Church at the movies part 1: Zombie attack

One of the wonderful things about our society is that it does a good line in metaphor. Although I dont personally like horror movies as a genre, I do appreciate some of the wonderful totemic images that horror fiction and films have produced.

Horror’s early appropriation of the Frankenstein story for instance is a good one – Frankenstein’s creation of the monster as a metaphor for  technological advancement works very well. Whenever there is a scare about GM crops for instance, they are instantly dubbed ‘Frankenstein Foods’ – alliteration aside its a perfect shorthand image.

But the image I want to consider today is not Frankenstein or his creature, but rather that ever present symbol of the dreaded undead – Zombies.

Dawn of the dead

I am not sure if I witnessed it myself, or just remember hearing about it, but I have a distant memory of a ‘visiting preacher’ turning up to lead an evening service at the Baptist church I went to as a kid, and declaring: ‘It’s a good thing that Jesus can raise the dead, because there are a lot of dead people in here tonight!’

On reflection that was probably unfair, I very much doubt there were a lot of people at the meeting.

However, after having observed a number of congregations, in all kinds of different settings over 30+ years of church attendance I can kind of identify with the idea of having seen the undead in church.

Lets head back to the question of metaphor – what do zombies represent? Well the usual cultural reference point in this case is George Romero’s 1978 Classic ‘Dawn of the Dead’. It is not to be overlooked that Romero chose to set his Zombie movie primarily in a shopping mall. The mall, invented in the 1960s and by the late 1970s already a symbol of humanity’s slavery or liberation (you choose) by consumerism. Yes that’s right, consumerism, whichever way you look at it, whether it empowers the individual or enslaves society, that is the setting for Zombies.

Zombies are wonderful representatives of the consumer. They stagger through the mall, mindless and drooling and desperate to gorge themselves on the flesh of the living. Rather like the queues which form outside new year sales, where people line the streets desperate to get in and get the bargain (never mind the blood shed and evnironmental devastation in the making of the product) there have even been a number of instances where people have been injured in the crush of such shopping frenzies.

So, back to the pews. Are there zombies in church? Well for most of us there’s comfort in knowing there arent all that many people in church anyway, so its easy to spot a zombie hoard – but if were to extend the metaphor, have we created a church which is an attractive mall for drooling consumers?

One of the problems with trying to create ‘seeker friendly’ services and ‘church experiences’ is that we can, conciously or unconciously, adopt the consumer model. How can we entice the passing trade? What can we do that’s eye catching and entertaining? How can we increase brand awareness? What are the best deals and offers we can promote? These are variously shown to be be effective or ineffective at enticing people through the doors, and in some cases the passing buyer may take up the special offer and choose to buy into the brand. But is that a healthy way of creating new life?

Are we, instead of asking people to be ‘born again’, sometimes encouraging them to be undead? Many churches are more concerned with how many people are in church on sunday, how many bums are on seats, than how well the core of their fellowship are developing as disciples.

This seems at odds with the early church. In many cases these were very small groups, flying under the radar to keep themselves from being persecuted or killed, using secret symbols and hiding out underground, with members so full of life and so dedicated to their God that they were willing to risk the horrific fate they were assured of if caught. Nobody got a special offer, there was no seasonal promotion, no money back guarantee. As a result the Zombies, who are/were naturally put off by the idea off by the prospect of having their consumer power reduced to the point of extinction tended to steer clear.

Zombies, I fear, dont tend to make productive members of church, they arent too interested in serving the community, in developing spirituality, or in recognising Jesus in those around them. They also dont tend to be too keen on going through suffering as a path of spiritual growth. Your average Zombie prefers a quick fix, and prefers to gorge rather than fast.

They may give money into the collection, particularly if they are encouraged to by talk of greater blessing or more consumer experiences. They are likely to turn up regularly, and even to be actively involved in large meetings.

However, Zombies on the whole, are not to be trusted or encouraged. I reccomend you consider carefully whether you are encouraging the undead in your fellowship. The good news is that I reckon God loves Zombies too – and a Zombie needn’t stay undead, but they will need some encouragement to make the transition, traditionally a stake through the heart or a beheading ought to do it. Alternatively you could try making your church less of a consumer experience, and more of an expression of mission – then see if the zombies will leave or change of their own accord.

It was funny recently to hear about the FOI request Leicester city council received about their readiness in the case of a Zombie attack – but perhaps its something church needs to take seriously, a bunch of Zombies turning up can really make life difficult, if you dont believe me, watch Dawn of the Dead.

Next time in ‘Church at the movies’: Vampirus Nosferatu…

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3 thoughts on “Church at the movies part 1: Zombie attack

  1. Perhaps worth noting that in my youth it was common to speak of ‘dead’ congregations – presumably measured by the energy of the praise etc. I don’t recall anyone ever explaining exactly what they meant, but the implication was that the church was filled with dead (ie spiritually dead/unclean/unsaved people).

    But redefining the zombie motif to suggest slavish adherence to the methods (if not actual worship) of Mammon seems to me to make a lot more sense. Not so long back I was reading a book about cultural liturgies which suggested that the shopping mall had become the cathedral of the modern age, with shopping the dominant life-defining role for many people.

    That said, the problem with your analysis seems to be that it implies there are some who are not consumers, who are reborn zombies (or whatever the correct term is). And yet it seems clear to me that we’re all either actively involved in excess consumption, passive consumers (perhaps pretending/trying to be focussed on something else) or frustrated consumers that are unable to break out from the bonds of consumerism.

    In a lot of senses, just being aware of the problem is not enough. We have too few models of genuine anti-consumer discipleship to know how to resist it.

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