Quicksand, zombies, and the church

This morning I listened to a RadioLab podcast about quicksand that began with the observation that children in schools are not afraid of quicksand, though people of their parents’ generation were.

The reporter, in his work to discover why this changed, noticed that the height of use of quicksand scenes in movies was in the 1960s.  Whether this was a cause or an effect was not conjectured, but the reporter noted that quicksand references were present in many of the biggest cultural concerns of the time:  MLK, Jr. talked about the quicksand of racism, there was a concern that the moon landing might literally end up in lunar quicksand, and the Vietnam War was likened to quicksand.  RadioLab postulated that the rapid change of the era had people fearful of getting stuck and overwhelmed in unfamiliar territory, making quicksand a compelling image of collective anxiety.

At the beginning of the piece, in almost a throw-away aside, the reporter asks the children this question: If you aren’t afraid of quicksand, what are you afraid of?  Not surprisingly, one of the quick answers was zombies.

So this, then, is the question that has been following me this morning:  If one of our strongest images of collective fear, analogous to quicksand in the 1960s, is zombies, what is the church doing to combat (or, from another perspective, redeem) our “zombies”?  What about “vampires”?

Go ahead and laugh.  I did, when I first thought of the question.  But the more it stays with me, the more I think it’s begging for a serious answer.  Are we being the kind of church that has an answer to “zombie apocalypse”?  What might that kind of church be like?

4 thoughts on “Quicksand, zombies, and the church”

  1. I’ve heard that horror movies always say more about the society & culture(s) that produce them than the (usually) vapid narratives of the movies themselves. Collective fears/anxieties. And the cult of the zombie has never been more popular in American culture. So yeah, I’d say they’re today’s quicksand. (I just saw an article on NationOfChange called “The Zombie Economy,” for instance.)

    I can’t watch zombie movies (or horror movies in general) because my imagination can’t handle it. I lose sleep for a few days, and walk around scared at night for weeks or sometimes months. I’ve had a small number of zombie dreams in the past 10 years that were pretty vivid and, of course, frightening.

    But the interesting thing about the cult of the zombie right now is that it’s not typically regarded with much fear. If it’s expressive of our collective societal fears, but it’s
    “performance” in public and in the media is one of play…what does that say?

    Has nihilism, cynicism, and irony sunk so far down that we’re not as a culture able to soberly deal with the real fears, the real anxieties that beset us?

    If so…is perhaps one task of the church to teach disciples a healthy sense of fear? And how to ritually & practically work with it?

    1. Your wondering about our culture and fear is a really interesting one. At my current church, the benediction is often “May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much, and may you fear God just enough that you need fear nothing else at all,” which has struck me as an interesting understanding of where the “fear of God” fits in all this. And I think you are right that acknowledging fear in our society and knowing what to do with it is a huge problem.
      I wonder, at the same time, if our fascination with (but seemingly not fear of) is a collective move to try to laugh off or deny that which is so scary to us that we cannot face it. Of course, here I don’t mean zombies themselves, but what they call up in us or how they echo our lives.

  2. The whole zombie thing is fascinating for me. I tend to agree with Brian that our “fear” of zombies is relatively playful and ironic on the surface. Still, I wonder if part of our attraction to zombies is that beneath our glossy veneer we have a fear of living meaningless, consumption-driven (“Braaaaains!”) lives.

    Peter Rollins has explored this connection to zombie-ism in The Idolatry of God. Here’s one blogger’s excerpt:
    and here’s a video of Rollins engaging this idea:

  3. Thanks, Matt, for the Peter Rollins posts. I like what he does with it as ungoverned impulse. Almost makes me want to read the rest of the book!

    One of the things I love about dealing in images is that they are never just about one thing, so the more I play with this, the more I find new possibilities opening.

    There’s something in zombies that speaks to fears
    about the place of the individual in collective culture,
    about mob mentality,
    of un-death (not primarily fear of death — this is particularly interesting to me),
    of becoming something unrecognizable, inhuman, and unredeemable,
    of amorality, purposelessness, apathy…

    One of the primary differences between quicksand and zombies is this: When encountering quicksand, the biggest threat is death. When encountering zombies, one of the biggest threats is becoming a zombie oneself. That seems very significant to me, though I don’t want to close it down by nailing a meaning to it prematurely…

    There’s a lot to tease out here. I find myself wondering what it would be like for a church group to think imaginatively about this image and perhaps write, draw, devise some sort of a creative response together.

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