Alabama Freethinkers Visit Judgement House by Adam Butler (November 1997)

It often seems that no holiday is safe from the clutches of Fundamentalist Christians who wish to pervert it into some kind of religious revival. Such is the case with Halloween, the holdover from our past days of believing in witchcraft, evil spirits, and other pagan concepts that has now become a sacred time of mystery, disguise, and (most importantly) candy.

The violation of this jovial occasion comes from Rev. Tom Hudgins of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Florida, with what he calls “Judgement House.” The Calvary Baptist Church’s web page (http://www.calvarybaptist.org/jhouse) describes Judgement House as “a haunted house alternative” which makes “people aware that Hell is the Ultimate haunted house and that if they do not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they will indeed be condemned to an eternity in Hell.” Further, Calvary Baptist claims that Judgement House “culminates in a profound and uplifting religious experience for most people who attend, including adults.” However, Judgement House is very much geared toward an audience of young adolescents and early teens.

Since its creation in 1988, Judgement House has become the property of New Creation Evangelism, Inc., which offers the title of a “Judgement House Covenant Church” for the reasonable price of $250. Once a church becomes a Covenant Church, it may then put on a Judgement House presentation of its own and is entitled to such goodies as a “How To” manual, an advertising kit, and admission to a Judgement House training conference.

In Judgement House, one is given the chance to see a portion of several peoples’ lives in which they make choices and then face reward or repercussion for their actions. Although the scripts differ from production to production, all Judgement House performances include a death scene (where one or more of the characters die to remind the audience of life’s mutability), a judgment scene (in which the deceased character(s) and often the audience is either condemned or condoned by God), and a scene for both Hell and Heaven. The Hell scene usually consists of a dark room heated to about 80 degrees into which the participants are herded to listen to agonizing screams from invisible speakers that surround them. Heaven is usually depicted as a bright white room (with no deficit of air conditioning) where one is surrounded by soft music and men and women dressed in heavenly garb.

Once New Creation Evangelism was created and Judgement House was on the market, it was an obvious success. Churches all over the United States began to put on their own productions–inevitably bringing forth the many claims of people supposedly “saved by Jesus” due to Judgement House. The First Church of Elk City (Elk City, OK) claims 1,500 people came to see their latest production, of which 106 “met Jesus.” Bemiston Baptist Church (Talladega, AL) says that over 1,000 people attended theirs–150 were “saved.”

Wondering what it would be like to visit Heaven and Hell (and perhaps interject a bit of humanism into the masses that journeyed there), Alabama Freethought Association members Michelle Michael, Chris McDougal, and I looked into and visited the three Judgement House productions that were in our immediate area.

The first production we attended was at Westwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The script used at this performance was very much geared toward the concept of the “war on drugs.” It began with a person who was supposedly a Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education officer informing a community meeting that “D.A.R.E. does a little” but “although I may lose my badge for this, the only way to stop the drug epidemic is for each and every person in this town to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This set the stage for the two main characters, a young man who had stayed away from drugs because he was Christian (and Christians obviously don’t do that kind of thing), and his older sister who had turned to marijuana and cocaine (due, no doubt, to her atheistic lifestyle). Now that we had become acquainted with the two children, it was time for them to die. In this production, both characters were killed in a car accident–the young woman, high on cocaine, had driven into a telephone pole.

We were then led into a room to witness the final judgement of the children. God, portrayed by a middle-aged white man with glasses [Why does God need glasses?], watched as the two teenagers were led in.

“Welcome, young man,” said God to the boy. “Your name is in the book of life. Heaven is your reward.” And with that, the adolescent was led down a bright corridor to God’s right. Then He looked at the young woman.

“You are not in the Lamb’s book of life,” said God, condemning her mercilessly.

“This isn’t fair! I thought you were a just God!” she screamed, as she was led down the dark tunnel to the left of God. Obviously she hadn’t heard of the Problem of Evil.

Then it was our turn. God turned to us and commanded, “Step forward as I call your name.” The names of the people in our group were called and we stepped forward.

“Your names are not in the book of life, either,” he scowled. “You never knew me, so now I condemn you to Satan and his angels.” And with that, the lights went out and we were shuffled off into the tunnel that the young woman had entered only a few moments ago.

They kept us in the Hell room for a few minutes and then we were moved to the Heaven room, where we got to meet Jesus. Walking up to us, the Savior stopped at each person and said something barely audible. When he got to me, he looked deep into my nametag and said, “Thanks for coming, Adam. You’ve done well.” Somehow I doubted his sincerity. We then left Judgement House, ignoring the Christian counselors who were “available if we need to talk about what we saw,” pausing only for a moment to fill out a comment card.

As we attended other productions of Judgement House, the horror behind this “alternative haunted house” became shockingly apparent. After I saw two children praying through tears at the end of a performance, I realized just how powerful the fear tactics used by Judgement House really are. The mentality of churches to produce such an atrocity is simple–scare children early in their lives and they’ll fear it until the day they die.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me–religious zealots have always felt that the end justifies the means, even if that means scaring innocent children into superstition. But I can’t help but wonder how a person could feel justified to engage in real-life brainwashing. One is left to ask, what is the purpose of Judgement House, if not to use fear to convince someone of something that reason cannot?

Adam Butler is a member of the Foundation and its chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, and directs a college freethought group.

Freedom From Religion Foundation