The Apologetics of Horror

by Mike Duran · 19 comments


While the term “Christian horror” is still up for debate, the congruence of Christianity and the horrific is not.

Perhaps this connection is best illustrated in this line from The Exorcism of Emily Rose, in which the demon-possessed girl writes:

“People say that God is dead. But how can they think that if I show them the devil?”

Indeed, stories about the devil, or other forms of supernatural and existential terrors, instinctively harken us back to something even more “primal” than those terror themselves.

God preceded the devil, as Good preceded Evil. Or to put it another way, Original Sin came AFTER Original Righteousness.

In this sense, “showing the devil” (or associated Evils) subconsciously invokes God / Good. You can’t have one without the other. Or as Michael, a skeptical American seminary student in the film The Rite finally proclaims,

“I believe in the devil, and so I believe in God!”

And you thought horror movies were just about blood and guts.

Because of this, it should come as no surprise to learn that perhaps the greatest horror film of all time is about… God.

To celebrate the 40-year anniversary of his novel The Exorcist, author William Peter Blatty, now 83 years old, has returned to his original work and made changes for a new special edition. In a recent interview with the Huffington Post,  The Exorcist” Author William Peter Blatty on Revisiting His Most Famous Work, Blatty responds thus to the following question:

Why do you think the story of “The Exorcist,” in its many forms, has resonated so much for so many people?

BLATTY: I can only guess based on what has been written by others.

Obviously, of course, a popular novel has to be a page-turning read. Second, everyone likes a good scare, so long as we know we’re not really threatened.

And third – and most importantly, I think – because this novel is an affirmation that there is a final justice in the universe; that man is something more than a neuron net; that there is a high degree of probability – let’s not beat around the bush – that there is an intelligence, a creator whom C.S. Lewis famously alluded to as “the love that made the worlds.”

So the author of The Exorcist unloads the ultimate spoiler. All that snarling, churning, head-spinning, projectile-vomiting, was about…  “an intelligence, a creator”… “the love that made the worlds.”

Wha –?

It goes back to, shall we say, the apologetics of horror. “People say that God is dead. But how can they think that if [we] show them the devil?” Or as Peter Kreeft puts it in The Handbook of Christian Apologetics,

…the very fact of our outrage at evil is a clue that we are in touch with a standard of goodness by which we judge this world as defective, as falling drastically short of the mark. The fact that we judge something evil might be developed into an argument  for the existence of the standard of Perfect Goodness implied in our judgment, and thus for the existence of the God of perfect goodness…

As a writer of “Christian horror,” I am doing my share to illuminate Evil, and thus, Perfect Goodness. But it  makes me wonder: Perhaps the most devilish of all stories is the one without a devil.

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Tagged as: Horror fiction

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

spacer Kat Heckenbach October 20, 2011 at 6:17 AM

Love this. You’ve expressed exactly how I feel about the issue.

Related aside: I got a giant laugh the other day—not a laugh *at* me, but rather a laugh of “isn’t that ironic?”– when I was telling some writer friends at our critique meeting that “my most Christian” stories are published in secular horror magazines.


spacer Erica October 24, 2011 at 9:36 AM


I enjoy a good, suspenseful, soul firing story and usually these are books published by secular markets and so far in many of them there was someone/somthing who was against evil…whatever shape the person/or thing may be or look like.

I’ve learned much from them..timeless truths are from God.



spacer Carradee October 20, 2011 at 6:38 AM

Perhaps the most devilish of all stories is the one without a devil.

That’s a good thought. Most of the ABA books I read feature folks who are practical agnostics; even if they are supposed to be religious (and some even call themselves “devout”), it doesn’t affect their thoughts or actions.

Such books present life as now; now is all that matters, not later.

