Why are we attracted to fear?

Dracula | Monsters by Mark Eckel

“I wasn’t allowed…my mom knew I’d have nightmares”

When I was a kid, “Monster Movie Matinee” was broadcast on Saturday afternoons. I was not allowed to watch The Mummy, Frankenstein, or The Wolfman. My mom knew I would have nightmares. I disagreed. So one Saturday I snuck off to my friend’s house down the street. I couldn’t wait to be thrilled by the scary creatures that would jump out at me! We watched Dracula. My mom was right: I covered my face in terror before falling off to sleep that night and I woke up crying.

Horror movies, haunted houses, supernatural thriller novels, and even roller coaster rides make a profit from our fears. So why do we do it? Why are we electrified by but afraid of being scared out of our wits? I think the answer is people want to know the unknown. We are attracted to the strange, the different, the bizarre, the unusual, what we don’t know. It is a part of our human nature. But why?

The answer to why humans want to know the unknown may be best answered by reading The Bible. The Israelites had just left Egypt in ‘The Exodus’. God’s people had personally experienced the 10 plagues. The whole Egyptian army had been wiped out after Israel had crossed The Red Sea. Israel had seen miracle after miracle with its own eyes.

Encamped around Mt. Sinai, about to receive the 10 commandments, the book of Exodus tells us the Israelites “trembled with fear.” The people experienced thunder, lightening, and a mountain covered in smoke. They “stayed at a distance”: who could blame them?!

The human reason for our thrill of fear is recorded in Exodus. Moses said: “Do not be afraid. The fear of God will be with you.”

How can we be told to fear God and not be afraid?

I believe the answer is we can’t live with God and we can’t live without Him either.

We want to know God but can’t stand to be known by God. Humans were made to be in relationship with, to know God. The book of Genesis tells us human rebellion caused the separation of that relationship. Instead seeking to know God, we substitute human knowledge for God. So now humans seek something else to know. We substitute thrills and chills for true fear of God. We can’t live with God and we can’t live without Him.

The Christmas song “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” summarizes our reaction, “All our hopes and fears are met in Thee tonight.”

Scary movies are fear fakers, a substitute for The Fear Maker. In Hollywood, monsters like Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Wolfman make us fearful with makeup.

But true fear begins when God simply shows up.

Mark knows now that there are real monsters.  He tries not to scare his students too much with this information at Crossroads Bible College.  Broadcast on Moody Radio’s “Morning Ride”, October, 2012.

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  1. I’m pleased to find another Christian academic interacting not only with theology and culture, but also bringing theology into discussion with monsters in pop culture. If you enjoyed Scott Poole’s Monsters in America then you might enjoy the new book The Undead and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2012) (, co-edited by Kim Paffenroth and myself as well as my blog at

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