Monday, October 18, 2010

Hell House: The Guilty Effect

Trinity Church in Cedar Hills, Texas is entering its 20th year of Hell House. If you are unfamiliar with Hell House it's worth going to at least once to get the full effect. Hell House began in Texas in the early 90's (although it's origins and variations date back to the 70's with Jerry Falwell)  as a fire and brimstone Christian haunted House. Variations of this phenomenon have sprung up across the country and have become a common fixture during Halloween. Click here for a list of Judgement Houses (they claim they are different from Hell House) near you.

Last year I wrote about my experience at a local Hell House in Murfreesboro, TN which was strikingly similar to the 2001 documentary on the Trinity Church spook house in Texas entitled Hell House. As they enter into their 20th year, this year's theme entitled The Twenty Effect, one can only imagine the horrific scenes presented by a surprisingly talented cast and crew. But after watching this year's trailer it seems like more of the same: sex, drugs, and violence.

The production value gets better every year, and their formula of replacing serial killers and ghosts with real life situations makes the fear all the more realistic. The scenes are so close to home that many in the audience may have personally experienced  the scenes they witness in a hell house. It may help to give an empathic perspective for the potential abusers and attackers in the crowd, but from what I've seen the Hell and Judgement Houses, which are presented by (and in) a church, are completely devoid of redemption and compassion for the unrepentant. The bad people continue to suffer and the good will either ascend to heaven or live a happy life. But life isn't as black and white as the producers of Hell House portray it to be, the world is indifferent and full of gray areas. The bad don't always get what they deserve, and the good don't escape from suffering. And the moral standards presented are those of the church community which doesn't come across as universal among the visiting public. This is the disconnect people experience when they walk through a hell house. And to top it all off at the end of the tour you're brought into a room and asked THE question: if you were to die today, where would you go? More often then not many are so shaken and overwhelmed by guilt that they are willing to do and say anything to secure their place in heaven. (The Hell Houses may boast about the number of converts won but I wonder how many actually stick around?)

What the church failed to do is what they were meant to do in the first place: reach out to the broken with love and understanding. To love people for who they are and not condemn them for what they've done is what Christianity is all about (or in my opinion SHOULD be about). There are many reasons why people succumb to drug use, abuse their loved ones, or commit acts of violence. It's not because they love the sin, in fact most born again tales include a heart wrenching description of how painful their previous lives were. The "sins" portrayed in Hell house are not committed from a burning desire to inflict pain on others, but an outcry of suffering on the individual AND universal level. Parading crowds in front of violent and painful scenes while delivering the message that the pain will simply stop if we trust in God is grossly neglecting the pain of the sufferers while denying their basic humanity. Victims of abuse as well as the abusers (who were probably victims themselves in childhood) need compassion, love, and understanding. The only thing hell house is good for is entertainment, except there's nothing really entertaining about watching people suffer nor subjugating the audience to relive similar experiences. I wonder if the congregants of the churches participating this year are aware how well the title Hell House fits them.


captron52 said...

Very nice entry Sam. I agree withyou very much. Sure hope your week has started off really good and will continue to get even better!

Al said...

It's really a shame? catastrophe? that the people/churches who do stuff like this think that they are doing the right thing.

I couldn't agree more with everything you say in your last paragraph.

And of course, Jesus would say; "By this will all men know that you are my disciples--if you paint a picture of me as a vengeful being, and scare the hell out of people."

Really creates a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart for God.

Don said...

Trinity Church is about 15 min. from my house. So sad that they feel the "gospel" has to be presented to "scare the Hell out of people", especially young people. I have blogged about these "Hell Houses" for several years now. I find them so, so offensive and destructive to the real message of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a Jack Chick tract come to life. :^(

Anonymous said...

we do hell house to lead people to Jesus. not for entertainment. period. we have led over 100,000 people to the Lord doing Hell House. Does that sound like entertainment? over 200,000 have gone through the prayer room. Have a great day, God bless

Eruesso said...


I know the reason why churches do Hell House, it's an effective way to get people in the door. Like you said you guys have led over 200,000 through the prayer room with about half that led to the Lord (although I personally doubt your numbers, but that's just me). But how many of those 100,000 actually stay within the church? If you've been keeping up with the religious and spiritual trends in the U.S. churches across the boards in all but a couple denominations have been hemorrhaging members especially with the younger generation.

So yes from within the church it doesn't seem like entertainment, but if you look at it from an outsider's perspective (which I'm assuming is the target market group you're trying to reach) it looks like a circus. It may just be me but scaring people to accept Jesus is equivalent to threatening a child to behave or else they'll get a beating. Fear and love don't mix.

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