Can you be a Christian and not believe in zombies?

February 16th, 2016

I used to be a big fan of "The Walking Dead."

Don’t get me wrong. I still watch every episode, but I’m not putting my life on hold to make sure I see them the moment they air.

I know there are plenty of folks out there who still love the show, but to me it’s become rather repetitive; it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. Rick and company find a new safe place, but just kidding, it’s not so safe, so somebody dies, and they’re off to the next not-so-safe place.

Douse in gore and repeat.

But since the show does still hold some of my interest right now, I couldn’t help but notice the timing of its midseason return to television. Fittingly, the second half of Season 6 of "The Walking Dead" kicks off just in time for Lent.

Of course, if you’re giving up television for Lent, then the premiere date couldn’t be worse. But as a matter of biblical interpretation and Christian practice, the timing couldn’t be much better because, you see, zombies have way more to do with the Christian faith than you might realize.

Let me explain.

Good Friday is obviously still several weeks away, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment and let me skip ahead in the Lenten season, there’s a rather strange note from the story of Jesus’ death that we often skip over at church; many of us may not even realize appears in the pages of the Bible.

You remember how the temple veil was torn in half when Jesus died, right? Of course, you do. You’re smart like that. But do you remember what happened next?

Here’s what Matthew says occurred after the temple veil was rent asunder….

“The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

To be clear, this wasn’t Lazarus 2.0 and, according to the text, there weren't ghosts walking the streets of ancient Jerusalem.

There were animated dead bodies.

Or as they’re known in the scientific community: zombies.

Which means — terrifyingly — "The Walking Dead" is closer to reality than most of us are willing to admit. It also means you can’t be an orthodox Christian and not believe in zombies. For to reject the reality of zombies is to reject scripture itself.


I mean, the words are right there in black and white. The story may not be written in red letters, but it’s close enough in proximity to the words of Jesus to carry a rosy hue. The Bible is clear: bodies were raised from their tombs and walked around the city. It’s a "Walking Dead" spinoff series just begging to be made should TBN ever decided to break ground with a new TV genre: zombie spirituality.

So if it’s in the Bible, the question has to be asked: Can you be a Christian and not believe in zombies?

Now, before you answer too quickly with “Obviously you can. That is a ridiculous question,” consider the way we normally treat the Bible. For all the different reading plans available for our choosing, most of us read the Bible one context-less verse or two at a time, all the while assuming each context-less passage can be clearly and accurately understood through nothing more than a “plain reading” of the text.

Using that tried-but-not-so-true hermeneutic, we’re left to conclude that zombies roamed the streets of Jerusalem shortly after the crucifixion.

And maybe they did. Or maybe Matthew’s anecdote is some sort of spiritual metaphor. Or maybe there’s an entirely different explanation to this "Walking Dead" prequel. Whatever the case, this bizarre conundrum should serve as both a reminder and a challenge, particularly for those of us practicing Christianity in America.

As a reminder, Matthew’s zombie account should call our attention to a lack of humility about our own faith and the sometimes strange things we believe. We’re often quick to dismiss, denounce and denigrate people of other faiths because the things they believe in or the texts they hold sacred are weird or disturbing or simply too ridiculous to believe — at least to us. But as Christians, we believe a virgin teenager gave birth to a god-man, that this god-man could walk on water and create food out of thin air, and that before he died (and rose from the dead) he told his followers to remember his death through the ritual eating and drinking of his flesh and blood.

Those things may sound perfectly normal to us, but to anyone outside the Christian bubble, they’re downright weird. By no means does that mean we should be ashamed of our faith or simply dismiss those parts of Christian orthodoxy that don’t jibe with 21st century Western norms, but in an era in which ridiculing and ostracizing people of other faiths for their different beliefs and the different ways they practice those faiths has become something of an unholy (and very political) crusade, it’s worth swallowing a dose of humility and remembering that weird and strange are in the eye of the beholder.

As a challenge, Matthew’s zombie account should cause all of us to pause and reexamine how we read and use the Bible. In particular, it should challenge the widely-held assumption that the Bible is clear so long as we have a verse to prove our point.

From the full inclusion of the LGBT community and the treatment of immigrants to our relationships with Muslim neighbors and the care of the poor, the Church today lives and moves and has its being in a incredibly divisive time. Everyone is armed and ready with an arsenal of verses to prove why the Bible clearly supports their point of view and just as clearly destroys their enemies’ heresy. We revel in this proof-texting of our enemies’ damnation as if we had a divine calling to expose, daily, the obvious spiritual stupidity of anyone and everyone who can’t see what the Bible so clearly says.

And of course, it just so happens that what the Bible clearly says also perfectly lines up with our view of the world and the people living in it.

However, despite the Bible “clearly” affirming the existence of zombies, I have yet to meet anyone of any theological stripe who believes in the reality of zombies, let alone affirms the notion that in order to be an orthodox Christian one must believe in zombies.

I don’t suspect I’ll ever meet anyone who believes zombies are integral to Christian orthodoxy because obviously zombies don’t exist for a whole host of reasons — despite what a “plain reading” of Matthew’s gospel might lead someone to believe.

But that’s the rub.

We don’t hesitate to bring nuance and careful exegesis to an otherwise cut-and-dry passage in order to avoid affirming what it would seem we must affirm given the black and white words of the text. But for whatever reason, we can’t extend that same grace to the parts of the Bible which bring more serious consequences.

When it comes to zombies, the Bible requires careful interpretation. 

But those proof-texts we use to condemn, exclude and ostracize our neighbors whenever they do or say or simply are something we don’t approve of?

Those verses are crystal clear.

Now, I have about as much faith in all of us agreeing about what every verse in the Bible means as I do in the existence of zombies. But if we can’t bring ourselves to extend the same humility and grace to the rest of scripture that we do to a passage that seems ripped out of an episode of "The Walking Dead," then we should drop the pretense of exegetical clarity and admit that the only thing clear about the Bible is our eagerness to use it as a weapon to destroy our enemies.

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