Guest Post: The Horrors of Confession by J. Stephen Howard

The Horrors of Confession by J. Stephen Howard

     Nothing is more terrifying than facing up to your sins. Our sinful nature is the enemy within from whom we cannot hide, and so we carry guilt around like Quasimodo with his hunchback. If our conscience isn’t cleared, we end up with a dual personality like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and in the realm of horror fiction, this manifestation has enthralled readers for ages.
     Being Catholic, the Sacrament of Confession formed the backbone of how I learned to make decisions. Early on, I learned of the strict demarcation dividing right from wrong. I still remember my first confession as a kid. Since I went to a Catholic grade school, our class walked over to church and went before the priest, one by one.
     The tiny room, like a broom closet, felt so confining. Then there was the screen made up of wooden latticework. I heard the priest from the other side say, “Confess your sins, son.” As a boy of ten, sinfulness was such an abstract concept. When I thought of good and evil, I thought of Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader from the first PG movie I’d seen which was “Star Wars.” Still, I could discern the seriousness of this holy act of self-cleansing, and it weighed on me like the cross I saw Jesus bearing. To an impressionable mind, such images made morality a well-defined battle similar to light sabers dueling on the Death Star.
     Historically, as I'd later learn, Catholics didn’t go to a priest to confess their sins until the seventh century, A.D. Before that, they prayed directly to God. Then, in the Middle Ages, a tariff penance was given to sinners. So, purifying your soul came with a price that sometimes lasted years. It was one reason the Church grew so wealthy and powerful at this time.
     Now as an adult writer (I won’t confess my age), it’s no surprise that the concept of confession influences my writing. As a fan of shows like “Dexter” and “The Sopranos,” I enjoy watching the main characters struggle with their morality. If Dexter Morgan just killed people with absolutely no exploration of what compels him, it wouldn’t make for riveting TV. In fact, it would just be an exercise in violence. If Tony Soprano didn’t have a family he cared about and just went around ordering mob hits, I wouldn’t have watched more than one or two episodes.
    I suppose I should examine my conscience to uncover why I put my own main characters through so much pain and misery. Why don’t I just write happy stories where characters fall in love and then contribute positively to society? The reason is I enjoy watching the internal struggle between good and evil. It’s a struggle we all face, every day.

J. Stephen Howard is the author of Fear in Appleton which is now available on Amazon. Frankenstein’s Confessional: a collection of nightmarish revelations will be published on Amazon on October 1, 2012. For more information, visit his websites for those books: and