The American evangelical Christians have crossed the line. Their new tactic in saving souls is to scare the shit out of their children. Halloween time is upon us and churches across our fair nation are taking advantage of the opportunity by holding large-scale attractions called “Hell Escape,” costing up to $40,000 to produce and enlisting between two and three hundred church members. They are designed to emphasize the importance of a religious life, with Satan’s voice booming from the shadows, taunting children about their eternal damnation.
With regular haunted houses, which we love so much, there is a sense of suspended reality, because we all know that it is make believe. The difference here is that the parents are telling their young and impressionable children that the scenes they will be seeing in these productions are real and will happen to them if they don’t accept Christ for their salvation. The scenes are therefore more startling to the children, because it actually could happen to them.
Jerry Farwell’s Liberty University in Virginia has been running these things since the early 70’s, offering vignettes that include a gay wedding, date rape, satanic drug orgies, and ultimately, hell. Lately, the churches that have adopted this tactic are also focusing on newer issues such as teen abortion, drunken driving, on-line predators and spousal abuse. This often comes complete with an exceptionally realistic bloody surgical table and tiny replica of a fetus. (Remember—this is for the kids) According to Pastor Rick Lewis, from the Shelby Church of God in Ohio, “There’s a lot of rooms that are kind of violent.” His rational for the realistic violence is, “We’ve seen it touch a lot of people’s lives.” I guess so, when you see eight year olds coming out looking as if the blood has drained from their bodies.
My first thought, about all of this, was to remember an old skit from SCTV (that great comedy series from Canada) where a father (Joe Flaherty) scares his kid literally to death when telling him a ghost story.
Here we have parents telling their kids (instructed that these things actually happen) about school shootings and the funeral of a gay AIDS patient overtaken by demons. How irresponsible can you get? Don’t kids already have enough anxiety about school shootings? As for AIDS patients being tormented by demons, all I have to say is, “F**k You! How dare you! Try telling that to all the families who have lost loved ones to this disease.”
Now here’s the kicker—these religious leaders believe that THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS. Pastor Greg Griffith of the Willard Church of God in northern Ohio said, “The church doing the outreach must come to terms with that and have a clearer understanding that the message and methods justify the end result—a person who has made a decision to change a lifestyle.”
One definition of child abuse explicitly includes any, “Harm or threatened harm to a child's health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, or maltreatment, by a parent, a legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child's health or welfare, or by a teacher or pastor.” This also includes, “Any form of cruelty to a child, which includes not only physical cruelty but mental cruelty.” Scaring the shit out of your kid, to me, falls into this category.
According to Kyla Ward, “It's not as though producing scary stories for children is a new idea. Fairy tales were not designed for children. The collections made in the 1670s by Charles Perrault, and the 1830s by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were for adults, reflecting in each case an upsurge of interest in the national folklore. When fairy tales began to be considered childish, they were carefully reworked into what was considered suitable for children, by adults.” There is no doubt that in our culture, children are routinely scared by the most responsible of guardians in order to inculcate them to the principles of it's bad to steal, or lie, etc. But it is done responsibly and not to shake them to the core. We don’t tell our children that they will be damned for the things all children do, as part of being inculcated into the society.
The idea that deliberately scaring children is in some way immoral seems to run deep in the consciousness of the main culture in America. We’re not talking about the kind of “horror,” where there is distinct line between reality and fantasy. It is a real horror. I just hope that the rest of us will find this intolerable and hideous.