Horror Authors And Religion

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This post is a bit more ‘controversial’ than my normal ones, in that I talk about something I swore I’d never talk about… religion. I also will not talk about politics, and will never bring up the New York Yankees and World Series victories. 

A few years ago I was at a horror convention, hanging out after hours with 7 or 8 other horror authors. We might have had way too much to drink. OK, I know I had at least three beers so I was probably lit. Someone had just had a short story they’d written rejected by a magazine (this is a few years back, obviously) and the one thing that stuck with the writer was the note back from the would-be publisher: ‘Your religious overtone might scare away some readers, too controversial’. 

The funny part was the story was actually pro-religion. I forget the main gist of it, but I remember a clergyman saving people from a minion of Satan and sacrificing himself so everyone could live, but then God ends up saving him… something like that. Very Happy Ending. Now, if it had been rejected as being cliche or too cheesy happy in the end the author would have no problem with it. The fact his ‘religious overtone’ scared people away made him confused. I remember all of us being guarded when talking about his story, because we were all afraid to voice our opinion about what we individually believed in. This always stayed with me, because we were all drunk and talking stupid crap all night and goofing on each other, telling dirty jokes and being pretty vulgar. Once religion was added to the mix we all got quiet. 

I was born Roman Catholic but haven’t been to church unless I’ve had to (weddings/funerals) in years, probably since I was a teen. I’ve gone through life believing in God, not believing in God, wondering if there was a God, and anything else over my 43 years. I’ve had a lot of questions and had some poor priests and religious people in my life who’ve given me bad information or simply told me I was not being faithful by asking so many questions, which turned me off. 

I also think, as a horror writer, it is almost a given to think being Agnostic or an Atheist is the norm. I only know of a few horror authors who will talk about religion in a positive light. Most won’t talk about it at all (like myself before this post). Everyone has their own beliefs and I have no problem with it. I’m not really even sure what this post is about, to be honest. 

I also wonder: is it just horror authors who shy away from religious talk? Or is it deeper, with creative types in general who seem to think a certain way about religion? I’ve preached myself long and hard about keeping your ideals about religion and politics off of social media so you don’t alienate potential readers. It’s a no-win situation, but I felt I had to get this out for some reason. 

I believe there is a God in this moment. I guess it’s good enough for me. Things in my life have been great, and the people I’ve met in the last year or so have only made me a better person. For me, it seems when I believe God is up there and watching me, I feel better. Is it real? I guess we’ll all find out in the end.  I’d like to think God is real and he’ll meet me in Heaven and ask me to sign a copy of one of my books for him, although I’m sure he’ll want to have a stern talking about my zombies trying to rape people. 

Armand

 

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26 responses »

  1. Very interesting post. I write paranormal romance, but I’ve also written a light horror novella with supernatural elements. I’m working on a horror right now. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King and have always devoured horror novels. And I’m a very strong Christian. I know that seems unusual. I have to use a pen name to keep certain people from knowing what I write, which is a shame. To me, fiction is fiction, and just because I’m fascinated with horror doesn’t mean there’s something dark in me. I’m a very happy, open, optimistic person who just happens to like dark fiction. I have no problem talking about religion as long as the talk doesn’t get ugly. Unfortunately, it often does, and I think that’s why many people avoid it.

    Incidentally, Stephen King has religious undertones in many of his books. So horror write DO write about religion. It’s a shame that author got rejected because of religion in his story. 😦

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  2. I think religious horror is almost a subgenre unto itself. I remember I had friends growing up who were really scared of The Exorcist in part because of its blasphemous language. As I mentioned in a blog post, things like The Shining freaked me out more, as my family wasn’t particularly religious. And yet, a large portion of my writing concerns itself with religion itself being a frightening thing, whatever the flavor, and less about whether the villain is a devil or a god… indeed it almost seems that any type of supernatual occurance is itself a kind of religous statement. To say somethig unreal is worth the willing suspension of disbelief, is to throw your hat in the ring, even if temporariy, on at least some form of religious belief.

