I am a big fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and pretty excited for the next season to start tomorrow. So I thought I’d have some reflections on why the show, and zombies in particular, are amazing lenses into our lives and our world.
The best zombie movies are never about zombies, but the humans who try and survive and thrive in the wake of such an apocalypse. And I don’t use that world ‘apocalypse’ lightly. The spread of a zombie virus (being rather scientific than the practice of voodoo or witchcraft) is an ‘unveiling’ of the Human condition. When we see people lock others out to survive the horde, we see how brutal we ourselves can be. We in some ways are no better than the zombies in our ferocity to survive. They may moan and groan, limp with decaying limbs, and eat living flesh. But that is only a more primitive example of ways we are and act.
We moan and groan after our deified bellies. Though it is less likely to be food or drink, sex becomes a beastifying act instead of dignifying. We limp in our small, pathetic, attempts at our little ambitions. Step by step we climb company ladders, crawling over others to the empty reward of nothing at the top. We devour the living with the cravings of our sordid souls. Whether its the tabloids, or it’s in gossip, we love to feast on the living. We smash our fellow creatures into the dust in economic and social exploitation. It might be in a systemic abuse, or as small as preying upon the generosity of a friend.
What is stunning in The Walking Dead is the revelation that it is not simply an ‘us-vs-them’ polarity. The truth is that a zombie bite is what brings about infection. That might be allegorical for being apart of the system, and thinking our self-cleansing acts will keep us free. This might be in a Fundamentalist refusing to drink or dance. It might be in a hipster not eating processed foods or refusing to use a car. But the reality is none of this gives us a place to stand and cast self-righteous indignation on the ‘unclean’. The solution, as liberalism might put it, is not that we’re all ok. The problem is much deeper.
As Rick, the show’s main protagonist, would reveal: we’re all infected. The zombie virus is already in everyone’s blood. One doesn’t need to be bit to become infected, merely dying will begin the transformation from corpse to reanimated zombie. We’re all infected with the germination for the worst. The Walking Dead doesn’t allow for some optimism, as some fantasies do. There is no rallying around the Human race. There is no putting aside differences to overcome the seemingly insurmountable. As the show reveals in many episodes, discrimination and insecurity, whether by race or class or sex, still remains a main drive.
This would be an apt time for a well-worn platitude about Jesus being our purity over and against the impurity in the fallen Human race. It’s not that this is untrue. But it’s deployment in many ‘cultural engagements’ falsifies the message due to its refusal to dig deep. The Incarnation, in its most radical and biblical articulations, refuses to merely allow a salvation-myth like those of Dionysus or Mithras or any other Pagan cult. The Messiah was fully and completely Human. God really tabernacled among us. He was born in the flesh, He was born under the Law, which meant He was born in the curse. Many rightly rejected the ‘Heavenly-Flesh’ heresy because it denied Christ’s full assumption of the Human condition.
If we want to talk about Christ and zombies, then we need to recognize the utter pessimism elaborated by this reality. We need to gravely reflect upon the fact that zombie shows are holding a mirror up to the Human visage. We need this common-grace reflection to devastate our positive-thinking, smiley culture and all its priests and adherents.
It’s not that Jesus needs zombie movies. Rather, it’s the latter that stands as God’s judgment. The Apostle tells us that the Torah is holy and beautiful, it is a secondary cause that it shows us up to be the hollow and dead people we really are. Zombies reflect that we are all already dead. And no, sin is not merely guilt or shame. These external problems should be testimonies that sin is an ontological shattering.
It is in this light we might begin to talk about Jesus and the Resurrection. The Man and His Mission must go together seamlessly. And resurrection is not merely the body coming back to life. If that were so, zombies would be a form of resurrection. Instead, the whole human person is brought back to life. This includes the body, but also the soul, the will, the memory, the intellect, the emotions. The Heart which was stone becomes flesh, imprinted with God’s Law.
The Resurrection is for the whole person, a regeneration which will bring about a renewal of the whole cosmos. If it does not, we will still be the walking dead.