Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Our Fascination With Zombies

I had no sooner posted the post on the laity when I read Peter Leithart's piece on Zombies and then read Ethan Cordray's follow up.  What is it with Zombies?  We have sure come a long way since the cult classic Night of the Living Dead but the whole movie and TV fascination with Zombies (and werewolves and vampires) seems insatiable.

The zombie phenomenon is very interesting theologically, as it’s sort of a “return of the repressed” way of recognizing the deadness of appetite-driven modern culture. As we become more and more zombified, as our culture becomes ever more adept at amplifying our desires through advertising, pornography, and a media culture obsessed with gratifying every appetite, we can see the inevitable results of that process shambling along on their rotting legs.

Cordray sounds positively depressing.  And there is more!   Zombies themselves are not actually all that dangerous. They’re usually slow and clumsy, almost never use weapons, and are too mindless to formulate any tactics. They just plod forward toward their victims, and only their numbers, persistence, and resilience to damage make them much of a threat.

And then there is this:  The theological lesson here is that it’s the frailty of our human wills that gives the sarx its power over us. When we’re faced by naked appetite, we are all too often defenseless and paralyzed. And of course, the worst fate that can befall the victim of a zombie—far worse than being eaten—is to be turned into a zombie oneself. What seems at first like merely an external physical threat can get inside us, corrupt our humanity, and turn us into just another mindless, ravenous drone... So zombies tell us more than just that Hollywood likes to come up with new ways to show gore. They also tell us about our own souls. 

But they were not always Zombies!  What happened to them?  What happened to us?  Who are the Zombies?  I have met the Zombie and he is me.  In Pauline terms, they are the sarx in its purest form. Without a soul to control it, the flesh is a slave to its own desires.

Could it be that it is not just guiltless, senseless violence that attracts us to Zombies but the recognition of our own weakness and single minded desire?  Could it be that the Zombie has become the icon of an age of self-indulgence in which nothing needs to be thought out or well considered but simply acted upon like impulse?  Could it be that the Church has become so fearful of this culture that we are like the hysterical figures in these movies -- who forget what is real and simply live in the realm of their own fears and panic?

The hero figures in the movies could have easily withstood the besieging zombies if they had stayed cool-headed and followed their most intelligent member’s plans. But instead they degenerate into infighting and hysteria, and that gives the zombies an opening to overwhelm them.  So can we in the Church... unless, of course, we let our fears overwhelm us and hysteria overwhelms us...  Doomsday prophets are a dime a dozen (like blogs, like this one)  but redemption and salvation have not disappeared.  What will we in the Church choose to focus upon and how do we see the resources (read that Means of Grace) that God has given us for redemption and salvation (including our own)?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The other aspect is this - some folks have decided to mock Easter by referring to it as "Happy Zombie Day". Not incredibly common, but it pops up every year.

Cheryl said...

Interesting to see an article about zombies. There is a commercial running on TV these days--can't remember what it's for--but it has zombies as a major element. It's totally humorous and goofy--the zombies are played for laughs--but my 7-year-old is scared to death of the commercial. He refuses to go in to any room in our house that even has a television set on because he's afraid that commercial is going to come on. He's actually in a phase right now where he's afraid of a lot of stuff. He dislikes statues (too lifelike) and people in masks (no trick or treating for him!) and TV in general because of the lack of control over the images, and sometimes even in his children's books he stumbles upon images that scare him (closeups of bugs and the like). And yet the monsters on Power Rangers don't scare him. I guess the special effects are so bad and the show so campy he realizes it is not real!

Irenaeus said...

While I think ultimately that a zombie is just a zombie and nothing more ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Mr. Freud"), I do think the theological comparison is interesting. It reminds me of Screwtape from C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" who says the "safest road to Hell is the gradual one" -- the road we do not recognize we are on until it is too late. And yet (always the Gospel's great AND YET), "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25a)

Thomas said...

Wchile doing research on an article I'm writing on zombies and spirituality I came across your blog Pastor Peter and this is what I'll say; i've been a zombie most of my life living a life of unconscious awareness, sleeping so to speak, not even aware that there was more to life than my own story. Waking up has been a cure, and it has not been easy, but I have been guided by a power greater than myself. That being said taking full responsibility for all of my choices in life has lead me away from being a mindless self consuming flesh eater so to speak to living a life of gratitude and grace. And for awhile I was tempted to blame the culture I live in as being responsible for this disorder, but that's too easy. Ultimately I can't blame others for the bad choices that I have made. So in closing thank you for your insightful blog and I return your blessing with what God has given me; All the Love that I am. Big Love to All Just Tom