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    • Carl, I think much of your stuff overtly plays with religious iconography, but twists it a bit more toward cosmic explanations, ala Lovecraft, than purely religious/supernatural.

      On the other side, novels like Dean Koontz’s HIDEAWAY are overtly religious, and of course the DARK FAITH anthologies have tackled a lot of elements of religion and horror together, showing religious in both positive and negative lights.

      Many people have experienced the negative reactions, however, to horror from religious circles, and to religion in horror circles. These are mostly knee-jerk reactions which can only be cured by people being willing to talk and share and not simply react or leave it out of the conversation.

      That’s why posts like this, Armand, are actually a very good thing. You’re starting a conversation, not starting a fight. Like you, I was raised in a Roman Catholic family, but religion mostly stopped being a part of family life in my early teens (when we moved from Ohio, where I was in a Catholic school where most of my family had gone for generations, to New Jersey where my parents couldn’t even find a Catholic church where they liked Sunday Mass). I’ve gotten to know a lot of people with a lot of belief systems since then and the only part I find that matters is the willingness to be kind to each other despite differences. To me, that’s where most horror comes from, the recognition that not everything and everyone in the world is kind.

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      • Thanks, Robert! Yes, I wanted to share my own thoughts without it becoming a finger-pointing argument post… to be honest, I had the idea months ago but talked myself out of it, but it kept popping up as an idea for the blog and I finally decided to do it. And post it on Sunday, of course.

        Armand

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  3. Religion and the different views people have on their beliefs has reared its head in my work from time to time. I love it when someone who has read “In Memoriam” comes up and asks me what my views are because they couldn’t tell from the book. When I use it, I don’t really show my hand as to what I believe. Personally, I don’t care what others think, but it’s fun to let them try and guess from the bits and clues in the work.

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    • Good point, and despite my own personal views, as a fiction author, I can write from the POV of everyone in the story and not get caught up in what the character believes or doesn’t believe.

      Armand

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      • Me neither, but it is fun to put yourself in a POV with views different than your own. I honestly think that is why authors and other people in the arts are more accepting of others, they can open their minds and think from outside their views and beliefs.

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  4. The short you describe in your post sounds a lot like Gary Raisor’s “Sacrifice” which found a home in Cemetery Dance #62. It was a strong story with religious overtones which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s true that religion can be polarizing, but for me a good story always wins out and controversy is usually good business. For example, what’s the best selling issue of Rolling Stone? Right.

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  5. You and I have talked often about keeping our opinions to ourselves many times…now that I’ve finally gotten the hang of it you toss me a hanging curve ball?
    Religion, as we all know is based on faith, and each of us (even atheists) have faith in SOMETHING. Some call it God. Personally I call it “the Universe” because I think the concept of an all powerful, single deity is silly, but at the same time I believe there is a force of some sort that holds all this stuff together.
    Anyway – when it comes to putting religion in books, I don’t think it has to be a reflection on the author’s stance.
    As a parallel – I do not condone the use of guns, and I am a very non-violent person – but anybody who has read my books would think otherwise because there is plenty of both in them.
    Authors write books to make money, anybody who disagrees with that is lying to you and themselves – so if you come up with a great idea for a story and it involves religion…go for it. If it involves zombie rape…go for it. If it involves Justin Bieber saving the world from virgin-eating space aliens…find another career!
    Peace

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  6. This is timely. In a recent review, a reader said the serial’s atheism was cringeworthy. That’s interesting to me because in This Plague of Days, the husband is an atheist (with growing doubt as doom is threatened) and the wife is a die-hard believer (with growing doubt as her faith is tested.) Both character’s views are challenged. Considering that their conversations take place in the context of a massive plague, it would strike me as really weird for them *not* to discuss their beliefs and try to resolve them. Surrounded by death and destruction, issues around spirituality come up honestly. When doctors fail, the next visit is from the priest. We are all searching for meaning, through faith or reason. The debate is natural and honest.

