Friday, November 18, 2011

Zombie Jesus

God has made a guest appearance on the second season of The Walking Dead.

If you haven’t been watching AMC’s mega-hit based on the award-winning comic series, here’s the elevator pitch: survivors of a zombie apocalypse have escaped from an undead-infested Atlanta and are making their way across a ruined Southern landscape.

For the season premiere they’re in the Georgia countryside where they’ve found, not surprisingly, a Southern Baptist church. I’m thinking most RD readers, if they saw this most recent episode, threw some popcorn at the screen. Why? Well, apparently The Walking Dead needs to hire some historical/religious advisors because they put a gigantic bloody Jesus, hanging on a cross, in a church that’s named, simply, “Southern Baptist Church.”

This blooper aside, the scene in the church offers us something exceedingly creepy and provocative, with zombie parishioners sitting almost meditatively in the pews. A zombie woman wears a pre-Vatican II (and now, traditionalist) prayer veil. This represents, of course, another religious imagery epic fail in the Southern Baptist context but still makes for a wonderfully unsettling tableau.

Religious faith in the world of the zombie apocalypse plays a role throughout this episode. Two of the characters, one deeply religious and one self-consciously not, take a moment to pray to the tormented Jesus hanging in the church. One confesses a faith seemingly impossible in the world of horror that surrounds her; the other confesses a lack of faith that pre-dates the zombie pandemic. Both ask for miracles in a world ruled by monsters.

This Is My Body

Some horror newbies, drawn in by the excellent storytelling and character development that AMC is justly famous for, might be surprised to see religious symbolism and themes making an appearance in a gruesome tale of rotting, flesh-eating zombies. They shouldn’t be.

In fact, the undying and undead popularity of the zombie genre has created a religious symbolism all its own. Google “zombie Jesus” and you will be astonished at how the meme of Jesus as zombie has borrowed, satirized, and even contemplated Christ as risen from the dead; Christians as eaters of body and blood.

The idea has become so popular that YouTube videos, t-shirts, and even sometimes extravagant tattoos tell the zombie Jesus story. A website connects popular conceptions of the zombie to the Christian resurrection narrative and encourages a celebration of Easter as “zombie Jesus day.” In Philadelphia, the hugely popular annual zombie walk (in which participants become decaying version of themselves and shamble the streets as zombies on parade) takes place on Easter weekend with specific references to the Christian holiday of the undead...

Praying to the Zombie Jesus: The Spirituality of Horror
W. Scott Poole
October 28, 2011

1 comment:

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