This is part 3 of a three-part theological reflection on Warm Bodies. In part 1, I explored what Christian theology and the movie have to say about being "fully alive." In part 2, I discussed what the movie and Christian theology have to say about being "fully human." In this post, I'll comment on what both Christian theology and Warm Bodies have to say about relating to the "other."
Zombie movies rarely challenge us to think about how we treat those who are different from us. Instead, there is never a question of who are the "good guys" and who are the undead "bad guys." The bad guys look hideous. The bad guys attack without provocation. The bad guys are mindless killing machines. At least, that's how they're typically portrayed. But not in Warm Bodies!
Instead of painting all zombies with one brush, Warm Bodies introduces a progression in the zombification process. Zombies deteriorate into a less and less human state until there is no humanity left. The other zombies call these completely zombified zombies "Boneys" because they have torn off their own flesh and only their blackened skeleton remains. When the main zombie character "R" introduces them, he says, "[The boneys] eat anything with a heart beat. I mean, so will I, but at least I'm conflicted about it." The implication is that the final state of zombification entails the complete loss of empathy, feeling, humanity.
So, if zombies can progressively become more zombie-like, can they become less zombie-like too? That is the question this new information raises. And if the characteristic feature of complete zombification is being utterly devoid of feeling, what then would be the characteristic feature of a zombie who is becoming more human?
If you're just tuning in, this is part 2 of a few theological reflections on Warm Bodies, a zombie romance movie. In part 1, I explored how Warm Bodies illustrates what Christian theology has to say about what it means to be fully alive. In part 3, I'll discuss how Warm Bodies helps us think about how Jesus-disciples are called to relate with the 'other.' But in this post, part 2, I'll be commenting on what Warm Bodies exposes about what it means to be fully human:
What Does it Mean to be Fully Human?
In Warm Bodies, something is awakened in the zombie main character ("R") when he encounters the non-zombie main character: "Julie" (And before you ask: Yes, these two names are designed to cause viewers to recall Romeo and Juliet). Rather than attack her without thinking and devour her brains, he is struck by her and desires to know her. So he rescues her from the other zombies who would surely kill her and brings her home to his airplane apartment where he can keep her safe. She is naturally confused, terrified, and distrustful of this zombie who is treating her very un-zombie-like. She's been taught that zombies are nothing but "corpses"—unfeeling, unthinking, non-human. But every time R saves her life, provides her with food, plays music for her, she can't help but begin to rethink what she's been taught. Several times, directly after R has done something selfless for her, she asks, "What are you?" (not "Who are you?"). She's asking, "Are you actually human?"
Warm Bodies is an exploration of what it means to be fully human and fully alive. Zombies are a perennial favorite for talking about these subjects. Are the "undead" alive? Are they "human"? But zombie movies are also a way of talking about the "other" and how we are to relate with them. I found Warm Bodies particular good in both of these areas, while also being light-hearted (even funny at times) and not overly cheesy on the romance.
Looking at Warm Bodies theologically, these questions and considerations take on a different hue. What do zombies have to do with Jesus? What does it means to be "fully alive" from a theological point of view? What does it mean to be "fully human"? And how are Jesus-disciples called to relate with the 'other'?
Zombies and Jesus?
Jesus and zombies are actually old friends. The first appearance of "Zombie Jesus" in popular culture is attributed to an episode of Matt Groening's cartoon Futurama back in 1999, but the meme has progressively gained popularity in the years since—particular when Easter time comes around. While some find this meme offensive, even an "attack on Christianity," I don't think we should. I think the comparison can offer the Church an opportunity and common ground to make some important and hopefully helpful reflections.
For example, I found many of the themes captured in Warm Bodies to be very compelling illustrations of Christian theology. For the sake of brevity, I'll constrain my thoughts to just three: What Christian theology has to say about life and death (Part 1); What Christian theology has to say about being human (Part 2); and What Christian theology has to say about relating to the 'other' (Part 3).
I've been told there is no "genetic relationship" between theologies that conceptualize God as all-controlling, all-determining, and utterly unfeeling and the political, cultural oppression of human beings in societies set up by adherents of such views.
