Religion and Horror: Between Heaven, Hell, and Earth
Part One: The Question of Evil.
Introduction written by & Essays compiled
by Anthony Servante
What is Evil?
Oft-times, the definition of “evil” comes down to angels and demons. We imagine an angel on our right shoulder and a devil on the left. Note: the right side is where our heart is and “right” is “good”, while “left” in Latin means “sinister” or evil. These creatures whisper advice in our ears, convincing us to make a decision when we are at a crossroads between choosing a good or bad action (e.g., when we want to shoplift a candy bar).
"Ash" Williams caught in the middle
When we choose the bad decision, we did something bad, and when we choose the good, we did something good. We choose between good and bad as if they existed outside ourselves in a tangible form, because if our action had no definition, our decisions would have no meaning and that existence outside ourselves would simply be “chaos” and anarchy. So, where does our definition of “evil” come from, if not from ourselves or “something” outside ourselves? That’s where religion comes in.
Heaven & Hell
Religion gives us boundaries so we know the limits and consequences of our actions. We have Heaven and Hell. We have Karma. We have Reincarnation. We have a set of rules. We have the Ten Commandments. But, as we have seen since time in memoriam, these rules often have various interpretations. This variance exists because science and philosophy give us so many options. Evolution versus Creation, for one. Free Will versus Predetermination, for another. Let’s look at the definition of “evil” through the eyes of William James to start things off.
Willaim James, Father of Psychology
For James, Evil is the absence of order. Without rules, there can only be evil actions. Consider that the universe is part of a divine plan, a perfect unity; then evil and good would play opposing roles but fall under the same umbrella, thereby rendering them both equally “good” under God’s divinity. James believed evil could not exist in a perfect or divine order. Therefore, evil had to be the opposite of order: chaos. Good is defined by our following the divine plan, while evil is defined by our following no plan. For instance, a perfect person who obeys all the laws can do no evil; if he accidentally kills a person while obeying a law, then he did no evil. Maybe he was wrong, but wrong is not evil, no more than guessing the wrong answer on a test is evil. But if a perfect person intentionally kills a person, he is disobeying the law and doing evil and wrong. While the former person committed “manslaughter”, unintentional murder, the latter person committed first degree murder, intentional murder (premeditated). For James, the former person is called “healthy-minded”, happy within the rules of divinity, while the latter is called a “sick soul”, happy outside the rules of divinity. Think Hannibal Lecter happy. James sums it up: “Evil is empirically there for them [evil doers] as it is for everybody” (Varieties of Religious Experience). In other words, we can choose evil; we can disobey the divine rules as easily as we can the legal laws of civilization.
Lecter an agent for "Good"?
But let’s not stop here. We have with us three authors of Horror who will continue this purview of “evil” and help further to define, or, at least, clarify it for us. Let’s welcome Lori R. Lopez, Mark Parker, and Jeff Parish. Each has written an essay on the subject specifically for this article.
Lori Lopez on Evil:
(On “the nature of evil”)
Lori R. Lopez
Throughout my horror I have danced with a diversified range of devils to craft the evil described in my books, stories, and dark verse. It could be complex, a distinct hierarchy of rules and goals and ranks. It might be incredibly simple or down-to-earth. “Not all monsters looked scary, Dwayne would discern. Some looked like a dentist.” This is a quote from MONSTROSITIES, the tale of a very warped individual who learned about evil from his father, a bully and sadist. The elder Mumsby enjoyed torturing the clientele of his dental practice. He also relished tormenting his family. As another villainous patriarch states in an upcoming ghost story: “Evil, like charity, begins at home.”
How many real-life killers had troubled childhoods? Nothing twists a mind better than a dysfunctional history of abuse or neglect at the hands of a parent from Hell, or another trusted adult. My protagonist Dwayne Mumsby was taught the finer points of Evil during actual lessons with dear old Dad, who wanted to pass on the tricks of his trade to the same child serving as one of the tyrant’s primary victims. Not only did Dwayne suffer physically and emotionally at the hands of his father, he was forced to endure psychological misery and woe by witnessing the man’s terrors as a dentist. Many people are afraid of dentists who do not deliberately make them suffer, who instead wish to cure their suffering. Dwayne’s father is a very cruel man who fears nothing and no one. In his mind he is God, wielding absolute power, although his behavior is as demonic as it is depraved.
