Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hell House

"A part of Salvation is being afraid of going to Hell." Youth Pastor Tim Ferguson

In 2001, director George Ratcliff came out with his documentary entitled Hell House, on Christian haunted house attractions bearing the same name.

"Hell Houses are a distinctly American phenomenon which began in 1990 just outside of Dallas, at the Trinity Assembly of God Church. The original Hell House was conceived as a modern-day fire-and-brimstone sermon. Today, this religious ceremony of sorts is replete with actors, extensive lighting equipment and full audio-visual tech crews." (Hell House Site)

But the vampires, ghosts, and demons of a traditional haunted house have been replaced by scenes of family violence, suicide, abortion, drug and alcohol use. Instead of scaring kids with Freddy Krueger their using real life situations and the fear of eternal damnation to spook them into salvation. Is Christianity really about being afraid of Hell? Is their any room for fear in a message of Love? What do we do with this message of Fear?

Back in 2006, a coworker invited me to attend a Christian haunted house and I gladly accepted. At the time I had recently begun immersing myself into studying all kinds of religious beliefs so I thought it would be interesting to see how Christians would pull off doing a "Haunted House".

The church was packed! It was a 45 minute wait until I got to go through this Christianized haunted house attraction. They moved us in groups of 15 from room to room (with Demon guards yelling to keep moving) as we watched the events surrounding a troubled family: suicide, abortion, drug use, you name it. Demons and angels argue and battle over the family throughout the attraction representing the struggle within the character, with short monologues by the forces of good and evil explaining the plot. As the events climaxed half the family had died in sin, the other half repented. The Hell House I went through did not comfort nor support the sinners. Yet those who repented even on the verge of death were granted eternal life. After walking through the Hell scene with sinners trapped under plexiglass clawing, begging for escape we entered into through the gates of Heaven to be welcomed by Jesus, angels and the saved. The production was phenomenal, the acting was great, but the plot along with all of its assumption was downright frightening.

At the end of this judgmental house of horrors we were invited to sit and talk about what we experienced. Out of a group of 15 only 6 of us stayed for the do-you-know-where-you're-going-after-you-die speech. After a 5 minute crash course on salvation found through the blood of Christ the speaker gave us two options. 1) Those who know their saved are welcomed to leave and 2) those who are unsure about their salvation are encouraged to stay. In retrospect, I'm now curious to know what was said to those who stayed. Yet, I did not want to get into an argument, so I smiled, got up, and left. There would be no benefit in pointing out the lack of compassion, and contradictory message of love and fear that they were sending out. The most I would have received would be a prayer for my salvation, and if things got heated, an escort off the premises.

The Hell House I went through is almost exactly like the one seen in Ratcliff's documentary. Here is the trailer to George Ratcliff's 2001 candid documentary, Hell House.

No earthly redemption is found for the drug addict, the pregnant teen, nor the abusive father. The crowd receives the message that those who suffer in this life will also suffer in the next. My heart went out to those in Hell because they were condemned for losing hope. They lacked the strength to bear the errors they made in this life, so they are punished for not reaching out to the divine. The suicide who lost the will to live, the teen trapped in the world of drugs, the pregnant teen who aborted her child, and the father who found little solace at the bottom of the bottle. All these people are condemned without a loving embrace or a hand of encouragement. They are portrayed as unrepentant sinners in the hands of an angry God. But why exactly are the hopeless damned? Is it for theological reasons? Is it because they made the wrong choices? Is it because they are sinners and as sinners they MUST seek out Christ? The church would respond with an emphatic YES! But are these not the very same people that the gospel claims Jesus came to comfort, rescue, and love? Are these not the disenfranchised, the outcast, the sinners, the hopeless, and the unloved? Are we not responsible for reaching out to the downcast not by striking them with the Fear of God but reaching out with the Love of God? There is no love found in fear, and setting up an attraction of fear to encourage a message of love may bring in the curious but will push away the seekers.

If you haven't seen Hell House I highly recommend it. If you have a Netflix account they are now streaming it over their site. Or if you're feeling adventurous go and visit a local Hell House and experience it for yourself.


YogaforCynics said...

I saw Hell House some time ago and was surprised at how horrified I was--by which I mean that I knew beforehand that I was going to be offended by the homophobia and religious bigotry. What struck me, though, was the incredible lack of compassion. In particular, if I remember this correctly, the suicide was an adolescent also a victim of childhood incest--and these "Christians" are sending this person who's suffered so horribly to eternal punishment. It's hard to imagine anything more cruel.

captron52 said...

Another great post my friend!Probably the biggest reason I dont believe in any church is because of the teachings of fear.Anything that is based in fear to me just doesnt feel right.I had to overcome my teachings when I was a smalll child of hell and all that stuff and it caused me many a trying times to figure it out. How could a God want his own blessed creation to live any whenre or any time in fear? I just dont get it.Me I believe in God as an all consuming spiritual power that lies outside of any fear.I wil NOT ever be afraid of GOd!

ron cole said...

WTF! I'm this stuff stilling going on today!

Eruesso said...

I believe that the Trinity Assembly of God Church outside of Dallas are currently doing Hell House 19: The Dark Room.

Here's the link.

Don said...

Trinity AOG is about 15 minutes from my house. I didn't realize it was in Cedar Hill. Bad vibes. Real bad vibes!

mommiechulla said...

Is there any in houstn like this please let me know

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