Is Horror the Genre of Hope?

A twitter friend of mine wrote a blog post arguing that horror is the genre of hope.

Is this true? At first, I was pretty sure his definition applied to a significant portion of the horror genre, but not the whole thing. But as I read and considered the article, his case became more compelling. One potion in particular stood out to me.

Collings writes:

Besides, even in stories where evil appears to triumph, the reality is anything but. Because the moment after “the end” happens, the reader proves those two words to be a lie. The reader closes the book. The reader turns off the Kindle. The story is done, but the reader… the reader does not end. For the reader has survived. The reader will continue and, hopefully, continue forward stronger.

I think Collings has an important insight, but it proves his point only given certain presuppositions. Before I discuss the presupposition he makes, I want to take a step back and discuss the nature of presuppositions.

I’ve been struggling with my faith a great deal as many of you know or have inferred from my story The Presumption of Darkness.

As part of this struggle, I’ve been studying a particular discipline called Presuppositional Apologetics. Briefly described, it is a field of study that attempts to show the rationality of the Christian faith by showing that all other world-views are based on certain basic axioms or presuppositions that lead to contradictions. Once this is shown, the apologist then explains how the Christian world-view is internally consistent – e.g., it is based on presuppositions that do not lead to contradictions.

Now, I’m not convinced that this is true, but it is certainly a lot more convincing than so-called classical apologetics.

(For those of you who are curious about how such an approach to showing the rationality of the Christian faith would play out in practice, you can listen to this debate between a presuppositional apologist and an atheist. The atheist doesn’t come out looking so good, but I think this is mostly due to his surprise at the approach that the Christian takes to the issue. And that is the problem with using live debates as a way of seeking truth. Often someone looks like they won not because their arguments are the strongest but because they have the element of surprise or they have superior debate skills, etc. A much more interesting, deeper, but lengthier exchange on the merits of the presuppositional approach can be found here.)

Anyway, Collings point jumped out at me because it seemed so similar to the type of thinking I found during my research into Presuppositional Apologetics. Is the reader of horror presupposing that goodness can and will win the day? Is that the only way to explain how we can go on after reading bleak reports about our place in the world and our destiny?

Well, maybe. Maybe if we really believed the bleak world view of Thomas Ligotti or Laird Barron, we’d find the only way out to be suicide. If there is no hope, what point is there in living? So, I think Collings would write, clearly we do believe in hope. And reading horror strengthens this hope since we show the lie of pessimism by putting down the book and going on with our lives. Every time we read a pessimistic book and continue living, we are proving that we don’t believe in pessimism.

But I also think that there may be another explanation. I think Collings is right on the money if we presuppose that people make their decisions based on beliefs, etc., which can, potentially, be brought into consciousness and reasoned about. But is this the case? Is it possible that we aren’t rational animals who are motivated by beliefs and thoughts? Maybe we are motivated by deep drives for, perhaps, survival. Or maybe we are just machines designed to propagate the species as a whole. Or maybe we are totally at the whims of early childhood traumas.

Honestly, I have no idea if any of these alternatives make sense. But I do see them as at least viable alternatives – research projects to be thought through and held up against the view that we are “belief driven creatures.”

And this also shows a weakness in Presuppositional Apologetics. The whole field of study is based on the presupposition that we are, to some extent, “belief driven creatures.”

Are we? What sayest thou, reader? Are we motivated by beliefs or deep drives or something else? Is horror a genre of hope? Is there any reason not to kill ourselves? If suicide is too hard to do given our deep drives, should we at least stop having children so that we slowly die out?



Faithfulness and the loss of faith

I know it won’t come as a surprise to you, but my current WIP is a deeply personal piece. I’m trying to use it to come to some kind of cohesion of the various threads of my life. And, at the same time, I’m trying to make it something people will like to read. One of the big themes of Resumption of Darkness is that both Sam and Cassie are having a sort of worldview crisis. Before the tragedy that forms the backdrop of the story takes place – well, at least, before they met Eric, the instigator – they are quite comfortable in their Christian worldview. After they a pulled into Eric’s orbit, everything starts to fall apart. Then, during their trip to the rainforest, their worldviews implode.

Seven years later, they still haven’t put the pieces together.

In fact, their story mirrors mine. (I know, a big surprise! An author writes a story that has an autobiographical element!) There was an Eric of sorts, and a Sam and a Cassie. They are at once people separate from me – more or less – and they are also aspects of me.

