The 'zombie theology' behind the walking dead
December 20th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

The 'zombie theology' behind the walking dead

By John Blake, CNN

Some people find faith in churches. David Murphy finds it in zombies.

Murphy, the author of “Zombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead,” says Americans' appetite for zombies isn’t fed just by sources such as the AMC  hit series “The Walking Dead” or the countless zombie books and video games people buy.

Our zombie fascination has a religious root. Zombies are humans who have “lost track of their souls,” Murphy says.

“Our higher spirit prevents us from doing stupid and violent things like, say, eating a neighbor,” Murphy says. “When we are devoid of such spiritual ‘guidance,’ we become little more than walking bags of flesh, acting out like soccer moms on a bender.”

I talked to Murphy after going on my own six-week zombie bender. I watched the final episode of AMC’s  record-breaking series “The Walking Dead.” I was one of 6 million viewers who tuned in to see how  survivors of  a zombie apocalypse fared after finding apparent sanctuary in Atlanta.

I then stumbled on a post by John Morehead in the Religion Dispatches online magazine titled  “Toward a Zombie Theology.” That got me thinking.

Is there a religious significance to people’s fascination with zombies?

Some "zombie scholars" say yes. After all, zombie stories grapple with common religious themes: the end of the world, resurrection and the nature of the human soul.

Stephen Joel Garver, a philosophy professor at La Salle University in Pennsylvania, says zombies also resonate with so many Americans today because of the Great Recession.

“We live in a time where we talk about ‘zombie banks’ and ‘zombie corporations’ -  the economic equivalent of the walking dead …,” he says. “This points to a bigger anxiety about an ‘apocalypse’ in which the familiar secure structures of our lives fall apart - in the face of economic collapse …”

Garver says zombies represent “human desire at its more unconstrained: ravenous and relentless.” Zombie films often depict authorities showing up to save the day. (The main character in “The Walking Dead” is a sheriff.)

But what happens when there’s no one, or no God, to save us? How do we decide what's right or wrong? Does acting morally even matter anymore? Those are some of the  implicit questions in  zombie movies, Garver says.

“Are there resources within our nature by which we can save ourselves?” Garver asks. “Is there any sort of transcendent reality - a God, a realm of morals - into which we can tap as a bulwark against the darkness?"

Most zombie movies say no. In most of my favorite zombie movies - “Dawn of the Dead,” “28 Days Later” - there are no happy endings. The government, the military, the scientists - they all become zombie stew.

Zombie theology also asks tough questions about redemption. Many religious traditions teach that no one is beyond redemption.

Not so with zombies, says Rebecca Borah, an English professor at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. She says zombies are Cain-like figures, cursed and exiled from humanity.

“They represent our basic fears of death, decay and desecration,” she says. “Who wants to grow old, become ill and be isolated from our loved ones or a chance at redemption?’’

The final lesson in zombie theology is harsh, according to Borah.

Many religions  stress the importance of forgiveness. But Borah suggests a different theological response to a group of zombies chasing you.

Show  no mercy.

“It is you versus them, and the more of an anti-zombie zealot you are, the better for all concerned,” Borah says. “Take them out as fast as you can at all costs because - former loved ones or not - they are the damned and you don't want to catch it from them.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Art • Culture & Science • Death • Trends • TV

soundoff (229 Responses)
  1. UnwrittenUntold

    You know apocolypses are in the bible right? Which does make it a religious factor, not scientific. Granted most apocolypses are within the "hell" boundries, regardless. Religion is in everything... Which I hate saying because I am a person of not god or devil.

    So if a zombie apocolypse does happen, I'll be excited. 😉

    May 20, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  2. atheist

    Why does a zombie (or any) apocalypse have to have a religious connotation? Frankly, an apocalypse is a lot more likely to come from science than 'god'. This article is nonsensical. Zombies do not have anything to do with the human 'soul', much more likely, zombies are a representation of the human *condition*.

    April 25, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  3. big mack

    soooooo again man i just want to read something that doesnt have religion in it.....

    February 22, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Ally

      ...dude, you're reading something called the "belief blog", of course it's going to have some type of religion involved.

      July 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  4. Shanty

    OK, OK I've been reading a lot of comments but no one, is taking this the way its meant to. First indistincly of religion, what will happen if there is a zombie outbreak, I aint talking about someone who rose from the cemetery, no, im talking about biological weapons, its "not likely" probable therefore not imposible.
    I've been reading a zombie book lately and eventhough im kinda impress with some text im also concerned about biological warfare. God place us here under our own responsibility, ( free Will) does that mean that when we are about to push ourselves to extinction he will stop us? NO we got to be acquainted of our acts. If there is a bialogical virus that can reanimate someone after dead in order to destroy any Jhon Doe infront of him or infect him what will happen? Aint goverments racing to the goal ine of who can rule the world ASAP???

