“Theology” is a word that means very different things in different contexts. I dislike labels in general and I seldom call myself a “theologian” since that implies a systematic or “dogmatic” theologian on this side of the Atlantic. (And a better paying job.) In the about to exit Britain “theologian” tends to mean someone who studies religion and can be used regardless of discipline. In any case, I avoid the use of the title since my interests tend toward the history of religious ideas, not making them into a workable system. I was a little surprised when I received an invitation from the journal Horizons in Biblical Theology to contribute a piece on horror and the Bible. The issue in which the article was published (41) has just appeared. Ironically, invitations to contribute seldom came when I was employed as an academic. Of course, “independent scholar” is now a fairly common avocation. Especially in theology.
I won’t post any spoiler alerts for the contents of the article—I don’t want to quell the stampede of those eager to read it—but the basic idea is that biblical studies has embraced horror. Like long-lost cousins, they have come together at last, realizing that they are both pariahs. People generally don’t know how to carry on a discussion with a biblical scholar, as if those of us who spend time with the Good Book are constantly judging others. I can’t say as I blame them since that image is reinforced fairly constantly. Horror scholars, on the other hand, are thought to be weird examples of arrested development—stuck in the juvenile phase. Social respectability isn’t their strong suit, although horror movies do well at the box office and one of the most successful writers ever is Stephen King.
Religion and horror share more than being associated with troglodytes, however. Both address primal human fears. Religion may not be “all about” fear, but a healthy dose of it is. If life was peachy all the time, would we have any need of religion? We need help coping with our fears, and religion has a long history of dispensing it. Knowing we’re going to die, and in all likelihood will experience some suffering before that, whether physical or psychological, is a heavy burden to bear. Religion has always been there to provide meaning and sometimes even solace. Horror, or at least the best of it, does so too. I’m not sure I would call it theological, but if you’re interested you know where to find my latest musings on it.