Emotionally, I am still haunted by Eric. He’s about as dead as any ghost and yet, at times, he seems more real to me than most of the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Spiritually, I am torn between the way Sammy is responding to the crumbling of his faith and Cassie’s reaction. Sammy is slowly descending into pessimism. Cassie is trying to reconfigure her faith into something that isn’t so closely tied to the triumphalism she had before her Latin America tour

As I have been processing this, a friend sent me this link from another disillusioned Christian. The essay shows his path through intellectual disillusionment to the renewed worldview he has on the other side.

Here is a tidbit that I have found helpful:

People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.

I learned that it doesn’t matter in the least that I be convinced of God’s existence. Whether or not God exists is none of my business, really. What do I know of existence? I don’t even know how the VCR works.

I am trying to pray as he prays the following:

God, I don’t have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love.
I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.

My faith doesn’t need to be tied to the existence of some supernatural entity, nor does it need to be tied to that question Cassie asked: Was the tomb empty that first Easter Sunday? Instead, my faith can be a form of faithfulness to this picture of Jesus – the teacher who hung out with tax collectors and sinners. As Eric says, maybe he’d even like a monster like me.

I don’t know about tomorrow, but for today, I am betting my life on the belief that trying to live a life that Jesus would be proud of is a good way to live. Tomorrow… Who knows? Maybe I’ll make my home in the infinite grayness of a universe without meaning. Or maybe I’ll take another swing at following Jesus. I’m better off not worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough trouble to keep itself busy.

Anyway, sorry for the long, over-personal post. I hope to have Chapter 8 of Presumption of Darkness out soon. In the meantime, you can re-read it starting with Chapter 1.

As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

People of faith, what do you think is the role of belief? And what do you think is the role of faithfulness?

People without faith, what are the principles by which you guide your life? What pictures drive you?

Writers, what role does writing play in the way you ask questions about who you are and what your life means?

Readers, what pictures renew you?


The Christian who Couldn’t Believe


I spoke about this briefly the other day. I’ve entered a state of life where it seems that paradox is the rule instead of the exception. I’m not sure how I ended up here, but here is where I am.

The biggest paradox I’ve been dealing with today is the paradox of how I can label myself a Christian when I do not even believe He is real?

Part of it is that I see my act of faith as throwing my lot in with His program, aligning myself with His agenda to promote His kingdom where the first is last and the servant is greater than the master. I’ve always been fascinated by His words and I have made a commitment to follow those words as best as His grace enables me.

That doesn’t seem so bad, right? A lot of people align themselves with some plan or idea inspired by someone long dead and buried. But I’m in a worse plight. You see, Jesus talks to me. Seriously, I don’t believe in Him and yet He has this annoying way of showing up in my brain and telling me all sorts of crazy things about how much He loves me. And I love Him.

He shows up and things change: anger drops away, tension lifts, fear dissipates.

I long for Him. He used to show up in visions when I locked myself in my room wanting nothing bu death. He showed up bloody and glory and stirred up my soul to want the infinite, covering me with His blood, dancing His bloody dance through me.

So, there’s my paradox for the day – I love this man whose existence seems so unlikely. He laughs at me when I try to dismiss Him. He knows He has my heart, what use does He have for my brain?

Why fiction? Why the Blood?

Why fiction?

For some people this isn’t even a sensible question. For some people story is something they live, breathe and eat. Sadly, I’ve been blessed/cursed with a philosopher’s temperament. I questions things – perhaps too much. I’ve seen the damage story can do as well as the heights of ecstasy it can bring. Story is dangerous. In the hands of the demagogue it can fan the fires of hatred. And in the hand of the dreamer, it can lull the soul to a sickly sleep.

Still… Still, I crave story. But I have to question it. So, I spin theories… Well, theory is probably too grandiose a word. Perhaps a better word would be idea. I can’t help but have ideas about writing. It’s part of my character. In the past my motivating idea was story as dance between author and audience. I have to admit I stole this idea from Thomas Ligotti. It was and is a good one. It motivated many of the stories I wrote under my old pen name.

But I’m in a new phase of life and I need a new motivating idea for my writing. For now, I use story as a way to examine the paradox of problems. Different genres of writing express certain ideas and modes of thinking more naturally than others, at least, in the hands of certain people.

For me, story allows me to explore problems without an eye toward explaining them or showing their solution. I want to bring the problem – especially the paradoxes that lie at the root of so many of our deepest problems – without giving the impression that I understand these problems any more than my readers. In other words, I see story as an expression of solidarity.

We face the paradoxes every day and try to hide. I’ve run from so many of these… the first becomes last, seeking life is seeking death, the savior nailed to the cross, ecstasy hidden in blood.