    January 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  5. stevie68a

    christianity is really a horror movie. jesus coming back from the dead, Zombie jesus. Drinking jesus' blood, Vampire! A crucifix,
    voodoo doll! Eating jesus' body, Cannibals! This is not funny, because it's true.....

    January 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Daniel

      Haha sorry buddy, I really hope you're joking, because Christianity is not like that at all =]

      May 8, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  6. Muneef

    How funny it turned out that you Westerners were the Zombies all the time;


    December 26, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  7. Muneef

    Al-Shuara sura 26:
    And re-he-ar-se to them (something of) Abraham's story. (69) Behold, he said to his father and his people: "What worship ye?" (70) They said: "We worship idols, and we remain constantly in attendance on them." (71) He said: "Do they listen to you when ye call (on them) (72) "Or do you good or harm?" (73) They said: "Nay, but we found our fathers doing thus (what we do)." (74) He said: "Do ye then see whom ye have been worshipping― (75) "Ye and your fathers before you?― (76) "For they are enemies to me; not so the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds; (77) "Who created me, and it is He Who guides me; (78) "Who gives me food and drink (79) "And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me; (80) "Who will cause me to die, and then to live (again); (81) "And Who, I hope will forgive me my faults on the Day of Judgment… (82) O my Lord! Bestow wisdom on me, and join me with the righteous; (83) "Grant me honourable mention on the tongue of truth among the latest (generations); (84) "Make me one of the inheritors of the Garden of Bliss; (85) "Forgive my father, for that he is among those astray; (86) "And let me not be in disgrace on the Day when (men) will be raised up― (87) The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, (88) "But only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart; (89)

    Al-Araf sura 07:
    The companions of the fire will call the companions of the garden; "pour down to us water or anything that Allah doth provide for your sustenance." They will say: "Both these things hath Allah forbidden to those who rejected Him.― (50) "Such as took their religion to be mere amusement and play and were deceived by the life of the world." That day shall We forget them as they forgot the meeting of this day of theirs, and as they were wont to reject Our signs. (51) For We had certainly sent unto them a Book, based on knowledge, which We explained in detail― a guide and a mercy to all who believe. (52) Do they just wait for the final fulfilment, of the event? On the day the event is finally fulfilled those who disregarded it before will say: "The Messengers of our Lord did indeed bring true (tidings). Have we no intercessors now to intercede on our behalf? Or could we be sent back? Then should we behave differently from our behaviour in the past." In fact they will have lost their souls, and the things they invented will leave them in the lurch. (53)Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then He established Himself on the Throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil O'er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the cherisher and sustainer of the Worlds! (54) Call on your Lord with hu-mi-lity and in private: for Allah loveth not those who t-res-pass beyond bounds. (55) Do no mis-chief on the earth, after it hath been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good. (56) It is He who sendeth the winds like heralds of glad tidings going before His Mercy: when they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a land that is dead, make rain to descend thereon, and produce every kind of harvest therewith: thus shall We raise up the dead: perchance ye may remember. (57) From the land that is clean and good, by the will of its Cherisher, springs up produce, (rich) after its kind: but from the land that is bad, spring up nothing but that which is n-igg-ardly: thus do We explain the signs by various (symbols) to those who are grateful. (58)

    December 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Muneef

    As seems US and Allies have failed to conquer the world as atheists or say seculars although they in every latest wars they were distributing bibles but still they had no morals of their bible as we seen what has been done in the Iraqi prison Abu Gureeb as an example... As since their warriors were not determent or courageous as religious warriors so they thought of changing as a Chameleon to change color and become as good as Crusaders by becoming religious...
    The Vatican and such as Christian Famous are to spread in to the east to recruit warriors as believers for the upcoming religious wars among citizens of one nation and among nations... The fights in Gose, Nigeria is just a start to segregate nations and same being now followed by separating Sudan North and South for the future to come having them to fight against each other as Muslims and Christians.... Minorities of Christians in the East are being supported to rebel against their own to weaken countries frontiers for US and Allies to come with gates open or an excuse to break out fights and wars by the excuse of those minorities?? A secular Allies for their advantage declare wars and fight Muslims in the name of Christianity although they have long left back and rejected it calling it fairytales?!....Dirty Politics over and over again.
    Only because irresponsible acts like these they had created hatred towards Westerns at US or Allies and now the same they will generate for Christians living among other nations and beliefs as a repeated story of the Jews and Israel...

    December 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  9. Muneef

    A New Year Gained or a New Year Lost ?
    by Asma bint Shameem

    December 26, 2010 at 11:08 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.