‘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.

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  • Lorehead

    The traditional Jewish interpretation was that “the man” was in fact Esau’s guardian angel, and answered evasively about his name because angels have no permanent names, being given one for each task.

    One Christian interpretation, however, has been that he is God incarnate, therefore Christ.

  • Daniel

    “God said, “don’t do X”. They understood that they weren’t supposed to do X. They did X.”

    Then someone else said “eat X” and they did what they were told again. They were told not to do X by God because if they did it they would die. But they didn’t. Before that point mankind (all two of it) was deathless. So how could being told they’d die be considered a meaningful threat, especially given that God doesn’t say “you will surely die…after 900+ years”? The threat is crucial because until they ate of the fruit they did not know right from wrong- so they couldn’t have made a decision based on that. How could they have understood what they were being threatened with? They were apparently programmed until that point to follow orders blindly.

  • Daniel

    Well apparently no-one can know your real name…

  • Sheila Warner

    I’m not a Fundie, so that notion that everyone actually knows that God exists is not a part of my belief system. Common sense tells us that someone who has never been exposed to the concept of God is somehow able to believe it. It’s the circular reasoning of Fundies, which is why I am not a member of that sect anymore. Brains won out over closed thinking.

  • Sheila Warner

    Catholicism still believes that, as in our Apostle’s Creed, we say that Jesus descended into hell. And, I know Fundies believe this, too, as I was raised in that sect. That doctrine has to satisfy the concept that OT believers in, and followers of, God, had to wait until the crucifixion for that perfect sacrifice to occur. It’s implied in Ephesians 4:7-10 in which Jesus is said to have taken “many captives” and then ascended “higher than all the heavens.” (NIV) Remember that I am discussing what I have been taught, not necessarily what I believe, for those of you who keep calling me a Fundie.

  • alfgifu

    So I did, Lorehead, not quite sure how that happened! Many thanks.

  • FearlessSon

    Funny how rarely that tactic seems to work. As some studies have shown (citation) many will talk about how their faith saved them from temptation, yet at the same time they do “sinful” things at more or less the same rate as the general population. They are no better or worse than the rest of us in that regard.

    They are just in collective denial about it, and actively resist any attempts at intervention.

  • FearlessSon

    Does the idea that you do the good works simply for the sake of liking doing those works, as opposed to doing they to “buy” your way into Heaven, count in your favor?

  • Aaron Boyden

    If you’re doing something for your own pleasure, can it really be good?

  • EllieMurasaki

    So I should seek out good things to do that I loathe doing, rather than good things to do that I like doing? What is the reasoning here?

  • Aaron Boyden

    I’m pretty sure reasoning is almost as dangerous as pleasure.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Run that by me again?

  • FearlessSon

    You sound like an all-too common case from Altemeyer’s studies:

    [A]fter interviewing dozens of “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

    Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.

  • dpolicar

    It can if you’re doing it right.

  • Daniel

    Yes. If I really enjoy developing vaccines against disease, or if I really enjoy administering those vaccines, or I really enjoy educating people, or I really enjoy preventing people stabbing babies, or I really enjoy providing food to the starving… I mean the list is pretty much endless. Also, there’s wanking.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Anonymousness indeed! :p

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Even someone who’s not able to feel physiological pain could still feel emotional pain.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    No, I mean someone whose brain does not process pain AT ALL, neither physical nor emotional. I suppose you might suggest that ennui is close enough, I dunno.

  • Sheila Warner

    Not in my parents’ weird Fundie world. Any good things I did as a Fundie had to be from the Holy Spirit moving in me. Now, any good things I do are suspect. What happened to just trying to be a decent human being, with or without religion?

  • Sheila Warner

    Interesting quote. I suppose that it can be applied to any 180 degree change of heart on any issue. If one realizes that one cannot possibly know everything, and is curious about what is out there, at times an unavoidable conflict between old beliefs and newly discovered facts occurs. A mind that refuses to consider all the facts at hand is a mind which remains stilted.

  • Anton_Mates

    I don’t either, but then it’s hard to imagine pretty much any inhabitant of Heaven after they’ve been there for a while. What does a 4,000-year-old person, who hasn’t experienced any pain or suffering for the last 3900 of those years, who has been assimilated into a society of extraordinary cultural and linguistic diversity, who has been mentally enhanced or modified by divine fiat, who converses with gods and angels, actually act like? (The answer need not be particularly positive.)

    Indeed, once you’ve been in Heaven for several millennia, I’m not sure it would even be noticeable whether you’d grown up on Earth or not. That would only have been the first tiny sliver of your conscious existence.

  • Anton_Mates

    If someone can’t feel emotional pain, then they can’t feel pity or compassion. I imagine that God could still set up their mental machinery so they acted super-kindly instead of like classic sociopaths, but they’d certainly be very unusual, and you could make a case that they weren’t entirely human. (And, by definition, this wouldn’t hurt their feelings.)

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    I feel like I should have something to say to this, but I’m not sure what. Have I just been implied to be not entirely human by dint of being a sociopath?

  • Anton_Mates

    No, because real-world sociopaths aren’t completely immune to pity and compassion AFAIK, let alone other forms of emotional pain. If we’re talking about someone who doesn’t experience pain or negative emotions at all, then as Lunch Meat said, we’re talking about someone completely outside the spectrum of ordinary human experience.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    This is reassuring.

  • melissia

    Wow. I think I’m going to have some fucking nightmares now.

  • Anton_Mates

    Sorry to be unclear. My “sociopath” comment was unrelated to the judgment on whether they’re entirely human or not; I just threw that in for people wondering whether pitiless, compassionless inhabitants of Heaven would necessarily act like Terminators. I probably should have said “stereotypical sociopath” rather than “classic sociopath.”

