Yesterday, my friend and I went to a Christian Haunted House. And it did scare the hell out of me. But probably not in the way that our Christian friends wanted it to.
Judgement House, an outreach tool of some evangelical churches, is “a walk-through drama that presents the truth of people’s choices versus the consequences of those decisions both in this life and the next.”
Housed inside the church, your group walks through a series of different rooms, elaborate decorated with lights, props and actors playing out different scenes that showcase the characters descent into…well…Heaven or Hell. The goal at the end of the Judgement House is to get you to be so shell shocked that you end up becoming a Christian.
Our Judgement House adventure took us to Mountain View Church in Marietta, GA, an upper middle class suburb of Atlanta. There we purchased tickets for two (a $10 donation), filled out guest cards with our email addresses, and proceeded into the the walking drama. I wish I had photos and video, but alas, they are not allowed.
The story begins with a group counseling session. This is where we meet our three protagonists, Bill, Tanya and Jake.
Bill is a middle aged man who in therapy admits to having been molested as a kid. His counselor suggests he take up journaling as a way to deal with his grief.
Tanya, played by a slightly older woman, has also been molested and from her admission at this group session, has used drugs, alcohol and sex to cope with the deep pain.
Our other main character, Jake, is a twenty something kid with a slightly embarrassing neck tattoo a la Target Employee (the actor had a painted-on tattoo, so no, I’m not being a jerk here). We don’t know much about Jake, except that he is a born again Christian.
In the play, Tanya storms out of therapy after admitting to having been abused as a child. In the next scene, we find her and Jake at a bar. Tanya is wasted: Jake comes in after her, and of course, only drinks water.
This is our first glimpse into the Christian aspect of the play: in the bar scene, Jake tries to convince Tanya that the only way she can free herself from shame and guilt is by becoming a Christian. Tanya flips out (again) and storms out of the bar.
We then find ourselves in Bill’s flashback to childhood. In this room, we are transported back to the 1970’s where Bill (now called Billy) is sitting alone in his bedroom. Who comes knocking on the door but Mr. Walker, your friendly neighborhood pedophile who proceeds to sit on Billy’s bed. The lights suddenly go out, and molestation is insinuated but of course nothing graphic happens. I have to admit, Judgement House’s don’t-show-the-monster cinematic technique was very, very good. My friend later recalled, “I wanted to get all Jewish mother on him and beat the crap out of that actor”. My favorite part of the molestation scene was that Mr. Walker looked like the uncle from Napoleon Dynamite.
The choice to use molestation as the theme of the play was wise. Other forms of Judgement Houses have used abortion, homosexuality, and school shootings. Judgement House (which is a pre-packaged church product sold online) focuses on non-controversial subject matter that is still shocking, but isn’t going to lose people too quickly. This is wise. I can see liberals going into these things and losing the message when their favorite political button gets pushed. No one, except Mr. Walker The Pedo-stached, would think molestation was a good thing.
Back to Tanya. We are lead outside to the scene of an accident. Tanya tried to drive drunk, and of course, is splattered out on the concrete with Jake dead in the car as well. Bummer.
This is where things get really freaky. Like…woah.
Our next stop is the Judgement Room. There, a St. Peter-esque character proceeds with judging Tanya and Jake. Tanya, of course, goes to hell and Jake goes to heaven. The part that really bothered me was the “interactive” aspect of this scene. The angelic figure called out the names of three people from our group, myself included, and asked us to rise. I did, grudgingly. He then told us that we had a choice between heaven and hell and asked what we make our choice. We never get to choose, as everyone is then escorted out of the room and into the hell scene. I think my major beefs with this Judgement Room are that they didn’t pronounce my name correctly. Also, why did I get picked to be one of the judged? What did my card say that spelled, “evil Heeb”? And lastly, isn’t G-d supposed to be the judge, not some random angel? Oh, well.
Now we’re in hell, which is decorated like a coffee shop. Demonic figures read the newspaper (apparently hell is a big fan of USA-Today). Tanya walks in, and Satan tells her that she is in hell. Tanya gets dragged off to be tortured forever. Satan then breaks the “third wall” by telling the audience that the majority of people in the world go to hell and he looks forward to seeing us there. Majority? Yikes.
Next, we’re at the gravesite of Mr. Walker. Bill/Billy is now much older. He has been looking for Mr. Walker so he could confront him. Crying by the gravesite, Bill tells Mr. Walker that he has found Jesus and forgives him for the pain and shame that he put him through. Again, shame and guilt.
A new character walks into the room, someone we have never seen before. He then offers to lead everyone in prayer. Me and my friend of course were wide eyed, looking at each other with a collective, “why did we think this was a good idea” glare. The man asked in several different ways if the group would like to commit or recommit to Christianity. We later speculated if he was the pastor of the church.
