Religious leaders see monsters — in teens

Does vampire fiction make teens more likely to commit evil crimes? Some seem to think so. Photo by Flickr user drurydrama (Len Radin).

Halloween is coming soon, and people are already seeking spooks.

Specifically, adults in religious communities around the world think they’re seeing monsters — in teenagers.

In South Africa, a foster teen’s parents discovered some of her poetry and sketchbooks and are now convinced that the 14-year-old has a secret double life with a Satanic cult. Because that’s the first thing that leaps to mind, right? In one sketch, the girl drew Jesus on the cross and then wrote, “He lied/He cried/He died.” On another page, a poem reads:

Lucifer was here and now he is gone.
Maybe we should try and just carry on.
The devil is cool, he is fly.
The beast is the apple of his eye.
Satan is our king and he wears the crown.
And he ain’t letting us walk with a frown…”

(I had to check and make sure these aren’t song lyrics. As far as I can tell, they aren’t.)

When the girl’s foster mother found the diaries — apparently while the girl was away — her assumption was that the girl is part of a Satanic cult. Her response? She took them to the local newspaper, which then turned the poor girl’s diaries over to a minister for examination. It starts out well enough:

“She feels very rejected and it’s normal for young people to try and find their identity,” [Father Mike Williams] says, paging through the books.

Oh, but then he had to go on…

“Even though one can see she’s already delved deep into this whole thing, this doesn’t mean that she’s possessed.

“We must see if she has given her soul to the devil or took part in a black mass.”

… What??

It is, as Williams points out, totally natural for teens to begin questioning Christianity, if it’s the religion they were raised with. Some come back; some don’t. Since many teens are vulnerable to black-and-white thinking, they sometimes combine that questioning with an exploration of the polar opposite — in this case, Satanism. Sometimes it’s an honest exploration of faith. Sometimes it’s a way to draw concern from parents who might not be paying attention in the way a teen craves.

Foster children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, abandonment issues, and depression. According to one study, 60 percent of former foster kids suffered signs of depression. To me, the drawings and poems from this South African girl sound like the product of loneliness and perhaps depression — but not “Satanic cult” activity. Her mother should consider finding her some counseling, not an exorcist.

Such suspicions are not restricted to South Africa, however. In a recent article published in several Christian newspapers, Thomas Horn (author of books such as The Gods Who Walk Among Us and Invisible Invasion) goes on at length about teen vampire and werewolf fiction. The article, penned by Eryn Sun, draws links between such fiction and a handful of crimes in which young people pretended to be vampires.

Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the bizarre things Horn has to say:

“Psychologists have long understood how women in general desire strength in men, but few could have imagined how this natural and overriding need by young ladies would be used in modern times to seduce them of their innocence using mysteriously strong yet everlastingly damned creatures depicted in popular books and films like Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse.”

I can barely get past the sexism in this quote, but I’ll try: he’s saying that women’s need for strong men somehow makes them crave vampire fiction in which the men in question are powerful vampires. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

But then Sun uses these examples to illustrate Horn’s point:

Just a few months ago, a 19-year-old in Texas, claiming to have been a 500-year-old vampire needing to be fed, broke into a woman’s home, threw her against the wall, and tried to suck her blood.

Another instance in Florida involved a teenage girl who was charged along with four others for beating a 16-year-old to death. They were part of a purported vampire cult, with one teenage girl calling herself a vampire/werewolf hybrid.

Where are the girls craving powerful, vampiric men in these examples?

Oh, Horn does go on, arguing that modern horror fiction is different from that of the past, because the new monsters are “impervious to Christ’s power.” In turn, that means young readers and viewers “have exchanged yesterday’s pigtails and pop-guns for pentagrams and blood covenants aligned with forces far stronger than former generations could have imagined.” I’m not sure how many Twilight and True Blood viewers have actually made blood covenants with any “forces,” but I’d bet it’s not many (and, it’s a legitimate spiritual pursuit if they want to — after all, we are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment).

It’s true that, once in a while, a young person commits violence. Occasionally, that violence is inspired by horror tales. But that’s because violent people occasionally enjoy horror tales — not because the horror tales somehow inspire the violence.

These are, unfortunately, the kinds of messages that can make some deeply religious people question or even fear teenagers — their own, or other people’s. Such questioning and fear leads these teens, who often already feel isolated and different (and therefore unaccepted, or unacceptable), to feel far worse about themselves. That can’t lead anywhere good. Parents and pastors who truly want to help these kids need to love them, listen to them, understand them, and meet them halfway, not put the Biblical smackdown on them when they’re already vulnerable.

Do you think horror fiction is unhealthy for teen audiences? Does it inspire criminal activity, or put their souls at risk? Does the South African girl really belong to a Satanic cult?


4 responses to “Religious leaders see monsters — in teens

  1. Sorry Beth but I had issues with almost everything in this article, including that Foster and Horn guy. It is very one sided and slanted in it’s view. The question at the end just doesn’t seem relevant after reading this but I’ll give it a stab. Something I put into my everyday life is the question does it edify my life and those around me, and does it fit into my priorities? (I have a very specific list I consult all the time.) This is a life lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. Let me explain.

    As a teenager, and that wasn’t all that long ago for me, I was absolutely influenced by the movies, shows I watched, celebrates I loved, and music I listened to. I can draw a direct link to who I was at age 22 and what I was doing based on what media I consumed, and it wasn’t pretty. Crap like My So Called Life, Buffy, Reality Bites, 90210, Nirvana, Tory Amos to name a few.

    That said most things like vampires and ghosts, ninja’s, video games or whatever are not inherently evil or necessarily bad. Moderation to everything is key. But I do firmly believe this, Garbage in = Garbage out. What you put into your body be it food, TV, music, ideas, a grudge will eventually come out one way or another.

    • Stephanie, thanks so much for your comments. It sounds like you and I were into a lot of the same things! Where we differ, I think, is that I wouldn’t call most of those things “crap” — I think they have real value. Now, that’s a matter of personal resonance with a work. As you said, it’s good to ask yourself whether something makes life better, and whether it fits your values. If it doesn’t, then it probably isn’t that valuable. But I think quite a lot of kids (myself included) who are or were into these kinds of things do find value in them, and can explain that value if asked. The problem is when outsiders make assumptions based on what they think they know and understand — and then treat kids a certain way based on those faulty assumptions.

  2. I think crap was a freudian slip, because I meant it to mean stuff, but apparently I do think they are crap now seeing the destructive nature it brought about in my own life.

    I think the way this whole thing came about is wrong, misfortunate, and very sad. As adults and parents I do think we have a responsibility to educate, guide, and safeguard our children, but to judge, and exploit and hate…not cool.

  3. Pingback: Who’s training South Africa’s occult police? | Backward Messages

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