Thursday, March 6, 2014

Religion and Horror: Between Heaven, Hell, and Earth, 
Part Two: An Expansion on the Definition of Evil

By Anthony Servante
Research by William Cook


In Religion and Horror, Part One, we tried to gauge a commonality in the definition of Evil in essays written by authors in the Horror genre. In some cases, they spoke from personal experience; in others, they spoke through their stories. Evil came down to choice. Because we have free will, we can decide to commit unholy acts of horror, just as we can choose to benefit our brethren with benevolent acts of selflessness. While I maintain that God’s Providence is already in motion, the beginning, middle, and end already predetermined, so it doesn’t matter what we choose; our choices have already been determined. What seems like free will is a stacked deck of decision-making.

The Problem with Free Will:
Serial Killers

In Part Two, we will expand on the definition of Evil with three essays: First, we have RESIDENT EVIL by Paul Teusner, NUMINOSITIES: ‘Things That Should Not Be — The Uncanny Convergence of Religion and Horror by Matt Cardin, and The Genre of Horror by Mgr. Viktória Prohászková.

Resident Evil Creature

Paul Teusner, in his work, RESIDENT EVIL, says, “Mythic stories point to the origins of life and offer a world-order that gives importance and function to human life.” For Teusner, Evil is the errors of our becoming civilized. We learn by trial and mistake, and adjust our individual life in conjunction with the lives of our community to make rules so these mistakes are not repeated. Before there were rules, there were stories passed from one generation to the next. Teusner further states,

          “The act of religion is the act of constructing and maintaining a set of beliefs and material practices which provide meaning to one’s life amidst the universe of known experience. This set of beliefs offers more than a way of answering the question, “Why
am I here?”. It provides a framework by which one sets oneself among others, identifies a purpose in life, hope for the future: a pathway along which to course the rest of one’s life.”
                                                              From Resident Evil

The rules and stories become our culture, our religion, and our obedience to the law of experience. But as Teusner shows in his discussion of “horror”, the law does not extend beyond this experience. So, how do we deal with that which exceeds our rules? We create monsters. Or “myths”, as Teusner prefers: “Myths endeavour to frame the reality beyond known human experience in language of symbols known in human experience.”

Let’s keep in mind that there are the monsters of the supernatural, those beyond our experience, and there are human monsters, those who choose to ignore the rules and repeat the errors of the past, that time of savagery.

The Rising of the Leviathan:
When Evil and Good Will Meet Again

In Matt Cardin’s NUMINOSITIES: ‘Things That Should Not Be — The Uncanny Convergence of Religion and Horror’, he states right off: “…horror and religion have always been bound together in the most intimate of entanglements.” He turns to the stories of the “Ancient Sumerians”, “Ancient Greeks”, and “Hebrew scripture”, to name a few, to illustrate the connection. This binding of horror and religion, Cardin discusses in the stories of old, as Teusner alluded to earlier. Furthermore, Cardin notes that the horror and religion connection reached the colonies of the New World via the witch trials and life under the constant fear of demon possession or becoming spellbound by the wiccans’ sorcery. 

So, as religion began making the rules of the new civilizations, and began telling its stories (e.g., the Bible), it included a punishment for breaking the rules. The crime of witches, for instance, is cavorting with the Devil, and their sentence for such unholy behavior was in itself pretty horrific: drowning, hanging, stoning, and in Europe, burning and torture (think Iron Maiden—the device, not the band). So, not only did the religious fear the Devil, they feared God’s wrath as well, perhaps more so: Cardin explains,

          “…perhaps it has to do with an unconscious recognition that only a few have ever named aloud, a recognition that is simultaneously implicit and explicit in all of those great biblical images of a wrathful God whose transcendent nature is categorically other than the natural world, so that, even though this nature is technically termed “holiness,” it emerges in human experience more as a tremendous, awe-and-dread-inspiring eruption of supernatural nightmarishness that is fundamentally corrosive both to the world at large and to the human sensibility in particular.”
                                                                   (From NUMINOSITIES).

Thus, the horrors in the stories of the Bible attest to God’s Predetermined outcome for man being both a blessing (The Rapture, for instance) and a curse (Think Left Behind—with the Antichrist, the Leviathan, and so on). 

Cardin sums it up, “In other words, perhaps it has to do with a psychologically subterranean sense of unsettlement at the notion that the divine itself, not just in its conventionally demonic aspects but in its intrinsic essence, may be fundamentally menacing.” Religion deems man doomed unless he meets certain criteria, obeys certain laws, but the multitude of interpretations of God’s Providence has man wondering if he has chosen the path to Heaven or Hell. The uncertainty is its own form of horror, the “psychologically subterranean sense of unsettlement”, as Cardin explains.

Cults: The Way to Heaven or Hell?

The Genre of Horror by Mgr. Viktória Prohászková expands on this “unsettlement”, or “fear”, instilled in us by the stories of old and the religious rules that will determine our fate. She writes,

“The oldest and strongest human emotion is fear. It is embedded in people since time began. It was fear that initiated the establishment of faith and religion. It was the fear of unknown and mysterious phenomena, which people could not explain otherwise than via impersonating a high power, which decides their fates. To every unexplainable phenomenon they attributed a character, human or inhuman, which they associated with supernatural skills and invincible power. And since the human imagination knows no limits, a wide scale of archetypal characters have been created, such as gods, demons, ghosts, spirits, freaks, monsters or villains. Stories and legends describing their insurmountable power started to spread about them.”
                                                      (From The Genre of Horror)

And here we reach the monsters that connect Religion and Horror: “demons, ghosts, spirits [think poltergeists], freaks…” Because we cannot fathom a God that is Evil, we create monsters; our fear manifests itself as the creatures responsible for our uncertain fates. But we must not forget the concept of free will and predetermination. We must simply add the “fear” of God to the discussion.

And now we can turn to the works by our authors for this piece. We shall examine them for the three conditions for Evil to exist: man’s choice to disobey the rules, God’s cruel punishments, and unnatural monsters. The authors and the works at hand include: John Milton, Paradise Lost; William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist;  Billie Sue Mosiman, Banished; Lisa Lane, Myths of Gods; Hank Schwaeble, Diabolical; Kat Yares, Vengeance is Mine, and Elizabeth Massie, Sineater.

We begin with Paradise Lost by John Milton in Part Three.

See you there.

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