When the Stormont health minister Robin Swann used the term ‘Biblical’ to describe the potential effects of the coronavirus pandemic, he may have also sparked a debate within the Christian Churches as to whether Christians should watch horror films, or TV programmes with horror as their central theme.
The relationship between Christianity and the cinema has not always been an easy one. For many decades, a Christian going to the cinema was frowned upon.
Was it because at one time smoking was allowed in cinemas? Was it because of the darkness when the film was being screened where young lovers could get intimate? Cinema, generally, was stereotyped as being ‘off the devil’, and the horror cinema in particular.
In later years, I would be bemused by a fellow Christian who refused to go to the cinema to watch the sci-fi horror, Alien, but instead opted for renting the video and watching it in their own home. What’s the difference?
My own spiritual journey in Christianity has seen it take many unusual turns, not least as an evangelical Presbyterian minister’s son and born-again Christian eventually becoming a horror film critic with a Dublin-based tabloid newspaper.
Again, my own love of the horror cinema began as a primary school pupil in Clough, County Antrim. From my bedroom window in the Presbyterian Manse, I could see the remains of the church tower in the village cemetery.
On moonlit nights, the light would shine eerily through the gap in the tower where the bell used to sit. My youthful imagination would be in hyperdrive, with the bell calling the dead to rise.
Quite often, this fascination with horror would seep into the weekly English composition which my Clough Primary School headmaster and Clough Presbyterian Church elder, Mr McCarroll, would set - no matter what the topic!
My favourite imaginary character involved the exploits of the evil Dr Nasty the Second! By the time I was in Primary Six, Master McCarroll would often become totally bored with reading these compositions!
It was, therefore, with tremendous enthusiasm that I greeted the news that late night television was launching the Saturday evening ‘double bill’ of Hammer Horror.
But as Sunday was an exceptionally busy day for mum and dad in the Manse, it was usually always ‘get an early night’ on Saturdays. In later years, sitting up to watch BBC’s Match of the Day was my luxury, so at that time there was no way I would be allowed to sit up to around 2 am on the Sabbath to watch Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, or the Mummy!
But it could be achieved with careful planning, and that included memorising the creaky stairs in the Victorian Presbyterian Manse! With the rest of the family safely tucked up in bed, I would wait until almost the witching hour, then sneak down to the place affectionately known as ‘the TV room’.
For company, just in case the vampires attacked, I would also sneak in my miniature Shetland sheep dog, Pluto, and the two of us would hide under a blanket with the sound turned down suitably low. After the ‘double bill’, Pluto would be dispatched outside to his kennel, and I would again sneak upstairs.
For years, my parents would wonder how I was always so tired on a Sunday when supposedly I’d been in bed since 8 pm on the Saturday!
Mind you, in the Seventies Ulster Bible Belt, horror movies and heavy metal music were all lumped in together by Christianity’s fundamentalist wing as allowing the devil to infiltrate your mind.
So you can imagine the trouble I would get myself in with the Presbyterian congregation when it emerged I was a huge Black Sabbath fan in my teens! This experience reminded me of an interview I conducted in the mid-2000s with a fundamentalist pastor concerning satanic influences.
Many Christian churches across Ireland are being unwittingly infiltrated by satanists who are Hell-bent on creating trouble and splitting parishes, it has been claimed.
This stark warning was issued this by a controversial fundamentalist Christian cleric during his time in a County Antrim church.
He claimed at the time that a number of satanists were trying to get into churches, posing as “super spiritual Christians”, but their real aim was “to cause confusion, divorce and even death” among genuine believers.
The cleric used as his scriptural text to support his claim a passage from the Old Testament in the book of First Samuel, Chapter 15, verse 23: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”
By this rebellion, we mean rebelling against a pastor, against the Gospel Truth being preached and against the Church leadership. The devil wants Christians to rebel and this is how the satanists are sowing the seeds of witchcraft in churches.
However, it should be remembered that while Godly Christians can be oppressed by the devil, they cannot be possessed by him.
He warned that some of this witchcraft was very subtle and was actually being brought into churches – especially Pentecostal churches – by Christians who did not know they were under the spell of witchcraft.
This is not the first time the cleric had gone head-to-head with satanists. During one summer in the ‘Noughties’, he was a guest preacher at a traditional Christian tent mission in Co Down when he was physically confronted by a man claiming to be a satanist.
The man told him he was praying the cleric would be killed in a car crash and when the cleric challenged him about being a devil worshipper, the alleged satanist lunged at him and had to be dragged off him.
The cleric warned of the effects of witchcraft infiltrating Christian churches. “Those indulging in secret sin will fall under the influence of witchcraft. This type of rebellion is not obvious and it can lead to Christians becoming bitter, not better.
This type of subtle witchcraft is even more dangerous than the occult or demonic influence themselves. However, no church living in the fear of God can be controlled by the devil. He cannot penetrate a Holy Ghost wall of fire surrounding true Christians.
A very stark warning indeed. But in today’s increasingly secular society, how does the Church warn about the battle between good and evil? Issuing warnings that the coronavirus is God’s punishment on society may not be the most effective tool of evangelical communication.
So would watching horror films be the solution? Provided, of course, good triumphs over evil at the end of the movie.