Monster spirituality?

W. Scott Poole reflects on how horror stories speak to us spiritually.

Monster scholars have been forced to look at the theme of religion, both in relation to zombies and to the larger world of the weird. Timothy Beal has pointed out, in his wonderfully realized Religion and Its Monsters, that religious narrative has always needed monstrous beings to represent the enemies of divine order. Indeed, Beal shows that ancient near-Eastern texts, including the Hebrew Bible itself, frequently make use of the monster to represent the divine order.

Stephen Asma’s brilliant book On Monsters also explores the role of horrific creatures in religious narrative. Asma sees most modern horror and “the contemporary monster” as “often the reminder of theological abandonment.” In the modern horror tradition, Amsa finds reminders of the existential loneliness of human beings, symbols of human angst about a cosmos swept clean of God and gods but full of the monstrous irrational.

Does the horror tradition and its monsters evacuate the world of meaning? Or can these creatures, maybe even zombie Jesus, become an iconography of spiritual contemplation…?

…Zombie Jesus might seem silly to you and horror may not be your thing. But spiritual seekers might want to ponder the imagery of horror precisely because it runs against some of their instincts. Freud famously argued in his essay “The Uncanny” that horrific fairy tales terrified us as children because they reminded us of the vulnerability of our bodies. The horror tradition, maybe especially the zombie narrative, does the same for adults.

The characters of The Walking Dead are praying to zombie Jesus whether they know it or not. They meditate in front of the image of a gored god in a world of blood and entrails, a world where the body has been outraged. The spirituality on display is not the megachurch “have a latte and sing some praise songs” silliness that has more or less taken over American Christianity. It’s a cri de coeur from the post-apocalyptic landscape, all supports gone, monsters walking the world threatening to rend and tear the physical self to bits.

And isn’t that us and the pre-apocalyptic world we live in? Aren’t we, really, the walking dead?

What think ye?

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