It’s official. I don’t watch AMC’s The Walking Dead anymore.
Without a doubt, I have always been an action movie kind of guy and am the sort that believes it’s a crying shame that Arnold Schwarzenegger has never received an Oscar.
OK, kidding on that last part.
But it’s true that I’m an action-hero, Sci-Fi, and general fan of movies where things blow up and good guys are going up against the bad guys with lots of hardware (the battle kind). So it was only natural that sooner or later I’d start watching The Walking Dead, which has all of that in spades.
But recently I pushed ‘stop’ on Netflix for the last time where The Walking Dead is concerned and felt that it was time for me, as a Christian, to say ‘enough’.
Art Reflecting Culture
In various classes I’ve taught, I will occasionally use an illustration from a TV series or movie like The Walking Dead to make a point. Every now and then, someone will ask me, “Why do you watch such things?”
The answer is that I do my best to follow in the footsteps of a Christian leader and apologist that I admire – Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer was well known for being very in touch with the art and media produced in his day and would oftentimes lecture on topics such as the metaphysics of Led Zeppelin.
Schaeffer believed that art reflected culture and that we as Christians should be in touch with it so that we can better understand what a society thinks and believes. In fact, sometimes the communication through art is more truthful than the answer a culture gives to point-blank questions about what it believes.
In his book, Escape From Reason, Schaeffer describes the dilemma in which a person without God finds themselves. On the one hand, they have the cold fact of sheer naturalistic determinism to face (no free will), but within them they constantly have a cry for freedom from that deterministic machine’s prison.
Schaeffer brings that tenuous situation in focus with the expression of art and media in a culture and writes: “The field of art offers a variety of illustrations of this tension. Such tension affords a partial explanation of the intriguing fact that much of contemporary art, as a self-expression of what man is, is ugly.”
“Ugly” is a fitting description for The Walking Dead and the philosophy of deterministic meaninglessness plus the desperate search for freedom from the series’ horror that drives the show. Let me showcase three things that finally caused me to stop watching.
The Antichrist Archetype
In a previous post, I talked about how the spirit of Antichrist (1 John 4:3) permeates our culture and cited a couple of examples, with zombies being one of them.
Zombies, like those on The Walking Dead, are the absolute opposite of Christ. Jesus said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). As everyone knows, the zombie is someone who has previously died and has had a resurrection, but it’s certainly not the kind that Christ promises. Instead, it’s one of a deathly existence.
Further, its sole purpose is to eat the flesh and drink the blood of its victims so that it can maintain its own eternal subsistence. Contrast that with Jesus who sacrificially gave His life for us so that we might “have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
The Icing Over of Love
An aptly titled episode in Season Four, “Indifference”, struck a major cord with me. Whereas the characters demonstrated caring, concern, and compassion for other human beings in earlier shows, life in the zombie apocalyptic world has taken so much of a toll on them that now they barely flinch when tragedy occurs.
“Indifference” introduces a couple of new young characters to two of the show’s mainstay stars (Rick and Carol). When the girl (Ana) is quickly found butchered by a group of zombies, Carol doesn’t even comment on the girl’s death but simply mentions to Rick that it is getting late and they need to get back to their home base.
Violence and evil do indeed exact a price on all of us and desensitize people so that what used to be shocking and unthinkable no longer elevates our heartbeat. In short, it makes us callous. The show’s scene reminded me of Jesus’ statement in His Olivet Discourse when He says that in the end times, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
The Descent into Total Despair
I had introduced a friend of mine to The Walking Dead many months ago, and recently he shot me an email with some comments about how he felt absolutely drained, depressed and downright despondent after viewing several episodes.
Nihilism will do that to you.
In history, there have been a few atheists (e.g. Nietzsche) with the courage to admit that the rejection of God ends in nihilism, and that describe the world as Sartre did in his well-titled book Nausea, who spoke of life as “an empty bubble floating on a sea of nothingness”.
Where does that realization lead? Sartre’s study partner, Albert Camus, tells us in “An Absurd Reasoning” that is contained in The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other Essays: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and this is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
It’s what Daryl on The Walking Dead calls “opting out”.
The show oozes nihilism from every pore, which is a fact that has been called out by other Christians such as Eric Metaxas. Watching the show’s characters dodge multiple threats from every direction with little to no reprieve brought to mind a comment an atheistic scientist made about how every human being’s only purpose is to slither along on the ground, like every other organism, as long and as far as it can until it dies.
Harsh? Yes. But very real if atheism is true.
Am I saying there are no redeeming qualities about The Walking Dead? Not at all. There have been very good examples of characters sacrificially serving one another, well done presentations of ethical dilemmas that cause viewers to think hard about morality, and solid writing that displays the growth of various raunchy characters into genuinely heroic people.
But that said, for the reasons above and a few others, I’m afraid I have to say goodbye. Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Michonne…I’ll miss you and will always be rooting for your ultimate victory against the Walkers.