Christian Nightmares: An Interview with the Creator of the Popular Blog

Randall Stephens

Several years back an intrepid soul founded a blog called Christian Nightmares.  Since then this anonymous individual has been compiling the best-of-the-worst Christian kitsch, bad-tracking Christian music videos, and all sorts of scary rubbish from recent evangelical, Catholic, and fundamentalist history.  Wanna know the latest on Indiana's rogue pastor Jack Schaap?  Looking for that perfectly frightening Christian TV show featuring an off-kilter clown?  (Are there any on-kilter clowns?)  Want to know more about the latest Pat Robertson controversy?  Then Christian Nightmares is the place for you.

The site is a treasure trove of Christian pop culture.  Most from the gutter.  Viewing all the detritus on the blog these last few years I think of Colleen McDannell's Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (Yale, 1995) and Jason Bivins' Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism (Oxford, 2008). McDannell cataloged and made sense of all the clutter: "Jesus junk. Holy hardware. Christian kitsch. Perhaps only televangelists have been maligned as much as the material culture of contemporary Protestants. Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will be faced with T-shorts parodying advertising slogans, frilly covers for Bibles, and pewter miniatures of biblical scenes"(222). More than a decade later, Bivins explored the dark, horrifying dimensions of this world.  (I'm doing some related work, with my new project on rock and religion from the 1950s-1970s.  And here Christian Nightmares has proved a useful resource.  It contains plenty of anti-rock diatribes, screaming  crusaders, and clips from VHS tapes warning of the pleasures of the flesh.) Some of the material on Christian Nightmares ranks as silly, weird stuff.  Other videos and stories could certainly be classed in the dreadful, tragic, horrifying category.

I recently caught up with the blog's creator for a q and a.

Randall Stephens: You started the blog some years back.  I wonder if you could say something about the purpose of it and how it's changed since you first launched it.

Christian Nightmares:  I started the blog as a way to reexamine some of the aspects of Christianity that terrified me so much as a kid growing up. I wanted to look at these things through adult eyes. I figured the best way to tackle all that stuff was to dive headfirst back into it and see how it made me feel now. It was really uncomfortable at first, but also instantly satisfying (as I now had control over how these particular behaviors and messages were presented; I was able to put them in a different context), and so far it’s been very cathartic. I also wanted to put this stuff out there to see how other people would react to it, to see if other people could relate to this perspective and to hopefully encourage discussion. And that has been happening more and more. 

As far as how the blog’s changed, I used to present the content in more of a deadpan manner, but that’s become harder and harder to do. My patience has worn thin, and I’m much more apt to call “bullshit” on things, rather than just let it speak for itself. Maybe that’s a weakness on my part . . . There are also a lot more people viewing the blog now, and it’s been getting picked up/linked back to by some larger media outlets, so that’s been a nice change. I’m glad that the content is getting wider consideration, and that it’s working its way into larger conversations.

Stephens: So much of the content has to do with shouting politicized pastors and bad children's programming.  Is that true?  And, if so, I wonder what that says about what's available on-line.

 I do feature a lot of that kind of content on Christian Nightmares. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that that kind of stuff had so much of an affect/influence on me when I was being raised in the church. For instance, that video that I posted recently of the pastor from FBC Hammond: I had flashbacks when I watched it; it really struck a nerve. I remember our church congregation being talked to like that so much when I was growing up. And I watch something like that now and I think, "Are you kidding me!" Who in their right mind would ever think that’s OK, to be spoken to in such a disparaging, judgmental, condescending way? But when you’re raised in that, it’s normal, and that’s scary. That kind of behavior really shaped the way I perceive “authority,” and made me fascinated with the ways some people in that world attain and wield power—or maybe more accurately, how those people are given power.

The children’s programming is fascinating to me in the way that it’s so blatantly manipulative. Difficult topics are handled in such a black-and-white, nonchalant way, and I think it can be really damaging to kids, especially when they inevitably have to deal with life outside of the church. It really bothers me.

There is an abundance of this kind of stuff online, and I’m sure that has something to do with the seemingly endless appetite of current internet viewers (myself included) for extreme, sensational content. But there are also tons of full-length sermons out there too, which are just as creepy and disturbing and manipulative in more passive, subtle ways. 

Stephens: Could you say something about the kind of feedback you've received?

I’ve received a lot of hate mail from so-called Christians, everything from, “You won’t be laughing someday when you’re burning in hell,” to, “You better watch what you say about my savior.” I’ve also been threatened with legal action. But I’ve also received way more encouraging emails from people—Christians, non-Christians, and former Christians alike—who say that they really appreciate the blog, and that it’s helped them exorcise their own evangelical/fundamentalist demons. So that keeps me going.

Stephens: What's been your favorite video so far?

CN: It’s still 20 Minutes To Go. That video has it all: Scare tactics, melodrama, right-wing political hype, over-the-top delusion, cheesiness, kitsch. It’s awesome/terrible. Jack Schaap’s “Polished Shaft” sermon comes in at a close second.

Stephens: I've seen that you've done some live shows with compiled video.  What's that been like? How have audiences taken to it?

CN: It’s been great. The people that get it really get it (laugh/cringe/boo at the “right” times) and even those that don’t at least seem fascinated by it. And because I’m anonymous, I get to experience it in the room with everyone else, which is a lot of fun. I got to do a show in Philadelphia last year where I was able to have two of my favorite bands play—Circle of Buzzards and Dichroics—in between videos, so that really meant a lot to me. And I’m currently venturing into new territory: I’m putting together a show with a friend of mine that will incorporate live music, actors, hopefully crowd participation, and videos from Christian Nightmares. I can’t wait to put it on; it will be somewhere in NYC/Brooklyn.

Stephens: What's in store for Christian Nightmares and Christian Nightmares Too?

CN: Christian Nightmares will continue, as there’s (unfortunately) an endless supply of content to feature, with new stuff popping up by the minute. I’m going to start doing more interviews with people, though (David Bazan of Pedro the Lion fame recently agreed to do one, which I’m really looking forward to), to get different points of view in there. 

But I’m actually most excited right now about Christian Nightmares Too. It’s a new blog that I started at the beginning of the year and it features personal stories submitted by readers about experiences with (mostly) evangelical Christianity. The response has been great so far, and I’ve been blown away by the submissions. It’s also been really nice to interact with readers in a more personal way and to get to know them a bit. And I’ve had several offers like, “If you’re ever in (name a town), look me up!” I’d love to do a road trip eventually and meet some of these people face-to-face, they’re so nice and I consider them kindred spirits. I also have ideas for a series of books related to Christian Nightmares and I have a really talented videographer friend who is dying to collaborate on some sort of documentary project, so we’ll see. It’s nice to dream, sometimes.  

Christian Nightmares can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Edward J. Blum said…
nice interview Randall. Pairs well with Rachel's post about the stuff we throw away ... whether digitally or materially.
Mark T. Edwards said…
Thanks for the tip on this website and project! I'm guessing Liberty University's "Scaremare" has been well covered in the past by CN:

It makes for great classroom discussion.
Randall said…
Hell House time. Interesting site. I hadn't seen that before.
Tom Van Dyke said…
I'd love to see not just a troll of the bottom but a Top 10, what actually caught on.

What made poker dogs and velvet Elvii truly appalling was their ubiquity.

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