I've been told theologies that teach God "ordains" the unjust circumstances under which some human beings suffer (while others prosper) and "predestines" those circumstances hasn't been used as justification for continued injustice and oppression.
I've been told that people can have "good theology" and yet own human beings like chattel, deem them less than human, and brutalize them. Such actions, they say, don't reflect the slave-owners' conception of God at all.
But I think we all know Thomas Paine was right when he said, "Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel [person]."
Well, I'm proud to say at least two eminently qualified Christian theologians have had the intellectual integrity and courage to make the case for just such a "genetic" link, and to refute this classic copout with a clear argument from history, sociology, and politics.
Presidents since the birth of the United States republic have been sworn into office on a Bible. (Not all presidents, but many.) George Washington is said to have kissed the Bible after reciting his oath. Also, many presidents have added to the end of the oath "So help me God."
Is this the proper usage of the Bible, according to the Bible? What are the implications of this practice? And most importantly, What does Jesus have to say about oaths that his disciples should know so they can follow his Way?
Back in 2007, I started blogging at Blogger and titled my blog "Theological Graffiti". When I left Blogger in 2010 to start my own independently-hosted blog, I changed the name to "Being TC". Now, I'm returning to my roots and changing the name back to Theological Graffiti at:
(Special thanks to Thomas Jay Oord for a copy of this book!)
Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction (hereafter RT) is a collection of very brief essays written by a sizable group of diverse scholars on a wide variety of subjects related to "Relational Theology." As Thomas Jay Oord, one of the book's editors, explains in the introduction, Relational Theology is an umbrella term that covers a broad spectrum of theologies that are all related to one another by their common values of relationship, freedom, and love. Examples of Relational theologies include, but are not limited to:
feminist and/or womanist theologies
Pentecostal and/or charismatic theologies
liberation and/or postcolonial theologies
Arminian and/or holiness theologies
I must admit, in addition to the table of contents, this list made me very excited to begin reading this book. Much of the most courageous Christian scholarship being produced today falls into one or more of these categories.
I've got tons of hipster friends, but you've probably never heard of them. In fact, I had hipster friends before calling them 'hipsters' was cool. Back then they were just geeks, misfits, the kids who didn't fit into any of the cliques in high school. I knew a lot of them, but back then they didn't think they were "cool." In those days the definition of "cool" was to be part of the in-crowd—the "preps," the "jocks". Labels like that raise the hairs on the back of histers' necks. Then, one day, culture shifted, and the more different you were, the more "cool" you were. Suddenly, it wasn't "cool" to be defined by a category like "preps" or "jocks". In fact, it became "cool" to put labels like that in "air quotes". This shift resulted in a generation that sought to break out of every box, to not let anyone else define them. Even as I write this, I can hear the hipster voices disagreeing with my version of their hipster origins. The last thing they want is someone else telling them were they came from. The problem is, that generation simply created a new box in which to fit. As a church planter, my interest in this group begins with whether hipsterism is beneficial or detrimental to the Jesus movement called the Church.
Far too few US theologians are willing to draw the connection between the special chosen-ness theology of Western colonialism and Calvinism. Native theology is the missing link. It was the myth of "Manifest Destiny" that fueled Native genocide at the hands of European colonists. And "Manifest Destiny" is Calvinism concentrate.
When Lost was on the air I was heavy into the show, and was one of the many people disappointed by the "lack of answers" at the end. I felt like the writing on Lost promised the viewer a deep and profound mythology that it never delivered. Lindelof defends against this criticism by saying the show was always about the characters and not the mythology. That may satisfy some, but not me.
In any case, it wasn't Lindelof's defense of Lost's ending that made this interview fascinating to me. No, it was Lindelof's discussion of his position as Lost's writer and his relationship to the audience. His brief description of this dynamic at work while he was in charge of Lost, serves as an illuminating metaphor for our understanding of God's providence.
Theological Graffiti is the offical blog of T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban church planter @NewCityCovenant, designer @NewCityPro, teacher, student, and friend. Discussion is welcome, so long as it is conducted in a spirit of charity. First and foremost, this blog is for self-expression—then community. More About.Me