Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Gospel of the Living Dead

I just read a book called Gospel of the Living Dead, in which theologian Kim Paffenroth analyzes five great zombie movies (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead 1978, Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead 2004, and Land of the Dead) from a Christian perspective. Though he stops short of making this explicit, Paffenroth traces a through-narrative of the four Romero films that pretty clearly mirrors the trajectory of Jesus' death and resurrection.

A crucial theme of Romero's first four Dead films, and something very few of his disciples have ever picked up on, is the development of the zombies. Night of the Living Dead presents the ghouls as nothing more than the mindless flesh-eaters we all know and fantasize about shooting; Dawn begins to hint that there is something more to them than just the cannibalistic instinct; Day portrays a zombie beginning to develop rudimentary skills and basic emotional ties; and by Land of the Dead the zombies have their own more or less functional city alongside the humans. Paffenroth reads the movies as increasingly optimistic, traveling from the utter bleakness of Night's wonderfully nihilistic ending to a degree of hopefulness for human/zombie coexistence by the end of Land.

This also is pretty much how I read the crucifixion and resurrection.

Consider: the death and descent of the zombie uprising, with all the hellishness that entails, is the very thing that undoes materialistic, capitalistic, kyriarchal society – Romero is famous for his fierce social critique, and Paffenroth does a fine job of unpacking the films' criticisms of racism, sexism, class inequality, rampant consumerism, and so on – and ultimately allows for the rebuilding of a better world. Now this could be read in the traditionally eschatological way (there's a reason we call it zombie apocalypse), but I prefer a non-eschatological theology that sees this death-and-resurrection narrative as the narrative of the daily taking up of the cross.

Redemption only comes through the utmost suffering. The zombies, like all of society, must lose their souls in order to regain them. They die to self in order to be reborn as a new community. Only by losing our lives can we gain life; only by dying could Jesus defeat death.

Compare Mark C. Taylor's Erring, a “postmodern a/theology” which declares the post-Hegel world to be a world without God, self, history, or book. These four concepts are dead, and something new must be built in their place – something radically new: an erring, mazing, de/constructive, relational freeplay that does not resort to oversimplifications or hierarchized oppositions. Something, in fact, rather like human/zombie coexistence.

I've never understood why Nietzsche's “God is dead” pronouncement shocked anyone. I mean, what do Christians believe happened on the cross? Isn't the crucifixion really the moment that kills God, self, history, and book; that kills the transcendental signified, the ultimate referent, the Logos? And isn't it only by this death that it can rise again, new and different and wonderfully strange?

No comments:

Post a Comment