MonthJanuary 2014

World War Z is not a Zombie Film

I liked Word War Z.

Brad Pitt was pretty good and because he was in it, my wife would see the movie with me.  And that’s a good thing.

I especially liked the representation of the zombies which embodied the characteristics of both raging water and marauding ants.  This combination was new and interesting and scary.

I liked it, and there were zombies in it, but it wasn’t a zombie movie.

Zombie Movie or Movie with Zombies?

I make this claim because it doesn’t line up with some of the most important characteristics established by the first modern zombie movie, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and most of the zombie movies that followed.

In a true zombie movie, there is no immediately identifiable cause for the zombie infestation.  Characters often speculate, but there’s no definitive answer.  To have a cause would confer meaning on the catastrophe and the true zombie movie is far more interested in shredding meaning along with the living flesh of the victims.

In World War Z, where Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, sets out to find the cause of the zombie infestation.  If a cause can be identified, a solution will certainly follow.  Gerry Lane’s courage, character, and analytical skills result in his discovery of the cause and through the greater power of science, the menace is eradicated.

This sort of optimism is not found in zombie movies.

The true zombie movie is fundamentally about how all the things in which we put our faith are inadequate. Government, friendship, money, true love, God, these things are all equally ineffective in helping us with the zombies.  Zombie movies are sort of depressing that way, but its what they are about.

In World War Z we go back to that old savior of modernity, science.  A true zombie movie is anti-modern, but this one is an affirmation of our faith that science will solve all our problems.

A second way in which World War Z strays from the conventions of zombie narratives is its view of human beings.  This movie contains several examples of humans playing nicely with others.  The most poignant of which is Israel’s response to the crisis.  Because of their foresight, they’ve built a huge wall and have systems in place to keep the zombies at bay.  They are safe and secure.  The incredible part of the story is that they’ve opened up their gates to help the rest of humanity–the neighbours on that cul-de-sac don’t usually get along at all.  Even more poignant is this “love your neighbour” attitude results in the annihilation of Israel (this sort of irony is typical of zombie movies).  Almost everywhere Lane goes, he runs across people who are basically good, often scared, but good.

The idea that human beings are essentially good is exactly the opposite presentment of humanity in a true zombie movie.  Usually, once the doors are secured and the windows boarded up, the zombies would cease to be a problem if it weren’t for the actual people who are with you behind the barricades.  Here the selfishness and fear and pettiness and every other human vice are amplified by the threat of the zombies outside the door.  To make matters worse, there is almost always a pack of hoodlums, bent on exploiting the absence of authority.  The living are more of a threat to the survival of the protagonists than are the zombies.  Movies in the zombie genre are consistent in their portrayal of humanity as selfish and brutal.  Again, World War Z goes back about (about a hundred years) to claim that human beings are inherently good.

I don’t think any of this accidental–someone involved in the making of this move is optimistic about human nature and has faith that science will ultimately save us.  Or perhaps, given the environmental, political and economic concerns under which we travail, perhaps the filmmakers wanted to encourage us with a story where we come out on top after some very difficult times.

That’s fine.  And I enjoyed this very aspect of the movie, but that doesn’t make it a zombie movie, just a movie with zombies.

The Bible Supports Slavery?

Slavery and Christianity

I don’t care who does it; it makes me crazy.

The sacrifice of truth for the sake of argument.

This billboard is a case in point.

In an attempt to discredit the Bible, the makers of this billboard equate first-century slavery with American slavery that ended in the 18th century.

Further, this billboard illustrates the hermeneutical crime of “proof-texting,” and therefore missing the entire point of Colossians 3:22.

The device presented on the billboard was used in the Americas a few hundred years ago.  The hooks protruding from the collar “are placed to prevent an escapee when pursued in the woods and to hinder them from laying down the head to procure rest” (reference).  This is one of the ugliest faces of one of the ugliest periods of human history.

First-Century Slavery

Many centuries separate this slavery from  that of the first-century slavery:

 In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.          —Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.

