'World War Z' prompts reevaluation of zombie flicks

The fascination with zombies in pop culture can be disturbing, especially for older Christians.

Some believers view stories about the undead as evil and demonic.

The knee-jerk reaction of these individuals is to stay far, far away from zombie tales or any other horror genre lest they somehow end up battling with the devil.

Yet, zombies are regularly featured today in movies, on television and in novels. They're hard to avoid in modern entertainment.

Therefore, I shouldn't have been surprised when the second movie of a double feature at the Saturday cinema was centered on ravenous, fast-moving and will-less human beings bent on cannibalizing any living people nearby.

I had originally gone to the theatre to see "Star Trek: Into the Darkness" and had no intention of seeing Brad Pitt's summertime vehicle, "World War Z."

However, how I miss the second feature on offer on a holiday weekend.

Shortly after Brad Pitt and his fictional Lane family met up with twitching zombies in Philadelphia's chaotic streets, I was beginning to think the producers of "World War Z" also should have included the "Into the Darkness" subtitle when they developed the moniker for their movie.

As an older Christian, I wrestled with the thought of leaving, but found the film so intriguing, I stayed.


Still, I wondered afterwards whether or not I should have walked out. This anxiety led me to investigate what other Christians are thinking about this influx of zombies into our modern world.

What I learned surprised me.

By and large, pastors and other believing bloggers and thinkers aren't recommending that Christians embrace this horror genre. But they are advising that those who view stories about zombies learn positive spiritual lessons from them.

Catholic film critic David Dicerto asked in the Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) webzine in 2012, "So what is it about zombies that has, excuse the pun, taken hold of our brains?"

He noted that some observers think that the current fascination with the undead is the result of people's anxiety over today's social and economic realities.

However, Dicerto said that fellow Catholic blogger and critic Jimmy Akin believes this view is erroneous.

"I think it's a mistake to read the current interest in zombies as tied to present social and psychological trends," Akin said in OSV.

He noted that "literature invariably incorporates elements of the time in which it was produced.

''Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead', for example, has an unmistakable subtext involving race relations."

Modern zombie treatments include 9/11 themes. But it's a mistake to see these as being 'about' the incidental subjects they treat. They are 'about' the walking dead and how terrifying it would be to encounter them. This is one of those situations where a cigar is just a cigar."

On the other hand, according to Dicerto, Akin admitted that "even flesh-eating fiends can provide teachable moments to explore aspects of our faith."

For example, one of the lessons people can learn from zombie entertainment is that man was not meant for the grave.

"Zombies are compelling because they take one of our most powerful fears - death - and confront us with it in a particular disturbing way, "Akin noted.

Dicerto added, "As Catholics we believe in a God 'of the living, not the dead' (Mt 22:32) and that death was not part of God's original plan, but the consequence of sin. We affirm with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that, 'Life is real! Life is earnest!' And the grave is not its goal.


"But for our utterly secular society, zombies perhaps serve as both a modern memento mori, and a subconscious way of expressing existential dread and an inherent rejection of the materialistic notion that death is the true end of our existence."

American Reformed pastor and seminary professor R. Scott Clark agrees that the zombie craze provides people a face-to-face encounter with the issues of life and death, in a culture that is no longer Christian.

"The apparently seriousness that underlies the popular and light-hearted fascination of the walking dead reveals something about a deep inner desire of the human heart: life after death," Clark writes in a post on his blog. "Sadly, after Kant and Comte, the best we can imagine is zombies."

The acceptance of the ideas of these philosophers, he notes, contributed to today's post-Christian worldview.

Clark indicates that Comte viewed the world as closed and that for Kant, God was nothing but a limiting category, a useful notion but empty of any particular (and especially) redemptive, actual, historical truth.

"This means that, when we talk to pagans about the reality of the resurrection their frame of reference is more likely to be zombies than the Exodus or Easter.

"We need to explain, especially to those under 30, that zombies are not actually real and that Jesus, when he was raised from the dead, was not a zombie."

Heath Adamson, Assemblies of God National Youth Ministries director also sees an opportunity in the zombie fad, even though he believes it is counterfeit spirituality and demonic.

"I've seen people who were demonized, and as a Christian I've exercised authority in Jesus' name," Adamson said in Charisma News. "There's nothing fun or entertaining about the demonic world. Once we encounter the truth of Christ, counterfeit spirituality is no longer attractive.

"I'm more encouraged than discouraged," he said. "There has never been a generation more ripe for a Pentecostal expression of the Gospel. Our culture is fixated on the supernatural.

"The Holy Spirit is the true form of what Satan is trying to counterfeit with this undead trend. Rather than talking about what we're against, we need to talk about who Jesus is and what we stand for."

Apparently, a lot of Christians are viewing zombie movies along with their unbelieving friends.

Views such as those offered by Akin, Clark and Adamson encourage hesitant believers like me to join them in watching zombie-oriented entertainment because it can provide opportunities for sharing the Gospel.

Encouragement also comes from Lutheran pastor Ted Geise, who reviewed "World War Z" on the website of his Canadian church and found redeeming qualities in the story.

The Christian viewer need not fear Zombies, said Geise, because of the Scriptural teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans which says that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Geise also praised the family values portrayed in the movie.

"The unexpected gem in this film is the Lane family – a family where the mom and dad love each other, raise their children together in a loving and firm way, and where the children love each other and honor their parents to the best of their abilities," he said.

"The drama doesn't come from a family melting down under pressure but rather from a family strengthened in the face of hardship and adversity. This is a rare thing in Hollywood and the Christian who views this movie will find this interesting.

Geise added, "If zombies aren't your cup you'll want to skip this one. If, however, you enjoy zombie fiction then 'World War Z' may be for you. "

Brad Pitt and his film didn't convert me into an avid fan of zombie movies. However, his depiction of a caring husband, father and world changer and other positive aspects of "World War Z" made it enjoyable.

It also provided me with a means to reevaluate my preconceived notions of the zombie genre.

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