In a little more than a week, ghouls and goblins, superheroes and princesses, and various types of other characters will be roaming the streets in search of candy.
Trick or treating is one of many traditions that come each year during the Halloween season. Other events such as haunted houses, haunted trails, fall festivals and trunk or treats are celebrated across the country in the week or so leading up to Halloween.
One tradition that typically takes place in October across Alabama and many other southern states is an attraction known as a judgment house or hell house. The events are usually sponsored by churches and are the “Christian” equivalent to a haunted house.
If you’ve never been to a judgment house, let me give you a quick overview. The event features a series of short vignettes that tell the story of people and how their sin affects their eternal destination. Most of the time the story involves a family or a group of teenagers. Some have committed their lives to Jesus Christ and others have not. The storyline will follow each of those people to either heaven or hell.
The hell scene typically resembles a dark, foggy, humid night. You’re taken to a room, which is mostly dark, and the heat is turned up really high. There’s usually someone in a devil mask who hurls insults at the characters who have ended up in his lair (and sometimes at the group going through the presentation). There are also many times demons (folks walking around in dark hoods) wandering around taking orders from the devil. These scenes can also contain loud noises, such as whips cracking or chains banging along the walls, and possibly some strobe lights. I think the Biblical view of hell can be interpreted in many ways, but I really don’t think the version in most judgment houses is very Biblical at all.
The heaven scene probably bothers me more than the hell scene, because no matter how hard you try you just can’t correctly portray heaven. It will be a place of perfection, and we can’t get close to it in a dramatic presentation.
These kinds of attractions are predominately visited by teenagers and church youth groups. I remember visiting a couple judgment houses when I was a teen. I recently visited one to see if anything had changed — nothing has.
I know a lot of people feel strongly about these things, but I’ve never liked them. I really don’t like the emotional manipulation that goes on at judgement houses. Everything about these attractions are designed to create a forced decision. It’s great to try to lead people to Christ, but scaring an impressionable person into that decision doesn’t seem very healthy — for that person or for the church.
Fear and terror shouldn’t do the job of the Holy Spirit. These attractions are basically selling fire insurance, and their not teaching much, if anything, about God’s love. I just don’t think the ends justify the means when it comes to judgment houses.
There was a documentary made in 2001 entitled “Hell House,” which follows the making of a hell house/judgment house at a church in Texas. The movie was unbiased and just filmed the church and its members. Check it out on Netflix or even on YouTube to see the behind-the-scenes of how one particular church viewed its event, if this kind of thing interests you.
Judgment houses are a form of event evangelism. It’s a lot easier to put together an event like this or to participate in one than it is to simply talk to people and build relationships with them.
While I’m sure people can change their lives after visiting, I just don’t think judgment houses or any kind of event can take the place of believers who love people (believers and nonbelievers) enough to share their lives with them.
James Phillips is Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.