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Friday, December 21, 2012

The Walking Resurrected: The Intersection of Zombies and Theology

I recently discovered on Netflix the show The Walking Dead. So far, only two seasons are available, and the third is ongoing. The characters find themselves in a world overrun by walkers, infected humans whose brain stems reactivate postmortem with the most basic of animal instincts. Fueled only by a desire to feed, the walkers pursue sounds, light, and any chance of meat, preferably live meat. They do not restrict themselves to eating humans, and only on one occasion has there been an incident when they partially consumed one of their own. Most of the usual means of death do not affect walkers; only by directly attacking the brain may one be completely stopped. They do not bleed out; they cannot suffer organ failure, nor do they appear to feel pain. They only feed and seek ways to fulfill this end.

As a general literalist and realist (though not without a certain flair for the absurd), I find myself questioning things in TV shows and movies, wondering how things can exist the way they do within the portrayed reality. Sometimes it’s just bad writing. I’ve also been watching the first generation of Power Rangers, and have found plenty of examples there. For instance, a young boy goes missing, and obviously Rita Repulsa is behind it. There is apparently no possibility that a human kidnapped the boy (though this may come to my mind because I do so enjoy Law and Order: SVU), or that something else may be the case. Sometimes the little things in a show or movie reveal tiny absurdities, like when Peter Parker (an incredibly talented and intelligent character) uses Bing in The Amazing Spider-Man. It is generally accepted that no self-proclaimed computer nerd would use Bing.

Within The Walking Dead, a different set of questions arises. While the science behind the scenario remains mysterious (a visit to a disease control center reveals that no one knows whether the infection is bacterial, viral, parasitic, etc.), some curiosities caught my attention. If a walker may be shot multiple times in the torso and still live, what keeps it “alive”? If they do not need to breathe (they can be hanged and still keep going), how can they continue making the grotesque, guttural sounds for which they are known? And if their organs do not matter, why then do they continue to need to feed themselves? While this is not the place for in-depth speculation on a fictional story (for there are certainly those who find it necessary to produce theories about non-existent scenarios), I cannot help but wonder anyway.

Near the end of Season 2 (no spoilers, I promise!), a character who believes in God has apparently lost all hope. Another character says, “You’re a man of God. Have some faith!” The first replies, “I can’t profess to understand God’s plan, but Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.” It was at this point I continued pondering what zombies, flesh-eating undead can teach us.

Earlier in the fall this year I attended a youth group weekend retreat. The theme was “How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse,” and with it the concept that Satan, as a thief, has come only to steal, kill, and destroy. Contrasted heavily with this was the Jesus who claims to bring life, an abundant life to be lived to its fullest extent. We came up with a list of zombie characteristics, most of which I don’t remember. However, I do remember that a great number of those items listed resembled our usual portrayal of Satan.

Even if a walker’s organs don’t function the way they are intended to (or at all, for that matter), it is their most basic instinct to feed. One instinct that does not carry over, though, is self-preservation: they do not feed to survive, but are so driven by their hunger that they give no thought to their well-being. This is not to say they are selfless; indeed, they are selfish in the extreme. They do not sacrifice themselves for the sake of the herd, but each one only follows his or her own stomach. They seek only destruction. Nothing truly satisfies, as nothing ever does.

Making the comparison to a Satan figure is almost too easy. He’s a lion, seeking to devour, etc. etc. But it’s almost as easy, and infinitely more disturbing, to compare walkers to ourselves. How often do we fail to make sacrifices so that we may save ourselves? How thoroughly do we seek to feed ourselves at the expense of others? And how frequent do these realities reveal themselves, particularly in the context of what we believe to be religion?

There are times when the similarities between walkers and those who “walk by faith” are quite scary. I have witnessed time and again Christians whose greatest enemies are other Christians. It is not without reason that it is said, “The army of God is the only one who frequently kills its own.” How is injustice to be battled against when left in the hands of man, even when some of them are Christian?

Here’s the good news, perhaps even the Good News: we are not alone. We do not stand with a Mediator to the Almighty; we are not without weapons, for we are armed with prayer, compassion, and the very Spirit of God; and ultimately it is not our work we seek to perform. Left to ourselves, we are chaotic, destructive. But the resurrection of the dead is at hand, even those dead who are still moving and breathing. May the Lord return soon.

1 comment:

  1. I love your analogies linking "walkers" to those who "walk by faith." When I see the popular portrayal of zombies, I see a horde of beings who are numb, self-obsessed, and completely unable to consider the other. These characteristics seem to be so prevalent among us today. We are numbed by our busyness and desire for the "next big thing." This obsession with our own desires often blinds us to the needs of those around us, rendering us something other than the active, vibrant, aware, and compassionate community of faith that we are called to be.