Zombies and Easter: Part Three

(18 minutes)

The gospel is the Christian narrative of God’s great revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. This Christian story is true both metaphorically and historically. It is saturated with word and deed, Spirit and flesh, heaven and earth, transcendence and immanence, mind and body. The story begins before time, space, and matter existed. Before the foundation of the world, God, who is love, chose to create a universe with whom She intended to relate. Out of overflowing goodness and joy, God wanted to share many good things from Her own rich life. God’s intention for such generosity was cosmic and personal in scope. Her creation was not by accident but intentional. Religion can be understood as an attempt to discover this divine purpose by posing questions like, “Who is God? What is God’s character? What does God want? Who are we? Why are we? What is beyond this life? Is the universe ultimately a safe place? How will the cosmic story end?” These and many other questions are pursued in philosophy and theology. 

Part of what makes us human is the ability to ask the question “Why?” –not in the sense of cause and effect, but purpose. Are we here because of an unfortunate cosmic accident—for example, a la Stephen Hawking, a random quantum fluctuation in a cosmic vacuum? Is there purpose/meaning for our existence? Or is Richard Dawkins of New Atheism fame correct when he writes, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life)  What is “at bottom” is the great question of our and creation’s existence. 

For some time, the West has been cursed with a materialistic philosophy which assumes only the material world exists. (This form of philosophy is also called physicalism and naturalism.) Everything can be reduced to things at their smallest and most basic level. (Of course, what those smallest things actually are seems to elude us. Atoms were first suggested, but then we discovered that atoms had protons, electrons, and neutrons. Then we found many other subatomic particles. And then the tiniest of “strings” and other particles/waves whose behavior defies “reason.”) Our “minds” are nothing more than the product of chemical reactions in our brains. We have no real consciousness. Everything is already determined. There is no freedom, no truth, no good or evil, no love, no joy. Everything is an illusion. At bottom, there is “nothing but pitiless indifference.” Isn’t that a wonderful assumption on which we can build our lives and culture! We are no more than zombies—“things” with no consciousness, no feelings, no choices, no life—just “dead men walking.”

As Vervaeke observes, zombies are a cynical and cruel parody of Christian resurrection. Instead of being raised to new life, zombies are raised to a “living death” with no consciousness, love, joy, development, community, or future. They are “dead men walking”—DOA—lifeless parasitic consumers whose appetites are never satiated. In many ways, they are the inevitable icons of a godless, pointless, loveless culture that is fast devolving into cultic followings of insidious and insane wannabe dictators. And they are nothing to celebrate, much less upon which to build a life or civilization.

Contrast this zombie myth in all its manifestations with the Easter story of a Creator who has loved this universe into being and is committed to its ultimate healing and eternal unfolding in joy and meaning. We are told by this narrative that God in Christ has come into our world and taken into the Divine Self all of our human experiences—all of our memories—all of the sin, suffering, injustices, lies, despair, fears, hopes, dreams—all the acts and intentions of love, compassion, and courage—all the pursuits of truth– everything without remainder and has committed all the powers of heaven to heal, transform, and liberate every part of Her beloved creation. Instead of being raised as “dead men walking” we are raised as “partakers of the divine nature.” (II Peter 1:4)

In the Easter Orthodox tradition, there is an icon depicting Christ descending into hell. With one hand he takes hold of Adam and with the other, Eve. And He pulls them out of the hell they have created. In that icon, Adam and Eve represent all of humanity—every man, woman, and child who has descended into the hells they have created or to which they have been subjected by the forces of evil, greed, violence, and arrogance. I love that icon! It tells me that God in Christ has already descended and will forever descend into all our hells and will never rest until every hell is vacated and every part of creation receives its inheritance around the bounteous banquet table of a loving and stubbornly committed Mother—a Mother who cannot rest until all her prodigal children have come home. And that banquet is just the beginning of an unfolding of endless horizons of love, joy, growth, and expanding shalom. 

The Christian faith, at its best, has maintained that this New Creation has already begun in Christ’s resurrection and can be experienced in our here and now through the presence and power of God’s Spirit. In history God has inaugurated the telos She has intended from all eternity. Jesus is already “the resurrection and the life” in this world, and we are invited to step into the transformation of that Easter. It’s not “pie in the sky when we die”—it’s the unfolding of a love in history which will find its completion beyond history—it’s both now and then—love has won, is winning, and will win, and we are invited to be a part of this incredible story. 

Zombies or Easter? Dead men walking or new creations? Despair or hope? Of course, many will call all this delusional and “wishful thinking”—whistling in the dark—a comforting fairytale—an opiate for and by people.  But does this hope make any less sense than the “faith” that there is no meaning, no love, no consciousness, no hope in what is assumed to be an incomprehensible universe of “pitiless indifference”? Neither fundamentalist materialists nor fundamentalist Christians can prove or disprove their “faiths.” And yes, materialism is a “faith.” However, as we continue to explore and discover a universe of astounding complexity which defies reason and recover the profound wisdom of the Christian faith (most of which church members haven’t a clue), I think it’s a “no brainer” (if you will forgive the pun). Materialist philosophies are leading us to their own secular Armageddons as, like zombies, we consume the very earth which allows for life and forget our individual and collective worth as created in the image of God. At some point, we must choose some orientation in life. The Christian faith is the best option I have found. I may be wrong, but I am increasingly convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life offered by our Creator to make sense of life and our world. And my own experience of the power of that faith to transform me in all my fragility provides its own evidence. Zombie or a New Creation—for me, it’s a no brainer. 

(Over the centuries, profound Christian theologians have explored the profundities of the Christian faith. However, most Christians are totally unaware of these intellectual and spiritual giants. The insights of wise men and women like Athanasius, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina the Younger, Isaac of Nineveh, Nicholas of Cusa (whose influence on the great physicist Niels Bohr was greater than that of Einstein), John Scotus Eriugena, Hildegarde of Bingen, John Woolman, George MacDonald, Karl Barth, Nicholas Berdyaev, Jurgen Moltmann, David Bentley Hart, and countless others allow for an intellectual appreciation of our faith far beyond the truncated and often misguided dogmatism of Fundamentalist Christianity. Also, most of us are unaware of the discoveries in science which may suggest that there could be some transcendent source for the very existence of this universe. The more we explore and the deeper we reason, the more mysterious and unfathomable the universe appears. (For example, no scientist has been able to explain the nature or source of life and consciousness.)  If there is a Creator and if that Creator’s essence is love, is it possible that She should enter time and space and reveal that love? The Christian faith says, “Yes!” And She has done so in a Jew 2000 years ago. Such faith cannot be proven, but it can be (and has been) made credible. And some of the greatest minds in the world of science are attending to theistic claims. I end with two quotes, one from a Christian and one from an agnostic who does not rule out the claims of religion: 

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

Werner Heisenberg (German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics) 

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Robert Jastrow (American astronomer, planetary physicist, and NASA scientist)
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