We are now in heaven, which looks like the set of the Trey Parker and Matt Stone play, The Book of Mormon. A very Anglo Jesus, pierced hands and all, is standing with a court of teenaged angels who dance and sing about him. After a Sparkle Motion style dance number to some Contempo-Christian-Rock, Jesus tells us to choose him as messiah. Jesus then walks up to each member of the audience and shakes their hand, welcoming them to heaven. When he got to me, I refused to shake his hand…not because I wouldn’t shake hands with an actor who is convinced I am going to hell, but because I have a cold and didn’t want the actor to get sick. I’m polite, I guess. Two of the young angels announce that “Jake is here!” and we see good ol’ Jake and Jesus paling around together.
We leave heaven and are escorted to a hallway, where we are given the opportunity to speak with counselors and to pray with people or accept Jesus. My friend gave me a nod like, “you know you want to say something, so go in there and give it to them”. I didn’t. What is the use? They think I’m going to burn for eternity, and I’m on their turf. Besides, that’s what blogging is for.
We left, went back to her house, and had hummus and eggplant pie (the recipe will soon be on NewKosher).
I’m a very ecumenical person. I believe, as all good Jews believe, that the righteous of all faiths will inherit the world to come. But I have to say, Judgement House, and it’s many forms (Hell House, Hells Gate, etc.) are the sickest, most twisted thing I have ever experienced in my life.
The common words used in the play are “guilt” and “shame”. It’s true that people who suffer sexual abuse do have these kinds of feelings. Throughout the play, we are exposed to what Bill and Tanya have used as coping mechanisms. The unfortunate part is that the language of guilt and shame are so fluid, that we lose sight as to whether the shame and guilt that Jesus takes away from an individual is the shame and guilt of their coping mechanisms or the shame and guilt of molestation. This disturbs me. Victims should not feel guilt and shame for their abuse and on top of that, should not feel shame for their coping mechanisms. If you have suffered trauma and are using chemicals to cope with it, don’t feel shameful. You have earned the right to that bottle of booze. Rather, ask yourself if that’s how you really want to live…and if you want something else, seek professional help. Don’t feel guilty!
I wonder what would happen if victims of childhood abuse were brought to this play. How would they feel about the presentation?
The black and white nature of the evangelical heaven/hell scenario also bothers me quite a bit. At one point, Bill tells Mr. Walkers grave that he hopes he accepted Jesus in his lifetime. Really? I refuse to worship a G-d that lets Mr. Pedophile off the hook and makes Tanya the broken alcoholic who was raped by her mom’s boyfriend burn for eternity.
This leads me to two points about Jewish life. First, these Christian evangelists have a very clear, black and white message. We don’t. And I think that is a problem.
Why should Jewish people continue with Jewish life? Continuity? The Holocaust? Tradition? It’s a vague thing where everyone decides what they think is important. I like that! But in reality, the evangelicals have a much stronger, more powerful message. As someone who spent years in marketing, I can tell you that a clear, focused mission statement and brand are crucial. I worry that we, the Jewish people, don’t have that.
Secondly, I am worried about how all of this plays into our support for Israel. It’s no secret that evangelicals are a huge support base for Israel. In fact, one of the actors in the play was wearing an Israel/America pin. But if you believe that the Jews are going to hell (like everyone else who isn’t a Christian), then take that pin off your jacket. You can’t support Israel while not supporting the Jewish people. It’s a contradiction of the worst kind. I understand that evangelicals believe we are going to hell. But you know what? I don’t worry about going to hell. The Jewish people have been to hell and back already!
So in closing, I think we should have our own Judgement House. I would call it Holocaust House. It starts with the last few scenes of Anne Frank’s life. We are then lead into a gas chamber where she and her family die. Next, we go into a crematoria and watch her body get turned to ash. Finally, we end up in the hell room, where she and her entire family burn for eternity. Why? Apparently a nazi storm trooper TRIED to get them to accept Christ, but they wouldn’t. And that’s a darn shame.
Sounds harsh? You bet! But here’s the thing: if you really do believe that life, and more specifically, the afterlife, is that cut and dry, then you have to believe that six million victims of the Holocaust are in hell. It’s intellectually dishonest not to. The writers of Judgement House were able to believe that someone like Tanya the Boozehound would go to hell, because she did “terrible things” to cope with her pain. There’s a certain element of “you deserved it” in that kind of writing. If you take it out of that context, and into a context where a completely innocent person is doomed for eternity, suddenly, things seem a little different.
I don’t believe that most Christians feel the way that Judgement House presents the afterlife. I’ve met way too many cool Christians, particularly in the Emergent Church, who would call these walking dramas a sin themselves. I hope for a time where things like Judgement Houses, or Hell Houses, or whatever you want to call them, are a relic of the past. K’hi ratzon, may it be G-d’s will.