I am not saying that slavery in the Roman world was equivalent to staying at an all-inclusive resort, but it is irresponsible to evoke all the repugnance of post-Enlightenment slavery when talking about the ancient practice of bond-servanthood.

Does St. Paul Advocate Slavery?

Although this comparison is unfair, it really isn’t the point, because Paul is not advocating slavery even of the Roman variety.

When I was in grade school and I felt that the teacher had treated me unfairly, my parents weren’t nearly as concerned with the unfairness of the teacher as with my response to it.  They made it clear to me that the general principles regarding my relationship with those in authority were still in play.  Like my parents, Paul has other priorities and they are not really all that obscure for those who wish to find them.

The billboard suggests that if Paul were against slavery, he would have preached against it.  Since he mentioned it, but didn’t oppose it, he must have been in favour of it.

Paul must have supported slavery because he mentioned it and didn't oppose it. Logically the Bible supports, then, supports slavery in all its forms.Click To Tweet

Paul’s Purpose in Colossians 3:22

But Paul’s purpose in Colossians is to explore the implications of a life in Christ, not to reform society.  Paul knew that once a person experiences the love and grace of God in Jesus, everything changes.  One is no longer a slave to sin but received as a child adopted into the family of the King.  We move from slaves to sons and daughters (even if we remain slaves in society).

This message was such a big deal to Paul that he endured treatment worse that most slave would have.  He was beaten and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Obviously, Paul had other priorities than simply being free.

The makers of the billboard are proof-texting: taking isolated passages of the Bible and use them to justify one’s own views.  In Christian circles, proof-texting is considered lazy and irresponsible.  When Christians use the Bible in this way they can come up with some of the worst forms of religious evil possible.  A case in point, the Christian slave owners in the American south (We’ve seen this recently in the film, 12 Years a Slavemy comments here).  Ironically, just like the slave owners, the makers of the billboard are proof-texting; they are taking a verse completely out of context to justify their views.

The “Christian” slave owners are an example of the great evil that can be done when the Bible is used irresponsibly.  This type of Biblical misreading results in reprehensible behavior that held justifiably condemned, but also results in charges leveled against Christianity by the critics of religion.

I don’t see how it helps the conversation when the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Non-Believers engage in the same behavior as the worst of their religious opponents.

Conequences of Naturalism

HBO-True-Detective

Here’s a great bit of dialogue from HBO’s new drama, True Detective, that aired this past weekend.   The principals, two Louisiana CID detectives, drive through a rundown Louisiana neighbourhood.

Reacting to the setting, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) mutters, “There’s all kinds of ghettos in the world.”    (View video. Warning: there is some strong language)

His partner, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) replies, “It’s all one ghetto, man, a giant gutter in outer space”  When pressed, he explains his philosophical perspective:

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.  We became too self-aware.  Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself.  We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. . . .  We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self.  A secretion of sensory experience and feeling programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody.  When in fact, everybody is nobody. . . . I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming–stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction one last midnight, brothers and sisters, opting out of a raw deal.

Philosophical Pessimism

Cohle describes this worldview as philosophical pessimism.   It starts with naturalism, the belief that all is material and material is all there is.  According to naturalism, there is no God, nor anything one could call spirit.  There are also no transcendent ideals like The Good, The True and The Beautiful.  If you carry it a little further, there is no natural basis for identity, purpose or meaning.

Denial of God, need not be as bleak as this–one can still believe in friends and family.  One can still enjoy art and believe in the power of reason.  And fight for freedom and equality, and against poverty and oppression.  But I think Cohle would say that people who maintain this sort of optimism are avoiding the logical consequences of their naturalism.

Cohle does not smuggle Christian conceptions of human dignity and equality into his view of humanity, nor does he wrap his view of life in the warm blanket of meaning and purpose.  He accepts that without the transcendent, life is a tragic accident, it has no purpose or meaning and identity is an illusion.

I look forward to how this philosophy runs up against Hart’s very nominal Christianity as they investigate the actions of a serial killer.

Nazi Zombies

I’ve watched Dead Snow (2009).  In it, a horde of frozen Nazi zombies attacks a group of young people in their mountain retreat.

