On Zombies and Scripture
Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with a couple fellow Conciliar Posters for an all-too-brief book club meeting over Google Hangouts. I was a little surprised—and more than a little nervous—about the book the choice; it was a book I wrote. Well, it’s the book I wrote, as currently there is only one. It’s called Genesis of the Dead, and in it I reimagine the early histories told in the Bible as a madcap adventure where all the heroes just so happen to be zombies. It’s a serious book with a silly premise. . .or perhaps a silly book with a serious premise. It’s not too bad if you’re looking for a laugh, if I do say so myself.
Now, I am a shy person, and being in the hot seat tends to shut down my cognitive faculties. On top of this crippling timidity, I also have the misfortunate of being somewhat of a cyborg: I keep a great deal of my brain in notebooks and computer hard drives, and when asked a question without being plugged in to my external memory, I’m afraid that my answers tend to suffer from clumsiness, inaccuracy, and a tendency to ramble. Because of this, I’d like to revisit the question asked by our managing editor, Jacob Prahlow, in written form. I’m often asked this same thing, and my response is often unhelpful. In today’s piece, I will provide more fleshed out (hah! zombie pun!) to the question, “Where did the idea come from?”
We must blame Paul. I am sorry to throw the Apostle to the Gentiles under the bus like that, but I insist that the whole enterprise is his doing and I am just a poor, hapless stooge who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, sure, I wrote the darn thing, all 270 some pages of it; in truth, I am the unwitting accomplice. As I explained during the book club chat, I am more like the midwife of the book than its parent.
So, what birthed this strange project of mine? It was Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. A couple summers back, while I read through the letter sitting on the carpet of our dining room floor—we had recently moved across the country and our furniture had not yet caught up with us—a line leapt out and seized my imagination by the throat:
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” (Col 2:13)
Paul says that the state of “trespass” and “uncircumcision,” of separation from God, is death. It is not disunity or a broken friendship. We are not discussing a mere legal separation or divorce or disinheritance. The state of separation from God is death. The heart is not beating. The person who is in rebellion with God may as well be in a coffin, though they walk above ground. This is not an isolated metaphor, but a theme that runs throughout Paul’s letters.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1-7)
Again Paul describes the state of trespass and sin as death. This passage from Ephesians, which I reread shortly after Colossians, developed the idea in my mind that sin is a sort of un-life or walking death. It is a miserable state of being, lying somewhere in the penumbra of terminal illness and the end of bodily consciousness. This death is not non-existence, or pure unconsciousness, but a pained, unenlightened state and a separation from God, who is the fountain of life, and with that separation comes a loss of both spiritual faculties and our identities as creatures made to commune with their creator. To be apart from God is to be wretched. It is to lurch and shamble about life, finding only temporary satisfaction for bodily desires. There is always something missing, an inchoate feeling that there is something more to life than answering the body’s calls.
To walk in sin is to walk in death. Those who are apart from God, then, are the walking dead. They are the zombies. Until we are buried and raised with Christ, we, too, are zombies. Ask any convert: there is a vitality to the Christian life that cannot be found elsewhere.
The passages above were the main inspiration for the conceit of Genesis of the Dead. Before I finish, I would like to say a word on the frame of the story as a whole. For that, we turn to Romans:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12-19)
Though Eastern and Western Christian traditions differ on the exact mechanics of how Adam’s rebellion affected creation, we all agree that it was, to put it lightly, bad. Man’s defiance in the Garden intractably altered both his relationship to God and his very being. He became subject to the elements. Worse, he became an exile: he was no longer privileged to the joyful, intimate relationship to God that he enjoyed in the Garden. All his descendants were likewise afflicted.
However, as death came into the world through one man, so through one man, the new Adam, comes life for all men. Genesis of the Dead begins with a single man’s trespass, which turns all humanity into zombies. By the end of the trilogy, we will see how “zombie-kind” returns to life through one man as well.
My hope is that this post has given readers a clearer idea of where the general concept for my book came from and how that concept is based on Pauline theology. It is, admittedly, a broad overview, and it may lead to more questions than it answers, but it is at least an accurate account of the, er, genesis of Genesis of the Dead.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.