Monthly Archives: October 2007

Happy Hallowe’en!

Emma’s first costume — and first music video!

She was sooooo cute today, despite nursing (another!) cold. She got many compliments on her outfit, and a few people caught the pop-culture reference, too.

I’m not sure who had more fun this Hallowe’en, Emma or her mama and dad!

[EDIT: If you’re stuck and don’t get the pop-culture reference, here’s a clue]

Jesus Camp meets Halloween

It’s that time of the year again — time for a Hell House! Evangelical delight!

A description from the Wiki entry on Hell Houses:

A hell house, also commonly known as a Doom House or Judgment House, is a haunted house-style attraction typically run by North American fundamentalist Christian churches or parachurch groups. These attractions are meant to depict the divine judgments that await unrepentant sinners and the torments of the damned in Hell. They are typically operated in the days preceding Halloween although by definition, they are not part of the holiday.

A hell house, like a conventional haunted house attraction, is a space set aside in which actors attempt to frighten patrons with gruesome exhibits. Unlike the conventional haunted house attraction, the hell house focuses on occasions and effects of sin, or the fate of unrepentant sinners in the afterlife. The motivation for the event occurring during the month of October before Halloween is to take advantage of the similarities between hell houses and conventional haunted houses.

Jerry Falwell is known for staging the first ever Hell House.

Tonight I watched the 2001 documentary that followed a long-running Hell House staged by a Texas church. The documentary follows church members from the brainstorming sessions in August to the auditions of roles to actual Hell House presentations in October. There’s no narration — just the words and actions of the believers who are participating in this event.

Highlights (if you could call them that) of the documentary:

  • The minister admitting that fear is a major motivating part of salvation
  • A spray-painted pentagram consisting of a Star of David in a circle
  • On opening night, the frantic search for a knife to be used in the occult scene (the preacher offers his straight razor in his desk)
  • Fear of the literal devil being matched only by their fear of final judgement from God
  • Teenager Christians discussing which is the scariest and bloodiest scene to act out/watch
  • What? Marilyn Manson is the devil?!
  • At the altar call, the minister said “This isn’t a scare tactic or a guilt trip” — RIGHT. Then proceeded to scare and guilt people into making a commitment.
  • Final stat: Over 75,000 people have attended the Hell House over the last 10 years, with 15,000 making “decisions” by the end of it.

The documentary is disturbing — on several levels. Not only are the scenes of the Hell House distorted and graphic, but it was disturbing to see so many young (and easily influenced!) kids walking into that mess. I was also disturbed by the glee many of the actors took in acting out these caricatures of human tragedy.

I can remember playing lots of different roles in various church plays — everything from a palm-waving child to a dancing girl in the temple to Mary, mother of God — and I remember the feelings of excitement and solidarity it inspired in my faith. And here the actors of this Hell House are feeling these same feelings, but are experiencing them by participating in something vile.

While I understand these believers may have the best intentions at heart, I still can’t help but think these types of “hell houses” are more detrimental for Christianity than good. I understand that this type of presentation is supposed to make its audience run into the arms of God — but if I were to attend something like this, I’d want to run in the opposite direction.

And before anyone comments on this, I know this represents one fraction of the evangelical movement — but regardless, I can see similarities, while distorted, that also translate to larger portions of the faith.


And with that glowing review, here is the first part of the 85 minute documentary:

Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Final thought: I’m struck by the fear in this film — and I’m not necessarily talking about the fear the Hell House organizers/actors are trying to instill in their audience. I’m talking about the fear that motivates these believers to do these types of programs in the first place. The world is such a scary place to them, with the unknown and the tragic being blown up to cataclysmic proportions. I wonder how many of the people I saw in this documentary would actually respond to the events they so blithely distorted. It’s one thing to only see the world in black and white — but in reality, that gray has a way of sneaking up on you, often when you least suspect it.

Sunday night double feature picture show

Tonight on Turner Classic Movies: “Practice What You Preach”

8:00pm [Drama] Elmer Gantry (1960)
A young drifter finds success as a traveling preacher until his past catches up with him. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Shirley Jones. Dir: Richard Brooks. C-147 mins, TV-PG

10:30pm [Drama] Miracle Woman, The (1931)
A phony faith healer fights the temptation to go straight when she falls for a blind man. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, David Manners, Beryl Mercer. Dir: Frank Capra. BW-90 mins, TV-PG

Too bad that the end of Gantry isn’t anything like Sinclair Lewis’s book! Which reminds me, it’s one I need to add to the reread list.

