Our Love of Zombies

A lot of people really like their zombies. Zombie movies, zombie TV, books on how to survive the zombie apocalypse, large groups of people taking zombie walks, and more. A couple of days ago I finished watching the first two seasons of The Walking Dead off of Netflix. I’ve never been too crazy about zombie entertainment, but the second season of TWD completely had me hooked. Plus yesterday was Halloween, so it seems like a good time to look at our fascination to zombies. Why do we love these stories so much? I’m going to hypothesize three things. First, a quick one: we are attracted to the concept of resurrection in general. Second, I think many of us are afraid that we are a little like zombies ourselves in the sense that we all have times of just drifting through life. The third I just stole from The American Jesus who released this post with a different take on it: we like to “zombify” our enemies with labels so that we don’t have to treat them like humans.

Resurrection

We love the idea of resurrection, don’t we? Most of us seem to have this innate sense that there is some kind of life after this. Is it wishful thinking? Is it religious indoctrination, a social meme? Is it a defense mechanism to keep us from freaking out about death? I personally think that this is a drive put in us by God to help us see that there is always something more. Whatever the source, we seem to all have this interest and I don’t think it is something that we are going to ever just dismiss.

The Unfulfilled Life

At the same time, we are a lot more likely to have a resurrected character with some kind of problem. They’re never quite the same as they were in life, never quite human. As a Christian character on The Walking Dead put it, “when God promised the resurrection of the dead, I thought he meant something a little different.” Vampires must survive on the blood of still-alive humans since blood is equated to life and in some versions they even sparkle in sunlight to reveal what a monster they are (sorry, couldn’t help it). Lately, zombies have been more interesting to me, though. These creatures lack almost all aspects of humanity except for basic physiological functioning : eating, walking, basic use of their senses. Typically there’s an elaborate backstory about a virus which has revived this basic function after normal death has occurred.

We all feel like zombies sometimes. Occasionally some people dress up as them.

So here’s my question: do we enjoy zombie stories because we all feel like zombies sometimes? One theme that almost always occurs in zombie movies and TV shows is whether they are still human or not. We usually see the protagonists hesitant to kill a zombie, especially if it was someone they knew and cared about. In season 2 of The Walking Dead (spoiler alert!) the main group has found protection on a farm with a family who had not been involved in as many violent zombie encounters. Eventually, they discover that this family has been trapping zombies in the barn instead of killing them, including the mother and the son from that family. The two groups experience a lot of tension over whether to kill them – the father of the family insists that they are still human so should not be killed, but the group claims otherwise. At other points when key characters are bitten and turned, other characters typically have a hard time killing them. Maybe in a sense they’re fully human, but in another sense, they are clearly falling well short of the full sense of humanity, so how should they be treated?

In one sense, we are like those zombies. The zombies of movies walk and eat. Often our lives aren’t that much more fulfilling. I think most of us have a sense that there is more to life to this, but even if we have come to a conclusion about what this great fulfillment is (such as Christian theology’s claim that there is new life in Jesus), we often fall back into the comfortable rut of a zombie life. We might acknowledge that there is a bigger picture, but we go about much of our days with little thought of it. That scares us, for good reason. I think the recurring theme of questioning the humanity of zombies is because we are acknowledging that we aren’t being fully human when we simply exist without new life either. As Christians who claim that we have this new life, we need to act as if it is so rather than living a zombie faith.

The Zombification of Our Enemies

Here’s where The American Jesus’ analysis makes more sense than mine: the heroes always decide eventually that zombies are not really human after all. They look sort of like humans. In some respects, they act like humans. But they’re not. They always end up killing them. I can think of a couple of examples where one or two central characters were given an antidote and turned back into normal humans, but usually at least the vast majority if not all of the zombies are typically killed off. And most people watching accept that because they aren’t really human.

Insert label here: Democrat? Republican?

Where this becomes a problem is when we start treating actual humans as if they were zombies. We caricature them with labels which allow us to treat them as less than us. This time of year it is especially obvious in the political domain. Democrats kill babies! Republicans don’t care about the poor! Even here in Canada we hear all the rhetoric and we aren’t that much better here for our election seasons. We do it all the time, though. I always find myself people-watching on the subway and lately I’ve been trying to resist the urge to have a running tape of judgements about them: terrible parent, overweight, etc. Why do we do it? I think it is pretty clearly that we want to be able to make quick judgements so that we can treat them as less than humans and more like zombies.

And yet Jesus teaches us to think of ourselves as a servant to all. Paul calls himself the worst of sinners. They weren’t interested in establishing these hierarchies of who is the better person. Jesus’ ministry was almost entirely to the “least of these” and the only people he didn’t seem to respect were those who were convinced they were better than everyone else and therefore didn’t need it. If we are to really be Christ’s ambassadors to the world, we will need to realize that there are no zombies, just humans made in the image of God and loved by him just as much as you are.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.