‘Hell House,’ abortion, and the mute zombie children of Heaven

George Ratliff’s 2001 documentary Hell House can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. It’s a fascinating, disturbing look at one large Texas church’s “Hell House” — a Christian-ish version of the haunted house that aims to scare sinners into salvation. (The documentary is unrated, but I’d rate it T for “triggering,” since it shows scenes from the church’s “attraction” and those scenes are designed and intended to be triggering for anyone who’s ever encountered abuse, violence, addiction or tragedy.)

Colorado church New Destiny Christian Center runs a big Hell House every Halloween and encourages other evangelical churches to do so as well. They sell a Hell House “kit” — a kind of how-to manual for running one of these — for $299. Marc Herman of Pacific Standard shares some of the advertising for this manual and its various “modules,” including “Domestic Abuse,” “Rave Scene,” “Mother’s Womb Abortion,” “Teen Suicide,” “Drunk Driving,” “Gay Wedding,” and, of course, “Hell” and “Heaven.”

Here’s how New Destiny summarizes that “Mother’s Womb Abortion” scene:

A young mother is miraculously given the opportunity to learn from her mistake upon being blessed with a visit by her aborted daughter at four different ages of life.

And then later in the show, in “Heaven”:

This particular heaven scene also has an angelic rescue which brings all the attention to glorious eternity. A wonderful connection also occurs between this scene and the abortion scene with a surprise reunion in heaven! Jesus explains restoration and gives everyone the chance to pray the prayer of salvation.

This “surprise reunion” is a necessary consequence, given the premises of New Destiny’s ideas about “salvation,” Heaven, and abortion. But it is not the only necessary consequence of those premises, and it points toward some other dazzlingly strange implications that seem absurd, but that must be true given all that New Destiny claims about abortion.

The “aborted daughter” is in Heaven even though she never had a “chance to pray the prayer of salvation.” How can this be? The whole point of the entire Hell House is to emphasize to visitors in the starkest possible terms that no one will go to Heaven unless they pray that prayer. If you don’t pray that prayer — now, before it’s too late — you will go to Hell with the drunk drivers, the kids at the rave party and the boy who kills himself.

But the “aborted daughter” is exempt from this rule for two reasons. The first has to do with the church’s mythology of abortion, which regards every zygote, blastocyst, embryo and fetus as an “unborn child” and — this is important — an innocent unborn child. These “unborn children” are untouched by the original sin that damns everyone else unless and until they pray that prayer of salvation. That mythology ensures that the church embraces some notion of an “age of accountability” before which very young children are deemed unaccountable for their sinful, fallen nature because they’re too young to know what they’re doing.

This idea of an “age of accountability” really can’t be squared with the doctrine of “original sin” the church also claims to believe. That doctrine holds that damned sinfulness is essential and intrinsic to human nature. If you are human, you are a sinner and you are condemned. It’s not a matter of tallying up a series of discreet, deliberate sins, but an unavoidable, inescapable part of being a human person.

And New Destiny emphatically insists that the “aborted daughter” is indistinguishable from any other human person. From the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, they say, a new human person is present, equal in every way to every other human person.

So here’s the first weird contradiction arising from New Destiny’s premises about abortion and Hell. Their doctrines of original sin and Hell require that every human person is damned unless they pray the prayer of salvation. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” For evangelicals like the folks at New Destiny, Romans 10:9 is an ironclad law. Paul’s “if” they read as “if and only if” — if there is no confession with the mouth and belief in the heart, then there can be no salvation.

But that seems unfair to small children who are not yet capable of understanding death, and therefore are incapable of believing in their hearts that God hath raised Jesus from the dead. And it seems even more unfair to even younger children who have not yet learned to talk and who are, therefore, not yet able to confess with their mouths unto salvation. For God to condemn such small children to Hell for an eternity of conscious torment seems monstrously cruel. It’s required by their doctrine, but they refuse to accept it. The doctrine says it must be so, but if that’s what God is like then God doesn’t seem to deserve worship, love or obedience. The character of God is supposed to be revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and it seems impossible to imagine Jesus Christ tormenting an innocent baby too young to speak.

That line of argument leads them to believe in an age of accountability, beneath which young children are exempt from the automatic eternal damnation awaiting their parents and older siblings. That line of argument, followed a bit further, would also completely destroy their extra-biblical idea of Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, but sadly these folks balk at that and refuse to follow the trajectory of their own argument any further.

So New Destiny believes in an “age of accountability”: all babies go to Heaven. This also applies, of course, to “unborn babies.” Thus the “aborted daughter” from the Hell House is in Heaven even though she neither confessed with her mouth nor believed in her heart. (That would have been impossible, since in all likelihood — most abortions are performed in the first trimester — she does not yet have either a mouth or a heart. The folks at New Destiny don’t think of it that way, however, since in their abortion mythology, an embryo is just an HO scale model of an infant.)

