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Hell houses are haunted attractions typically run by American, fundamentalist Christian churches or parachurch groups. These depict sin, the torments of the damned in Hell, and usually conclude with a depiction of heaven. They are most typically operated in the days preceding Halloween.
A hell house, like a conventional haunted-house attraction, is a space set aside in which actors attempt to frighten patrons with gruesome exhibits and scenes. The format is that the various scenes are presented as a series of short vignettes with a narrated guide. Unlike haunted houses, hell houses focus on occasions and effects of sin or the fate of unrepentant sinners in the afterlife. They are scheduled during the month of October to capitalize on the similarities between hell houses and haunted attractions.
The exhibits at a hell house often have a controversial tone and focus on sins that are also issues of concern to evangelicals in the United States. Hell houses frequently feature exhibits that depict sin and its consequences. Common examples include abortion, suicide, use of alcoholic beverage and other recreational drugs, adultery and pre-marital sex, occultism, homosexuality, and Satanic ritual abuse. Hell houses typically emphasize the belief that anyone who does not accept Christ as their personal savior is condemned to Hell.
The first hell house, Scaremare (still presented each October) was created by Jerry Falwell in the late 1970s. Similar events began in several regions during that period. More recently, the concept has been promoted and adapted by Keenan Roberts, originally of Roswell, New Mexico, who started a hell house in Arvada, Colorado in 1995. Since that time, hell houses have become a regular fixture of the Halloween season in parts of the United States. Roberts remains active in the hell house ministry by providing kits and directions to enable churches to perform their own attractions. He is now the senior pastor of Destiny Church of the Assemblies of God where Hell House is usually performed each year during the month of October.
In October 2000, documentary filmmaker George Ratliff filmed a production of a Hell House in Cedar Hill, Texas from scripting to the final night of the production. The result was a documentary that has been the inspiration for numerous live plays and hell-house performances, including one based on Pastor Roberts' production, which played for a month during the 2006 Halloween season in an off-Broadway production in Brooklyn, New York by Les Freres Corbusier
In October 2003 Bethel Church in Temple, Texas began "Temple Hell House". Bethel continues to conduct a hell house every year under the direction of youth pastor Matt Baumgartner and hosts around 3,000 people every year from the Central Texas area.
Hell houses have been criticized for misleading potential patrons that they are a conventional Halloween attraction rather than an evangelistic presentation. They are also often criticized within the Christian community as being too focused on the number of conversions rather than long lasting commitments to Christianity.
In an interview with Roberts for the Channel 4 documentary The Root of All Evil?, noted atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins objected to some of the methods used by Hell Houses; namely teaching by instilling the fear of eternal damnation in children and adolescents. He commented that using the concept of hell for moral policing was child abuse, since children walk away with nightmares and extreme fear. Coming in for particular attack by Dawkins is the question of how the pastor can be certain that the morals and ethics being preached in the Hell House are valid – since they are based on religious scripture.
- ↑ http://www.hellhouse.us/index-2.html
- ↑ "Hell houses, judgment houses etc.". ReligiousTolerance.org. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hallo_he.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- ↑ "'Hell House' Kits Selling Nationally". Christianity Today. 1996-10-07. http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/1996/october7/6tb87a.html. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- ↑ "Hell House (2001)". IMDb. http://imdb.com/title/tt0301235/. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- ↑ "'Hell House' Film Depicts a Church That Wants to Scare the Hell out of You". NPR. http://www.npr.org/programs/wesat/features/2002/aug/hellhouse/. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- ↑ "Hell House". http://www.lesfreres.org/archives/06_hell.html. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- ↑ Theresa Smalec (May 2007). "Celebrate Like True Believers': Performing Evangelical Christianity in Les Freres Corbusier's Hell House". http://hemi.nyu.edu/hemi/en/e-misferica-41/smalec/. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- ↑ http://www.religioustolerance.org/hallo_he.htm