The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, November 20, 2017

What's With All These Zombies?

Zombies on the Move
Are you as puzzled as I am about all the movies, TV shows, and books about zombies that in recent years have captured the interest of so many people? Zombies seem to be everywhere and in many of these stories the living dead far outnumber us regular living folks. They're very nasty looking creatures, these zombies, but they lack the more complex personalities of the classic horror monsters. Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula might have had questionable motives, but at least they had motives. But all those robotic zombies, wobbling and shuffling about, just aren't that interesting.

And then there's the incursion of zombies into areas where they simply don't belong. Because I'm a long-time Jane Austen fan, I consider the novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a desecration. Miss Austen had an active and sometimes quirky sense of humor, but I'm pretty sure zombies among the Bennets would not have pleased her. She was, after all, a believing and practicing Christian.
The Bennet Sisters Take On the Zombies
And who can feel good about the film, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies? It's all very strange indeed.
Abraham Lincoln vs, Zombies
And yet, people seem captivated by these boring, stumbling, flesh-eating things. One recent poll revealed that 14% of the US population believe there's a chance of a "zombie apocalypse." You might think 14% a rather small number, but 14% of our current population of about 325 million would mean 45 million Americans are waiting for the living dead to rise up against us. And how many more actually believe these creatures exist? I can't say, but I suspect it's higher than 14%.

I'm pretty sure I first encountered zombies back in the late '50s and early '60s when I used to watch a late-night TV horror show hosted by a rather odd fellow who went by the name of Zacherley. My high school buddies and I would stay up late to watch "Zacherley at Large", a truly bizarre offering that aired weekly on New York's WABC. The guy was a hoot and his show included several interesting extras: his "wife" who spent her time in an open coffin with a stake through her heart; his "son", named Gasport, who moaned from a bag that hung from the ceiling; and Thelma, a strange blob-like creature. As you might imagine, for us 16-year-old boys Zacherly was extremely  entertaining.
Zacherley and Friend
His real name was John Zacherle. He was an Ivy League alumnus (an English major at Penn) and served as an Army officer in both Africa and Europe during World War Two -- all before his rise to ghoulish superstar. Zacherle died last year at the age of 98. I was sorry to hear of his passing but he certainly had a long and full, if somewhat odd, life.

Anyway, Zacherley didn't simply show a weekly horror movie; he added his own weird commentary and crazy skits, some cleverly integrated into scenes in the film, thus turning each film into a comedy we adolescents could enjoy. I can't recall the title of the first zombie movie I saw, but I'm fairly certain it starred Bela Lugosi. Since those early days I can honestly say that zombies have rarely crossed my least until their recent resurgence.

Why this current fascination with the so-called living dead? Perhaps it's the symptom of a return to a more primitive view of the world. For ancient man, death was a horrendous mystery, something to fear, and a clear sign of human weakness. Many of the ancients bound their dead before burying or entombing them, apparently in an effort to keep them from returning to the world of the living. They placed "magic" objects in the grave to cast spells on the dead, and tossed in some food and other necessities to keep the dead happy. Yes, they believed in and were afraid of ghosts, those who returned from the dead.

It's all rather mystifying because there's really little to fear from a dead human body. But I suppose many fear the dead because they call to mind our own bodily mortality. We know we shall be like them soon enough, but really don't understand why. Perhaps something within us believes the dead should not be dead and should, therefore, return to life. And yet death seems to be one of the few certainties we face and, like life itself, is a definite part of the human experience as we know it.

Death and life seem to engage in a constant struggle within us, but to the faithless death is always the victor. Death just stares us in the face and makes sport of all of our humanistic philosophies. Say what you will, death tells us, but your agnostic and atheistic humanism will leave you with absolutely nothing. Once death sweeps away all their humanistic fluff, these deniers of life are left with only one thing: when you're dead, you're dead. As the munchkin coroner said of the witch, "....she's not only merely dead, she's really, most sincerely dead."
Chesterton on Atheism
These philosophies offer no hope. They give us no reason to face a future with anything but despair. The world of the living dead, of zombie wars and apocalypse, seems to be a blend of the primitive and the agnostic, a contradictory sign, an impossible mix of hope and despair. It's really a sign of the spiritual confusion that has entered the hearts of so many today.

And so how do we explain death, and do so in a way that offers hope? Atheism certainly doesn't succeed, for death laughs at its weak attempts that end only in the grave.  Materialism can do nothing but dance around death, while pretending not to notice its looming presence. And the reincarnationists only pile death upon death. The real answer, the truth about life and death, is right there in the Bible, in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis.

When God created man and woman there was no sin and no death. In other words, God's intention for humanity was life; death did not exist. As we read Genesis 2:7-15 we realize that God created man as a "living being", not a being that would eventually die. And so life, not death, is the natural state that God desires for man. We were created for life, for immortality, for eternal life.

Sin and Death Enter the World
It's not until chapter three of Genesis that we encounter death for the first time. It arrives on the scene unnaturally, entering into creation as a result of sin. Although God had warned of the consequences of disobedience -- "you shall die" -- something that Eve readily admits to the tempting serpent, our first parents decided to disobey God, taste evil, and learn what it was all about. But the moral order can come only from God, the Creator of all. Man cannot decide for himself what is good and what it evil simply because we cannot know evil as God knows evil. In the same way, only God can truly know goodness. As Jesus said to the man seeking eternal life: "No one is good but God alone" [Mk 10:18].

As it turns out, the effects of this original sin are many, but death is perhaps the most obvious, and the most unnatural. That's right, death was not God's natural intent for us, but through sin nature is altered.

The Church teaches that the human soul is immortal, and with the resurrection so too is the body. But in the beginning both body and soul were immortal, joined together in perfect harmony. Sin introduced the unnatural and, as one theologian suggested, "the horror of an immortal soul bound in a mortal and corruptible body." Sin, then, is the true horror story. 

Yes, indeed, through sin the harmony between man and nature described in Genesis 2 is broken and the consequences are disastrous. As St. Paul reminds us:
"Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and this death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned" [Rom 5:12].
But it is through the Creative Word of God, through the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that death is overcome and life is returned to humanity:
"For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ [Rom 5:17]. 
Yes, Jesus Christ, through His act of redemption gives us life once again -- eternal life that restores God's natural plan for humanity. How did Jesus put it to Martha just before He brought her brother, Lazarus, back to life?
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" [Jn 11:25-26]. 
Perhaps, then, the ancients and primitives had the right idea in their view of death as something unnatural. The  materialists claim death is the natural and final consequence of life, because they can accept nothing else. Could today's fascination with zombies be a reaction against the materialists, against the humanists who really think so very little of humanity? Could this zombie-fever stem from the same ancient roots, from a deep internal awareness that death is just not right, that we are destined for something greater? Perhaps so, even though zombies offer a grossly distorted and freakish view of immortality. It is the view of the faithless, a hellish grasping after eternal life by those who do not know Jesus Christ and the Good News He brings to the world.

So, the next time someone talks to you of zombies, tell him about Jesus and the joyful, immortal life God has planned for him. Tell him of the natural, body-and-soul, eternal life with the One Who created him out of a love beyond our understanding.

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