Is It Just Me, or Does Atheism Take Some of the Fun out of Watching Horror Films?

Here we are again on another Friday the 13th—the day where the overly superstitious hunker down in their homes and the moderately apprehensive leerily navigate their way through the daily routine. It’s no secret that today is widely considered a day of bad luck in Western culture, and this never fails to elicit an eye roll from me when someone alludes to it. For the average atheist, superstition is irrational and not to be taken seriously. For us, Friday the 13th is just another day, like Good Friday or Ash Wednesday, but that isn’t to say that we can’t have a little fun with it. Given the sinister reputation of this day, along with the success of the Friday the 13th horror franchise, a horror movie marathon would be in order.

I have loved horror films since I was a little kid, when my dad would let me watch movies like Halloween, Alien, and Phantasm with him, much to my mom’s chagrin. I basked in the adrenaline rush I’d experience while viewing these films and delighted in the spooks and scares that each horror flick had to offer. The movies that scared me the most as a kid were the ones involving hauntings and demonic possession. This is because I was raised under the indoctrination of evangelical Christianity and hence was taught that demons and spirits were very real; if one didn’t live a godly lifestyle, they could easily end up inviting a demon or evil spirit into their home or body to torment them. Believing that demons were actually out there in the world trying to possess people made viewing movies like The Exorcist all the scarier. And the scarier the film, the more fun I had watching it.

Upon becoming an atheist in my early adulthood, my attitude towards horror films shifted. Now, the skeptic in me comes out full force during film viewings, and the same sort of dismissive sentiment I have toward superstition and bad luck on Friday the 13th also applies to the supernatural and religious elements in horror films. The ghosts and demons that used to scare me now make me laugh, roll my eyes, and think, “Well that’s just not logical!” Perhaps the most unbearable part about watching certain horror films as an atheist is when God is called upon to vanquish a demon and save the day. Of all the things that transpire in horror films, calling upon a celestial dictator to come down to a farmhouse in rural America to save Joe Shmoe from becoming inhabited by one of Satan’s minions has got to be the most absurd!

Now, don’t get me wrong, while I’m more critical than I used to be of horror films and while the scares are virtually nonexistent for me now, I still enjoy many horror movies for reasons other than being frightened by them. For instance, last summer I saw The Conjuring 2 in the theater. The film follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of paranormal investigators and demonologists played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as they try to help a British family experiencing violent poltergeist activity in their home. Near the end of the film (*spoiler alert*), the demon harassing the family is defeated by Lorraine when she addresses it by its name and proclaims, “In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, I condemn you back to hell!” In spite of this cringe-worthy conclusion, I really liked the film for its spectacular visuals, well-constructed plot line, charming leading man, and killer performance by the leading lady, Vera Farmiga. The film did not scare me, but I was thoroughly captivated by it, and I appreciate it as a piece of art.

So yes, I still enjoy horror films, but I can’t help but long to enjoy them to the extent I did before atheism. I miss the fun of being terrified and the exhilarating thrills of the aftereffects of watching a horror film that would stick with me, giving me nightmares in which I would be running from or battling it out with monsters and demons. Aas, my nightmares now consist of the Trump presidency and the rise of white supremacists. Yikes!