I'm talking about the AMC series, "The Walking Dead." And the movie "Zombieland", and the old Romero horrors and some that are comedic like "Return of the Night of the Living Dead".
I used to hate the zombie horror genre. But now, I find it fascinating, and in fact, pardon the near-pun, but also as food for thought.
Like it or not, we are living in a toxic times. Death is everywhere and it's not just physical (as in the multi-billion dollar abortion industry), but is also spiritual. Sin abounds, and yet our culture is increasingly anti-Christian, anti-the idea of sin, increasingly hedonistic and increasingly hostile. Perhaps this hostility against Christianity is spread more quickly by the internet and the ability to spew anonymous flaming trails of verbal diarrhea, but I do believe it's something more.
When I was younger, I think maybe the zombie genre was just a simple horror idea for entertainment purposes, if a bit awful. But now, I find it amazing that it's mainstream, and the popularity is, in a very weird way, almost unifying. No matter where we lie on the political or religious spectrum, it has transcended among the fans. I have found myself becoming friends with people I may not otherwise simply in our shared enthusiasm for all things "zombie".
Maybe I'm speaking too soon, but I have to wonder if perhaps this is something that's actually going to characterize our generation in its popularity. And, because of the movies that are being produced and are actually popular among so many types of people, questions of morality that are being suppressed in our real lives are now taking place in relation to a fictional world that perhaps really isn't so different than our own.
As I've been watching "The Walking Dead" (don't give any spoilers away, I haven't finished season 2 yet!), I've been paying close attention to the character development on screen and as discussed in the related talk show, "Talking Dead". As a theologian, I can't help but make some observations about what I know to be true of humanity and how it is portrayed in the script.
Death is Violent
To wax a bit theological, I have to make this point: death is violent. It has always been violent, and it was brought into the world through sin. God did not intend our bodies to be separated from our souls, and yet, this was what man chose. Death, even if "peaceful", remains the violent ripping of soul from body, and the resultant decomposition of the flesh. Even as the soul goes on in accordance with God's grace, the body remains below to return to dust.
This is not a denial of our belief in the Resurrection of the Dead; in this context I am only pairing the theological truth as to who we are and the scientific reality of how we are, at the molecular level, affected by sin. We die, we decompose. It's not pretty, nor should it be. Consequences of sin are never pretty.
Take then a look at the zombie world: the decomposing dead are walking around attacking the living and tearing them apart. The living are doing their best to survive in small bands with little support.
That's kind of how I'm starting to feel as a Catholic these days. We're watching our world, our culture, disintegrate. While I won't go so far as to directly compare a nasty zombie with someone who opposes my beliefs (for that simply wouldn't be true), the toxicity of the culture of death and those who have given themselves to it isn't so far off in comparison. I honestly believe we are witnessing the death of our country and our civilization; not just here, but throughout the world.
We are now suffering very real spiritual violence, and it is my belief that some of the reason for the overwhelming popularity of zombies is a very human reaction to what is happening, spiritually, all around us.
Resurrection of the Dead
Jesus is not a zombie. Nor was Lazarus. Let's be clear on that point.
We as Christians believe in the Resurrection of the Dead; that is, at some point our souls in heaven will again have bodies, but glorified bodies. It does not contradict the fact that some people are consumed by fire or have already fully returned to dust.
Zombies are soul-less beings who no longer are who they were when living flesh, animated by the soul. These are terrible, terrible creatures lusting to eat living flesh; not to actually truly live themselves. They don't go after each other, but notice; they destroy what is good and beautiful and...living. They seek, mindlessly, to turn what is living to mindless, conscienceless devouring monsters like themselves.
The Resurrection of the Dead restores body and soul for eternity, fully living, fully beautiful (we'll leave those in Hell out of this conversation for now - maybe a topic to be visited later with St. Thomas Aquinas), fully resting in God's glory. Jesus is not a zombie as he did not come back to create an army of the undead, but to restore humanity to dignity and open the gates of Heaven to be eternally unified with God.
That's a huge difference.
When I watch the current Zombie/Walker faire, even recognizing it fully as fiction, it is clearly an allegory for our times, and one to be pondered. For now, I'll bring this post to a close as there is one huge observation that must be made that transcends every zombie movie or show I've seen thus far:
The Zombie Apocalypse is a world devoid of God.
Up next in the Zombie series: Character and Moral development in the Walking Dead and the morality of zombie killing.