    I have no doubt that some readers will say I’m preachy when the wife has her say and a raging atheist if they focus on the husband. I’ve been a member of an evangelical church and I’m now an atheist. I try to give both sides their due. We all read through our own lens, so some atheists may think me a traitor to the cause and some believers will be sure I’m evil. I think most readers, because they are readers, are curious and can be entertained by the narrative without feeling threatened. (And if anyone really feels threatened by a work of fiction, perhaps they should spend more time evaluating or shoring up what they believe.)

    I believe in readers. I think most will weather that sprinkling of a debate throughout the series. Just as sci-fi isn’t about how to build a warp engine, horror is about the people and how they face mortality.

    There are millions of books to read, so readers who don’t agree have lots of other great choices. I’m sorry to see them go, but I don’t write for everybody. I write for me. The likeminded who want to board my crazy train and come along for the ride are for later.

    Love this post, Armand. Reblogging!

    ~RCC

    PS I also have a couple of crime novels with titles that appear at first glimpse to mock Jesus. Most Christians who contacted me about that choice had a sense of humour about it and since those novels are (often) funny, it turned out okay. Not all atheists are open-minded and not all Christians are close-minded. It’s just that we hear a lot from a vocal minority. I don’t think writers should censor themselves for a minority who aren’t predisposed to enjoy much of anything anyway. We’re writers. We tickle brains and follow Art where it leads.

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    • RCC – I’m a former evangelical but haven’t yet made the transition to atheism. My fiction drips with religious symbolism and biblical allusions. I don’t shy away from it. I don’t think it is respectful to my former faith or its followers to pull punches.

      That being said, I have some blog followers who are Christians and seem to appreciate me and my work. I’m not surprised by this because I think any confrontation with the supernatural is religious by definition. The confronting of it is a religious dialogue, even if it is taken as purely symbolic. You are asking questions about the nature of reality. How can religion not be brought into the mix?

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  7. Reblogged this on C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m and commented:
    What a great post from brother-in-horror Armand Rosamilia! How much religion can fiction stand? (Atheism versus Faith is not the central thing going on in my latest serial, but it’s one of the themes that emerges.) This is an important discussion for writers to have. Below are my thoughts, but read Armand’s take for much more and great discussions in the comments.

    This is timely. In a recent review, a reader said the serial’s atheism was cringeworthy. That’s interesting to me because in This Plague of Days, the husband is an atheist (with growing doubt as doom is threatened) and the wife is a die-hard believer (with growing doubt as her faith is tested.) Both character’s views are challenged. Considering that their conversations take place in the context of a massive plague, it would strike me as really weird for them *not* to discuss their beliefs and try to resolve them. Surrounded by death and destruction, issues around spirituality come up honestly. When doctors fail, the next visit is from the priest. We are all searching for meaning, through faith or reason. The debate is natural and honest.

    I have no doubt that some readers will say I’m preachy when the wife has her say and a raging atheist if they focus on the husband. I’ve been a member of an evangelical church and I’m now an atheist. I try to give both sides their due. We all read through our own lens, so some atheists may think me a traitor to the cause and some believers will be sure I’m evil. I think most readers, because they are readers, are curious and can be entertained by the narrative without feeling threatened. (And if anyone really feels threatened by a work of fiction, perhaps they should spend more time evaluating or shoring up what they believe.)

    I believe in readers. I think most will weather that sprinkling of a debate throughout the series. Just as sci-fi isn’t about how to build a warp engine, horror is about the people and how they face mortality.

    There are millions of books to read, so readers who don’t agree have lots of other great choices. I’m sorry to see them go, but I don’t write for everybody. I write for me. The likeminded who want to board my crazy train and come along for the ride are for later.

    Love this post, Armand. Reblogging!

    ~RCC

    PS I also have a couple of crime novels with titles that appear at first glimpse to mock Jesus. Most Christians who contacted me about that choice had a sense of humour about it and since those novels are (often) funny, it turned out okay. Not all atheists are open-minded and not all Christians are close-minded. It’s just that we hear a lot from a vocal minority. I don’t think writers should censor themselves for a minority who aren’t predisposed to enjoy much of anything anyway. We’re writers. We tickle brains and follow Art where it leads.

