Wednesday, October 12, 2011

God's Ghost Busters: When Will Evangelicals Move Beyond Church Lady Approaches to Halloween and the Paranormal?

The Halloween season is upon us, and while many are enjoying this time of festive celebration with its ghosts and goblins, not everyone finds pleasure in such things. It is not uncommon for Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists to express grave concern over the alleged dangers of the holiday itself, as well as the various elements associated with it. Many times books are released touching on evangelical concerns related to this time of year, and thanks to The Wild Hunt I was recently made aware of the 2011 contribution to this evangelical phenomenon.

God's Ghostbusters: Vampires? Ghosts? Aliens? Werewolves? Creatures of the Night Beware! (Defender Publishing LLC, 2011) was published last month, just in time for the multi-author contributors of this volume to register their concern about all things horrific. Much can be learned about the perspective and background of this book by considering the product description (with additional insights provided by this YouTube clip):

Recently some 300 exorcists flocked to Poland for a week-long congress to examine the current fashion for vampirism the world-over and the apparent connection between this fascination and a surge in demonic possession.

This comes as the world is experiencing an explosion of ancient occultism combined with wicked fascination for ghosts and all things paranormal. In the United States alone, there are now more than two hundred thousand registered witches and as many as 8 million unregistered practitioners of “the craft.” On college and high school campuses, vampires, werewolves, and other “creatures of the night” are esteemed as objects of desire and idolized by young men and women who view them as cult icons of envious mystical power. Church goers are enchanted by the darkness as well. An April 13, 2011 article “Mysticism Infecting Nazarene Beliefs” was preceded only a few days before by a Telegraph article describing how a “surge in Satanism” inside the church has sparked a “rise in demand for exorcists” within traditional religious settings.”
If readers are looking for an analysis of horror in popular culture, as well as various aspects of Western esotericism, and the paranormal, coupled with academic theological analysis, this is not the volume in which such things can be found. (Many of the weaknesses of other evangelical books on this topic apply to this volume as well.) The contributors are obviously out of their depth in addressing the subject matter with competency. A few examples of this include the fact that statistics are provided that cannot be substantiated and which confirms the worst fears of evangelicals regarding certain minority religions. The volume also gives no indication of awareness of sound demographic studies on Paganism, minority religions and identity groups, or the paranormal. It also continues to connect various minority religious traditions, as well as the paranormal, with Satanism, demonstrating a misunderstanding of Satanism, as well as the paranormal and minority religions themselves.

What this volume actually does is tell us more about the contributors, their audience, and the sociophobics of the religious other within the evangelical subculture than it does about Western esotericism, minority religions, or the paranormal. In reflecting on this volume I couldn't help but be reminded of Dana Carvey's Church Lady character on Saturday Night Live. This character makes audiences laugh because of not only the confirmation of stereotypes, but also because of the one-dimensional nature of her concerns about the culture around her where Satan is behind every alleged transgression. In the same way the theological analysis of this volume is thin and simplistic, trotting out a well-worn dualism, with satanic forces seemingly far more powerful and present than the divine.

I hope that one Halloween season evangelicals will demonstrate a willingness to stop bearing false witness against their neighbors involved in various facets of popular occulture, and that they move beyond a response worthy of the Church Lady.

Related posts:

"Interview with the authors of Paranormal America"

"Wicca as America's Third Largest Religion?: Unfortunate Evangelical Sensationalism"

"Summary Thoughts: New Book Generation Hex"

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