Zombies and Easter: Part One

(10 minutes)

(The following article is based on insight from a book by John Vervaeke, Christopher Mastropietro, and Filip Miscevic entitled Zombies in Western Culture: A Twenty-First Century Crisis and a YouTube video entitled “Why Are Zombies So Big Right Now?” featuring John Vervaeke.) 

John Vervaeke is a professor of psychology, cognitive science, and Buddhist psychology at the University of Toronto. He mentions an article which reports that 80% of those polled in the UK said their lives had no meaning. He maintains that this meaning crisis permeates Western culture and claims that we are living in a “zombie zeitgeist” popularized by such series as “The Walking Dead.” He sees this zombie phenomenon as a contemporary mythology expressing (not explaining or providing answers to) what is profoundly wrong with our culture. The following are some of the features of zombies which mythically reflect one of the major facets of the “metacrisis” facing humankind and the planet.

  1. Zombies have lost the capacity for meaning. They can’t speak anymore (and speech is a way of expressing meaning in life.) They have fallen to a level where all they want to do is eat and consume. Some of them want to eat the very organ (the brain) which is involved in creating meaning.
  2. Zombies drift around. Many people today feel they are adrift, aimlessly wandering with no purpose or meaning in life.
  3. Zombies are homeless—they are both lacking a home and incapable of having a home. How many in our culture lament, “I feel I don’t belong.”
  4. Other than coming back from the dead, zombies have no supernatural powers and don’t represent any divine or supernatural agency. They represent “the catastrophic failure which is being inflicted on the remnants of humanity.” They are as much victims as they are perpetrators of death. They are not morally responsible for the evil they do because they lack the experience of conscience and have, at most, a very limited sense of consciousness. 
  5. They wander in groups/herds but are incapable of entering into or experiencing any type of authentic and caring community. They are unfeeling predators concerned only with consuming “living” humans. People today are increasingly disconnected with little sense or experience of being a part of a vital community. 
  6. Unlike many monsters in stories and movies (vampires, for example), zombies lack self-awareness.
  7. In these stories and movies, there’s no answer to the problem of zombies. Things only get worse. In some stories, every living human is destined at some point to become a zombie. Humans can’t help zombies because zombies are beyond healing and saving. 
  8. The zombie myth is a perversion of the Christian hope of resurrection. Zombies come back to life, but they are “dead men walking.” They are not “raised” to new life, deeper joy, more profound meaning, richer community, and ever-expanding goodness, truth, and beauty. They return as walking corpses obsessed with consumption and whose “lives” are empty and hopeless—lesser, not fuller. 
  9. The zombie myth also is a perversion of the Christian apocalypse. “Apocalypse” simply means “unveiling” or “revelation.” The authentic Christian apocalypse proleptically experienced in Jesus’ resurrection is about a new creation–a transformation and glorification of this world. Zombie stories and movies are typically “catastrophic expressions of the endless decadence of this world” with no hope for renewal, much less transformation and glorification. 

This zombie mythology reflects a profound contemporary crisis regarding the way we are connected to ourselves, each other, the universe as a home we can belong to, a sense of the sacred, and an experience of transcendence. All this connectedness has been undermined, and we don’t know how to address this meaning crisis. 

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist whose life and writings influenced me (RZ) in my college years. He survived the concentration camp during the Holocaust although his wife, parents, and brother were murdered by starvation, exposure, disease, and gas chambers. His autobiographical book Man’s Search for Meaning tells his story and how he found meaning during and after such tragedy. From that horrible experience, he discovered that what makes us human is our search for and openness to meaning in life. He invented “logotherapy” as a way of helping people put their broken and hopeless lives back together. Over the years, I have found that the greatest need in our lives is the finding and embracing of ultimate meaning. Without such meaning, we become zombies— “dead men walking.” 

Frankl’s term “logotherapy” contains the Greek word logos which refers to meaning, purpose, intentional activity for the good, and the dynamic flow of creative and healing energy. The first chapter of John claims that in a human being named Jesus, this logos became flesh and tabernacled among us. The life, teachings, example, cross and resurrection of Jesus reveal the ultimate meaning of this Word for those embracing the Christian faith. In part two of this series, we will look at some of the suggestions of Vervaeke as to how to address this meaning crisis and how his answers might relate to the good news of Christianity and specifically to the Easter message. 

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