Hell is other people, usually wingnuts
One of the great pleasures of living in an oasis in the Bible Belt is hearing about the latest wingnut craze that's sweeping the countryside. Halloween is a particularly fun time, as the anxiety felt by those who actually think that Satan is poking them in the ass with a pitchfork is at an all-time high. The latest coping mechanism for dealing with the fact that your godless neighbors all lose their minds once a year and start celebrating Satan's birthday with chocolates and costumes (or naked drunken paganism, something some people find hard to believe, causing me to wonder if they've ever been to 6th St. on Halloween).
The latest anti-Halloween craze is Christian-themed haunted houses, where the Christian right gathers its young and gets them to enact their most lurid fantasies of sinners roasting in hellfire screaming out in agony that they were wrong and the Baptists were right all along. You see, one of the great pleasures of being saved will be looking down from heaven into hell with a self-righteous smirk as the hellfires lick at those people who wouldn't do as they were told on Earth. Sadly, you must wait for death or the Rapture to start enjoying this particular pleasure, but in the meantime, it's okay to go to a Christian haunted house for a taste. In today's Daily Texan, there's an article about one of these right here in Austin, in the Promiseland Church. (Previously mocked right here in this blog for trying to save us via airplane at the ACL Fest.)
PromiseLand Church in East Austin has, for the past four years, created Virtual Hell, an evangelical haunted house that features "real life horrors," said youth pastor Ricky Poe - acted-out scenes of domestic violence, teen suicide, date rape, abortion, school shootings and fatal drunk-driving accidents.
That reminds me of my teenage years. After a bout of school shooting, I would jump in the car with my drunken boyfriend who would beat me and talk me into an abortion.
"We want to save people physically and spiritually. But if you don't save someone physically, there's no hope for spiritual salvation," Poe said.
I am assuming then that the pastor hands out condoms to the heathens so that they don't die of AIDS before they are saved.
Every October, thousands file through the graphic maze of Virtual Hell, past sordid scenes and into an "elevator."
The elevator, a solid box set on a forklift, first takes the audience up seven floors, to heaven.
The ascent is pleasant enough: Kenny G plays through the loudspeakers. The light is white and soothing. At the top, the strains of Kenny G's saxophone warp, and the elevator begins down again.
I don't know about you, but being in an elevator that's playing Kenny G sounds like the hell portion of the house. It would be a blessed relief once it starts to warp.
Casting begins in August and all final decisions are made by Poe.
Or, maybe, by God himself.
"I believe in divine appointments," Poe said. "There are just some people who are destined to play a certain part; I feel that."
It seems to be a well-regarded belief that God could be speaking through anyone, as long as he is a straight white male. It's quite handy, that.
Acting in a haunted house is dangerous stuff, it seems, and not fun at all. No, it's hard work.
"People might think I'm crazy, but, spiritually, I try to walk Christ-like. In this role, Satan throws everything he's got at me. I feel fatigue, I have nightmares."
Many cast members talk of this -headaches, sore feet-all signs, they say, that Satan is near and trying to undo the good they've done.
That or they are suffering from the psychological torment of believing their own bullshit.
"Spiritual people can spiritually discern things," Poe said. "I tell the kids involved to keep prayed up. I don't want anyone getting hurt. The enemy's tool is fear."
The Christian right's tool is not fear, apparently. There no reason to think they are trying to scare you into compliance by telling you that you'll burn in hell for all eternity for disagreeing with them.
Poe admits the most controversial incident in the whole production may be the abortion scene.
In that scene, a young woman changes her mind in the middle of an abortion procedure. The doctor and nurse consult and decide it's too late to stop. The young woman cries out as the heartbeat of her unborn child thumps loudly on the sound track broadcast from overhead speakers.
It's the realistic touches like this that really get to the kids.
In the scene that ends their tour of horrors, the audience is given a choice, Poe said. They can walk through a door on the left into a room where a counselor will talk with them about what they've seen and pray with them, if they like. Or they can just leave, through the door on the right.