The book/discussion group I’m in is currently reading zombie fiction and a collection of philosophical essays. In our first meeting we talked about and defined some terms and ideas. What is a zombie? Are zombies human? Are zombies evil?
We’re a mixed group, some with little to no pop culture knowledge of zombies and vampires. Others have quite of lot of TV, movies and literature under our belts. The driving question is why are we so fascinated with the undead? What does it say about our beliefs and spirituality in this modern world? We’re focusing on zombies at the moment but plan to discuss vampires later as their own group.
A friend at work simplified it in one fell-swoop. “It’s because cannibalism is the ultimate taboo.” I think that is true to a certain extent, but it doesn’t explain all of it.
Last week, we started our discussion by working on a definition of spirituality, what does it mean to be spiritual? We also talked about soul and afterlife. This matters because the philosophical essay we'd just read was about the "Badness of Undeath." Meaning, why is being dead better than being undead. Obviously, if you believe in heaven, you want to be there, enjoying your death in a new pleasant form of existence. Being undead means that you are just back here again as this unthinking, falling apart, rotting body that shambles around trying to eat people.
There are a lot of theological problems associated with becoming undead.
We also explored the idea that zombies function in two ways: as metaphor and as plot device to advance a message. Metaphor = science gone wrong. Plot device for we can’t trust the government not to kill or damage us with their chemicals, vaccines etc. therefore government = bad.
I think our fascination points to things even bigger. Fear of death, uncertainty of afterlife, ambiguous messages about soul, refusal to think for ourselves about these things, the idea that it doesn't matter what I've done or been in this life I might still be a brain-eating zombie. I don’t know for sure, but I know that it leads to me to think about things worse than death, and the poem by Sharon Olds Things That Are Worse Than Death
If you can't think of anything, ask the next zombie or vampire you meet.