Zombies for the Love of God

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I don't know what is true or noble or pure or lovely about zombies, but I love zombies. When I was in middle school, I had this crazy teacher at church named Mr. Noah. Really that was his name, and he spent an hour every week decoding the world around us.

“Don’t watch the smurfs,” he’d say. “They are satanic.”

You can imagine the puzzled looks on our faces. Papa Smurf was a nice guy. It was a little weird all those guy smurfs living with just one smurfette. But satanic? It seemed a bit much to call them satanic.

According to Mr. Noah, culture was filled with the devil, who especially enjoyed hiding in the places that seemed most innocent of all. Smurfs. ALF. Certain Christian rock groups like Stryper were actually satan worshippers in disguise. (Remember Stryper? They’re still touring!)

You’d think with all of these warnings from Mr. Noah, I would not have fallen in love with zombies, part of American culture that seems to be clearly satanic. Zombies scare me, but I confess that I love them. How is that possible? What could possibly be good about ultraviolent movies and books where undead people wander the earth eating the last few survivors? This is not uplifting culture. This is not what Christians are supposed to like. What is true or noble or pure or lovely about zombies?

Yet, I like zombies. Maybe this would be a problem for some people. They might think I’m a bad person for enjoying zombies. My kids love it when I tell the zombie story about the night when every adult in town suddenly turns into a zombie. It’s Lord of the Flies meets Night of the Living Dead. A lot Christians might think that is sick. They wouldn’t like my son’s stuffed plush zombie ugly doll either, I’d bet. We’re a weird bunch at my house.

Mr. Noah would probably call us satanic, but I think that’s a harsh word. We use it to label people and ideas as monstrous so we can shoot them and hate them and have a good excuse why we don't need to sit down at the same table and drink a cup of coffee together. Eventually, people who know me will have that cup of coffee and ask. “Why zombies?” I’m not really sure.

I could blame George Romero and Dawn of the Dead, a masterpiece of ultraviolence. That’s what Presbyterian Minister Ryan Mecum does in the haiku acknowledgements of Zombie Haiku:

To George Romero: Because of you, I’m screwed up. Thanks for your movies.

I think Ryan and I would get along pretty well. In fact, just this week, Ryan agreed to write an article I’m sure his spiritual insights will be as incredible as his Zombie Haiku. In his bio at, he states it very simply: “I like scary monsters. I also like other stuff like lightning bugs and carneys. I also like comics. I also like God. I work for a ministry called YoungLife. I like to talk to teenagers about scary monsters, lightning bugs, carneys, comics, and God.”

But I can still hear some of your scratching your head. Finding another weirdo doesn’t justify my weirdness. “Why zombies?” you insist.

We could also ask Merrie Destefano. She won the writer of the year award at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writing Conference just a few weeks ago, and she’s really good. Maybe you’ve seen her most recent book: How to Draw Zombies. That’s where the post image comes from, by the way. It’s a promotional image from a stunningly beautiful book, if you can find any beauty in rotting zombies. How to Draw Zombies is like a graphic novel only nonfiction. I need to warn you, though, the zombies Mike Butkis drew for this book are not pretty. They are not Bob Ostrom's cartoon zombie. These pictures do not flinch from death, and neither does Merrie's prose.

In the first section, she writes,

“They were human once, these beasts that populate the cinema screen, the modern novel, and the occasional nightmare. They lived, they laughed, they loved, they died—then a legendary plot twist came along: they didn’t stay in the grave … If this mythic monster keeps you awake at night, it’s probably because it contains slivers of all the scariest legends… the macabre roots of the zombie legend began long, long ago, in an age when all our stories were told in whispers, when men and women crouched in fear of the capricious gods they worshipped.”

What we fear teaches us a lot about what we worship. We can pretend our monsters don’t exist, but that lie won't help us prepare to fight them. We can also pretend our monsters are just smurfs and puppet aliens and bands that sing To Hell with the Devil (that would be Stryper again).

The real monsters aren’t out there. They are inside.

Kierkegaard said the line of good and evil runs down the center of every one of us. That is what makes zombies so scary. Merrie Destefano said, “They were human once.”

On bad days, I wake up and think to myself, “I was human once.” On bad days I look around in church and think, “When did we turn into zombies?” Christians may claim eternal life, but most of us are rotting. We eat each other. We eat ourselves. We’ve gone numb.

I think about the story I tell my kids. When they wake up Saturday morning the first thing they find is Dad reading the paper at the kitchen table. His coffee has gone cold, but he isn't drinking it anyway. He doesn't look too much different than his normal disengaged self, only he’s a zombie now. He looks alive, but he's dead inside, and it is only a matter of time before death takes control. Sometimes our story is too close to the truth.

The monster is inside me more often than I would like to admit. Who will save me from this body of death? If I weren’t already one of them, I could grab a chainsaw or a sword or a shotgun. But I’ve got the sickness myself. Like Kim Paffenroth, I need a Gospel of the Living Dead. What is less redeemable than a zombie? Nobody offers grace to the zombies. Aim for the head. No mercy. After all, they aren’t real people anymore. They were people once. But now they are monsters.

What if they could become people again? What if there was hope for the zombies? I’ve not yet seen a story like this. Once a zombie, always a zombie. Redemption never comes cheap, and I can’t imagine believable zombie redemption. But I need to be able to imagine it. I need to believe there is hope for the zombies, or else there’s no hope for me.

“Zombie Basics” image from How to Draw Zombies.