The Truth (and Goodness) of Horror

I suppose the central question on the minds of those who ask me about my central writing focus is:

Why horror??

Implied in this simple question is a barrage of presuppositions about horror culture, its relationship to the faith and potential micro-judgments about me and why I take it seriously. So I figured I would start out 2016 by addressing one aspect of this question. I don't want to dig too deep into it, because that is, ultimately, the nature of my blog here. Hopefully every piece I write is another argument for the validity, dare I say necessity, of horror culture--and the diverse cultures that are contained in its borders, especially horror cinema, and how it can speak to both people who are Christian and to those who aren't.

...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. -Phil. 4:8 (NKJV)

There are many "proof-texts" in the Bible that can and often will be used to denigrate horror and the people that partake in it. Many of them sound the same horn as the above verse from Philippians. Noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, virtue and praiseworthiness are not often found in descriptions of horror. Okay, I get it. However, I can nearly guarantee that those who use this form of argumentation happen to skip over the first descriptor out of convenience or inaccuracy. 



While the other descriptors used in the Philippians passage are positive--mediating some form of goodness and beauty--in our modern understanding of language, truth does not fit so neatly into a positive categorization. As a Christian, I hold fast to the hope, truth and concreteness of "the good news," aka the Gospel. What is at the center of the Gospel? God incarnated into a man, mysteriously not depleting his God-ness nor his man-ness. That God-man fully living up to the Law of God, without sin, and dying as a criminal, bloodied, suffocating on a cross. Dying. Descending into hell. Coming back to life--not just resuscitated, but resurrected--on the third day. The "true"-ness of the Gospel describes both something positive and negative. Humanity is broken--in the boldest terms, thoroughly fucked up--and all of our thoughts, actions, pleas, sacrifices, etc. are marred with a depletion, a corruption (though it is not complete depletion or corruption). Jesus was (and is) more human than we are. The Gospel is predicated on bad news about our current reality. It declares to us that no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we lean into our self-salvation projects, both grand and menial, we'll never reach the "life everlasting" on our own terms.

It is also not positive that the only perfectly innocent and sinless man was the one to die in a death saved for the worst sorts of criminals. This act--an act that mysteriously stains the hands of all that came before and after it--is not necessarily noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, etc. It's heinous, utter horror.  BUT out of that darkness, that horror, came the only way that a thoroughly fucked up humanity could be restored to God and to their true human-ness. All of this is "true" according to Philippians, both the positive and negative attributes of it. I think this is the reason why "true" comes first in that Philippians list. It's the a priori to the remainder of the list. The "good news" of the Gospel IS noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report...but as descriptors of the thing it brought about because of its truth in both its horror and its goodness. The rest of the Philippians list must be read with the complexity of positive and negative elements of "true" in mind.

I do believe horror can be true. Horror, regardless of the beliefs of those who are involved in the making of these cultural products, presupposes things that are out of fashion in a modern, materialistic society; things in which Christians, especially, can find common ground. It presupposes a brokenness in humanity, like I spoke of, above, an existence of human and non-human evil and it presupposes a dimension, a universe, a reality that defies the materialism that people, and much science, assume at their very foundation. Horror films, especially, exist in a world where the physical, material, universe that we can sense is precariously invaded, subsumed and/or co-existed by a spiritual, supernatural realm. Even horror films and novels where most of the evil is done by humans, there is an atmosphere that fills the air of these worlds that defies material-only explanations.

I think a well-crafted piece of horror culture, whether film, song, book, etc., can strike a chord with something profoundly true about ourselves, about this crazy simple, yet complex, world we live in and the fear that creeps up in all of us when something we don't understand seeps into our secure, safe realities. It gives us a language to explore the boundaries of our fears, providing catharsis and a safe place to explore why we fear what we do and what those fears say about us. And what that truth brings about can be noble, just, pure, lovely, etc. 

The problem is not wholly with the cultural products in the world that we consume, but with ourselves. We place the blame on culture, whatever type it is, because we have all, on some level, passively accepted a modern lie: the darkness comes from the outside in--from the other (this speaks to everything including corruption via "culture" to physical fear of terrorism at home by non-white, non-Christian peoples), not from the inside out. Though our faith claims otherwise, Christians have somewhere along the way accepted a subtle and insidious version of the "inherent goodness of humanity" and wrapped it in pseudo-Christian lingo that allows us to function in accordance with the kosmos (wisdom of worldly humanity and spiritual powers, in a negative sense) instead of being salt (as clichéd as that has become in current parlance) and challenging the culture by way of love and truth. I think horror has the power to shine a little light on that lie for everyone.

Horror film, novels, music, etc. are not for everyone and I am in no way wanting to force the genre on people who don't have a preference for it. However, I am pointing out that it is merely a preference.

Preference does not make it off limits to Christian attention and thought which is where I find myself along with a hand full of fellow faithful who, too, love the genre. As believers, if we truly believe who Jesus said he was and that all creation is subsumed by his power and authority, then all things are open to discussion and, though not all things are good (including elements of horror culture), good can be derived from them. Jesus cannot be off limits from anything; his presence must be in all things. 

For those who read me who are not Christians, first off, thank you for reading me, you are already being significantly more gracious to me than I deserve. Second, I, too, hope that what I write challenges, both, how you view horror culture and how you perceive the Christian faith. I am very interested, though not always well read on--I will be correcting this during the year--subjects that come up in horror culture that are concerns of everyone, not just my fellow Christians. Feminism, misogyny, race, cathartic bloodlust, gender and sexuality, etc. are all subjects I want to dig into on this blog. However, I ask that you bear with me and give me feedback on blind spots, nuances that I may not pick up on and flat out inaccuracies when it comes to these subjects. I, too, want to learn from my readers like I hope they learn from me. 

I truly love all things horror. I love everything from the textual meanings to the tropes that litter the horror landscape and everything in between. Horror, more than anything, is the language I love speaking most of all. And, if I have ever felt "called" to do something, speaking on horror with my perspective as a Christian and horror fan seems nearly effortless. 

So with this all being said, I am looking forward to delivering to you content in 2016 that digs deep into the realms of horror. I hope you find it interesting and challenging and that you will interact with me as well. My prayer is that the discussions had here will bring about that which is noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. We've got a lot to let's get started.