On the plane next to me sat a young man watching a newly released movie: World War Z. I discovered it is one of the many new movies in our nation’s recent zombie craze. I remember watching a couple of these types of movies when the craze was beginning, films like I Am Legend and 28 Days Later. Now there are television shows, internet memes, and I’m sure even greeting cards that one can purchase featuring zombies.
But why? What is our fascination with zombies?
I asked myself this question while sitting next to the young man on the airplane. I watched pieces of the movie, though with no audio and attempted to analyze my own heart and our culture. Most pop-culture is quite shallow and few would argue that point, but even in its silly glitz and glamour, it subconsciously offers interesting insights into the American psyche.
From what I’ve seen, it seems that in these movies the unaffected, sane people scramble from shelter to shelter, looking for some safe place in which they can be protected from the mass of mindless, infected hordes.
I observe a recurrent fear that exists even outside of zombie land: someone else’s sickness (aka their ideology) may infect me, hurt me and/or cause me to lose myself.
As one friend jokingly told me, “Everyone is neurotic except me and you, and I’m not too certain about you…” It is a mindset we all carry with us.
So we hide in mental fortresses of philosophy, science, and religion (yes, even Orthodox Christianity). We find intelligent sounding answers that explain the neurotic state of those around us, and we are affirmed that we are not part of this barbaric, sick horde. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard Abba Anthony quoted to support this mindset when he said,
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”
All of this fortress building and fear of the others has dire consequences. It prevents us from carrying out the Lord’s great commandment to truly love one another by creating an “us vs. them” mentality. It also makes us ignorant of the fact that within our hearts we already possess the monster: the dreaded zombie lives within us. The band Skillet had a hit single called “Monster” in which the lead singer comes to this recognition:
It’s scratching on the walls
In the closet, in the halls
It comes awake
And I can’t control it
Hiding under the bed
In my body, in my head
Why won’t somebody come and save me from this?
Make it end!
I feel it deep within,
It’s just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I hate what I’ve become
The nightmare’s just begun
I must confess that I feel like a monster
Our pursuit of the philosophical or religious fortress is a means of denial that temporarily keeps us safe from the monster living, breathing, and seething within. But the problem is that once we lock the doors of the fortress, we are locked inside with the monster.
We attempt to medicate or excuse our bouts of depression, our anger at ourselves and others, our habitual sins, and our perverse attitude toward God’s created things and His Children. “Oh, everybody has their struggles,” we say with a dismissive shrug, and so the monster laughs within while we hide from these thoughts, feelings, words, and actions of ours that honestly scare us.
Brad Pitt won’t save us this time. We are already infected, and we do need a savior.
And so we turn to the only human who has never had the zombie within, the only man who is more than willing to walk with us through the sometimes-violent and ugly treatment of this internal monster: the God-man Jesus Christ.
Abba Macarius of Egypt states it beautifully:
The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.
We must not hide from our hearts. Yes, the zombie is there, and it is very dangerous. It will be painful to look upon it at times. The internal journey is for everyone, but not everyone will embark upon it. It requires brutal honesty on our part, and loving spiritual guidance from a mentor. But also within us is the God-man reaching out, empowering us, healing us, saving us, and loving us dearly.
And as we progress along this journey, we will find that we are literally being united to God in this beautiful process called theosis. It is easy to feel discouraged about not being able to progress along very well; anyone who goes on this journey will at times feel frustrated. But as Archimandrite George of Mt Athos said,
It is not so important exactly how far we progress. Our struggle itself, which God blesses abundantly, has value both in the present age and in the age to come.
In other words, the point is not that we must finish this life as an inspiring saint, but that we are on the journey to theosis: that each time we fall we repent and get back up. That is how we fight the monster.