Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombies and humans and souls, oh my!

We will be celebrating All Hallow's Eve tonight not by engaging in the sacred and deeply spiritual mystical practice of dressing up like cartoon characters and getting free candy, but by attending an All Saint's Day vigil Mass. I know, I know: spoilsports! But the vigil Mass time works best for us this year, we have three teens who stopped being young enough to trick-or-treat ages ago, and for once we are foregoing the great gift of Aunt Charlotte's pumpkin cake roll and rocking All Saint's Eve party. :) (And the fact that she was still willing to have us over with a tiny newborn to care for and a baptism party just over a week ago shows how utterly amazing she is.)

So my blogging time is limited today, but I wouldn't have wanted you to miss this amazing blog post by David Meyer, who takes the zombie football I threw and runs it into the end zone:
Here is my take: Like all good sci-fi, horror movies have the ability to distill the meaning of life into precious small spaces. What do you take from your giant house when you flee it from attacking zombies? Family pictures and guns to protect your loved ones, of course. What do you do when a little girl is alone in the woods with zombies? Risk everything to find her, of course. What these human instinctual responses in the viewer tell us is that we are human, and being human is more than eating and breathing. Being human is about what you love, and what you were created to do. And unfortunately, many people seem to think they were created to pursue personal peace and affluence instead of walk toward their creator. Zombie movies make these choices clear. The Walking Dead even makes a point of having a scientist show a film of the brain activity of someone dying and coming back as a zombie. We see that only the "instinct" part of the brain stem is active. There is never any doubt by anyone in the show that these people are not human. They are dispatched with bloody abandon and indifference by the dozens. There is more pity taken on animals in the show than the zombies.

The message is loud and clear.

So loud in fact that my guess is that many fans of the show never notice it because it is plain obvious to them, although in their daily lives they might easily deny it. The message is that human beings are a special creation of a loving creator, and that we are made in His image and likeness. We are not the sum of our parts, or merely a central nervous system to be pleasured. One human life is worth every single zombie life even though they are made of the exact same physical material. So lets think about it: if they are made of the same material and one can be slaughtered with less care than a pig, while the other is a precious life worth risking everything to save... what is the difference other than an eternal soul? And what does modern man scream to fulfill in all his depraved abuses of himself more than his soul? In this way, zombie movies are some of the most "christian" themed movies around. What other movie will the viewer always find himself making the correct choice with the characters-- to do the human thing. If only we all could pretend we lived in a zombie Apocalypse in our day to day lives, perhaps we would live the gospel each day.
David has grasped a breathtakingly essential point about zombie fiction: if human beings really were merely animated meat suits, then there would be no moral difference between killing zombies and killing human beings--and, as a corollary, we could kill human beings without remorse or pity simply because they were in the way. The history of the atheistic regimes of the twentieth century shows us what that looks like--what it looks like when a society arises to whom human beings are merely interchangeable animated future corpses, and which treats people as if they have no intrinsic human worth.

But if humans have intrinsic worth--if they are not mere walking bodies, if they are more than merely well-evolved animals--where does that worth come from? If the people we once loved who have died are not merely decomposing flesh, if they, the essential selves, still exist, then where and what are they, and why are they still alive? For Christians who believe in the soul, these questions can be pondered with placidity, gratitude, even joy. For anyone who does not believe in an immaterial and immortal human soul which makes us look like our Creator, though, these questions can only be rather grim to think about.

At Mass tonight I will be happy to be in the company of those who have fought the good fight, finished the course, and won the race. Those friends of God who now live in His presence, especially the ones the Church has declared to be in Heaven, celebrate with us here as we ourselves move toward the inevitable day when we will see God face to face. It is a good and glorious thing that we are not merely well-organized clumps of organic matter heading swiftly toward eternal oblivion, after all.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

It is also worth thinking about the fact that the human brain is still developing for years after birth, and particularly in the first five years, malnutrition can permanently stunt brain growth. This does not mean that those who were malnourished are zombies to be dispatched with abandon, but focus on making sure each child is properly nourished could avert a great deal of inhuman crime in later years. The vacant stare, the indifference to human life... it all starts with lack of development in the early years.

Jessica Snell said...

I've been wondering a lot about the current popularity of zombies in fiction and really appreciate this thoughtful take on the subject. Thanks!

ElizabethK said...

I've been thinking (and blogging a little) about this show as well--also wondering about the popularity of zombies. I hadn't thought it about it in exactly this term, but this is (if you'll pardon the pun) dead on.