Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hell House


The Door Christian Fellowship, a creepily cultish Pentecostal Christian sect that's an offshoot of Aimee Semple McPherson's Foursquare Gospel Church, is putting on a "hell house" in Chandler. They're calling it "Hell 101," and, as usual, they are advertising it in a deceptive manner that attempts to hide the fact that it's religious propaganda. I say "as usual" because not only have they put on such "hell houses" for years around Halloween, they're also known for advertising events such as Christian rock concerts while conveniently forgetting to mention the "Christian" part.

Such deception has long been associated with Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), who was a fraudulent faith healer, alcohol Prohibitionist, and anti-evolutionist who later in life faked her own abduction in order to run off with her lover, Kenneth G. Ormiston, who had been an engineer for her radio station KFSG in Los Angeles. After disappearing for 35 days, she stumbled out of the desert in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, just south of the border from Douglas, Arizona, and told a phony story of kidnapping which quickly fell apart when witnesses came forth who had seen her at a resort in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She ended up dying of an accidental drug overdose from taking too many Seconol sleeping pills, but her Foursquare Gospel Church still exists today with over two million members, mostly outside of the U.S. (Interestingly, as a teenager McPherson was an agnostic who defended evolution in letters to the newspaper.)

The Potter's House, The Door, Victory Chapel, and other Foursquare Gospel spinoff churches are Pentecostal churches that engage in faith healing, speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit, and other activities of anthropological interest. They can be very hardcore in the pushiness of their evangelism, and engage in cult-like conversion techniques such as separating people from groups they come with, pairing them off with someone of the same approximate age and sex, and bombarding them with rehearsed questions designed to push someone to a conclusion that they need to accept Jesus and join their group. (The Wikipedia page on The Potter's House describes this particular sect's origins in Prescott, Arizona in 1970, originally officially affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Wikipedia biography of its founder, Wayman O. Mitchell, is also of interest. The sect's origins trace back to Los Angeles, as does the Pentecostal movement in general.)

"Hell 101"'s website calls it "Final Destination III," and describes the hell house as "a twist on a haunted house style attraction that was described by Phoenix Arizona NBC News Affiliate Channel 12 as 'scary, horrifying, suspenseful, sick....' NBC 12 News had a live video feed from our annual event where hundreds waited up to two hours in line to have the hell-scared out of them." Their FAQ has the question "If I quit because I was scared or anything else can I get a refund?" The "anything else" would include feeling defrauded by having paid money for a haunted house, but getting instead Christian propaganda. The answer: "There are no refunds if you get scared, cry, feel angry, get sick, hate it, love it or just want to run!!! Our job is to confront your senses and that we do!"

A Christian hell house can be quite entertaining, so long as you know what to expect and are prepared to exercise your right to walk away at the end when the attempts at conversion go into overdrive (they may suggest that the doors are locked and that you may not leave). George Ratliff's documentary film "Hell House" is a great way to get a preview, and shows some of the unintentional comedy that can be produced when a bunch of ignorant people try to put together a scary haunted house designed to persuade you that you're going to hell unless you believe the way they do. That documentary also shows how ineffectual some atheists can be in their confrontation of Christians, and I highly recommend that anyone planning to visit one of these hell houses for any reason give it a watch before going.

A "hell house" usually follows a common script template which the churches purchase and customize. They go through a writing, casting, and production process similar to a high school stage production. The "hell house" script typically guides a group of visitors through a series of rooms, each of which contains a brief performance by actors portraying some scene that argues for certain practices, beliefs, or actions as likely to terminate with eternity in hell, though that latter point may initially be somewhat subtle. (By the end, it is anything but.)

I attended a hell house at a Potter's House church in Tucson in 1990, from which the flyer image was obtained. (Also see this PDF of an Arizona Daily Star newspaper story about that particular hell house, which got in trouble with the local fire department for fire code violations.) That hell house followed a female character from scene to scene which included a car crash caused by teenage drinking (featuring an actual wrecked car and empty beer cans), a band of demons playing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" (suggesting that at least some rock music is demonic in origin and consequences), and the ever-popular hanging nun in hell (Catholicism is regarded by this sect as ruled by Satan) and young woman on a stretcher with a pool of blood between her legs shrieking that she's killed her own baby (the anti-abortion segment). At the end, there's a high-pressure call to Jesus which provides an opportunity to argue with someone who may be something like a street preacher in their skill of providing pre-programmed responses to common objections they've heard many times but is unlikely to have actually thought deeply about. If you do choose to visit one of these, I advise not getting involved in such a discussion if you're somebody who is likely to blow up, call people stupid, or otherwise lose your cool--that's just going to be seen as confirming evidence that you're under the control of the devil and anything you say can be dismissed without consideration.

UPDATE (October 31, 2008): New Times has a review of The Door's "Final Destination III" hell house.

1 comment:

Peevis said...

More like scaring "the hell" into you ;).