Horror has always been my favorite genre, and darkness my favorite flavor of human expression.
When I was around 5 years old, my parents divorced. My mother was a Christian housewife, and my father was a horror cinephile and videogame programmer. While we were with my mother, my brother and I were forced to attend church on Sundays and I was frequently banned from reading books and games that had magic or “satanic” things in them. There was always a soft, persistent air of oppression in everything we did. From her I learned that emotions should be pushed underneath so they couldn’t interfere, and our true thoughts hidden. We needed to be ever vigilant, in the way we pressed our shoulders back and stared straight ahead and avoided eye contact with anything that might lead us astray – which included D&D game manuals and. If we didn’t, the devil would insinuate himself into our lives and we’d begin to live in evil, abhorrent ways. God would abandon us, and we’d be adrift without his love forever.
Christianity often thrives on the ever-present anxiety that we must control our thoughts and keep our minds pure. If not, the ever-nagging whisper of the devil would invade us. I was deeply religious until about the age of 14. I also had terrible anxiety. It was mentally and spiritually exhausting trying to always keep my thoughts pure.
If you’ve ever meditated, you can easily understand that our thoughts are often uncontrollable. We’ll think of a co-worker naked, or the word “fuck,” or imagine what it’d be like to jump off a bridge. That’s just what our brains do. They compulsively generate thoughts. And even when we dream, they compulsively generate environments and scenarios for those thought to exist inside of. They appear without warning or consequence, but unless you act upon them in an emotional or intellectual way, they’ll fade away. They’re harmless unless we give them weight. But to the Christian, these thoughts are evil. It is a demon trying to get inside your skull and infect your mind with its soiled fingers.
It is impossible to regulate those thoughts. So I constantly thought I was on the verge of being swayed into hell. As I imagine, many Christians do. In that state of perpetual anxiety, we’re vulnerable to suggestion. More likely to open ourselves up to less-than helpful leadership, out of the desperation to perfect ourselves, to be worthy enough.
But also, in that state you’re not allowed to let anyone know that you’re having trouble. You’re a Christian, after all, touched by god. You should have absolute faith, and not be plagued by these darkened thoughts. So you learn to stuff and repress any thought that may compromise that, instead of interacting with it.
However, it was a different story with my father. On the weekends, we’d play Diablo II and Quake. We’d go to the Nickel Arcade (Ah, 90s) and play Mortal Kombat. We’d engage in Pokemon Battles, (Some of the more severe parents in my neighborhood had banned Pokemon because it “encouraged evolution”). He let me read Stephen King and we even played Grand Theft Auto when it came out, albeit he wanted to supervise us. He’d tell us “Close your eyes, kids,” when a sex scene would come up on the television, but apart from that I can never remember him really moderating what we could see, or forbidding us from engaging with the world around us.
When I logged onto Diablo II and played a game with my brother through the LAN network, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong. I was playing a fun video game with my family, that just so happened to have dark elements. When I told my mother what we played over the weekend, she grounded me and my brother and told me to pray to ask God if what I was doing was a sinful thing. But we played the game for an entire weekend, and I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel as if the devil had stuck his fingers down my throat.
I had played the game so I had seen it for what it was – just a game.
You don’t have to avert your eyes to protect yourself. You protect yourself by being open to possibility, and analyzing the results. You protect yourself by thinking of worst-case scenarios, imagining sharks in dark waters and demons sitting in the center of ouija boards, and then analyzing those situations to their logical conclusions.
Maybe you’re scared of being mugged on your way home, which is a very real-life danger. One person tries to suppress the thought, thinking that such a thing wouldn’t happen to them. Another person begins to carry pepper spray, takes Kung-Fu lessons, and begins to avoid the darkest alleyways. One person is prepared for the opportunity of being mugged. The other is completely unprepared, and such an incident could possibly shatter their world, thrust them into a crisis from which they may not recover.
Horror isn’t just darkness. It is a light into the darkness. It shows the darkness inherent in all human beings, and what we’re capable. It doesn’t make us bad, it makes us multi-dimensional. We are a combination of awful and wonderful things. Most of us are harmless and love each other, but we also have the ability to murder. That’s what makes us complicated.
You aren’t sick, diseased, or devil-ridden because you thought about a story involving a killer clown who lived in a sewer, nor because you wrote or read it. You’re just interfacing with the multiplicity of your consciousness and all the capabilities we have as human beings.
We don’t have to shame people for having dark thoughts, because we all have them. With religion, we’ve just tried to convince ourselves that it’s sinful and wrong. But working through our dark thoughts is oftentimes the only way we really understand ourselves, and the world around us.
Averting our eyes, pretending that none of it exists, that’s how the demons really catch us.Related posts
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