That’s a dangerous mindset to espouse for all aspects of your life.


spacer Jonas October 20, 2011 at 6:57 AM

So in essence you need a God if you have a Devil? I would agree it is more dangerous since its forced to not have one.


spacer Greg Mitchell October 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Well, now we’ve found something we can wholeheartedly agree on, Mike :p

You know I love me some horror movie apologetics. Great post for my favorite time of year spacer


spacer Jill October 20, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Great article! This goes back to the 18th C debate on what the purpose of fiction is. After Horace Walpole kicked off the gothic genre w/ his Castle of Otranto, the genre took two paths: the female writer version, in which there were only suggestions of horrific things, but nothing supernatural actually occurs; and the male writer version, in which the men tried to one-up each other on writing the most shocking or horrific scenes, with true evil and the supernatural combined. I suspect the manly version trumped the rationalist female one (although I’m still a big fan of Ann Radcliffe). And, then again, women didn’t have as much leeway in their writing subjects.


spacer Rebecca LuElla Miller October 20, 2011 at 11:15 AM

I’m surprised, Mike. I thought for sure you were going to reference screenwriter (and soon to be novelist) Brian Godawa’s three part article posted at Spec Faith — “An Apologetic of Horror.” It’s a scholarly treatment, but very accessible and Biblical. Well worth the time for anyone wanting to think Biblically about the subject.



spacer Mike Duran October 20, 2011 at 1:22 PM

Wow. Thanks for the link, Becky. I’ve been sitting on this piece since I read the interview with Blatty.


spacer Patrick Todoroff October 20, 2011 at 11:18 AM

Good article.

I can’t help but think of the The Screwtape Letters. And the minister, who upon reading them in serialized form, promptly cancelled his subscription to the periodical, shocked at such pernicious and devilish material.


spacer Manahania October 20, 2011 at 11:24 AM

You do not need a devil to believe in a good God; just as you do not need to eat a bad apple to enjoy a good one!
Only, you need a devil to explain evil. It is a true mystery, the Word says, somewhere in 2nd Thessalonians I think.
“Like a villaine with a smiling cheek a goodly apple rotten at the heart.” Hamlet

Great post, Mike.


spacer Bob Avey October 20, 2011 at 7:12 PM

Interesting post, Mike. I was just reading a post some atheist put on goodreads, ranting on about the falsity of God and Christ. It made me upset. But your post made me happy again.


spacer Lyn Perry October 20, 2011 at 8:17 PM

I think this (conscious and subconscious) realization (that classic horror is God-dependent) and the rejection of this premise by nonChristian writers and film-makers has resulted in what we have today – a blood-and-guts-ification of the horror genre that exists (or tries to) without reference to God. The Exorcist leads to reflection. Saw leads to regurgitation.


spacer Tymothy Longoria October 21, 2011 at 5:38 AM

…and when Emily Rose is asked if she wants to “stay possessed”, basically, the woman responds with these words to prove to the world that the “devil” is real: “I choose to stay.”

Greater love, I think.

Christian horror has a place. I think with more and more writers/authors coming to grips with reality and that again, Christ is not afraid of dark places-more will be willing to accept that fact.


spacer Tony October 21, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Sadly, horror has mostly been used as a vehicle for liberal politics. I just watched a documentary about American horror films. . .nearly all of them had liberal or “progressive” underlying messages. We need more horror written by Christians, as well as Conservatives. . .

Horror, I think, is an excellent tool for social commentary. Although it’s better for showing people what is wrong with the world, than what is right.


spacer James Garcia Jr October 22, 2011 at 1:38 PM

If I hadn’t already chosen to follow you before reading this post, I most definitely would have done so afterward. Great post! Well done.



spacer Anthony Mathenia November 3, 2011 at 1:07 PM

Something just doesn’t set well with me about pimping devils and demons in order to build faith. Especially, since according to the gospels, Jesus wouldn’t let the devils testify to him.

Sorry to be spamming all of your blog posts — but you have cool website.


spacer Lyn Perry November 4, 2011 at 1:37 PM

One reason Jesus wouldn’t let the demons testify about him was because they had the truth but not the faith. I think the same principle can apply with writing about devils – are we trying to communicate some truth apart from faith (*pimping* the demonic) or are we approaching this realm with fear and trembling and something to say? Only the author knows.


spacer Jonathan Myers February 9, 2012 at 6:07 AM

Really great article, sir. Yeah, Christians should be writing more horror.


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