So, then, all “unborn children” go to Heaven. Here’s where things get really, really weird. Because here’s where we have to start thinking about the population of Heaven.

It’s mostly “unborn children.”

We’re not just talking about all those “unborn children” who are aborted. We’re talking about every fertilized egg — every pregnancy that failed to come to term in a live birth. Abortions make up only a small fraction of those. Another small fraction would be from miscarriages, which occur in at least 10 to 20 percent of all known pregnancies. But that phrase “known pregnancies” is important, because most pregnancies end well before anyone is ever aware of them. Here’s an overview of part of what that means, from the UCSF Medical Center:

In nature, 50 percent of all fertilized eggs are lost before a woman’s missed menses. In the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process as well, an embryo may begin to develop but not make it to the blastocyst stage — the first stage where those cells destined to become the fetus separate from those that will become the placenta. The blastocyst may implant but not grow, or the blastocyst may grow but stop developing before the two week time at which a pregnancy can be detected. The receptivity of the uterus and the health of the embryo are important for the implantation process.

All of these lost fertilized eggs are, according the abortion mythology of New Destiny, human persons who go to Heaven. Most of the “people” in Heaven are people who never had a mouth, or a heart, or a brain, limbs, lungs. These people never had names, never even had any other person aware of their existence.

In what state, then, are these “people” when they arrive in Heaven? Orthodox Christian doctrine insists on a bodily resurrection. Heaven is not a place for disembodied souls, but for corporeal believers in the flesh. What does a bodily resurrection mean for a “person” who consists of only a small cluster of cells? What does it mean to believe in a Heaven in which the overwhelming majority of the redeemed cannot walk upon the streets of gold because they do not have feet? Will there be some separate region of Heaven just for them — some kind of celestial womb?

New Destiny escapes the absurdity of this with a bit of science fiction — a scenario that comes from movies about alternate realities and multiple timelines rather than from the sola scriptura on which they claim to base all their doctrine:

A young mother is miraculously given the opportunity to learn from her mistake upon being blessed with a visit by her aborted daughter at four different ages of life.

Note that this is a “visit,” not a “vision.” It’s not some dream of what the fetus/”unborn child” might otherwise have become had she carried the pregnancy to term in perfect health, but an actual visit from a grown daughter who never actually grew. This visitor is beaming in from some alternate timeline in which she had such a daughter and that daughter was born, grew up, learned and thought and did things in the world.

This is a leap into pure fantasy, but that fantasy is necessary to distract from what the logic of New Destiny’s abortion mythology requires for anyone willing to think it through. This fantasy is the only way to reinvent this “aborted daughter” as someone who is recognizably and defensibly referred to as a person. It’s the only way to make this “surprise reunion” in Heaven something other than terrifying and grotesque.

Well, maybe not the only way. I suppose such a “reunion” could be imagined as a resumption of the woman’s pregnancy from the point just before the abortion. The “daughter,” after all, is not “at four different ages of life,” but at one very specific stage of life — a stage in which she is wholly unable to survive apart from her direct attachment inside of the woman. That would be the only way for her bodily resurrection to occur. This raises a different set of puzzles and absurdities — what if this was not this woman’s only pregnancy? — but it’s a somewhat less disturbing set.

New Destiny’s abortion mythology posits that every fertilized egg is a fully human person, and also that every fertilized egg that dies before reaching an “age of accountability” ascends to Heaven. Without some kind of fantastic intervention from alternative timelines and imaginary alternate universes, that presents an unnerving picture of Heaven. Let’s assume, as New Destiny seems to, that all these unborn children arrive in Heaven in some more mature form. (Where would such mature bodies come from? They never existed in reality. Would they have belly buttons? Would they all be female? Never mind all that for now, just go with the assumption because the assumption is what the abortion mythology requires.)

What are these people like? Can they speak? Can they think? They have no experiences, no memories, no relationships. They have never inhaled. They have never cried, never laughed, never fallen, never gotten back up. I suppose the same inexplicable miraculous process that gives them the bodies they never actually possessed could also be invoked to give them the power of speech, but what would they have to say?

And keep in mind that this will be the majority of Heaven’s population. Those of us with lives and memories of those lives will be the minority, and all around us will be these odd, silent, isolated children that never were, inhabiting their unearthly bodies.

The “Hell House” vision of Hell is scary, but their vision of Heaven is far creepier.

Count your ribs and say your prayers and go to sleep
Flying blind and looking for any sign of light
Something happened and now I know
Rusty Houser hated women. He learned that at church.

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