I have a two fold approach in handling eschatology (the study of the end times), and one of them is playful. A big part of my interest in eschatology surrounds popular culture and the way it views any sort of apocalyptic situation. Zombies are hot right now. They are potentially the modern (secular) worlds favorite end times theory. Zombies have a somewhat complex fabric, with the rules written in multiple places and theories made plausible from the stories they inhabit.
What I want to do today is offer 3 reasons the church should understand the genre of the zombie apocalypse.
1. The Zombie Movie as Social Criticism:
While the average watcher or reader would doesn’t feel they are part of a fictional sociological narrative, zombies aren’t just there for story. They are giving a subversive look at our culture. Social Criticism is the guiding principle of the modern zombie. George Romero (the director of Night of the Living Dead and the zombie Grandfather) started the idea of zombie stories/movies being a form of social critique.
What directors and writers in this genre have done is to take multiple angles in story telling to point out flaws and injustices in our society. They use the response of the survivors to point towards the depths of human animistic action. Night of the Living Dead explores both power relations as well as the tumultuous events of the late 1960′s. Other zombie films critically present the idea that as humans we have dehumanized ourselves through an aggressive pattern of capitalism. Finally, Zombieland explored narcissism and the need for community from the perspective of a ragtag group of survivors on a quest to visit a theme park in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.
As Christians, zombie movies provide an interesting glimpse into the way that secular culture views itself prophetically. What might be the downfall of humanity? How do we then add input about our understanding of human nature as being created in the image of God and also affected by a fall?
2. Zombies provide a hermeneutic for understanding culture:
A good friend has an interesting way of looking at Christian life currently as residing inside the zombie apocalypse. This provides a framework of understanding the Christan life as a pilgrim people, living in a foreign world. A former pastor ran with this theme and thought the Church should understand it’s role as survivors bent on finding other survivors and safety.
I wrote a sermon a few years ago about Sacraments and Zombies; how the idea of being undead is an encouraging metaphor for devotion and formation towards God. If anything, the idea that popular culture is fascinated with Zombies, the situation (due to their nature as social critique) allows us to engage inside of it and at the same level.
This isn’t taking advantage and hijacking something for the kitsch factor (like a Lord of the Rings bible study), but realizing that the zombie apocalypse is a figurative playground were the Church can call things out, provide contrast and deal with subliminal issues.
3. Zombies as punishment:
In the now classic “The Walking Dead” premiere, there was a scene where the main character looked inside an abandoned house and found two corpses that appeared to be an assisted and an unassisted suicide. On the wall, scrawled in blood, was the phrase “God Save Us’. In many zombie movies and stories, there is the idea that the disease/virus is the result of divine judgement and the survivors either recognizing or at least mentioning it. Inside of this judgement, man is allowed to completely consume himself. It is as though God as stepped away, pulled the incarnation out of the world and taken away prevenient grace.
The desires of materialism, lust, power, food, and many other things are what disintegrate society and turn us into consumptive monsters that have reached the ultimate of sins. In our final grasp, we begin to literally feed on each other, and the remaining few metaphorically understand the ills of society and run from being consumed by them.
This gives the Church a dramatic look into how society is satirically looking at what it believes deep down. I think that the popularity of these films is Western Culture’s hidden admission of these sins. Christian leaders should be realizing what and how popular culture is analyzing open and willing sins, and the genre of Zombie films provide this confession.