If I recall correctly, the zombies aren’t just the zombified remains of a WWII German army killed in a mountain pass; they are still ideologically Nazis.

Or at least, really, really mean.

Movies that feature Nazi zombies, and the other bad guy zombies–Imperial Japanese, Soviet Russian, and Viet Cong varieties–are not zombie movies.  They are movies with zombies.

At least, they aren’t real zombies if they maintain their ideological nastiness.

Yes, I am old school–the true zombie is the Romero zombie (Night of the Living Dead [1968]).  These are the standard by which all other zombies are to be measured.

As I’ve written earlier, zombies cannot be fit into categories of evil.  Zombies are monsters that embody philosophical materialism, a philosophy for which there is no room for moral classification of evil.  Nazis are evil.  Zombies can’t be evil.  There is no such thing as Nazi zombies, only zombies wearing Nazi clothes.

Zombies are monsters that embody philosophical materialism, a philosophy for which there is no room for moral classification of evil. Nazis are evil. Zombies can't be evil. There is no such thing as Nazi zombies, only zombies wearing Nazi clothes.Click To Tweet

Zombies are only hungry, they are not evil.

Nazi zombies break the rule.   When they don Nazi ideology with the uniform, they aren’t true zombies.

The film Dead Snow goes so far as to imbue its zombies in a stereotypical Nazi hatred of, well . . . everybody, and also gives them, if I recall, a revenge narrative.

Perhaps we are not comfortable with a monster that isn’t evil; we cannot face the implications of our own worldviews that the zombie monster interrogates.

But just because we hid under the blanket, doesn’t mean the monsters disappear.

Next Zombie Post: World War Z is not a Zombie Film

Does Religion Divide us?

Photo by Jose Maria Garcia Garcia on Upslpash

John Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion.  I think the reason he wanted to get rid of religion is because he dreamed of a world united by love and he thought that religion divides us.

 Debate.org wonders the same thing.  They asked the question: Does religion divide the world?  73% of those responding said yes.

Why does religion divide?  One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that

“Religion is another form of categorizing.  Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .

It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.

Religious beliefs definitely divide us in exactly the way that AbdulRaufw4lr6s says it does.  But this is not only a characteristic of religion.  Whenever someone claims and exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.

Truth Claims Can Divide

Everyone makes truth claims–decide between exclusive beliefs–and when they do, they will create categories.  These categories aren’t usually as either/or as we make them, but they do create camps.  These can lead to hatred and disunity.

“Jesus or Mohammad”

“Liberal or Conservative”

“Republican or Democrat”

“Theist or Atheist”

“Ford or Chevy”

“Ginger or Maryann”

Some of these are more exclusive than others, but the issue is not whether or not one will hold to an exclusive belief; the issue is to which an exclusive set of beliefs will one hold.  We can be nice about all these categories, but John Lennon had it right, we tend not to be nice.

So, as long as we make any claims for truth, we are stuck with the categories.  So is there no hope for the peace and unity of which John Lennon imagines?

The Differences that Lead to Unity

Christianity is different than all other religions, and these differences are humanity’s best bet to achieve peace and unity.

  1. The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity, it is God himself.  This God became a human being and was killed on our behalf.  We are saved because of what he did, not on what we do.  In all other religions the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never deserve it.
  2. Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin “the whole process of giving definition and categorization” as described by           AbdulRaufw4lr6s.  People who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than anyone else, probably worse.  If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
  3. Most other religions point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity.  Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life.  By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world.  He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us.  Consequently, Christians desire and work for the flourishing of others; they are generous with their time and money. If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about the environment, for instance, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have misunderstood the gospel.

Jesus came into a divided world.  There were tremendous divisions between Jew and Greek and rich and poor. But because of the differences between Christianity and other religions, the early Church mixed races and socioeconomic classes.  This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever.  How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?

All truth claims create divisions and categories.  Religions usually do this as well, but the truth claims concerning Jesus Christ do not.  These differences, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth of which John Lennon sang.

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