Through the ages humans pondered the root of Evil, whether it be religious, supernatural, or manmade. My horror tales run the gamut. I myself believe there is evil in the universe, and it is not always derived from the deeds of men. However, some of the most frightful horror can indeed stem from the heart of humanity. I grew up in
, home to various documented cases of evil behavior
including Ed Gein, who inspired PSYCHO and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. As a child I heard tales about him making
furniture out of people. Following his
arrest, he would reside in a mental institution a very short distance from my
home. Despite loving horror-themed
entertainment since early childhood, this made me a little uneasy . . .
especially at night. Wisconsin
We understand now that some of the sickest minds were created by other disturbed minds, that they were themselves victims in a chain of abuse or violence that passed on generation to generation. I echo this in MONSTROSITIES, where the son becomes even more twisted than the parent. In the religious sense, true evil is a force greater than men. Yet human beings have committed atrocities that rival those of demons. At times actions speak louder than words or intent, and even the noblest cause can resort to what might be viewed as terror by different perspectives. I dabbled with such themes in my first story collection, OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, while my first novel DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS presents a magical setting inhabited by ancient gods and talking animals that spills over into the modern realistic world, combining mythologies in the guise of religions, similar to the way I tend to blend genres. Spiritualism is a central current that carries a few of the characters through the wicked mayhem. My novel AN ILL WIND BLOWS contains an evil storm, a wind deity who swallows a bellyful of good and bad “guys” then puts them through humorous and horrific challenges. Gods in my tales are depicted as ambitious, often unfair, possessing a quirky assortment of pros and cons.
In MONSTROSITIES I state: “Society molded monsters. Humans conceived more humans, but in the process of supporting them to maturity, the next generation might become less human.” My evil protagonist Dwayne Mumsby is both victim and villain, raised by a devilish father and an unsupportive mother who could not or would not stand up to her husband and protect her child. Nobody in his sad life defended him, not even Dwayne himself. As a result, the poor fellow is quite insane.
Tragically, fiction is not so far-fetched compared to the ordeals endured by too many in the real world. Drawing on my own childhood for some of the darkness in my work, I try to speak up against bullying, against abuse and other evils that can and do in certain extremes beget further evil.
I also like to let my imagination roam loose. I do not feel bound to a certain trope or type of villain and conjure a number of them myself, basing others on established trends but tinkering with the formula. Fascination with the dreary and macabre seems to come naturally; therefore, I will continue to examine and explore the vast nature of Evil as I write, seeking answers, providing insight or sustenance, provoking thought. I have found that the chills and thrills of horror fiction help push back the darkness and give courage for coping with our dreads and actual woes. I think the darkness makes the light shine all the brighter.
To quote from my novel THE FAIRY FLY: “Unfortunately, there will always be evil in the world to balance the good. But virtues are priceless gems that no quantity of greed or heartlessness can gain.”
Evil reminds each of us to be better.
Mark Parker on Evil:
ON THE NATURE OF EVIL
Evil: The Result of Freedom Put to the Test?
For as long as human kind has been in existence, the question of evil, and its nature, has been on the minds, and in the hearts, of those in the natural order, created with intellect and the power to reason. From the beginning of humanity’s inception, the struggle between good and evil—to find an apt correlation between the two—has been wrestled with by men and women, in hopes of finding some semblance of what the actual meaning of evil is. But, more importantly, what it might mean to our lives; the import and impact it might have on us, both physically and spiritually.
One might ask, how could any of us rightly know what evil is—or what it isn’t? As is the same when attempting to define a universal concept such as love, try as we might, none of us really come close to defining what we’re attempting to, in considering such a thing. Rather, in attempting to do so, we primarily point to the attributes a thing like evil is imbued with—as if doing so might sufficiently explain what our mere vocabulary cannot.
