Christian ‘Nightmare’ vilifies Halloween

These people, … honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me.” — Mark 7:6-7
Do any of you remember the passage in the Bible where Jesus threatens and then assaults the doubting beggar? A man basically calls Jesus a fraud, and then proceeds to decry the teachings of Christ. Hatred wells up inside of Jesus, and when the beggar refuses to submit to the will of Jesus, he then proceeds to beat the man with a stick. Only when the beggar admits that Jesus was the Son of God did Jesus stop.
Some of you might be familiar with a Halloween phenomenon known as “The Nightmare.” It is an unconventional haunted house that promises to “scare the hell out of you.” I’m usually open to such experiences, and decided to go out to Burnsville for a little fright. This wasn’t a real haunted house. I was instead treated to a macabre glimpse into the world of a Christian cult.
All the people working at Nightmare were dressed in military fatigues, barking orders and telling people where to go. After signing a release form, I was escorted through the complex. They used lights and sound to disorient us. The guides then led us through multiple scenes of drug use, failed abortions, murder, suicide and cannibalism. This was to show us where our Christ-absent lives would lead us. After a short trip through hell, we were shown gory scenes of the torture and crucifixion of Christ. This was meant to transform our behavior, and to exploit our fears into church membership. After a short speech by Pastor Joe, who told us the objective of the “nightmare strategy” and invited us to the Destiny Christian Center (DCC), we were deeply encouraged (read: baited) to engage in prayer with members.
I immediately noticed the naive, suburban notions of street violence and drug culture that were stereotyped by Nightmare, meant to scare certain kids straight. I was impressed by the high quality special effects, and the deeply disturbing scenarios with their cartoon-like graphic violence. These visual effects were coupled with the rather dubious goal of scaring the HELL out of you/me (get it?).
It’s no secret who they were targeting with these tactics — it’s stated explicitly in their handout literature. Kids at risk, and youth looking for “extreme” experiences are very easily drawn to the Nightmare. Because kids are highly suggestible, they are prime targets for the DCC’s brand of assimilation.
The way in which they divide and then order people about immediately inspires a de facto loss of control. Use of flashing lights and sound further disorients, making people further open to their suggestions. By exploiting stereotypes, they touch deep rooted fears and premonitions. Youths are scared of images of street violence, drug addiction and alcohol-related car fatalities. Even more disturbing and manipulative is their exploitation of the image of suicide. This is the most graphic, and judging by the crowd I was with, the most unpleasant part of Nightmare.
It seems that the basic message of nightmare is that God/Jesus is very angry and vengeful. They want you to think that if you don’t fly straight and act right, God will somehow directly punish or even kill you. This puritanical view insists that if you don’t become a Christian, danger and death will stalk you at every turn. The question that comes to my mind is how do they use the name of Jesus to shield their immoral actions?
This ideal of an angry, vengeful God is hardly a new concept, as it was heavily utilized by pre-Christian religions. When used as an intimidation factor, it became a powerful tool for recruitment (manipulation). Christian ultra right-wing churches use similar techniques, and manipulate people like a cult would, and therefore shouldn’t be thought of as anything but a cult. If you could have seen the way Pastor Joe presented himself, flanked by security personnel, most people would’ve identified him as a pseudo-Christ figure. Pastor Joe was no different than a David Koresh or Jim Jones.
This point is crucial in determining the moral and ethical ramifications of the Nightmare strategy. There is nothing inherently wrong with church recruitment. Each religion has protected rights to exist. The difference is that the Nightmare program tries to recruit in a manipulative and dishonest way.
It’s rather dubious that the DCC, rather than let persons choose Christ for themselves, choose to scare and intimidate people. I’d contend that people so easily influenced and manipulated into the DCC brand of Christianity, could just as easily be manipulated into other cults, mainstream or otherwise. The Bible itself implies that individuals must make a personal choice towards God. Because the program is based on manipulation and coercion, it is self-defeating. It is ethically wrong and morally repugnant.
Perhaps Nightmare will turn youth around, and the congregation of the DCC will increase exponentially. Maybe people like me are simply turned off. I feel the most likely outcome for those sucked in will be substantial psychic scaring. The program created bitter resentment in the audience, or at least me and several others. It also creates a grim legacy for the performers themselves. I can hardly fathom the effects of simulating a gunshot to the head, or a gruesome failed abortion performed on oneself multiple times an evening, night after night.
The people who conceived, funded and performed in the Nightmare may feel that their actions are justified because some higher power is on their side, or that the ends justify the means. These are common justifications used by fringe groups engaged in immoral behavior. They’ve dismissed criticism and protest, probably due to the so-called purity of their message, or their direct line to God. Dismissing the opposition as decadent heresy is the refuge of the reactionaries, pundits and cult leaders everywhere. To me the real question is whether you could see Jesus himself performing such acts. Could anyone see Christ encouraging such behavior? I realize that my asinine bible passage was pure falsehood. It’s just too bad that some people have yet to figure this out.
Peter Johnson is a junior in political science.Send comments to [email protected]