Last week, I got this query:

Hello Anna,

As I walked to work this morning I saw posters for a “Hell-oween” event…I called the number on the poster and learned that it is going to be a haunted house similar to “Hell House”  which highlights “real-life” terror such as abortion, suicide, homosexuality, etc.

I am concerned, and frustrated. You can’t argue, you can’t call them out publicly, but at the same time I can’t just sit here.

What would your response be? As a human I fear for the teenagers that enter on Friday night and walk out with such intense, misguided understandings.

First, I apologize that I am only now getting to it: sick kids have dominated my thoughts this past week, and their yuck has been frightful enough!

I know of these houses.

Whenever I disagree with somebody, I try to get into their mindset.  It’s a trained habit, forcing me to move out of a reptilian, amygdala-fired reactionary frenzy and toward a thoughtful, perhaps even mindful, consideration of what is being presented and why.

It’s practiced caritas.

So, in the spirit of charity (which stems etymologically from the word caritas), people who create these houses of horror think that they are saving souls.  They think that if people would only “have eyes to see” the eternal consequences of their “immoral” choices, they would abstain and therefore regain their place in heaven.

While many of us find this “evangelism technique” distressing (to say the least) many of us would not hesitate, say, sending our children to a talk against drunk driving given by someone terribly maimed by their decision to do just that.  It’s not Schadenfreude, but rather cause-and-effect made manifest with the goal of averting disaster.

How much more, they figure, ought we literally scare the hell out of people?

We are doing it for their own good!

And let’s face it: it gets people’s attention.

Young people’s impressionable attention in particular.

But here’s the thing about young people: they are in the process of maturing.

And they are ripe (that’s the meaning of the word ‘mature’) for owning their own opinions, their own beliefs.

They are beginning the process of emancipation from the obligatory acceptance of Authority’s opinion, a move which frees them to learn not only that there are other ways of thinking about matters, but that it is acceptable to think!

And so I see these houses as an opportunity to empower them with the gift of some questions at exactly this fortuitous moment in their development into adults.

These questions, for example, aren’t a bad place to begin:

1. Where in Scripture does one see this notion of God’s desire to eternally damn people?

2. What is going on in those texts, and in the time in which those text were written?

3. Where do you see in Scripture contrary notions of God?

In other words, what does a teenager love to do as much as anything, but question authority?

And these houses try to gain authority by scaring the hell out of them.

So the teen has an opportunity to own what they believe, and why they believe it.

They also have the opportunity to learn how arguments are made.

Those who use this approach to make someone come to their understanding of God use coercion via fear as a primary tool.

“Believe or die” can be effective…though the integrity of the effect is questionable.

And so here are more questions:

1. Why use fear as a way to convince people to act or believe in a certain way?

2. How does fear as a catalyst for belief shape the nature of the end-result belief?

3. How does this method reflect the group’s/person’s understanding of God’s essence, or at least God’s way of engaging?

And then I wouldn’t hesitate asking yet another set of questions:

1. Why these terrors?

2. What do they seem to have in common?

3. What sort of terror might those who consider having abortions, or those who have suicidal thoughts, or those who fear coming out, be experiencing here and now?

4.How might we be complicit in their terror?

5. What of other terrors like starving children, the ill, the destitute?  Or of terrors such as greed, monopoly of power, of apathy, of ignorance?

6. Are we as ready to offer help and compassion as we are to condemn?

In short, it seems to me like these “Houses of Horror” are horrible indeed.

But for different reasons than they like to think.

And one can redeem them by inviting those who might be influenced by them to steer clear of the anxiety they produce, to remain calm, and to ask the questions.

One more thing:

Today is Reformation Day.

The key piece of the Reformation is that we are saved by grace and not by works.

That also suggests that we are also not damned by them either.

And it seems to me that that notion, the notion of grace for all, is more frightful to some then hell.

Maybe across the street from your friendly neighborhood “Hell-oween,” you could hold a Counter-Event , a “House of Heaven,” on All Saints’ Day, tomorrow.  You could call it, “Hello, even’ you?”

I’ll stick with my day job.