“Can a horror film lead people to God?” asks the Religion News Service article responding to Warner Bros. aggressive bid to lure evangelical and Catholic audiences to see The Conjuring.
Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn’t your typical “Christian” movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences.
It is, they say, a “wholesome horror film.”
The Conjuring centers around the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of ghost-hunting “consultants of demonic witchcraft.” In 1971, they were called to a 19th-century Rhode Island farmhouse where things had gotten downright spooky.
“To have two characters that were so strong in their faith, we didn’t have to preach it, we didn’t have to thump it, we just had to show it,” Carey Hayes said in an interview. “Their faith was the sharpest tool in their toolbox.”
The word “faith” has to do a lot of heavy lifting in those paragraphs, but it’s not clear what the Hayes brothers mean by the word. For a clearer sense of Lorraine Warren’s faith, check out the beginning of this recent interview she did with Devin Faraci for Badass Digest:
I wanted to talk about ghosts and demons and the way she and her husband fought them.
Whether you believe in these things or not, Lorraine does. Very much so. I have no question that everything she told me is genuine. Whether any of this stuff happened — whether she has psychic abilities, whether she can communicate with the dead, whether she has ever exorcised a family — she firmly believes it did. She is not a faker, she is not a phony. She is not running a scam. That is the spirit with which I approached this interview.
But the first thing I had to do was get myself a free psychic reading. I hoped she didn’t sense anything malicious hovering around me – my luck the last few weeks indicated that could be the case.
… I was told I had to open up by asking what you saw in my aura.
OK, let me see. I have to look at you a while. There’s something blue around you, but I don’t know what that really means. [stares intently] Decision? Do have a decision-making thing?
I’m at a crossroads.
There. That’s what the blue is. You have to really weigh. Don’t move too fast. Don’t move too fast at all. You have to give it a lot of thought, pros and cons, before you make the decision. Because the decision is going to be maybe lasting … if you do the right one.
Faraci is convinced that Warren is convinced — that she “firmly believes” in her own psychic abilities. But this initial response — “Do you have a decision-making thing?” — is such a lazy, half-hearted bit of perfunctory cold reading that it seems to undermine Faraci’s belief in the genuineness of her belief.
The faith on display there is Lorraine Warren’s abiding faith in the credulity of her audience. And just like the producers of The Conjuring, the Warrens learned how to repackage their paranormal woo in order to sell it to “faith-minded audiences.”
The Warrens’ shtick is a Gothic Catholic variation of the same con Mike Warnke and Bob Larson have long used to fleece evangelical Protestants with a propensity for “spiritual warfare” ideology. This racket is contemptible at just the basic level of any con that preys on gullibility and fear to separate vulnerable people from their money. But it’s also far worse than that, because it reinforces the very worst impulses of its audience, fueling a hate-filled, self-righteous crusader mentality. Whether that mentality is framed in terms of Lorraine Warren’s crypto-Catholicism or Bob Larson’s circus-tent Pentecostalism, it always ultimately winds up in one place: A fearful hatred of imaginary Satanic baby-killers, an evil that can only be combatted by punishing non-imaginary women.
It’s tempting to dismiss the Warrens and Warnkes as fringe characters with little influence on the larger culture. But consider this: American Christianity and American politics today are both shaped by the very same impulse fed and fed-on by these fringe hucksters. American Christianity and American politics today are based on a fearful hatred of imaginary Satanic baby-killers and the impulse to combat them by punishing non-imaginary women.
None of this is new. It was already an ancient pattern long before it was embraced by the “divines” who executed innocent women in Salem.
And lest you think I’m stretching there to tie these attitudes back to the days of the witch-hunt, please note that this is precisely what The Conjuring does. It harks back to Salem and takes the side of the witch-hunters, as Andrew O’Hehir explains in his review for Salon:
Here’s the real “true story” behind The Conjuring: Any time people get worked up about a menace they believe in but can’t actually see – demons, Commies, jihadis, hordes of hoodie-wearing thugs — they’re likely to take it out on the weakest and most vulnerable people in society.
… Without getting too deep into spoiler-hood, the Perrons’ house turns out to be inhabited by a demonic female spirit. She preys on the living, yearns to possess a delicious and vulnerable young female body, etc. Nothing new here in terms of horror movies, or borderline Judeo-Christian theology, or generalized male panic. But along with the overall tone of hard-right family-values messaging, The Conjuring wants to walk back one of America’s earliest historical crimes, the Salem witch trials of 1692, and make it look like there must have been something to it after all. Those terrified colonial women, brainwashed, persecuted and murdered by the religious authorities of their day – see, they actually were witches, who slaughtered children and pledged their love to Satan and everything! That’s not poetic license. It’s reprehensible and inexcusable bullshit. …
In American Christianity and American politics, such reprehensible and inexcusable BS is regarded as “wholesome.”
And this wholesome demonization of marginalized women is expected to “appeal to faith-minded audiences.”
And it does.