Christianity and death metal are no match made in heaven.
When Christian metalheads grow up subscribing to a religion built on the concept of hell as punishment and delighting in a musical culture where hell is revered as freedom from religion, more than a few questions are bound to arise.
Filmmaker Kevin Miller brought the debate over hell’s existence and his own beliefs on the doctrine, as both a devout Christian and a certified metalhead to the screen in Hellbound?
“I’ve struggled my whole life to reconcile the idea of a God who loves us with the notion of eternity in hell,” said the Abbotsford-based filmmaker and contributor to The Huffington Post. “Punishment should be designed to teach and to restore and the way hell is popularly conceived is that it’s basically pure retribution. I really struggle with that and I think a lot of other people do.”
Theologians, academics, authors and the lead singer of costumed metal band Gwar weighed in on what Miller calls a nuanced look at Christianity, different from the fundamentalist opinions often given the most attention in mainstream media.
Barring Christianity Today’s rather scathing review of the film – the review criticized Miller’s choices in interview subjects – Miller was surprised by how positively audiences across North America have received the film.
“It’s asking some new questions and opening the debate,” Miller said. “In Christianity, certain beliefs are beyond questioning. A lot of Christians tend to mistake their interpretation of the Bible for the Bible itself, so if you question their interpretation, it’s the same thing as questioning God and that becomes highly offensive to them.”
Miller, whose writing credits include the documentaries Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed with Ben Stein; Sex+Money, spOILed and With God On Our Side, shot the film in 12 cities across the United States, Canada and Denmark, including at the Copenhell heavy metal convention in Copenhagen in 2011. The interviews he collected during his directorial debut led him to challenge his own beliefs.
“This isn’t just an abstract theological discussion because what we believe about hell is a reflection of what we believe God to be. And we all tend to become like the God we believe in,” he said. “If the God we believe in is ultimately violent, it’s not going to be surprising when we become an ultimately violent people. If you believe that’s what God’s going to do in the end: separate the good people from the bad people, well, we’re going to start doing that on earth. There are definitely real-world ramifications.”
Hellbound? screens at Cineplex Odeon Victoria Cinemas, 780 Yates St. at 7 p.m. on Jan. 10. For those left with their own questions, Miller will be on hand for a post-show Q & A session.
“There are a lot of us walking around quite certain that we know what’s true. Working on this film really taught me that we have to have an open stance. We have to be ready to engage with information that may change our beliefs. If you’re not changing and in constant motion, you’re out of step with the whole universe because that’s the only constant.”