A WORD FROM THE PASTOR “Holy Terror!”
There is a certain make of car whose logo looks exactly like a jumper cable clamp. As if that were not odd enough, this same auto brand is currently running a series of commercials featuring a song from the Rolling Stones: “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste…”
Yes, indeed. This car company is trying to move product to the tune of “Sympathy for the Devil.” I guess they didn’t get the memo after the Great Satanic Panic of the 1980s—there really aren’t that many Satanists in America! So I’m not sure who the car commercial is geared toward.
Of course, it is that time of year. “The busy season,” as classic horror star Boris Karloff called it. The time of year when our attention turns to the Dark Side…toward devils and vampires and ghosts and werewolves and ghouls. Perhaps the seemingly Satanic car commercial is supposed to evoke the spirit of Halloween!
Lots of Christians are hostile to scary entertainment. There’s actually a genre called “Christian Horror” (Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker), but many Christian ministries are dead set against horror of any kind, seeing any expression of supernatural terror as somehow demonic.
I have trouble hopping on the anti-horror bandwagon…perhaps because I grew up during the great horror boom of the early 1960s. I watched Frankenstein and Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman on television. I put together all the Aurora plastic models, and feverishly perused the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I devoured the comic book version of Dracula, and later the novel itself. I was an enthusiastic horror maven. I soon found myself reading H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, and later, the modern American master Karl Edward Wagner. I still have scary entertainment in my blood.
Let me tell you a secret. A lot of clergy are big horror fans. We don’t wear it on our sleeves, but it’s true!
But why? I think it has something to do with the fact that we clergy battle evil. When we see Professor Van Helsing trying to overcome the power of Dracula, we realize that we are in the same business, really…striving to defeat the might of the Devil.
And, in a way, we clergy have a common tool with Van Helsing…the cross! The vampire fears the power of the cross…and so do the real, non-fiction forces of evil! As one of the lesser-known verses of “Lift High the Cross” declares:
This is the sign that Satan’s legions fear, and angels veil their faces to revere…
So, in a way, we clergy folk have a strong resemblance to Prof. Van Helsing…we go forth to battle the powers of evil, armed with the victorious cross of Christ! And even when Van Helsing dispatched the evil Count with a stake to the heart, there was still a reference to the cross—because it was a wooden stake. (Oddly enough, though, in the original Dracula novel, the vampire is slain—not with a wooden stake—but with a Bowie Knife. Of all the Texas things I take pride in, I think I’m proudest of this—that the evil Count was destroyed by the invention of Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo).
There was, alas, a development in horror films in the early 1960s—right around the time that the old films from the 1930s and 1940s were being shown on TV—that I have never really liked. Evil started winning. The Devil started triumphing. Most experts in horror cinema point to The Fearless Vampire Killers as the first movie where evil prevails. A better-known film that shows evil victorious is Rosemary’s Baby. Creepily, the director of both of these films was Roman Polanski, who later experienced the power of evil himself when the Manson family murdered his wife and unborn child…and who became a conduit for evil when he victimized an underage girl. In the old movies, evil never triumphed (the Production Code would not have allowed it!) The more modern films where evil wins at the end disturb me a bit.That’s because we know that in the end, evil is defeated. Again, the site of that victory is the cross. As St. Paul notes:God made us alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2)
A major part of Christ’s work as our Saviour is to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Devil!
The most talked-about film in my lifetime was probably The Exorcist. And that did not leave evil triumphant. It was based on a true-life case from suburban DC, in which a teenage boy (not a girl) was demonically possessed through experimenting with a Ouija board. The demon was eventually cast out by Jesuit priests from St. Louis University. (The lad later went on to a lifelong career with NASA). William Peter Blatty, the author of the novel, heard about the case when he was a student at Georgetown University, and modeled his book on it. As in real life, in both the novel and the film Satan is successfully cast out (although in the fictional story the exorcists gave their lives). So that was one movie that celebrated the Devil’s defeat.
When I saw Mel Gibson’s masterful “The Passion of the Christ,” I noticed a number of odd visual references to horror films. When Christ falls off the bridge in chains after his arrest, he is menaced by some demonic creature who looks a lot like a werewolf. When the Devil is carrying around his “baby,” the infant is a dead ringer for the very first movie vampire, Nosferatu (from the 1922 silent film). When the soldier who nails Christ to the cross looks up at Christ, seemingly admiring his bloody work, he looks very much like Michael Meyers in the kitchen scene of “Halloween.” And when the crows peck out the eyes of the unrepentant thief on the cross, it reminds one of “The Birds.” Since a major aspect of “The Passion of the Christ” is the Devil trying to destroy Christ, and ending up being destroyed himself, I suspect these horror references are quite deliberate!
The defeat of the Devil is a major theme in Lutheranism. Our signature hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” is about the Devil being overcome. You’d think our “official” Lutheran hymn would be a theological meditation on salvation by grace through faith, but rather it is a hymn that depicts Christ and the Devil locked in mortal combat. Luther had a lively sense that the Devil was real, and an even livelier sense that Christ had defeated him!
The most delicious of coincidences is that Reformation Day, our celebration of Blessed Martin Luther’s life and work, comes on October 31…the day that we associate with the powers of darkness. (The reason is because Luther was objecting to some of the abuses associated with All Saints day, and Halloween is the Eve of All Saints). Luther’s message reminds us that the dark and demonic powers have been defeated by Jesus Christ!
You may end up watching some scary movies this season (or even some scary car commercials!) When the monster is defeated, take that as a reminder that Christ has overcome the Devil. If wickedness triumphs, realize that the film does not represent reality. In the end, the God of Jesus Christ always has the last laugh. The victory is always His!
God loves you and so do I!