An Apology for Christian Horror

Christian horror

I’d like to offer an apology for why Christians should take any sort of interest in horror stories. By apology, I don’t mean a statement of regret for wrongdoing. I don’t mean apologising or saying sorry. I mean an apology in the sense of a defence.  

Many Christian think horror stories are evil and encourage others to avoid them. They produce all sorts reasons for this. Some complain about the demonic and occult themes. Others point to the gore and extreme violence. Christians, they say, should avoid these, if not openly oppose them. 

Here are seven reasons why those opposing horror within Chrisitan circles should think again. 

1. The Bible itself is full of horror stories, tropes and imagery. This is the most obvious point. There are Bible stories that contain:  

2. You can analyse biblical stories by listing the different horror subgenres in the Bible, such as slasher, body horror, nature horror, supernatural horror, cosmic horror, psychological horror, and even folk horror. Cosmic horror with its poetry is a subgenre that I would particularly relate to certain biblical themes and material. Even gothic horror, also a modern horror genre, shares thematic content with the Bible. 

3. The central message of the Christian faith – commonly called the Gospel – contains necessary horror elements. By the Gospel, I mean the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The birth of Jesus fits more easily into the birth-of-the-hero genre, the life of Christ is a hero’s journey, while some have related the resurrection of Christ to comedy (‘happy ending’). But the death of Christ is a tale of pure horror, full of foreboding, humiliation, agony, betrayal, torture, bloodshed, gore, strange omens in the sky, seismic rumbling, abandonment, and mutilation.  

4. Christianity has contributed some of the best examples of the horrific in the history of art. In literature, we have the depictions of hell in Dante and the demonic in Milton. The Christian themes in horror classics – such as Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and especially Dracula – are often underestimated. As for the visual arts, what can surpass the horror of right panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch or the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Dulle Griet, The Fall of the Rebel Angels and The Triumph of Death)? 

5. Horror is possibly a last refuge for the numinous and the supernatural in our secular age. If you tell readers that you have a religious story for them, they’re not interested. If you tell readers that you have a story with ghouls, gore and gods, they may become interested. In fact, people are fascinated and drawn in by horror stories because of its content, not despite it. 

6. Horror provides a range of genuine diversity into the church’s brand. Interest in horror expels the notion that Christians all have to be nice, shiny, squeaky-clean, goody-goodies. Personality is permitted. We don’t all have to look and sound the same, listen to the same music etc. There’s room for all types, including goths and emos, heavy metalheads and punks, comic book nerds and role-playing gamers.  

7. Embracing horror is a way of acknowledging that life has a dark, painful and frightening side. Some branches of modern Christianity, especially of the evangelical variety, often give the impression that its members are living in a saccharine world of pie in the sky when you die. You can hear this in the breezy music and shmaltzy lyrics (unlike the Psalms), but also in the bright, featureless buildings (so different from those gothic cathedrals). 

That’s all I have to say at the moment. But for another apology, or rather an apologetic of Christian horror, see Mike Duran’s book on the topic, particularly Chapter 4. 

Photo by Nahide Erol on Unsplash

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