Should Christians Avoid or Embrace the Horror Genre?
- Aaron D'Anthony Brown Contributing Author
- 2021 28 Jul
Blood, guts, violence, swearing, and a noticeable amount of sex. Oh, and we can’t forget about the terrifying monsters and serial killers. As a writer, I’ve enjoyed the thrill of being scared, wondering what’s around the corner, and being shocked at the twist ending when I learn the killer’s identity. As a Christian, I’ve enjoyed horror for showcasing man’s brokenness and revealing how morality makes compelling stories. Most in my circle recognize my affinity toward the genre – though there have been some who questioned my particular taste. Some fellow Christians have been perplexed as to how I can be a devout Christian, while also being a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Therein lies the question – should Christians watch horror movies? My answer – absolutely.
Storytelling Is Part of the Human Experience
Horror is one of the few genres we encounter in storytelling, along with action, drama, romance, and comedy. We can watch horror in film, listen through podcasts, or read it in a book. Everyone has come across the horror genre at one time or another, intentionally or not. Storytelling has simply been a part of the way we communicate, and we have all had scary stories to tell.
Some of us have stories as simple as being trapped in an elevator. Others have experienced stalking by an ex. Big or small, these stories serve two purposes – to entertain or enlighten those who hear.
When has storytelling not been a part of the human experience? When has storytelling not been a part of the Christian experience?
We Christians have our own stories too, the Bible. The Bible covers all the genres: action, drama, romance, comedy, and yes, horror.
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)
Imagine being told that you had to put sheep’s blood on your door, and if you did not you were going to die. That’s scary! And that’s in the Bible.
“This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.” (Zechariah 14:12)
Are those zombies? Spooky!
If horror even appears in Scripture, then what’s the big deal? Why can’t Christians enjoy a good horror movie?
What Is Horror?
Before we go any further, let’s define horror. Surely the word conjures up some mental images. Ghosts. Demons. Pinhead. But what does the word mean?
The dictionary defines the word as “an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear.” That’s a fair description, but how do we describe the artistic genre? In my own terms, I would describe the genre as a type of story where a protagonist is pitted against an antagonist in a life or death scenario where they must overcome or succumb to their fear. Just as the protagonist encounters their fear, so too does the audience.
Is there a person alive who doesn’t understand fear? Many people are facing fears day to day: fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of sickness, fear of war. Even if fear isn’t on our minds daily, we know the feeling of something scary happening in our lives. Maybe we were in a car accident, or maybe we were present when a store was robbed. That’s why horror is such a popular genre, so many can relate.
What Is the Issue with Horror Movies?
So why can’t Christians and horror movies get along? Is this an issue of horror movies portraying sin? Well, the Bible gives us stories of flawed people living flawed lives. We learn from their mistakes. Horror movies can edify us as well.
Or do Christians have an issue with the blood, guts, violence, swearing, and noticeable amounts of sex? Those qualities are not unique to the horror genre at all. There are explicit comedies, violent dramas, bloody actions, and plenty of raunchy romances. What makes horror unique is the fear.
Maybe that’s the issue. Maybe the issue is fear!
The Bible tells us over and over that as Christians we should not be afraid. God Himself speaks to this issue in Scripture.
God says to not be afraid, and we watch a movie and feel just that – afraid.
There’s something important to remember, emotions as neutral. I can feel happy for someone gaining a new job, or happy that they lost their job. I can feel angry about an injustice that occurred, or angry that the person was caught. This applies to fear as well. I can feel afraid in a situation where my life is in danger, or I can feel fear that my girlfriend is going to leave me. Both include fear, but both are different.
So, what makes fear sin? Fear becomes sin when our faith is taken off of God. Fear minimizes God and makes a problem big. When God says not to fear, He also admonishes us to trust Him.
When I watched Hereditary (2018) and felt intense fear in the third act, my eyes were not taken off of God. Fear did not lead me to think God was smaller than the problem. No. My fear was for the outcome of the story’s fictional characters in their fictional universe. When the movie concluded my life resumed as normal. And as with any story, horror or not, I was left to learn by putting myself in the characters’ shoes.
I think the issue is that Christians have the wrong idea about the horror genre. Just as many people see horror for its gratuitous sex and violence, Christians too have their own narrow and false focal points.
Here are some ideas I’ve heard over the years versus ideas I wished believers would see.
How Christians View Horror
What Christians See in Horror
- Horror movies invite the Devil into your soul.
- Horror movies fill your mind with sin.
- Horror movies connect you to the spirit realm.
What Christians Should See in Horror
- Horror movies represent the brokenness of man.
- Horror movies can teach children and adults about morality (Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999), Bone Tomahawk (2015))
- Horror movies serve to entertain, but also enlighten.
One thing I’ve noticed about believers and nonbelievers today is that we are so quick to judge other people without talking to them. Not only that, we are quick to judge ideas without talking to proponents. Every person is right in their own eyes (Proverbs 21:2). If only we realized this verse isn’t just about others, but also ourselves.
Horror Can Show Us Our Faith
Whether you watch the latest Hollywood horror flick or not, you will encounter horror. Something will happen in your life, or someone you know. That means either you will be the one telling the story or the one hearing it. Fear is mentioned so often in the Bible because fear is so common to the human experience. The horror genre embraces the truth.
I have the perfect response the next time someone asks, should Christians watch horror movies?
I’ll say, how can I be a Christian and not enjoy horror movies?
I’m not shocked that some Christians (maybe most) are against horror movies. Watch enough of these films and you will quickly see that Hollywood is also against Christians. Oftentimes, the movie’s antagonist faces off against some religious person. Despite using Scripture to overcome, the religious person always fails. They are portrayed as fanatic and weak, and ultimately die at the hands of the antagonist. I believe in the power of Christ and know that if any fictional scenario were made real, calling on Jesus would do for me what did not happen in the movie. I’m confident of that.
This relationship between the horror side of Hollywood and Christians may never end, at least not in the near future. My hope is that with the horror stories I’m currently working on, I can start to cause a new tide, showcasing the face of horror coupled with faith. We can all learn something by overcoming our fears and sorting through our brokenness.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Deagreez
Aaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”