By: Fr. Paul Scalia
What is the fascination with zombies? They keep coming at us in movies and video games. Other monsters – Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires – do not enjoy the same endurance in popular entertainment. Just when you think the theme has run its course, another zombie movie comes out. Kind of like zombies themselves, the long-since-dead genre keeps plodding along – mindlessly, lifelessly…feeding off the living.
And yet zombies do have this to recommend them: they serve as a good summary of our culture. Zombies have two essential qualities: they are dead and they eat the living. They are mindless beings with a perverse appetite. And that nicely summarizes our culture: mindlessly seeking to satisfy its appetite by feeding off the fruits of a prior civilization.
Consider the dominance of sloth in our culture (noted by writers here, here and here). Sloth makes us zombies. The body still functions and seeks to satisfy its appetites, but the soul is effectively dead. We remain sentient beings but spend our time avoiding reality and seeking only to be entertained. The greatest example of this is the pornography epidemic. As Mary Eberstadt observes, the scourge of pornography owes more to sloth than to lust. It is the zombie that consumes porn, not the Casanova. A porn-addict resembles a zombie: the vacant stare, the relentless appetite, the consumption of the living…click, click, click.
“For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead.” So says Binx Bolling in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer – referring to those who walk through life without thought, reflection, or any deliberate choice for what makes for distinctly human life. We do not need to sink to porn addiction to become zombies. We need only slouch into our desires, allowing ourselves to be drawn wherever our appetites lead. Thus, many of us go through life failing to pray, lift our minds to the divine, or consider eternal truths. As E. F. Schumacher observed decades ago, instead of being the programmers, who deliberately set a course and follow it, we have become like computer programs themselves – running mindlessly on a given course, without reflection or act of the will.
As a result, we have become intellectual zombies. Almost a century ago Chesterton observed, “Drawing a line is the beginning of philosophy, as it is the beginning of art.” Problem is, the modern mind lacks the intellectual energy to draw a line – that is, to make a distinction – and defend it. Reasoned dialogue has departed the public square because it requires intellectual effort. Hence the swift acceptance of “gay marriage.” We have proceeded like intellectual zombies, unable to make distinctions (for example, between man and woman) and feeding mindlessly off pat phrases (“The right side of history…Marriage equality…Love is love”).
Alas, we also attend Mass as intellectual zombies. We sit there – large appetites, empty intellects – but do not engage the mind or will. We hear saving truths proclaimed, amazing stories told, and yet we do not engage or think. We reduce worship of the Triune God to good feelings, seeking entertainment more than salvation.
In the end, it is sin that makes us zombies. Perhaps that is why zombies intrigue us: they show what we are when steeped in sin. Sin darkens the intellect, weakens the will, throws our appetites out of whack, and inclines us to evil. More to the point, it kills the soul. Sin renders us the living dead. And perhaps another thing zombies teach us is the contagion of sin. Just as the zombie state proliferates, so does sin (cf. CCC 1869). The more a society becomes enslaved to sin, the more it becomes zombieland. Christ alone delivers us from this – individually, and as a society.
Therefore, stay awake! (Mt 24:42) No surprise, then, that Scripture so often exhorts us to wakefulness and vigilance. The zombie state is basically spiritual sleep, when intellect and will no longer function. Our Lord’s command shakes us from our slumber – from our lifeless, appetitive existence. To get us out of zombieland.
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.