With a happy coincidence I discovered a website called Horror Homeroom. Featuring articles and podcasts and reviews on horror films, I felt its siren call. Then I learned it is run by a professor at nearby Lehigh University, making it even closer than I initially supposed. I wanted to be part of the conversation. You see, after years and years of being a Bible scholar and having to fight to find any kind of interest whatsoever in what I had to say, I’ve found the horror community extremely welcoming. Perhaps because we all know at some level that horror is considered transgressive—it isn’t unusual to find critics who still claim it’s debased—we find each other. There’s an aesthetic to horror, and it isn’t about gore and violence. Horror, when done well, is an excellent marker of what it means to be human.
Life always ends in death. Many people spend as much time as possible trying to avoid thinking about it. There is, however, great creativity in facing squarely what you cannot change. Well, that’s a good sounding excuse anyway. All of this is by way of announcing my guest blog post on Horror Homeroom. A few weeks back I was quite taken with The Curse of La Llorona. Not that it was a great movie, but it had a way of coming back to haunt me. Part of it has to do with the poorly understood way that local customs blend with imperialistic religions. Faith is a local phenomenon. Once you switch off the televangelist, you’ll begin sharing beliefs of your neighbors. There’s no such thing as a pure religion. Pure religion is one of the most dangerous myths there is.
Those of us who study religion professionally have been taught to call the blending of religions “syncretism.” I’ve stopped using that word for it because it assumes that there are pure forms of religion. Religion always takes on an individual element. We make it our own when it gets translated into our personal gray matter. The idea that there is a pure form of any religion requires an arbiter of greater rank than any here on earth. You can always say “but I think it means…” Horror, I suspect, latched onto this truth long ago. Without some hint of doubt about your own individualized belief system, it’s difficult to be afraid. Horror need not be about blood and gore. Often it isn’t. Often it’s a matter of asking yourself what you believe. And once you answer it, opening yourself to asking questions.