A Theology of America’s Zombie Apocalypse

It seems that America is on the verge of a zombie apocalypse.

First, Ronald Poppo had most of his face eaten off by Rudy Eugene, and now, Alexander Kinyua reportedly killed his roommate, Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie and then ate his heart and part of his brain.

Is it just coincidence that this spate of violent attacks comes when the county’s fascination with zombies is at its height, or is there a connection?

From movies to video games, Zombies are the big ticket these days. The undead top the media charts, gnawing and clawing their way into the forefront of our imaginations. Move over vampires; Zombies are the new black.

It’s hard to say if the pop culture popularity has influenced similar copycat killers, or if the zombie craze simply has made us more sensitive to similar real-life stories. Either way, both the fictional tales and actual news items may speak to something going on in our collective imaginations.

At the risk of over-analyzing (that’s kind of my thing anyway), there are two common themes between both the popularity of both vampires and zombies in mainstream media:

  1. the lines between life and death are blurred, and;
  2. the greatest threat to our wellbeing as a culture comes from within.

The explosion of social media’s popularity speaks to the first point, I think. In some ways, we’re more connected than ever. But with our highly mobile lifestyles, fractured nuclear families and rapidly accelerating schedules, we wander through life sometimes not unlike the waking dead. We’re surrounded by people all day, every day, and yet we long for connection. We want to feel something. We crave meaning.

As for the second point, I tend to think this points to the mentality of our nation ever since the events of September 11th, 2001. Whereas, in the days of the World Wars, the “good” and “bad’ guys were clearly delineated, the current state of international conflict is much more opaque. The Enemy could be the person right next to us. The threat is everywhere.

Combine these two phenomena with our perpetual desire for pop culture distraction, and you have the resurgence of vampires and zombies in the zeitgeist.

Since I’m a “God Nerd,” I suppose the implicit question now is: where does faith, church and/or God enter into all of this?

For starters, there is a common thread among nearly everyone who finds their way to a community of faith these days. They’re not looking for absolution from their sins. They’re not looking for a golden ticket to eternal salvation. They’re looking for the very things I mentioned above that are lacking: meaning, belonging, connection.

At its best, faith communities provide just this. We offer the world an authentic experience with something greater than ourselves and a community of support that multiplies our joys and shares in bearing our grief. We help orient one another toward hope and bear witness to one another’s lives. We dream of being famous, wildly successful and universally adored, but really, we want to know that our lives matter.

Second, we offer an antidote to an epidemic of fear that plagues our daily life. From our health and waistlines to climate change and terrorism, there’s plenty to obsess about. It’s easy to convince ourselves that everything is falling apart, but deep down, we long to be liberated from that fear.

My favorite sentiment in this regards actually comes from Buddhism. It says, “If there’s a problem and there’s something you can do about it, don’t worry about it. If, on the other hand, there’s a problem and there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t worry about it.”

But our default mode is “worry.” Living with contentment and peace is often a discipline that must be practiced rather than something that comes naturally. And again, at our best we offer such liberating practices.

But just in case, you might want to keep a healthy supply of garlic, wooden stakes and zombie spray handy. You know, just as a precaution.


About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He has a memoir on faith, family and parenting called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date, and Hachette published his first hardcover book, "postChristian: What's left? Can we fix it? Do we care?" in 2014. His first novel, "Blood Doctrine," has been optioned by a Hollywood production company for a possible TV series.

Christian is the cofounder and cohost of the Homebrewed CultureCast, a podcast about popular culture, current events and spirituality that has a weekly audience of 25,000 people (http://homebrewedchristianity.com/category/culturecast/).

Preorder Christian's next book, "Not That Kind of Christian: Loving God without being an a**hole," at https://squareup.com/market/christianpiatt.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter (www.twitter.com/christianpiatt) or Facebook.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    You’ve missed some of the most central imagery.

    Vampires == elite, conscienceless bloodsuckers who view ordinary people as foodstock and go about draining away the lifeblood of those they encounter. 

    Zombies == mindless, moaning masses of the unquiet already-dead, individually fairly harmless but deadly in large groups, that turn on their own kind (or what used to be their own kind) and tear them apart.

    Where would we encounter either of these kinds of (metaphorical) situations in the modern real world? Why would these be particularly relevant today?

    Do I really need to explain?

    Vampires: financialized growth capitalism. The 1% and the 0.01%. Corporate reavers like Mitt Romney.

    Zombies: mob rule by the ignorant and misinformed.

    • http://www.christianpiatt.com/ Christian Piatt

       Interesting extension of the cultural metaphor.

    • D.J.

      Mitt???? I thought vampires were intelligent.

      • Tom at Oaklawn

        forget about Mitt…the serious Right were sorely disappointed in his GOP nomination. The only reason Obama won is that the GOP were selfish (and stupid).

  • general hydroponics

    There are numerous industries cashing on Zombie Apocalypse. But, the point being the same Is it gonna come or not? CDC claims its not gonna happen.

    But, what about the Zombie reports that have come across. a nude man eating that other guy’s face, a mom was accused of killing her baby, eating his brain and biting off three of his toes and much more.

