2013-04-19

Zombies vs. Jesus

No, this is NOT what I'm saying. (Funny though.)
The Easter story tells about one kind of reanimation of the dead. Let me mention a very different sort of story about the reanimation of the dead. I am not comparing the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection to this very different story. I am contrasting. The contrasting story, which, like the Easter story, comes in many different versions, originated in Africa and was further developed in the voodoo culture in Haiti in the 19th century and probably going back further. I'm talking about zombies. In the mainstream Haitian tradition, before Hollywood began making its modifications of the story, zombies are “undead” – animated, yet entirely under the control of the bokor, a sorcerer.

We can understand this zombie narrative as an expression of the fears of an enslaved and oppressed people. Zombies represent a loss of cognition, of independent thought, of free will. As slavery and oppression led people to feel the loss of their minds, their freedom, their humanity, they told stories of zombies that represented what they felt like. It was a way for the enslaved and oppressed to depict what they feared they were becoming, and also a way to remind them that they weren’t quite zombies yet. Though their conditions deprived them, they could hold on to self-respect and dignity and refuse to be like zombies in the story.

When zombie stories spread and began to be told and modified by the middle and upper classes, zombies represented a different sort of horror. These stories featured zombies terrorizing the oppressors -- which is to say, normal middle-class Westerners like you and me. Given Earth's current technological development, and its population of more than seven billion humans, middle- and upper-class people in the developed world maintain a lifestyle that is possible only through considerable oppression and essentially enslavement of large parts of the world who labor to feed our voracious, insatiable appetite for stuff. We push this uncomfortable fact out of our minds as much as we can, yet we who are the oppressor fear what we have oppressed and enslaved. We fear that those to whom we have denied autonomy and free will may yet come after us. We have forced others for our material gain into a state of unthinkingness, yet we recognize that that very unthinkingness puts them out of relationship with us, gives them a certain power to threaten us unconstrained by the mores our class takes for granted, the mores we call "rationality." We who are the oppressor express our fear through zombie stories.

Our own consuming appetite, we project upon the zombies. In our fearful imaginings, they come to consume us -- just as providing for our material comforts and conveniences has consumed so many of them. They want to eat our brains, for independent thought is exactly what we have sought to strip them of. Can it be coincidence that the contemporary boom in tales of zombie apocalypse coincides with alarming income inequalities that have been worsening since 1980? (See Lake Chalice's seven-part series, "Our Spirits Long to be Made Whole" -- for the beginning, click here.) We know our world is out of balance. We’re afraid of what that imbalance will lead to, and our zombie movies and tales express that fear.

The story of reanimation of the dead from 2000 years ago is very different. Jesus was no zombie. (You heard it here first!) His resurrection represented the opposite: a liberation of mind and spirit. He comes into his full power as a spirit-being who can appear and disappear in our material world at will. Freed of the need to calculate – to solve problems, to advance and defend ideas any more – the resurrected Jesus is freer than ever to just be and to love. There are no more sermons on the mount or the plain, no more parables and teachings to try to persuade, no more exasperation about "ye of little faith." The resurrected Jesus mostly simply appears to people. He shows his wounds to Thomas; he has a meal with the disciples; he tells Peter to “tend my sheep.” Mostly it’s just appearing: just being there, and shining a light of love. That’s not the activity of reason and rationality. It represents instead the liberation from the insatiable need to figure out this, and then figure out that, develop a strategy for accomplishing some purpose – all the things that reason is good for. He simply sees, and is seen, and his being itself blesses.

Jesus' death represents a loss of reason in a very different way from zombies' loss of reason. Jesus transcends the half-way house of reason into complete liberation. His death/resurrection represents the death of the rational ego, which marshals concepts, advances claims, and works so hard to preserve its self-identity. Zombies, by contrast, are pulled out of the half-way house of reason into complete enslavement. Their death/reanimation represents the loss of the autonomy that comes with reasoning ability.

Living in the rational mind is a half-way house, for reason does liberate us from many of the chains of the mind. The zombie stories told by oppressed and by oppressor illustrate the ways that without autonomy, without being able to think for ourselves, to reason for ourselves about what to do, and the freedom to act on our rational decision-making, we are undead, alive yet not alive, the living dead. And forces of oppression that deprive others of that freedom risk triggering unreasoning, brain-eating reprisal.

Yet life in the rational mind is only a half-way house, which, though it be not as constraining as prison, isn’t fully free either. Rationality cannot get us the rest of the way to freedom. We use rational concepts to cut through certain chains, but then we become attached to those concepts, and end up bound and limited by them. Only love gets us the rest of the way to liberation: unreasoning, uncalculating love.

Without reason, we are undead.

Without love – the love that knows no reason and has no purpose – we are also undead, alive yet not alive, the living dead.

That is my Easter message. May we indeed be risen.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Jesus, Zombies, and the Half-way House of Reason"
Previous: Part 2: "The Dead Live"
Beginning: Part 1: "Waking Up on Easter Morning"

For a more orthodox approach to "Zombies vs. Jesus" see here.