When asked to define evil, we mostly speak around the topic; talking of ghosts and goblins, demons and devils, possession and the possessed, as if each of these things might substantially offer some sort of true meaning to what it is that we’re questioning. But, of course, to some extent even that fails—or at least falls short. Humanity’s ongoing struggle to give definition to a concept like evil, only serves to produce a kind of existential, metaphysical tension in our hearts, minds, and souls, causing us to remain frustrated at still having no further clarity on the topic, despite how far we've managed to get in our discussions. Why must it all be so difficult, we ask? Can’t the meaning of evil really be as simple or un-convoluted as the playground assertion that evil is merely the word live spelled backwards?
In some ways, perhaps it can be—at least in rudimentary ways. More often than not, the direst truths are based on a simple crux, inverted or otherwise. In speaking of evil as the word live spelled backwards, we point to a simplistic rationale that in some ways makes perfect sense when we think about it. And, why wouldn’t it? Surely it can be said that evil is the counterpart or opposite of what is termed to be ‘good.’ The contrast to that which is, at the very least, life-giving.
and scholastics such as St.
Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, it is suggested that in our attempt to
define evil, we must not attribute to evil what is not proper to it, namely a
nature or substantial existence of its own.
“Evil has no existence in itself, for it is merely a privation of good
in some being, and not a positive being [in itself]. Evil is an absence, defect, a negation, a
privation. Evil is a lack of something
in a good which is proper to it and which it ought to possess.” St. Augustine
When we consider what the origin of evil might be, most of us only have what generations of religious teachings or posited moral constructs have taught us. And naturally so. Scripture asserts that evil was the natural consequence of man choosing to “eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 3), when he was specifically instructed not to. That, in fact, evil was the rightful result of man choosing disobedience over fidelity to his creator. Disobedience inasmuch as our first parents chose to act in a way that was out of accord with what was intended, therefore relinquishing paradise in favor of subjugation. The moral prison created through their act of betrayal.
In most Western religious teachings—Christianity, most specifically—the time of man’s fall from grace created a path of diversion for the rest of humanity to follow—or at least, a move from man’s original innocence, to a state of original sin.
In an effort to illustrate this, if we consider a vessel carrying crude oil, should that vessel run aground—through the fault of the one operating it—therefore bleeding a hull of crude into an ecosystem that was pure prior to the vessel’s wreckage—it is clear to see how such an incident of the crude co-mingling with the system around it, forever tainted all that it came in contact with, thereby irreversibly altering the balanced purity of what existed before.
Scripture would hold that, similarly, when our first parents chose to act in a way that was deigned to be out of accord with what their creator had provided for their sufficient good, they were left to live the result of their action; the same action that altered what was to follow in man’s continuing story. This assertion speaks to the consequential breach that was formed, between who we were created to be…and who we've become through our oftentimes wrong exercising of the gift of our Free Will.
In studying the Spanish language, one quickly learns the word sin in Spanish translates to mean without, which is both interesting and telling in this instance. Perhaps it could then be said that “evil” defines those times when humans act in ways contrary to their nature, or the will of the one who created us—outside the embrace of providential love.
Scripture would go on to suggest that in man’s fallen state, we have become consciously aware of our own propensity to choose evil, act in evil ways, or do evil things, and therefore are made all the more desperate for it. While Christianity would assert that humanity was created with the gift of Free Will in order to choose freely to love our Creator, and love one another. Simply put . . . when we live separate from this truth—this gift—we are living ‘in sin,’ or under the burden (or problem) of evil. So in attempting to determine just what evil is, or what its nature is—whether it is cause or consequence—perhaps we might conclude it’s a bit of both.
In Clive Barker’s novel, The Damnation Game, the following quote opens the book, and aptly so:
“Hell is the place of those who have denied;
They find there what they planted and what dug,
, and a Wood of Nothing, Lake of Spaces
And wander there and drift, and never cease
Wailing for substance.”
—W. B. Yeats, The Hour Glass
Jeff Parish on Evil:
By Jeff Parish
On the cartoon Spongebob, the geriatric Mermaid Man is famous for shouting “Evil!” and running off in some random direction. The evil may be a true villain, a tree or a water fountain. Some, like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, would have us believe the notions of “good” and “evil” are just as silly, mere abstract terms that have no real meaning. Among the more religious-minded, however, evil is a very real problem.
