Christian fans of horror have learned to keep our mouths shut. Despite the horrors of the Old Testament, the Crucifixion (a lot of folks find The Passion of the Christ to be more gut-wrenching and visceral than many horror films, and it’s just a visual telling of the Gospel account), future prophecy and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the average guy in the pew is taught to think of horror as Satanic. Despite the fact that Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dante’s Inferno are both horor reflecting a Christian worldview, the genre receives a blanket condemnation from most Christian pulpits.
A review of a written by Christianity Today‘s “critic-at-large” Alissa Wilkinson) is the perfect example:
“Few, if any, of CT‘s readers probably ought to see (or bother seeing) The Purge: Election Year. Like its predecessors (The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy), its world is drawn thinly in ways that don’t actually help the very interesting concept of the plot: that in an alternate universe very close to our own, the U.S. is ruled by the NFFA—the New Founding Fathers of America, a party of apparently mostly white guys who got sick of ‘hypocrisy’ and believe that instead of sublimating our aggressive urges, we ought to just let them all out in a twelve-hour annual “holiday” where all crime is legal, including murder.“
So few of Christianity Today’s readers ought to watch this horror movie. Her unspoken reasoning here, that a Christian ought not watch horror, is contrasted with the notion that we might as well not bother anyway because she thinks it’s a poorly contrived film.
Now some Christian horror fans respond to such antagonism by trying to spot a bit of a Christian worldview or message in a film. Sometimes that’s appropriate. I do think it’s a bit overdone.
What’s notable about The Purge: Election Year is the absence of Christianity. There are religious elements that take place in traditionally Christian settings with all of the trappings, but Christians seem notably absent.
The Christianity Today review misses this point, and I’m not surprised. The entire tone of the article is dismissive. Frankly, Alissa Wilkinson’s review sounds like she based it on the trailer. How else would she “summarize” some key religious elements of the film by saying:
“Also there is something with a creepy priest and a blood cult.”
“…The Purge: Election Year loses track of its own metaphor by its end, veering off into vague intimations of religious violence as another control mechanism (why the priest needs to look like a vampire is anyone’s guess)…”
Either way, she misses the point that this “blood cult” is the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA)’s Purge Mass. The NFFA’s Presidential candidate is Minister Edwidge Owens. It’s the main event for the elite founders of the Purge with their Presidential candidate, publicly identified as a Minister of the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Washington DC, as master of ceremonies.
This suggests less a cult than a window into the new norm in “a Nation reborn.”
So what is that new norm? Well, it seems to be a world without true Christianity. This isn’t uncommon in horror films, where Christians are regularly portrayed as judgmental hypocrites or cultish parodies. Quite often, as in The Purge trilogy, there is a cult with many of the trappings and mannerisms of Christianity who turn out to be bloodthirsty and murderous. For example, Stephen King’s novels are replete with pseudoChristian cultism.
The absence of everyday authentic Christians, warts and all, is a notable omission from these films. It’s as if the presence of an authentic Christian element somehow impugns on the filmmaker’s freedom of depravity.
What the Purge franchise does is provide an implied reason for that notable omission: namely, that Christians were mostly wiped out during the initial Purges. Face it: Christianity has been the target of hatred, prejudice and persecution since its beginning. Our Founder was crucified and we spent our first century trying to avoid being dipped in tar and set alight to provide light for Rome’s bloody night games, some of which included such spectacles as feeding Christians to the lions. Unfortunately, we’ve also been responsible for a few witchhunts and Inquisitions. Even today, money grubbing televangelists, Westboro Baptist-esque hatemongers, and Internet trolls-for-Christ give Christendom a black eye and, coupled with everyday hypocrisies and general prejudice against anyone touting our conservative morality, it isn’t much of stretch to suppose that many folks purged themselves on Christians in the early years.
Why else would the NFFA feel OK to use a church for its ghastly “mass”??
To be fair, other knee-jerk Christian reviews of the film missed it too. They assumed that the film was meant to show true Christianity. For example, one reviewer wrote:
“Here’s all you need to know about the morality behind the new ‘Purge’ sequel.
“The Crips, the notorious gang who in 2014 were responsible for a third of the crimes in San Diego and 13 percent of the city’s total murder rate, are the good guys.”
“God-fearing Christians? They cleanse their weapons in holy water before killing innocents.”
Another reviewer‘s response was more visceral. Referring to the film’ssynopsis, she writes:
“What this synopsis failed to mention is that the opponent of the senator was a Christian minister who was all for the Purge.”
“Later, the minister planned a speech in his sanctuary – but not just any speech. What really happened was a sort of sick, twisted, public ritual where the clergy tormented and killed poor and innocent people in front of the altar, using weapons that were supposedly blessed with holy water. Oh, and let’s not forget that they were stabbing their victims in the name of Jesus and saying He died for their slaughter.”
Again, she misses the point that this cult is about as Christian as Westboro Baptist or a UFO cult that uses Christian terminology. This is a post-Christian cult that authentic Christians would oppose… if there were any left.
That reviewer also had something to say about authentic Christians:
“But it’s only a movie, right? Wrong. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to think. Anything you put into your mind will influence you. Satan is sneaky and he seeks harm. Being particular to what you watch can be either helpful or harmful to your relationship with Jesus. He took you seriously, so why wouldn’t you take Him seriously? Real Christians don’t appreciate seeing their savior being represented in such a sinister way. If you really love Jesus, save yourself ten dollars and don’t see this movie.”
Pretty heavy-handed for a review based on a major misconception that the film portrays actual Christians rather than a post-Christian cult.
Lest you suppose I am simply speculating and making excuses for a horror franchise, it is notable that the newest film installment, The First Purge, shows actual Christians opposing the event with slogans like “Pray, Not Purge.” We have the Pope coming down against “The Experiment.” Meanwhile, Dr. May Updale, the architect of the Purge, states that in order for the Experiment to work, people will have to abandon their basic moral beliefs, which often bound up on their religion. And just for the record, the church that the female lead bunkers down in The First Purge is filled with authentic Christians, not bloodthirsty cultists.
So the obvious question is, What changed? And this leads us to the most twisted fact about The Purge franchise: true Christians come to be either wiped out or driven underground. Which is what truly allowed the Purge to escalate until America becomes a place for “murder tourism.”
With The Purge television series airing on September 4, 2018, it will be interesting to see whether the writers continue to explore how such a dystopian future could only come about by eliminating the moral religious (and dare I say “killjoy”) element from society. Stay tuned!