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  10. I agree with your statement that there’s some sort of trepidation about discussing religion among creative people. The reason, I think is that religion is such an inflammatory topic that causes a lot of dispute, and creative folks like you and I (creativity being a sign of intelligence) would rather avoid such disputes over something that neither party would be possible to prove or validate aside from personal experience.
    I was also raised Roman Catholic (and was an altar boy). At about 13 I left the church seeking some sort of truth that was better compatible with who I am. I quickly discovered Buddhism and have been a solitary Buddhist for the last 15 or so years. My spiritual beliefs have never shown up in my fiction and in only a couple of my many poems.
    Great post by the way!

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    • Thanks for the comment, Nick! I’m seeing many people like me raised Roman Catholic who had a crisis of fate around our teen years. Some of us came back to it, some never did or will, and others found a new way to get through their life like you did!

      Armand

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      • No problem, Armand! Most of my family is still Catholic, and I still have a great respect for the Roman Catholic Church (especially the new pope!).

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  11. Quite an interesting discussion you have going on here, Armand. I have never had any trepidations with writing about religion, whether it be pro or con, conventional or not. I have written a tale where a baby Ghoul battles God with a sword and cuts him to shreds. Also, there is story of a God being in the persona of a 100 foot, green, scaly guy. On the other hand, I am writing a novel where God is what people would expect Him to be but the main story people are not. A little bit of everything. Let people sort and choose for themselves. My personal beliefs belong to me, and if folks want to figure me out, they can read my tales and attempt to do such.

    One thing I will admit to is that there is no way I could ever be content sitting around some place that is perfect and basking in the glory of it all. Does the word boring come to mind? It does to me. I have not had an easy life, but I still want my next one to be exciting, pain or not. I’m a big boy. I can handle it.

    Blaze

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  12. I propose that a writer of fiction not avoid religion or politics, just their opinions of them. It’s not God or Republicans who interrupt a story (indeed, we’d leave behind half of our world if the topics didn’t creep in). But, our taking sides intrudes.

    I have a character who God tells to get a gun with a big clip so that she can answer her own prayers while he’s off tending to a tsunami. I file that under character development, not author’s opinion, especially because it was her account of His advice.

    Good topic!

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  13. Pingback: Religion and Horror – some initial thoughts | erickeys

  14. A most interesting discussion, and with especially interesting timing for me personally, since lately I’ve been thinking even more intensively than usual about the explicit mingling of horror and religion in my own life and writing. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Armand.

    FWIW, here’s a recent reflection of my own on a slightly different angle or aspect of the matter, published just ten days before your own:

    “Supernatural Horror, Spiritual Awakening, and the Demonic Divine”

    http://www.teemingbrain.com/2013/07/25/supernatural-horror-spiritual-awakening-and-the-demonic-divine/

    Also, everybody involved in the conversation here will probably find a great deal of interest in a recent and really excellent episode of “Encounter,” the religion-themed radio program produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

    “Sacred Horror: Zombie Resurrections and Vampire Souls”

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/encounter/vampires-with-souls2c-zombie-resurrections/4773674

    Here’s the official description: “From the legends of Frankenstein and Dracula to films about zombies, witches and vampires, supernatural horror has always captured the popular imagination. Fictional horror scares us because it confronts us with our deepest fears about death and the unknown. It make us tremble, but it also acts as a catharsis. So it’s no wonder then that the horror genre often intersects with religion.”

    I comment on the episode briefly here: http://tinyurl.com/l4tbgdz

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  15. Greetings Armand, I exposed this very interesting topic in a recently published story on SNM Horror Magazine (iss.#58 – free to read at the website). I got an email saying how anti-religious the story was. But in my opinion it was exactly the opposite in the way that, ‘Its a Wonderful Life’ showed consequences in the absence of George. On another note, I find that younger generations are not as fearful of ‘The Exorcist” as older ones. I think it’s because they were brought up with less religion. Much like a vampire and a cross, you have to believe in something in order for the Exorcist to work. I have also ran the gamut during my life of believing and not believing but have came to the conclusion (at this point in my life) that some things are too strange to be considered coincidence – just when you really need something important in life, it seems to be handed to you.

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