But what is “evil”?
In English, the word has two basic meanings. One is something that causes injury or harm. This is an archaic usage frequently found in the Bible. After Moses led
out of slavery in Israel , he spent forty days on Egypt Mount Sinai talking with God and receiving the
Commandments. In that time period, the Israelites decided to make a golden calf
and worship it. Which understandably made the Lord angry. He decided He would
wipe out the nation and start over with Moses (Exodus 32:10). But thanks to
Moses’ intercession, “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto
his people” (Exodus 32:14). Or as the New American Standard puts it: “So the
LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
The more prevalent meaning of “evil” and the we understand it is as a force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin. This definition is even more common in Scripture. The account of the Flood begins with, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Judges echoes a common refrain found throughout the book: “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” In 2 Samuel 12:9, Nathan asks King David, “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.”
But where does this wickedness come from? Some argue that it must be God since He is the primum movens. Except Scripture says otherwise. Psalm 5:4 tells us the Lord is “not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: Neither shall evil dwell with thee.” The New Testament takes it a step further with James -- “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” The apostle John perhaps summed it up best in 3 John 11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”
God does not create evil. In fact, evil is the antithesis of God. Genesis tells us what the Lord creates is good. C.S. Lewis notes in the ninth letter of The Screwtape Letters that evil lacks the power of creation. It can twist and distort that which God has provided, but it cannot truly make something new. Anything good can be warped and perverted. Take the desire to provide for a family or oneself. Push it a little further, and you get Ebenezer Scrooge. Patriotism and love of one’s country can drive men to perform great, selfless deeds. They can also be used as an excuse for atrocities and give rise to men like Adolf Hitler. These are not things God created; they are what man has accomplished with what God has given him -- namely, free will.
As far back as the Garden, God has always given the human race a choice as to whether or not to follow His instructions. Life is a pass/fail, sink-or-swim kind of test, but the decisions are ours. We are not robots receiving instructions and mindlessly repeating a task over and over again. We are free moral agents. And that is something we should all embrace. Far from being cruel, God’s gift of free will is the ultimate display of love. As parents, we teach our children and send them out into the world with the ability to make their own decisions. We hope they choose good. We train them to do so, but that does not mean they will not stumble. Even with the best upbringing, a child may well make bad decisions and have to live with the consequences, be they personal, financial, or even criminal. Does that mean we hate our children? Of course not. Any parent who has to deal with a wayward child grieves and hurts like no other, but neither generation has a claim on the sins of the other, whether they were sins of omission or commission. We certainly have plenty of both.
History shows us that evil comes in two forms: Passive and active. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand. Names scream of cruelty and mass murder from the annals of time: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, the Khmer Rouge, the Inquisition. There is no doubt that these people and more did horrible things -- often in the name of helping their fellow man -- but how many of them could have climbed to such horrific heights without the broader population’s help? And how often did that aid come in the form of apathy or a blind eye? As John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” God does not come into this picture, except as an absence.
Mankind has no one to blame but himself if his time on this earth is more Hell than
Paradise. And that is evil, indeed.
Thank you to our authors for enlightening us on the subject of Evil. As we can see, our writers echo the main thesis of the introduction with terms like "free will" and "providence", the common elements tying "evil" to mankind's choices to act on anti-social behavior and connecting to God's plan for these choices to fit a predetermined course.
But we can only delve so deep before we must look to examples to support our thesis. And that's where the second piece of our article will continue the aim of our thesis.
In Part Two of Religion and Horror, we will look at eight works exemplifying the various views on religious evil as discussed in our introduction and in our essays.
Here is a list of the works that will be analyzed:
William Peter Blatty The Exorcist
Billie Sue Mosiman Banished
Hank Schwaeble Diabolical
Kat Yares Vengeance is Mine
Lori R. Lopez: Monstrosities
Elizabeth Massie Sineater.
We will announce on Facebook the date Part Two will go live. Check Anthony Servante’s timeline for updates. Until next time, choose the Darkness at least once a week. And thank you for visiting