Rising From the Dead: Toward a Christian Response to Zombies
Zombies, which almost never occur in the singular, are hoards of undead corpses that stalk the living in order to bite and/or eat them. What should Christians, we followers of the only person to have conquered death and come back totally alive, think about zombies? Are they a good starting point for reminding ourselves about the resurrection, or are they a perversion of all that is holy?
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.” –Ancient Christian Easter anthem
I believe that zombies manifest evil and should not be embraced by thoughtful Christians. There is the obvious reason: these zombies make rising from the dead seem scary, instead of the sort of thing to hope for. But the problems with zombies are much deeper. They go against the faith by rejecting the iconographic center of the Incarnate Christ, and they go against the faith by manifesting the violence that Christ destroyed by his cross and resurrection.
“He is the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 1:15 (NRSV)
The ancient and ongoing practice of Christian iconography includes a striking image called “The Resurrection,” or sometimes, “The Harrowing of Hell.” In it, Christ stands triumphant and radiant on the broken gates of death and hell, not only risen, but also pulling up out of the depths all of the faithful, represented in Adam and Eve. In this image, we see the hope of the resurrection made plain, not only in the restoration of life, but in the making of peace between all humans, including the ones who first started fighting with one another. The iconographic body is glorified, reconciling, full of life, and triumphing through suffering. Christ, as the ancient anthem proclaims, is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life. That life is a life of peace.
Zombies, in contrast to the iconographic body, are the ultimate manifestation of the pornographic body. They are dead in sin, and they exist solely to chase after their selfish, deadly desires. In the pornographic captivity of bodies in service to perverse desires, the zombie use of bodies is necessarily violent. Zombies come out of tombs, but they do not escape their service to death and deadliness. Their rising from the grave is not part of the reign of the peace of Christ. Zombies are what we envision when we fail to imagine a world without the domination of violence. The zombie resurrection body cannot experience Christ’s peace.
When Athanasius sought to explain why God became human, he got practical. The cross and resurrection of Jesus accomplished an end to the reign of demons and of violence. For Athanasius, one of the obvious proofs that God has saved us is the way Christians were set on a non-violent path when they converted.
“But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer.” -On the Incarnation 8.52
This turn toward peaceable living is a mark of Christ’s victory over the demons, whose weakness was what inspired violence in the first place. The demons feared that “if [humans] ceased from mutual strife, they would turn to attack the daemons themselves.” (On the Incarnation 8.52) Christians have so given up violence, Athanasius says, that “they make light even of death itself, and become martyrs of Christ.” Martyrdom is the ultimate manifestation of the victory of Christ’s resurrection, for martyrs witness peacefully to the life of Christ in their willingness to die in confidence of Christ’s resurrection.
Christians: The Anti-Zombies
We have these two spectrums where zombies oppose Christians: the Iconographic Body of Christ versus the Pornographic bodies of zombies, and the Peaceful body of Martyrs versus the Violent bodies of zombies. Zombies are precisely the result of failed Christian witness (martyrdom). Zombies are the enslaved bodies that Christians have failed to free.
If Christians do not live as though Christ’s death and resurrection have opened the reign of peace, the world has no way to think beyond zombies.
If we are just as violent as everyone else, who will believe that “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death”? The very words of the hymn demonstrate the victorious peace of God, who made a way of reconciliation in his body, and conquered death with his death, as opposed to further violence.
Here is where our Christian cultural imagination has been most co-opted by the demonic: while no one would think of zombies apart from hoardes, many think of Christians as individuals. Yet, Christians do not occur in the singular. Our identity is precisely bound up in participation in Christ through sacraments, faithful service, virtues, and love for God and neighbor. Zombies infect, but Christians sanctify. We do not fight the pornographic, violent imagination that inspires zombies by engaging it on its own terms. We do not try to bat away the fear of death by wielding guns and other weapons of destruction. Nor do we attempt to use zombies to educate the undiscipled about resurrection. Rather, we must as communities of Christians, members of one body of Christ, act as though we believe that Christ has truly risen from the dead and bestowed life on those in the tombs.
If Christians do not reclaim the way we imagine human bodies, the problem is even worse than zombies. Pornographic bodies are slaves to misguided passions, violence, and will to power over others. Christ’s body, our model, is triumphant even in suffering, humble, and virtuous. It is a body strengthened by discipline and hope, that is ruled by love rather than lust. What we lose if we lose the battle for imagining the body is not just a culture war; it’s the claim for salvation itself. After all, it is in the body, even the body in the tomb, that we meet and experience God and so are given life.
Reference: On the Incarnation. St. Athanasius. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000.
Summer Kinard holds an M.Div. and Th.M. from Duke Divinity School. She lives and writes in Durham, North Carolina. Her first paranormal Christian novel, The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin, comes out later this month.