I teach Beowulf in Literature 12. It’s a story about a hero and a monster. I did some research and learned that heroes represent cultural ideals—our best selves. Monsters challenge these ideals—they represent our doubts about who we are.
Zombies are everywhere these days. If literary monsters reveal a cultural identity crisis, I wondered what the zombies are telling us about ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and this is what I’ve come up with.
More and more we are living in a material culture. Not in the sense that we need to have the latest technology in our pocket, or a new jet ski, or whatever. But in the sense that that we don’t believe that anything but material exists, no supernatural, just natural. This means that humans have no soul, there is no God, no higher meaning or purpose to life, and there is no absolute Good or Evil. When our culture first began to abandon God for materialism, people felt liberated, like a kid within the first 30 minutes of running away from home.
Well, we’ve been through a lot since we ran away from home. The 20th Century didn’t go so well. Consequently, our culture is experiencing an identity crisis, and when identity is in crisis, monsters show up. Zombies force us to think about who we are if we truly live in a material world.
- Are we really just material? Just a body and no soul? If that were true, wouldn’t we all be just like zombies?
- If God doesn’t exist, we can no longer bear His image; we must bear our own. Are zombies a picture of humans who bear their own image?
- Is there really no higher meaning to life? In the absence of the divine, meaning is in our individual minds. Zombies eat brains—so much for that. But also, without a higher purpose, our culture has turned to consumerism. Just like us, zombies are consumers too. Zombies don’t need to eat, because they are dead. Their hunger is meaningless, just like ours.
- If there is no absolute Good or Evil, how can even mass murder be evil? Zombies aren’t evil, even though they kill people like crazy. They are just hungry, and you can’t really fault them for that.
- Is death really the end? We’d rather not think about death because in a material world, death is the end. Zombies force us to look at it. If you believe in materialism, dead is dead. The zombies show us our material future. They are a picture of our resurrection if Jesus didn’t do it first.
When looked at through the eyes of faith, zombies are what we are if materialism is true and Christianity isn’t. I don’t really like zombie movies very much, but I like zombies because they ask our culture a very important question: Are we zombies?