from the child? I’d suggest the parent is attempting to frighten the child so that the child will not make that face again. That is a form of horror.

    Of course, like the remainder of your comment suggests, it’s not horror that you’re opposed to, but certain types of horror.

    -Alan

  11. 5-1-2013

    Yes. I may have come across harshly. If I have I appologize, but this really is just — ludicrous. My understanding of the word “horror” relates to the images and themes of today’s “horror” movies. It’s a strong word evoking many sacreligious, occultic, and violent ideas that serve no purpose but to load the mind with trash. A parent’s warning to a child may evoke fear and obiedience, but not horror.

    I don’t see how anyone could compare this type of movie entertainment with the content of God’s Word. What does the “horror” in the Bible have to do with advocating going to see secular horror movies? One is light and the other is darkness.

    There’s nothing remotely similar between them and to line them up in an attempt to plead this case borders on blasphamy; an extremely poor argument at best.

  12. 5-2-2013

    Margo,

    Interestingly, similar arguments were made by Christians in past generations about the “horror” films of their day. Today, those films are typically consider mild, at worst.

    -Alan

  13. 5-4-2013

    Because the world is getting worse.

  14. 5-4-2013

    I personally have no interest in being entertained by horror nor any temptation or desire to watch or read those genres. I write with some reservation because I know it is easy to judge another in something than one is not tempted in whatsoever. I have never read Hansel and Gretyl to my children and always in the back of my mind wondered why anyone would tell a story like this to children. I also would never want to tell an untruth to a child to manipulate there behaviour like the God will freeze your face story. Although fear is great for manipulation of behavior I don’t feel is the desired method of changing behavior. (I realize that Lew was not necessarily advocating these methods but rather using them as examples) Maybe only for a last resort when the recipient is devoid of normal reasoning or all other tactics have failed. I would also say that scaring people into heaven is not the best tactic for inner heart change as well. However it may change external behaviour.

    Places like the Holocaust museum may have some value for reminding us of the sinfulness of man without God and wanting it never to happen again, however I would never want to consider it entertainment. Even when the story line is untrue I feel it still debases us when it is entertaining to us.

    The need for horror films to become worse to interest audiences to me shows a sign that humans can need ever greater gore to cause the same adrenaline rush in the sameway people may be drawn to ever greater eroticism to get the same rush. I feel a line is passed when horror is used merely for entertainment. Something to be watched for the purpose of getting a chemical rush.

    Just recently in our area there was a Zombie trailer shot for a movie. We got to see the pictures splashed in our newspaper. Little children with blood gashes all over them. Adults as well with awful images presented to our minds. Is this really healthy for our society. Why do humans have a craving for this? Would it be okay for Christians to attend the Colliseum in Rome. Does the craving to watch violence change or somehow different because the people are not actually being killed or harmed although it may effect your mind and body reactions in the same way because of the visual stimulation.

    I do not think that Lew’s argument that horror is in some of the bible stories gives us liberty to use horror as a genre any more than Song of Solomon gives us liberty to use erotic material. I find that morals can be brought through stories without the extreme visuals of grotesqueness or erotic visuals.

  15. 5-5-2013

    Margo,

    Again, I think the same argument was made about the gothic horror novels of the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as the early Hollywood horror movies even up to Hithcock and other movies of the late 20th century.

    Rod,

    So, are you arguing that a certain level of horror is fine (perhaps even good), but that other levels are horror are not? If so, then how and who defines that level?

    -Alan

  16. 5-5-2013

    To answer your question Alan I would say that depends on how one defines horror. I would not consider the story of Job horror. Nor would I consider sickness or tragedies or disciplining your children horror. We have no control over getting sick or the many tragedies that happen in our life or the lives of our loved ones. We may convey stories that one of our friends was in an accident or the Holocaust occurred or Jesus died on the cross. However this is different in my mind than watching a body get dismembered in a car accident or watching a movie like The Passion of Christ. The latter examples demonstrate a gratuitous display of human suffering while the former is just knowledge of it.

    As far as your second question on how and who defines that level, I would say it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately convicts. Of course there may be times when we as brothers and sisters encourage each other to holy living thru non judgemental loving persuasions on the ways we feel the Spirit is guiding us. Realizing of course that that does not make us the final judge of another’s actions.

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the questions in this paragraph: “Just recently in our area there was a Zombie trailer shot for a movie. We got to see the pictures splashed in our newspaper. Little children with blood gashes all over them. Adults as well with awful images presented to our minds. Is this really healthy for our society? Why do humans have a craving for this? Would it be okay for Christians to attend the Colliseum in Rome? Does the craving to watch violence change or somehow different because the people are not actually being killed or harmed although it may effect your mind and body reactions in the same way because of the visual stimulation?”

  17. 5-5-2013

    Rod,

    What about things like dashing children against rocks, blood flowing through the streets, entire cities and the people in them burning, etc.? Could those kinds of things be considered horror?

    As to your questions: This post was about Christians and horror. The first things you mentioned were in a local newspaper, right? As to the other questions, I would return to your previous answer, I’d recommend letting the Spirit guide you into what you should or should not view/read. If something causes you to stumble, then stay away from it. If something causes your brothers/sisters to stumble, then help them stay away from that too.

    And, to continue that, if I know that horror causes one of my brothers/sisters to stumble, then I would not expose them to it. Of course, there’s a difference between “not liking” and “caused to stumble,” but I would probably error on the side of yielding to the desires of my brothers/sisters in Christ.

    -Alan

  18. 5-6-2013

    Alan, In response to your questions if these things(biblical examples) are considered horror. I would consider them historical documentation of horrible activities that have occurred. Now if we were to make movies of these stories that focus on the graphic gore I would call that horror genre. In the same way the bible makes mention of sexual activity of historical note. However, I would see a world of difference between watching graphic visual reenactment of it and reading documentation that it occured.

    Please understand Alan I am not judging you. Like you and I both said the Holy Spirit is our leader. I am just responding to one post of yours that I disagree with and happen to not be able to understand or quite comprehend the opposing view. But I am definitely not the judge.

    I have appreciated many of your posts and agree with you most of the time. I think your writing and blog here is a great resource for the church. Keep writing for his glory.

  19. 5-6-2013

    Rod,

    You said, “Now if we were to make movies of these stories…” Horror did not start with movies or TV.

    We’re probably not as far apart as it might appear. I do not judge you for your decisions either, and would fully support you and encourage you in choosing not to take part in horror genres.

    Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I’m glad that you find it beneficial!

    -Alan