Are “Zombies” Stealing our Religion?

I read an article recently in which the author was arguing that the preponderance of ghost-zombie-themed movies in our society was one of the evidences that America was reaching what he calls “the point of no return” after which God’s judgment is supposed to fall hard on the nation. Now I have no way of knowing whether he has a point but it is true that Zombies are more popular today than princesses and fairies in Halloween customs. Need I say more?

Zombies indeed have an ominous beginning in the history of mythology and cult. According to another author, the full-blown concept of the zombie comes from the African voodoo ideas collapsing with the evils of slavery. He says that “[The Zombie] is a New World phenomenon that arose from the mixture of old African religious beliefs and the pain of slavery, especially the notoriously merciless and coldblooded slavery of French-run, pre-independence Haiti.”  You should try to read the full article here.

As this narrative goes, Africans were familiar with the concept of souls of the departed that were never totally released from this world and wandered around following the will of another who took possession of them. But according to this writer, the full Zombie came as a result of sheer religious manipulation on the part of the oppressors.

Here is how this might have worked. In order to escape the horrors of slavery, the Africans began to resort to suicide. Suicide was the way for them to achieve heaven, or lan guinée, to use the expression still used today in Haitian Creole to refer to “heaven.” Suicide is the only way a slave could show that she was still in control of her body and it deprived the slave owner of both the labor and the sensation of being the proprietor of “goods.”

But the devil is always in the details, isn’t it? In order to exploit the fear of death to their own advantage, the oppressors used something that was familiar to the slaves to make sure that no one would wish upon himself the curse of being a slave forever, even in the afterlife. Suicide was the surest way to become a zombie and “The zombie is a dead person who cannot get across to lan guinée. This final rest — in green, leafy, heavenly Africa, with no sugarcane to cut and no master to appease or serve — is unavailable to the zombie.” 

Check mate. Right? Not quite. There is a way for a zombie to have his will and soul returned to him and that is by eating salt, so a smart zombie master will make sure that he keeps the creature’s food tasteless. So you have to wonder if the kids sporting the Zombie Halloween wouldn’t mind if you gave them a little salt instead of candies…

More importantly, from a commercial standpoint, the author brings up the fact that “Zombies” are the ultimate work machine — never tiring, never going on strike, never complaining. Like so many workers who labor in mindless, mass production today — the clothe industry in India and Bangladesh, the computer copy cat shops in China, etc. But is that just equally a stretch as the article I just read equating the increase of “Zombie activity” to the end of the world?

I don’t know. All I know is that the concept of wandering aimlessly without a soul is so prevalent in our society many people believe it is true. Some people think they are zombies; others believe they have met zombies.

I actually reject both ideas. Increased emphasis on Zombie “activity” as sign of the beginning of the end relies on proving that this stuff is really increasing. From my perspective, I think we simply are more aware of this because information technology allows us to have more access to this stuff at a more rapid pace. And as far as the full Zombie concept being a result of the French colonial rule mixed with old African religion in Haiti, this is tempting but doubtful. I suggest that the Nazgûl or wraiths were Zombies in the imagination of J. R. R. Tolkien in Middle-earth Legendarium.

Be that as it may, I just have to wonder: just like the oppressors of slaves in mid-20th Century Haiti, who manipulated religion to bring confusion into the minds of the simple, could we be witnessing the reverse of that in our culture? In other words, could fictitious notions of wandering souls be also manipulated to confuse us about religion? Could our fixation with Zombies obscure from our minds the biblical narrative which is as simple as we die once and after that we have to give an account of what we did while on earth?

Ah, the simplicity of the biblical text sometimes baffles me. And pass the salt, please.

Ivanildo C. Trindade