The Devil in My Theater

By Nicholas G. Hahn III

One of the easiest tricks the devil ever pulled was convincing some movie critics he didn't exist.

When you muster up enough courage to see The Conjuring tomorrow, make sure you don't watch it in a theater full of critics or you'll think the whole world is going to Hell in a handbasket. I did and was almost certain Rob Bell was in the back row peanut gallery.

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The Conjuring is based on a true story, after all. The events depicted actually happened, and as you should see, they are no laughing matter. In fact, they're downright terrifying.

But The Conjuring isn't scary because of special effects or Oscar-worthy performances -- it's not just another ghost story. The Conjuring is truly horrifying because the Perron family is real. Ed and Lorraine Warren are real. The devil is real. God is real. And as writer Chad Hayes has said, "People should never be ignorant of demonic forces and think it can't happen to them."

Director James Wan spends nearly two hours trying to convince us of just that. The horrors of Harrisville, Rhode Island brought demonologist Ed Warren and his clairvoyant wife, Lorraine, to the Perron family home in 1971. A series of strange happenings and hauntings in the house became so malevolent that Ed, a Catholic, asked the Perron patriarch if the family has any faith. They are "not the churchgoing" kind, Perron said. Ed immediately suggested they reconsider.

Writers Chad and Carey Hayes pose this suggestion to the doubting viewer, too. "We really wanted to show as much as horror can scare you in the darkness of the world," Carey has said, "God can give you relief. How do you overcome darkness? By shining a light."

But despite possessed dolls, evil apparitions, and even a violent exorcism, some critics still weren't afraid of the dark. Joe Neumaier insists The Conjuring is "a bland look at a time when pop culture was entranced by the types of otherworldly shenanigans the Warrens investigated through their New England Society for Psychic Research." Those silly hippies!

Joanna Langfield found herself "laughing along with the others, who looked up from their apparently more interesting mobile communications just long enough to see [Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron] spinning and writhing with committed enthusiasm."

Unfortunately, Neumaier and Langfield aren't alone in their brazen disbelief. As I've written before, this notion is popular in theological circles as well. Bishop Carlton Pearson told NBC's Keith Morrison that he was "angry that people go to Hell." "God," he wondered aloud after watching images of Rwandan poverty and death, "I don't know how you're going to call yourself a loving God and allow these people to suffer so much and then just suck them into Hell."

Pearson then rethought Hell as an "earthly experience," where after death everyone would be redeemed. This is his eschatological heresy: a "gospel of inclusion." "People who believe in the traditional hell," as he admonished those who understand Hell as a place of eternal judgment, "tend to create it for themselves and others."

Rob Bell is the latest to profess a rethinking of sin and Hell. Bell's book Love Wins suggests that "the redemptive work of Christ is beyond what we can ask or imagine" -- or even reject. "God's love is so big that the invitation to God's grace may extend into the next life so that all could be saved." But perhaps the truth is that all aren't saved, that hell does await those who freely separate themselves from God.

Back in the movie theater, I gave the gigglers the benefit of the doubt. It's funny to be scared sometimes.

But by the end of the film, they were caught whistling through a graveyard. After all is said and done, some text appeared on the screen and as I read Ed Warren's prescient words, I heard more laughter and snickering still. "Diabolical forces are formidable. These forces are eternal, and they exist today. The fairy tale is true. The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people," Ed warned, "our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow."

The Perrons weren't laughing. They found faith soon after their ordeal was over. Don't expect Hollywood's critics to do the same anytime soon.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the Editor of RealClearReligion. Follow him on Twitter @NGHahn3.

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