    I should also note that whether these people should be called “100% human” doesn’t imply anything about whether they’re sentient, or deserving of personhood or ethical consideration. Even if chimps and Neanderthals don’t go to RTC heaven, the saved are still hanging out with non-human persons who are intelligent moral agents, in the form of God and the angels. (I think.)

  • AnonaMiss

    I have a character who is essentially a puppy in the body of a golem. She is unable to feel physical sensations, including pain; but she’s very sensitive to emotional pain, both in herself and others. Because she doesn’t understand physical pain, and isn’t emotionally mature enough to conceive of hypothetical people-who-might-be-upset-if-I-hurt-this-guy, if a stranger hurts her feelings she retaliates by stopping him from hurting her feelings ever again. (If she knows of a third party who would be sad if she killed the feelings-hurter, she’ll leave him alive, because she wouldn’t want to hurt the third party’s feelings. When she gets a little more experienced, she’ll probably start checking wallets for family pictures before she rips into her victim, because she’s a little dense/still wouldn’t get it that physical pain and death are kind of a big deal.)

    Which is to say, understanding emotional pain without understanding physical pain/physical injury/death could still produce a very different psychology from what we develop in the real world.

  • Hawker40

    Sarcasm follows:
    Gee, thanks, now it exists.

  • caryjamesbond

    I’ve had dreams with all those things. I just had a dream that was a continuation of a dream I’d had months ago.

    I have…odd dreaming habits.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Most of my dreams are unusually vivid, with consistent depiction of various concepts. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t feel like I’m dreaming so much as resuming a life in an alternate universe.

  • caryjamesbond

    I’ve read it. It’s an interesting concept, but also fundamentally in disagreement with what you’ve just said- as Lewis flat out says that you can be saved from hell, its just that doing so requires that you give up all your pride and accept your flaws and humble yourself before God and so on.

  • caryjamesbond

    Man. No wonder 1/3 rebelled. “Sorry-you don’t even get a NAME, Thinking Being. People are much more important than you.”

  • caryjamesbond

    Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven!

    Which, incidentally, is an infinitely preferable version of heaven to anything else I’ve seen in Christian literature.

  • caryjamesbond

    Which is why the New Testament is so big on the BODILY resurrection at the last days. You aren’t you unless you drag this crude flesh along.

  • caryjamesbond

    I dunno. There are some types of pain that…..give the experience meaning. When I go out and run further and longer than I ever have before- its the pain that gives that experience meaning- the fact that I held out for ten minutes longer, pushed myself a mile further. That I overcame suffering. If running was just a matter of moving my legs until I was bored, it would mean nothing whatsoever.

    If learning Kung-fu was really just about downloading a program- no one would learn kung fu. Ever. Because- why? When a black belt is just a mouseclick awaY, a black belt loses all meaning.

  • Hawker40

    “the mute zombie children of Heaven”
    Band name?

  • Sheila Warner

    You saw the part that I am saying what I was taught when I discuss Fundie matters. Some of what I still believe I try to preface with a warning that my comments are directed at believers. You are not alone in rejecting Christian Lit. I have no problem with nonbelievers, because I understand their discomfort with things we cannot possibly prove. Any speculation about heaven for me is just that, speculation.

  • caryjamesbond

    Yeah, sorry, that comment got shuffled out of order by Disqus. I was pointing out that your interpretation of heaven sounded real similar to something Mark Twain said. Which is a high compliment in my book.

  • Sheila Warner

    No problem. I have gotten entangled in multiple threads and forgotten to whom or about what I am responding. I found it interesting that Tom G. didn’t try to respond (for about a day) to anything I said after I decided that I am oh so bored with him. This afternoon my disqus digest is filled with his red meat. I won’t be baited by him any more. His self sealing remarks (thanks for that phrase, Johnny Scaramanga!) finally sealed themselves off. One can only bang one’s head against the wall for so many times before the fun is gone, boredom prevails, and it is time to look elsewhere for cogent thinking. I wonder who his next victim will be, or if we will all decide that he is a waste of our collective time. I can picture him shouting into the darkness, listening to his voice echo back to him. I’m through with him, myself.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Now that I’ve gotten over being enraged by him, I can see that Tom G. is kind of pitiable, causing himself a lot of unnecessary anguish. (Assuming, of course, that he’s not a Poe.) He posted a few more frothing-at-the-mouth comments directed at me after I gave up on communicating with him, then turned elsewhere – mainly against you, Sheila. You handled him with a lot more charity than I managed; good for you, and I hope the next time I encounter a similar troll I’ll be able to avoid ranting back.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Is he still going? That’s sad. (I am so glad Gmail has filter functionality. I can delete all the messages to or from him without ever seeing them!)

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Just checked – his most recent screed seems to have gone up around midnight (Eastern Standard time) in the very early morning of November 5. And it is sad. He’s still going on and on about how filthy and repulsive all humans are, and how it’s urgent to accept Jesus but if you do and your life doesn’t get worse, that proves God hasn’t accepted you, because if he did he would punish you.

    And as a Christian, let me say that his views strike me as seriously warped, damaging, and heretical – to use a term that hardly ever crops up in my particular denomination, but I think it’s called for in this case.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    The spirit of antichrist is alive and well, easily recognized and yet pervasive nonetheless.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    You made me grin – mostly because, apparently without realizing it, little Tommie does make a pretty thoroughgoing antichrist while accusing everybody else in sight of being Nicky Adirondacks. And yet the Tomling is a sad little person – then again, I suppose an antichrist would be.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I remember reading one satirical solution to the problem in the third case (all unbaptized babies go to hell, NO EXCEPTIONS): It involved simultaneous baptism and abortion. :-P