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Undead: What Zombies Teach Us about Life and Faith



Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn is the eye-catching title of an intriguing new book from Abingdon Press. It's a book about zombies, a Christian book about the undead. If that doesn't grab your attention, check your pulse. In it, author Clay Morgan explores death and the supernatural, explaining how faith and the living dead intersect. Zombies aren't just around for Halloween anymore, with the genre finding huge success in Hollywood. AMC's hit show, The Walking Dead, is just one of the many Zombie-focused stories out there today. Recently, Morgan shared with CBN.com about this phenomenon, what we can learn from these supernatural stories and how Jesus is the epitome of the "anti-zombie".

What's a Christian doing writing a book about zombies?
Clay Morgan:
I wrote a book about zombies for much the same reason C.S. Lewis wrote a book like The Screwtape Letters about demons—to find light in the darkness. Tales of the supernatural are ready-made for Christianity. Zombies are ridiculously popular and culturally relevant, so zombies are a great way to get someone's attention. From there we can have a marvelous discussion about spiritual life and spiritual death.
I'm also genuinely interested in the topic and pop culture in general. Millions of people never go to church or learn about biblical faith. For them, entertainment may be the sole medium informing their beliefs of the supernatural. If someone walks out of a movie about zombies or vampires asking questions about life beyond the grave then that's a great opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about eternal things.

Have you received any criticism for examining themes like horror and zombies?
CM:
Nothing major yet, but I certainly expected some. I'm sure some people don't want anything to do with zombies, even as a starting point for discussing biblical miracles, but anyone who reads the book will see that it's about much more. The stories are fun, so there's not much of a horror/zombie vibe for most readers.

Why are we fascinated by the living dead?
CM:
In part I think we're compelled by the world in which they live, a post-apocalyptic environment where humanity as we know it is over. There are no more bills to pay or jobs to pursue or social circles to navigate. There's equality in the face of death.
As for the monsters, it's hard to look away from such an uncompromising threat. And on a deeper level we recognize the meaning of an existence with no hope for redemption. Their totality is so threatening. One misstep and it's over. And the victims in these stories often don't just die; they are turned into evil monsters which is more terrifying than anything.

Why is being scared entertaining?
CM:
For most people it's exciting, an adrenaline rush. The key is that we aren't in any real danger, so we pay a lot of money for the illusion of such things. Maybe some of us are just thrill seekers. I suspect that part of it is a desire to find out what our thresholds are. What I do know is that if a horror movie plot like a zombie outbreak really happened it would not be fun! The real thing would be so truly terrifying, but entertainment is a different thing.

What's your favorite zombie film, and why?
CM:
I think the first zombie movie that truly captivated me was 28 Days Later in which a man wakes from a coma after London has already been devastated by plague. In addition to the quality of the filmmaking and suspense the story makes you think about fate and the meaningful relationships in our lives. Most of all, you have to consider what humanity becomes in the face of ultimate depravity. After all, zombies are a visible representation of cursed creation.
If I have a clear favorite, it's probably Zombieland which balances humor with the fright of a world gone wrong. That one really allows you to see the empty stores and communities and consider what the world might look like during an apocalypse.

What spiritual lessons do zombie stories teach us?
CM:
The biggest lesson might be that it's possible to exist without truly being alive. A lot of us shamble through life, thoughtlessly going through the motions while feeling dead inside. That includes people in churches and youth groups. We may look like we're alive to the people around us while masking the decay in our heart.
I used to punch in on Sundays and walk away largely unchanged. What are we living for? What is the meaning of our existence? Zombies aimlessly roam around looking for one more chance to gorge on an appetite of destruction, yet no matter how much they feed on what they desire they are always empty. If anybody has ever wondered what's missing in life they can probably relate to that kind of emptiness. Fortunately, we don't have to stay that way. God offers ultimate fulfillment, an abundant life.

A section of your book is titled, 'Undead in the Bible'. Are you saying there are zombies in the Bible?
CM:
That idea is really the heart of the book. Most of the chapters in Undead describe the six individuals in the New Testament who were raised from the dead by God. Jesus performed three of these jaw-dropping miracles and became the fourth. Peter and Paul were also used to bring someone back from the dead.
Of course, these individuals weren't zombies in the Hollywood sense. Like Lazarus, those folks were restored to full life. But the wordplay makes sense since culture is so fascinated with dead people coming back to life. I thought it was pretty cool to show how many times that type of thing happened in the Bible. The same God who brought people back from physical death in the first century is still able to bring us back from spiritual death today.

In Undead, you say we see ourselves in zombies. How's that?
CM:
The thing about zombies is that they look familiar in their t-shirts, jeans, curlers, and slippers. Other monsters—such as aliens, vampire, or werewolves for example—look so different. We see ourselves in zombies, the worst possible version of our neighbors and ourselves. They hit close to home.
Metaphorically, some of us see frightening reflections of ourselves when we look in the mirror because we know ugly, personal truths.

A major theme of a lot of zombie films and stories is when the living become more monstrous than the zombies in their quest for survival. What is it about zombie movies that help us to examine the dark side of human nature?
CM:
You've nailed it. Zombie fiction is always about the survivors and how they'll interact. The title of that show The Walking Dead isn't a reference to the zombies but to the people attempting to go on. These stories reduce everything to its base. Money and social status don't help anyone. In such dire circumstances the truth about human nature is revealed, and we know it isn't pretty. The ancient prophet Jeremiah said that our hearts are deceitful above all else and even desperately wicked. Any good zombie story shows how wicked some people can be.

"Jesus is the anti-zombie". Please, do explain.
CM:
Zombies are the complete opposite to Jesus. They come back from the dead to take lives. Jesus came back from the dead to give life to all. Zombies are damaged, decaying, and terrifying. Jesus came back resurrected in perfection, a beautiful sight to all who believe. Zombies transform people from life to death. Jesus offers transformation from death to life. That's why I call him the anti-zombie.

Undead also gets into vampires. How does that folklore play into this?
CM:
Monster stories often subvert God's story. For example, vampires receive immortality at the expense of their soul. They take blood to have life which is completely the opposite of Jesus who gave blood so that others might have life. Blood is a central theme throughout both scripture and vampire lore.
The other thing about vampires is that they are the ultimate in selfishness which is something I used to really struggle with. To use another metaphor, spiritual vampires are takers and they can be found anywhere, churches included. We need to make sure we're not acting like vampires to the people around us by losing sight of what it means to be a servant like Jesus.

Beyond talk of zombies and vampires, this book speaks to deeper issues. What is the message?
CM:
The ultimate message of Undead is that God is able to breathe life into each one of us. He wants to transform us, and it will be the most awesome miracle we've ever experienced. Spiritual death isn't just about ignoring God. If we're honest, some of us may be in churches every week but know that something big is missing from our lives. Like Lazarus, it's possible to be a friend of Jesus for a while before experiencing a whole new level of his miraculous, life-giving power in a new way.
Who do you know that needs to hear about the transforming power of God? Maybe they're not even interested in going to church but they just might find Undead engaging enough to discover the mind-blowing force of God's love.

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