A MEDITATION FOR HALLOWEEN
Spooky Jesus, Uncanny Christianity

October 1991By John J. Reilly

John J. Reilly is a New Jersey writer and attorney.

There is a widespread theory that you can tell a lot about people by the books they have on their shelves. In its most refined form, this theory includes the principle that you can make a judgment about how someone's mind works by noting the arrangement of the books. For example, someone who keeps Nancy Reagan's My Turn down with the novels by Danielle Steele probably has a different view of the Reagan Administration from that held by someone who keeps it by Theodore White's Witness to History. Whatever the plausibility of the theory, people who visit my apartment generally spend some odd moments examining my wall of assorted paperbacks, old schoolbooks, and discount store hardbacks (one suspects that most of the readers of this journal have a similar wall), and I return the favor when I'm asked to visit them.

In recent years many of these walls have sprouted one or more shelves of videocassettes, and the same principles of psychobibliographic analysis seem to apply. I've never been much of a film buff, but even I have half a shelf where magnetic tape has replaced paper as the medium of information storage. It was with a sense of unwanted revelation that I noted recently that my favorite leather-bound copy of the Bible had migrated down to the extreme limit of the book section, where it was keeping company with Richard Donner's cult horror film, The Lost Boys.

If you don't have teenagers, or if you have more refined taste in movies than I do, you can be forgiven for not knowing that this film is about a teenage vampire motorcycle gang which carouses around an amusement park in southern California, pausing from time to time to snack on the unwary fun-seekers. The picture is notoriously witty, within the limits of rock-and-roll culture, as well as genuinely scary without being gruesome. Despite these fine characteristics, however, the film's implicit association with my old Confraternity Bible jarred me more than a bit. At first I was amused by the accidental juxtaposition, then I was embarrassed as I contemplated the possibility that it may not have been that much of an accident. Actually, I suppose it was an accident, but one that led me to see a home truth of my religious life: Christianity appeals to different sentiments in different believers, and I have to admit that the emotional atmosphere of my faith is not unlike that surrounding a supernatural thriller.

This is not an argument against the content of my faith, of course, but the connection is something I have found hard to articulate, and have been ashamed of whenever I've tried. After some reflection, however, I wonder whether I have anything to be ashamed about. I am, after all, in good company in making the association. In fact, I wonder whether the recultivation of the sort of "Gothic" spirituality with which the Catholic Church was historically associated might not be a fruitful area of religious endeavor for the coming millennium.


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