Addicted to novelty since 2001

Hell Houses: Get Scared, Get Saved

Via Kevin Kelly’s Cool
Tools
, I learned about a documentary called Hell
House
.

Churches in the midwest construct vast "hell houses"
to scare visitors to Jesus. Originally begun as a response to Halloween haunted
houses, these elaborate stagings, crammed with theatrical effects and high-school
actors on October 31, try to outdo each other in their ultra-realistic depiction
of sin and horror.

My curiosity was piqued, so I did some research. I found this
exhaustive site
(caution, fancy menus require IE) which dates from 1999,
which includes a detailed description of a visit to a Hell House. There’s even
a
short video
from a news broadcast. I also found this
page
, which provides a virtual tour of a hell house:

The First Room visited was a funeral home with a funeral in progress.
A young lady laying in a casket, mom, grandma and sisters weeping for their
lose. They seen how Satan had deceived this young lady into believing that
she was born a lesbian and she had died from aids. A demon jumps out from
behind the casket and informs the group how he had convinced her into believing
that this was the way she was and how they had led her into hell without the
hope of escape.

Bummer.

According to this
page
, apparently you can also buy a
ready-made hell house kit
:

New Creation Evangelism, Inc of Clearwater FL sells a Judgment House™
kit. Its literature describes it as "an 8 scene drama that makes people
aware of the reality of heaven and hell." It shows "them the joy
of having a relationship in Heaven with Jesus." Also shown is hell, "the
ultimate haunted house, which is where they will spend eternity if they do
not accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior…" Their kit is more
expensive than the one for Hell Houses; it costs $250 U.S. But for this expenditure,
a participating church becomes a Covenant church. They receive a new script
each year, attend a training conference. Also included is a manual, advertising
kit and telephone support.

This
page
rocks. They provide detailed stats of the efficacy of the Judgment
House–"Experienced 18 salvations per hour of presentation!" I’d also
like to see that manual:

3. Once you have reenacted the calamitous car accident, lay prone in front
of the over-turned car. If you are portraying a teenager who has accepted
Jesus Christ, strike a beatific expression and look skyward.

OR

If you are portraying a teenager who has rejected Jesus, writhe on the
stage floor and beg for mercy.

4. After a minute, stand and direct audiences to Room 4, the Hall of Queer
Evil.

But I jest. It’s not my intent to mock any form of Christianity here. I just
think the concept as a pedagogical strategy is totally absurd. Scare people
back to Jesus? What a medieval concept. When in modern human history has this
strategy been effective? Surely this runs counter to principles central to the
Christian faith. Converting people through fear is, well, pretty fascist. I
hardly think that seeing a couple of men kiss (though apparently it’s actually
a man and a woman in a beard) is going to set someone on the path to a healthy
spiritual relationship with God. And if it does, what kind of act of faith is
that? "I believe because I’m scared out of my wits?"

I’m reminded of the reason why cathedrals are so awe-inspiring–the builders
wanted to convert people the moment they entered. At least in that case they
built the majestic instead of the horrible.

Here are a couple more
sundry
articles
on the phenomenon. I like the photo in that
last one
–clearly, the demon’s make-up is based on Rob
Zombie’s
.

7 Responses to “Hell Houses: Get Scared, Get Saved”

  1. Darren James Harkness

    Ah, but didn’t you know that Christianity is based on fear? Fear of God, fear of going to hell if you trespass, fear of your fellow parishioners discovering that you’re “different”?

    For many Christian denominations (at least those that would be likely to use the Hell House), the relationship with God is based on healthy fear of God (think of the phrase “God-fearing Christian”).

  2. Darren James Harkness

    Also, I think the phrase, “Sorry. Picture of Heaven not available at this time” is one of the most amusing I’ve read today.

  3. Peter

    I caught Hell House at the late, lamented Blinding Light!! micro cinema.

    It is one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve ever seen, and one of the best done. It’s about deeply religious, small town people trying to cope with a larger world they don’t quite understand and see as both seductive and frightening.

    My favorite scene is a room that warns about the dangers of the occult, including Harry Potter books and Magic: the Gathering games, and it has a pentagram drawn on the floor. Apparently, nobody told the people who ran the house that a pentagram has five points; they drew a six-pointed star like the star of David. I attribute this to ignorance, not anti-Semitism.

    This is not a “let’s have a laugh at the rubes” film, I should point out. The documentary’s tone is bemused curiosity, with a few moments of real empathy.

  4. Chanelle

    I saw a documentary on this recently, I think it was Dateline or something like that. There was one scene where a group of young teens went to go see the Hell House and were asked their opinion on it afterwards. One boy said, “What do they have against being gay? I was told it was okay to be gay and they just said if you are gay you’re going to hell.”

    That’s a comforting thought.

  5. Matthew

    There was a report on the ‘hell house’ phenomenon in Alberta and the Prairies that aired on W5 last fall. The whole thing would be rather funny if the kids didn’t seem to be taking it so seriously. When they showed the kids who were auditioning for the roles finding out who had been cast in which parts, it was downright hilarious to watch their joy at discovering that they were getting to play ‘girl bleeding to death from abortion’ or ‘young gay going to hell’. The whole thing is disrespectful to both Christian ideals and those who don’t fit into said ideals. While Christians have the right to not agree with certain practices or lifestyles, the bible clearly says that it’s not up to us to condemn or judge others. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

  6. Chanelle

    Oh that’s the report I saw! (It was driving me crazy where I had seen it before)

    Yes I fully agree with you Matthew. I was completely blown away by ‘scenes’ they were allowing the general audience to see.

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