    It’s not time to panic. Yet??? Or I guess it is.

    Save the world from a zombie cannibal apocalypse. Learn how at: http://bigbudsmag.com/lifestyle/article/medical-marijuana-strain-guide-surviving-zombie-apocalypse-june-2012

  • Jetty92487

    Basically what I’m hearing here is vampires and zombies are some sort cultural metaphor for socialism and top down, bottom up rule. I think you all are reading too much into this. It sounds like some people are projecting their socialist Utopian fantasies onto pop culture.
    As far as Mitt Romney, equating him to a vampire just because he is successful is childish and immature. Do not disrespect someone just because they have the intelligence and determination to become rich. That’s the American dream. Try going out and doing the same instead of bashing those who already have.
    Back on topic, even if the zombie apocalypse isn’t around the corner, with the state of the world today it can’t hurt to prepare for the worst.

    • Jennifer A. Nolan

      Themon is not projecting any envy of Romney onto the Edward Cullen vampire image. He’s merely making his own interpretation (a rather good one, I think) of current vampire and zombie socio-economic imagery. If his none-too-neurotic “projections” make you uncomfortable, then so be it, but don’t go putting thoughts in his head which he’s likely never had.

      I love his idea of zombies as symbolizing “mob rule by the ignorant and misinformed.” I’ll go on to say that his “mob rule” looks entirely too much like our winner-take-all, kill-or-be-killed “democracy” here in this country, where we forget that our Framers put the rule of the Republic into the hands of the best-educated and most businesslike minority precisely in order to prevent mob rule, and to protect other, less popular minorities: not blacks and Jews, unfortunately, but Quakers and Catholics, two groups that stood in the same need of extra protection as blacks and poor people do today.

    • Brent C. Augustus

      I’d just like to add that Romney is hardly the “self-made man” you seem to want to portray him as. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jan/20/mitt-romney/mitt-romney-says-he-didnt-inherit-money-his-parent/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144875249 LaDonna Sasscer

    I have always thought that zombies are a metaphor for modern American Christianity.  They seek you out, eat your brain, and then not only are you one of them now, you too live only to eat brains and are no longer fit company for pre-zombified people.  Lolz.

    • Jennifer A. Nolan

      Nice thought — and something for Evangelicals to think about. But my worry, as a non-genius low-income working American, is that zombies are conceptually too close to the likes of ME! The American working stiff is, spiritually, just that — a stiff. People like this blow their days away “working” at menial jobs, trying to make ends meet, trying to “survive.” They end up in the grave anyway — and how will they be judged when that angel horn blows?? Will they (we) rank among those dead who, as a Scriptural passage puts it, only think they’re alive? Will they be ranked with Martha of Bethany and the wicked servant in the Parable of the Talents? Neither of these characters gets a high moral rating from the Lamb! Hard work looked good to the Puritans, but so did a lot of things that didn’t sit well with the real Jesus.

      We, the 99%, are moving further and further away from the Source of life. We are letting our appetites and frustrations dictate more and more of our actions, thoughts, and feelings. This may be where the modern image of zombies comes from.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1489205321 Beth Maxwell Boyle

        I sometimes think the working man and women are the same as  serfs in medieval  Europe anymore, so I hear ya!  I am one too!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144875249 LaDonna Sasscer

        As in the stock clerks in Shaun of the Dead?  I think that was the social commentary made by that classic zomedy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    *Great* to see you broach this topic at Patheos. Zombies intersect quite a bit with theology and religion, as do other monsters, if we can step back and see the points of connection. Related to this you might be interested in my blog http://www.TheoFantastique.com where I regularly explore such things, and the forthcoming book I am co-editing with Kim Paffenroth, The Undead and Theology (Wipf & Stock).

  • http://thehighcalling.org/ Marcus Goodyear

    For me, zombies are always about my own need for redemption. 

    If there is hope for the Walking Dead, there is hope for me. Of course, there is rarely hope for the zombies. 

    So I cling to the tiny bit of hope left to the people who are fighting the zombies. But there is rarely hope for them either.

    So I watch Mythbusters. (But I still love zombies.)

  • Benitcacanova

    It’s a good article but I think the author must be really young to say something like this:

    “As for the second point, I tend to think this points to the mentality of
    our nation ever since the events of September 11th, 2001. Whereas, in
    the days of the World Wars, the “good” and “bad’ guys were clearly
    delineated, the current state of international conflict is much more
    opaque. The Enemy could be the person right next to us. The threat is
    everywhere. ”

    Because anyone who remembers McCarthyism and the Cold War knows otherwise.  On the contrary the ‘bad’ guys of 9/11 were very clearly foreign and non-Christian and so were hardly the people ‘right next to us’.

  • EricKuma

    “My favorite sentiment in this regards actually comes from Buddhism. It
    says, “If there’s a problem and there’s something you can do about it,
    don’t worry about it. If, on the other hand, there’s a problem and
    there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t worry about it.”

    This wrong because it goes against the idea of right action
    or actualization which is a basic concept in Buddhism.