I’m thinking Gantry could translate well into the 21st century — now to find a director and studio to fund it! (and make them accountable to the source material)

Subversively crafty

Originally uploaded by Cross-stitch ninja

More examples of subversive cross-stitch here.

Saturday night entertainment

Here’s what we do for fun in the Bennetch household: watch a debate between an agnostic and a theist! The Socratic Club of Oregon State University recently hosted a debate/discussion between Michael Shermer and Dinesh D’Souza. I think I found this debate more interesting and enlightening than ones I’ve seen with Hitchens or Dawkins — see it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Part I:

Part II:

(Part III is supposedly coming soon!)

I found this debate to be the most interesting of the various debates I’ve watched on the topic. Shermer, known as the editor of Skeptic magazine, is articulate and pointed in his criticism — yet doesn’t defame or attack the other side. I found both sides were actually TALKING to each other, which is something that rarely happens in these types of discussions.

Granted, I found D’Souza fairly amusing in some of his arguments — I particularly enjoyed his defense of the Church’s refusal of Galileo’s heliocentric theory (it’s near the end of part II). D’Souza isn’t the most articulate of theists that I’ve seen, and I found he was a little too sermonic as he attempted to persuade — and that he didn’t like to back up many of his assertions.

On the other hand, Shermer had many references to external sources and studies to back up his claims, and I particularly liked this one part of his presentation, found at 36:20-40:57 of part I:

You guys are really missing the boat here on homosexuality and gay marriage. You’ll get around to it eventually, for other reasons, as my Churchillian quote said. ["You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they've tried everything else."]

The overwhelming evidence from science says that gender preferences are primarily determined by genetics and prenatal biochemistry, especially embryological hormone balance. Almost everyone is born attracted to members of the opposite sex — a tiny percentage, maybe one or two percent, maybe even less than one percent, are attracted to members of the same sex.

So what?!

Asking a homosexual when he or she “chose” to become gay is like asking a heterosexual when he or she chose to become straight. Nevertheless, on this particular issue, Christianity remains mired in pre-civil rights, pre-Enlightenment, pre-scientific medieval barbaric thinking. Basing their beliefs on a single biblical passage, Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind, it is abomination.” This quote, by the way, is tucked in between other passages that instruct parents to kill disobedient children and to execute adulterous wives and non-virgin brides.

[...] Anyway, as an embarrassing lapse of Christian charity and Jesus’s doctrine of love for all humanity, Christian preachers and writers and theologians think nothing of tormenting gays by telling them that their desire to love another person of the same sex is an abomination. By telling them that they have a disease, that can be cured through a treatment. These treatment programs, by the way, involved such things as watching football — I mean, it’s so pathetic it’s something you would see as satire on the Stephen Colbert Report.

And that promiscuity is evil — that the single best prophylactic against promiscuity, marriage, is legally banned from them. Christians actually believe that they’re being charitable by proclaiming that they “hate the sin, but not the sinner” — which is just what Christians declared before torching women for allegedly practicing witchcraft in order to save their souls because “we love them.”

[...] Mark my words, here is what is going to happen. Within a decade, maybe two or three, Christians will come around to treating gays no differently than they now treat members of other groups whom they previously persecuted: women, Jews, and blacks — but not because of some new interpretation of a biblical passage, or because of some new revelation from God, these changes will come about the same way they always do, by the oppressed minority fighting for the right to be treated equally and by a few enlightened members of the majority supporting their cause.

Then what will happen is that the Christians will take credit for the civil liberation of gays — dig through the historical record, find some a few Christian bloggers or preachers who had the courage and the character to stand up for gay rights when their fellow Christians would not, and then cite those as evidence that “were it not for Christianity, gays would not be equal.”

Exactly. I’ve always found it amusing that one of the first assertions used in debates defending the morality of Christianity is the involvement of Christian preachers and churchgoers in the abolition movement. What isn’t mentioned is the thousands of years that slavery was condoned in the Bible’s pages or from the pulpit — while I won’t deny that the abolition movement is indebted to those believers who finally stood up for the right thing, I wouldn’t necessarily brag about how long it took to get to doing the right thing.

Anyway, the debate is well worth watching — particularly part II — I really enjoyed the conversation between Shermer and D’Souza as they questioned each other. Also worth noting are the homosexuality-obsessed questioners that spring up during the question session.


Hear, hear?

I’m looking for a good podcast or two to listen to.

What do you listen to regularly?

It can be any topic, though if you know me, I’m partial to religion and politics discussions.



We are each other’s business;
We are each other’s harvest;
We are each other’s magnitude and bond.

– Gwendolyn Brooks