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 should NOT participate in horror genres
WARNING!!!! THIS POST MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR THOSE UNDER 16 YEARS OF AGE!!
Let me just begin by suggesting that I’m sure there are some really good books that are out there that do this subject much more justice than my short little journey in the subject. Much of my conviction on the matter comes more from what I believe is a discerning voice within me rather than from a large amount of research on the subject. However, I have done some research and I believe this research reinforces the discerning voice within me.
What are we talking about here? Well, to quote Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, “The horror…the horror.” To clarify, the horror film that I am critiquing in this post is not to be confused with a Hitchcock suspense film, but rather a film that fits the mold as defined in the “Horror Films” genre descriptive page on www.filmsite.org, it describes horror films in the following manner,
Horror Films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Horror films effectively center on the dark side of life, the forbidden, and strange and alarming events. They deal with our most primal nature and its fears: our nightmares, our vulnerability, our alienation, our revulsions, our terror of the unknown, our fear of death and dismemberment, loss of identity, or fear of sexuality.
Simply put, horror films present images that are meant to invoke fear in our hearts and minds and do so in as shocking a manner that is culturally necessary. The content of these films follows the pattern of most things in Hollywood; something new must outdo something old. What was considered horror even in the 1980’s pales in comparison to the disturbing images and ideas that are present in current day horror flicks. Why do many humans seek after the progressively shocking? Why do they desire something even more terrifying to observe than they saw last year? Well, probably because it gratifies something that they want to keep gratifying but find it harder and harder to gratify as they indulge in the content.
This brings up our first argument, the biological argument. Like the viewing of sexual activity, viewing things that invoke fear releases chemicals within our brains. Those particular chemicals are meant to be a natural warning signal that we are in danger. I believe that some quotes from David Saliba’s A Psychology of Fear can be helpful in understanding these natural biological processes:
There are two basic kinds of fear stimuli. The first is environmental and poses a direct physical threat to the perceiver. The second is strictly psychological and poses no direct physical threat. For obvious reasons the first is a rational fear and the second is an irrational fear. Rational fears can be overcome by physical retaliation or escape, whereas irrational fears such as those aroused by horror stories, can be successfully overcome only by conscious and rational control…. Consequently, the method for controlling irrational fear is to avoid further instinctual reactions and to concentrate on rationalizing. However, in a panic situation the victim automatically acts instinctually rather than rationally, and instead of remedying his problem and dispelling his fear he acts in a non-rational way that is likely to end catastrophically.
Spiritual arguments aside, it appears that consistent viewing of horror films doesn’t do much for one’s ability to properly function in this dangerous world. Secondly, the effect of desiring something more and more out of the norm of what is imaginable continues the producer and viewer down a path of more and more abhorrent thoughts and imaginations. Psychologically speaking, horror films can be said to be as detrimental to the human psyche as porn films due to the chemical manipulation that consistently takes place in response to the consistent viewing of the material. Here is a link that touches on one person’s observations of the connection between porn movies and horror movies: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2771494/10_undeniable_parallels_between_porn.html?cat=40.
Next, we consider the ethical consideration of dehumanizing nature of horror films. The connection to porn has already been stated and with a little research one can find very solid proof of the fact that the majority of popular horror films in the last 30 years all include some female nudity, if not straight up soft and hard core porn. I don’t think I need to go into much detail to help you understand that the scenes and scenarios that these characters are presented in are dehumanizing and in many ways nails into the hearts and minds of young men and women that certain types of women are less than human…less than what God intended. The levels of this phenomenon are diverse. You have the degrading thoughts toward the actress playing the role (whom the young man will surely Google after the movie and continue to lust after) and then you also have the subconscious connection that the viewer makes with sex, nudity, violence, and fear. These conscious and subconscious connections may not sponsor a flew of rapes or sexual abuse, but they can’t help.
Let’s get off the nudity kick for a second and say that the horror film in question has no nudity and simply deals with dismemberment, torture, stalking, and insanely evil characters. There is still a factor of dehumanization going on in these movies. A human is a “whole” being and was meant to be appreciated in his or her “whole” context. Horror films not only glorify the ripping apart of the human physically, but also mentally. Characters’ bodies are ripped apart and their minds are driven mad. It is one thing for a student of criminal justice to necessarily study such things in order to successfully fulfill an unfortunately necessary service to the community; it is another thing to pump minds full of these dehumanizing images for the sake of entertainment. The shock that humanity needs to have toward such dehumanization is not helped by generations of viewers filling their minds full of the images that the very thought of should sicken the soul of man.
The Christian, in relation to the prior arguments, is uniquely held accountable for what he or she puts before his or her eyes. We are bought with a price and we are not our own. We have an obligation to think on things above and not things below. We are to avoid even the mention of the evil things that fallen men dream up in their fallen brains. Yet, in our culture there are many Christians that award the fallen mind of fallen man for dreaming up things that Christ was nailed to the cross to forgive. They go in droves to see the latest horror flick which someone had to sit down and spend his or her time dreaming up. Can you imagine going up to a congregant in your church and saying, “Here brother, some brothers and sisters in the church would like to pay you to think of some torture and dismemberment scenes to make into a movie so that we can gather on Saturday night together and enjoy a moment of fear and anxiety. If you put a little nudity in there as well none of us will be too upset.” SERIOUSLY!!! Is this not what we are doing? Yet, in most cases we are simply rewarding a non-believer for dreaming up such things and we hope he gets better at it.
There is much more to be said about this matter and I have many more points on my heart that I could bring to light. However, our length is limited and this should be a long and important conversation. The Biblical evidence against such matters has not even been tapped and I apologize for that. I could have simply filled this post with scriptures but I was afraid that those scriptures would have been simply scoffed at as “unrelated” or “out of context.” I realize that there are movies out there that some have labeled as horror that may not fit the above descriptions, but I believe that I have fairly represented the genre as a whole. Different discussion could be had concerning the zombie movie genre (which seems to fit more into a sick comedy type) or the vampire movie genre (which has taken on a life of its own, though closely related to horror flicks), let alone overly violent movies in general. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your interaction with this post.
David R. Saliba, A Psychology of Fear: The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allan Poe. Lantham, MD: University Press of America, 1980. Pages 39-42.
(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