September 2, 2015
Should Christians watch horror films? An affirmative answer, with help from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I encounter this perennial debate myself all the time. And as I've grown as a Christian, I've found that there are certain KINDS of horror movie content I simply can't stomach without feeling like I come away a little "dirty" for having watched. You've written before about how filmgoers (Christian and otherwise) should exercise careful discernment in the films they choose to watch. Not everyone SHOULD watch a movie, even if there's potentially nothing intrinsically wrong with it. I totally agree.
For my part, I tend to stick to the PG-13 variety of horror, especially the supernatural psychological thrillers like Insidious and the Woman in Black. They're cheesy, often...but for me they flirt with just what you're talking about here: the kind of hopeless dread that sin represents apart from a gracious intervention. Someone told me once that the reason we're entertained by horror is because we like being scared when we know there's no real danger. Sadly, there are very real dangers out there that are every bit as dreadful as what you see in the movies, but apart from the Spirit's conviction, we fail to see them for what they really are. That's the real-life horror of sin.
In Reply to JKana (comment #27451)
Yes, exactly. My starting point for conversations such as these is that Christians have freedom both ways - freedom to engage with certain films and freedom not to, depending on their own discernment.
And like you, I especially enjoy psychological horror films. But then again, I love zombie flicks too. Go figure!
Josh - Who knew Bonhoeffer and Craven could be teamed up in one article?! While I hear your points, I think I'll stick with the Hollywood musicals!
Love hearing you on Filmspotting!
In Reply to Eric Bergen (comment #27454)
Ha! Fair enough, Eric.
I think it is pertinent to recall as well that the original intent, or one of the original intents, of the horror genre was to show that the "bad people" are punished and the "good people" survive. That plot device is central to how the genre has worked from the beginning.
When you start to cross over into more recent films like the SAW series we don't have good people being punished, we have a redefining of whether or not they ARE good people or whether they are actually bad people posing as good who now get their just comeuppance.
In teen horror flicks it is the over-sexed, the party-kid, the liar who meet their demise as we watch the good kids fight for survival against overwhelming odds. These were originally intended as morality plays along the lines of the Brothers Grimm.
This article sounds like it encourages Christians to watch horror.
What do you do with passages that clearly tells you not to?
Detest evil; cling to what is good
So should you look to horror for entertainment?
Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable--if there is any moral excellence and praise--dwell on these things.
Does horror have even a hint of these godly characteristics?
Have nothing to do with things of darkness
Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body.
... but when your I is bad your whole body is filled with darkness and if that light you think you have is actually darkness how deep that darkness is!
If you think horror (evil entertainment) is okay with God then what else has people compromised as being okay when God has labeled it evil? God delivered us from evil at the cross why should we find entertainment in those things he died for?
What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil the dark is the light and the light is dark that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter
In Reply to Michael (comment #29358)
Thanks, Michael, for your good challenge. Questions like these ensure that I'm doing my own due diligence in terms of discernment.
Rather than address each of the verses you cite, I'd like to respond specifically to Philippians 4:8, which is often raised when Christians are trying to identify a piece of culture as acceptable or off-limits. I'd offer three ways of thinking about this passage:
1) The qualities mentioned by Paul - things that are "“true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable" - are more expansive than they’re often given credit for. Truth, honor, and justice, for instance, can be found in all sorts of culture that is not explicitly Christian, and indeed even in horror films. I give a few examples in the above piece.
2) Philippians is a letter of joy. It's not addressed to a church in crisis or disarray. Which means Paul’s instructions should be taken positively, not negatively. These are qualities to be praised and sought for their inherent goodness, not necessarily as refuge from elements that may or may not be harmful. This list should free us, not necessarily limit us.
3) If we are to be Christian witnesses to the world, not only to our own subcultures, that means respectfully considering the "non-Christian" culture that is out there, even if it’s not 100% pure, pleasing or commendable. Perhaps especially we must listen when it’s not “true.” For only after we’ve earned the right to speak — by allowing the culture to have its say — will we have the best opportunity to offer our Christian witness in response.
A caveat to all of this is covered in the comments at the start of this thread: "My starting point for conversations such as these is that Christians have freedom both ways - freedom to engage with certain films and freedom not to, depending on their own discernment."
The thing about horror is it acknowledges evil. That's a big, shocking deal in America today. Everyone is misunderstood, a victim, or has good reason to be 'sick.' Horror comes out of left field with a chainsaw and says screw that. And the audience sits up and takes notice, and is forced to question what the culture has told them.
This is a great article. As a Christian, I enjoy horror movies and books but approach them with an aesthetic. And yes, the best horror movies are not about a vampire, werewolf or evil creature. They are about confronting the everyday human fears we repress to get on with our lives, be it our own mortality ("Dust you are and to dust you shall return"), the seeming randomness of life and death (Job 9:22-24) or fear of loss of children (Jer. 31:15; Mat 2:18).
To switch to TV for a minute, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for seven seasons created a series that featured lots of monsters but was really all about the horrors of adolescence, high school and young adulthood.
Before stating "Christians shouldn't watch horror movies" we should remember that horror is a genre, like a Western, science fiction or mystery that a filmmaker chooses to build a story and explore a theme. Like a western, horror contains certain tropes, supernatural or otherwise. It comes down to how an author/filmmaker uses them, so we need to be careful about dismissing an entire class of storytelling as "unchristian."
For example, The Exorcist may be difficult to watch for some, but it unequivocally validates Christian beliefs, so much so that I doubt it could be made the same way today (I haven't seen the TV reboot). Stephen King's The Stand (book and miniseries) is a retelling of the Book of Revelation. The Green Mile (while not exactly horror but certainly supernatural) resets the crucifixion of Christ onto death row.
Horror movies and media, unfortunately, do nothing to edify and encourage. There is enough evil around me ... sex trafficking, domestic abuse, ISIS videos. I lived in Jerusalem through the Second Intifada that started in 2000 and experienced bombings. Evil is not in the abstract to me. I don't want to be "entertained" by more evil even if there is an intellectual reason to challenge myself to do so. If others want to feast on that, that's their personal decision. All things may be permissible, but I can't count horror movies, literature, games and similar art forms as beneficial. Others have mentioned 1 Cor. 10:23-24. There is so little time in the world. Why waste it on something beyond Jesus and making disciples of all nations?
The irony in the zombie movies is that humans need to be afraid of fellow humans more than zombies! Humans worse than zombies. Real total depravity
I think I’ll stick with good clean movies. You do know that fear is a spirit, right? And that spirit is hard to break free from when you are a seasoned Christian. How hard it is to break free from fear when you aren’t that seasoned Christian. I’ve seen how horror films affect and infiltrate a heart and mind where spirits have attached themselves to people who had no idea what was happening to them and they came to the church to help them break free. So horror films are not as innocent as you make them appear.
Thinking of those being tortured for their faith, mothers watching their children starve, people living without painkillers, because they`re not available, lack of clean water and money, the list goes on.
Loved the read. Horror speaks much to the human condition and the call for light in a world replete with darkness and sorrow. Wondering if you've watched AntiChrist with Dafoe or Hereditary. Both deal heavily with grief and loss, dealing better with the horror of human limits and the reality and ever present pain of death; especially when it visits us early and those we rather keep around for decades more.
Thanks Jarrel. Yes, I've seen both of those films, and you're right about the way they address grief. I didn't write about either for Think Christian, but JR. Forasteros reflected on Hereditary here: https://thinkchristian.net/hereditary-and-family-demons
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