I want to take the approach of yet another Halloween to address something that is increasingly related to it. A few years ago I wrote about the lawfulness of celebrating Halloween itself — at the little kid dressing up level — but here I want to develop further a thought I mentioned in passing there. That thought concerns the unlawfuless of celebrating or honoring certain things. Having your kid dress up like Tweety Bird in order to obtain some candy from grandma causes me no consternation at all. But something else is going on in our time, and I think we need to talk about it.
What is going on with horror movies, and with horror fixations, the kind that surface at Halloween? What is the driving cultural force behind it? What is causing the market for it? Where is the energy for this coming from? The question needs to be asked because the market for it is not constant — it is a cultural thing, and really does vary from generation to generation. The market for zombie films does not have the universal sinful appeal than, say, girly magazines would. Seeking an explanation for the former is much more difficult than seeking an explanation for the latter. Note here that I am not talking about the presence or absence of such things, but rather about the implicit market for them.
So I want to begin by making a few observations about the attractiveness of death. It is a moth to the flame kind of attraction, that is true enough, but it is a strong and powerful attraction nonetheless. In Prov. 8:36, Wisdom (a great lady) is speaking, and she says, “All they that hate me love death.” So a fascination with the things of death is hatred of wisdom. Folly is attracted to death. Folly has a death wish, but what particular kind of folly are we talking about?
I want to argue that it is the folly of guilt, and in particular, sexual guilt. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). The law is the strength of sin, and that sin is the sting of death. But the sting of death is an inexorable one. When Christians are commanded to deal with some of their fundamental issues, their members which are on the earth, note what the apostle tells them to mortify — “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5, ESV). When you don’t deal with this stuff scripturally, the result is that you feel like damaged goods, and that is coupled with the fact that the desires haven’t gone away, which leads to more misbehavior, which leads to more guilt. If the thing is compounded with the bloodshed of abortion, what you have is a society-wise reservoir of bloodguilt building up.
Horror is a feeble attempt at catharsis. A sinner, one who deserves to die, goes into a theater, and a couple hours later comes out of the theater again — alive. There has been judgment, there has been blood, there has been justice, after a fashion. The spectator has put his ten bucks down for the privilege of laying his hands on the goat before it is slaughtered up there on the screen. The same goes for some creeptastic haunted house event. You go there, get yourself whipped up as though you were going to die in that place, somebody else dies instead, and out you come again. Resurrection has never been so easy.
But there is a law of diminishing returns. If the law was able to deal with guilt by sacrificing animals, then they would have stopped being offered (Heb. 10:2). In an analogous way, if the skeery movies really did the trick, then you could stop watching them — instead of seeing them get more and more gross, more and more violent, more and more full of rotting decomposition. The Guilt-B-Gone is not working as well as it used to — so let’s see if we can tick up the thermostat of this artificial purgatory of ours a few more degrees. See if that does it.
But Christians are attracted to this kind of thing as well, and that calls for explanation as well. I don’t want to say that every last Christian who has done this is acting out their guilt — there are plenty of people who are just doing it in imitation of whatever the cool kids are doing, and usually the cool kids are dealing with a lot more guilt. The cool kids get more action, have more abortions, and enough Christian residue to ensure the maximum guilt levels. The cool kids establish the culture of guilt, and the virginal Christians, forever clueless, copy it. The not-so-virginal Christians try to get the same effect that the pagans are striving for, but with a substrata of postmodern irony added, covered over with an Ecclesiastes-lite and very metrosexual veneer.
Another aspect of this should be mentioned, because there are other exceptions. Some people are simply adrenaline junkies, and they like bungee jumping and jump scenes in movies for the same reason. They are after particular sensations in their bodies. But when that adrenaline rush is being used as an anodyne for the guilt, that is what I am talking about.
When someone scoffs — and they will — they will claim I have done no research, and so I am just pontificating, making pronouncements. They are quite right about one thing — I have offered up no real research on the altars of science, but I do have eyes in my head. I am a minister of the Word, and I do know the gospel. I also know the law, precursor to the gospel. I know that our culture has been in a mad pursuit of death and fruitlessness for a generation or more, we have slaughtered millions of children to hide our orgasms from God, we have celebrated our constitutional right to such ghoulish things, and we now have massive blood-soaked pathologies showing up in our popular entertainments. I am not asking for the Nobel Prize here — but I ask you. What kind of entertainments would a guilt-ridden people produce?
One last thing that is obvious about this kind of death attraction is that it is unholy. God calls us to holiness, and this does not mean that we are to meditate on zombies eating brains. I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t qualify. Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is noble . . . Remember? Or am I being uncool again? So sorry.
God is holy, and that holiness was made manifest in bloodshed. There will be blood — that part of this instinct has it right. But in His case it was the bloodshed of self-sacrifice, and done in a way that puts a complete end to the pressing need for self-expiation, for self-justification. Christ died, once for all. He rose again from the dead. You can leave the theater now, and Christ will shine upon you.
So the prevalence of horror in our day is actually a plea for gospel preachers. And how will they go unless they are sent?
This piece first appeared in October 2012. I thought you should see it again.