I Reckon You Zombies Think You Been Redeemed

Well, I thought it couldn’t be done. To my mind, the whole zombie apocalypse genre is nihilism incarnate: we’re all just meat. No soul. No ultimate purpose. Just meat. So how could someone produce a zombie film or novel that explored a different perspective: one of hope, for example, or even of faith?

As I say, I thought it couldn’t be done, but I have been proven wrong. Kim Paffenroth’s novel, Dying to Live, draws upon influences as diverse as Augustine, Dante and George Romero. Paffenroth contrasts the living and the dead and finds insistent proof that the spirit exists. The flesh-eating dead are simply you and me and our neighbors minus the supernatural benefits of a rational soul. They are all appetite. Without reason or restraint, they “wander the earth to and fro seeking whom they may devour.”

But it isn’t as pat as all that. The strength of Paffenroth’s novel is that he is plainly eager to push the zombie apocalypse gauntlet. His imagination does not shrink from the question “How bad can it get?” The dead are willing and the living are weak. As with Romero’s several films, the living are often their own worst enemies, failing to unite against a common threat, fighting over the charred remains of civilization. But a few may actually rise to the challenge to survive.

Paffenroth’s method is similar to that of Flannery O’Connor. Much is made of O’Connor’s use of grotesque characters and violent scenarios in her short stories and two novels. Her explanation was that it is not easy to shock the existentially numb reader into sudden clarity. To the deaf, you must shout and to the blind you must draw large and startling pictures — to paraphrase Flannery. O’Connor also uses the grotesque to explore the question “How bad can it get?” In her deadpan, blackly humorous way, she is unflinching in her reply: “Very, very bad indeed.” However, she does this only in order to see how the grace of God will intervene. Since she is operating from a Catholic Christian perspective, O’Connor knows the central redemptive act of God in human history sent a man to be beaten within an inch of his life, nailed to a cross and left to die. If the essential act of grace looks like that—well, how might God “use” the perverse clarity of a killer called The Misfit who happens across a stranded family on a forlorn country road (see O’Connor’s story A Good Man Is Hard to Find)?

Paffenroth is attracted to the zombie apocalypse scenario for reasons that echo O’Connor. The protagonist of the novel, Jonah Caine, often wrestles with the question of whether one could still believe in God now that a kind of anti-resurrection has spread living death over the planet. Cities burn. Governments collapse. People scavenge for Twinkies at abandoned 7-Elevens. This “survival horror” appeals to some, including myself, as an exploration of what is left when everything is shaken until only what is unshakable remains.

It is also an opportunity to tap obtusely via the imagination what our upfront intellect cannot bear to contemplate. Millions of innocent lives perish mindlessly, needlessly, in horrible pain as they are torn limb from limb. It could be a zombie apocalypse. Or it could be abortion. Upwards of ten million abortions have taken place since Roe v. Wade kicked into gear and despite all the reassurances of those first few years the reach of this killing machine has extended into the second trimester, the third trimester, even to the very moment of birth itself. Skulls are punctured and brains are sucked out through a tube. A collapsed skull makes for easier removal of the big ones. Bodies are sliced apart with scalpels or burned alive in a saline solution. Imagine breathing in saline. Who says the zombie apocalypse — in all its savage horror — is not possible? It’s here. Every child born since 1973 is a survivor.

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~ by christianhalloweenfan on November 20, 2007.

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