Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism

Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism

Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism

Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism


Conservative evangelicalism has transformed American politics, working not just through conventional channels, but through subcultures and alternate modes of communication. Within the world of conservative evangelicalism is a "Religion of Fear," a critical impulse that dramatizes cultural andpolitical issues in frightening ways that contrast "orthodox" behaviors and beliefs with those linked to darkness, fear, and demonology. Jason C. Bivins offers close examinations of several popular evangelical cultural creations including the Left Behind novels, church-sponsored Halloween "Hell Houses," Jack Chick's sensational comic tracts, and anti-rock and rap rhetoric and censorship. Bivins depicts these fascinating and often troubling phenomena in vivid detail and shows how they seek to shape evangelical cultural and political identity. Interestingly, he shows that these narratives offear also reveal a strong attraction to and dependence on the very things that are being forbidden. Bivins also describes the steady normalization of such fear narratives in recent decades, a trend he claims bodes ill for American politics. The Religion of Fear is a significant contribution to ourunderstanding of the new shapes of political religion, of American evangelicalism, of the relation of religion and the media, and of the link between religious pop culture and politics.


Then I saw there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven.—John
Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which everyone in himself
calleth religion.—Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Like so many things worth exploring, this book is rooted in memories I cannot shake. I went to graduate school at Indiana University. One of my closest friends lived for a time in a small town midway between Bloomington and Indianapolis, where his wife worked. I visited them frequently, often enjoying the winding country roads that led to Franklin, Indiana. On my first visit, my friend told me to make sure I came before dark so I could see “Scary Jesus.” Apparently an image on the side of a farm building visible from the road, “Scary Jesus” was, he assured me, worth the trip. I drove slowly through the late afternoon, annoying my fellow drivers by creeping around each curve so I wouldn’t miss a single barn or ramshackle building.

Finally I saw it, unmistakable in the grey drabness of the midwestern winter. A vast barn had been painted with a landscape of craggy peaks silhouetted against a fire-red (or was it blood-red?) sky. A tilted cross stretched upward, its sharp angle hinting at chaos or instability while also recalling the crucifixion on Golgotha. And in the foreground, a looming, almost threatening figure leaned outward with arms stretched and eyes blazing from within his huge silhouetted frame. This was “Scary Jesus.” Could this image, whose features and aesthetic might well be lifted from some apocalyptic B-movie, be intended to intimidate drivers on the roadway? Was he supposed to stand in marked contrast to the hedonism and fornication supposedly practiced at the university? To warn all watchers that there will come a time, whose hour is not known to us, when they will be judged?

American roadways are, of course, littered with such artworks and graffiti, billboards, and signs innumerable. Some are funded by major organizations, others the work of a lone Christian with a can of spray paint or available sign . . .

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