Undead and Theology

In a previous post (click here) about resurrection theology we drew attention to the folk religiosity surrounding Vampire Spirituality and the Undead. In The Cross Is Not Enough we discuss the phenomena of stories about Undead and Living Dead creatures like werewolves, vampires and zombies.

Over at Philip’s other blog (TARDIS) there is some discussion about the Undead and Resurrection themes popping up in the cult-TV series Doctor Who.

We believe that much more serious theological reflection is needed about the pop cultural appeal of the Undead and Living Dead, which can extend beyond just musings about the resurrection.

In this regard we are delighted to point to a new book hot off the presses (print and Kindle editions)that takes a step in that direction: The Undead and Theology edited by Kim Paffenroth and John W. Morehead (Pickwick Publications 2012). Twelve chapters containing essays by various contributors exploring the intersections between pop culture, undead films involving vampires and zombies, other undead creatures like the Golem and Cenobites, and theological connections to themes of blood-atonement, sacrifice, redemption and judgment, and postmodern festivity. Order the Kindle edition (here) and for the paper version (here).

We hope that more publications of this ilk will surface and that the centrality of the resurrection will be pursued in new studies that examine and interpret both classic and current interests in spirituality, the Undead, the Living Dead, ghosts, and Gothic literature.

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Doctor Who and Resurrection

Philip has started a separate blog exploring theology through the cult TV-series Doctor Who.  The blog is TARDIS: Theology and Relative Discourses in Space. In The Cross Is Not Enough we talk about analogies of Jesus’ resurrection found in pop culture. Doctor Who as a resurrection analogy is discussed in The Cross Is Not Enough (pages 100 & 103).

Check Philip’s new blog for the first in a series of posts about Doctor Who and Resurrection.

Pea-Sized Resurrection

A brief article by Philip based on The Cross Is Not Enough, called “A Pea-Sized Resurrection” has been distributed in the recent e-newsletter Ethos (publication of the EA Foundation in Australia). You can read the article here.

Undead: The Not-So Resurrected World of Monsters

UNDEAD: THE NOT-SO RESURRECTED WORLD OF MONSTERS

The realm of the “Undead” — Vampires, werewolves, zombies, the Golem, the Homunculus. You might scratch your head. What has that stuff got to do with Resurrection? Despite the typical defensive posture that some Christians take that all of this is demonic or its just plain frivolous nonsense, the Undead in folklore, in novels, movies and TV touches many theological motifs.

Take the precredit narration of Annie the ghost who introduces herself and her two Undead flat-mates in the British TV series Being Human

“Everyone dies. Actually, can I start that again? Everyone deserves a death. I was going to die of old age. That was the plan.

Mitchell was going to go down in a blaze of gunfire and glory. Not cold and alone and shit-scared. He didn’t think that death would smile at him first. Death was always a certainty the punchline we could all see coming. But not for Mitchell. For a vampire death isn’t the end but a beginning.

So here we are. Overlooked and forgotten. Unnatural and supernatural. Watching the dance from the sidelines. At least I was surrounded by friends and family. At least I got that bit right. You know the worst thing about being a ghost? It’s lonely. You’ll give anything for that crumb of comfort, that feel of skin upon skin that says ‘it’s ok. I’m here.’ It’s a hunger. A most basic instinct. You might even drag others into this world of the dead. Even if it means turning them into monsters too.

Then there are the ones like George. The ones that should have died. But shattered and bloody they walk away from the train wreck. But what’s the cost? They’re scarred. Transformed. They’re monsters now too. Aberrations. The stuff of nightmares. The Big Bad Wolf.

So what have we got left to look forward to? Us refugees. The flotsam and jetsam of death. Maybe if we still deserve such a thing as mercy we find each other …”

The title of the series “Being Human” encapsulates one of the big questions constantly posed by tales of the undead: what is a human being?

Undead creatures such as vampires, zombies and werewolves were once human. Now transformed they behave in monstrous ways preying upon other humans, feeding on their blood. This feeding on the blood of the living parodies both the death of Christ and the blood motifs associated with atonement.

They are usually depicted as loathsome or cursed. Lurking deep in the background of these cursed creatures is the first biblical story of a “marked” or “cursed” man: Cain. The Undead tales retain a faint echo of the implications of Cain’s story.

To be among the “Undead” signifies that these creatures are less than human. They are embodiments of evil. They are cursed because they have tried to find immortality in this life. Instead of attaining the glorification promised through Christ’s resurrection, they become a parody of the resurrection of the dead. They are a moral example with the implicit punchline: do not seek immortality in the flesh apart from God’s grace. God alone bestows resurrection.

The classic Gothic stories about the Undead and monsters have reflected the times in which the authors have lived. Stories like The Vampyre, Frankenstein, Carmilla, Dracula and The Island of Dr Moreau picked up the angst of the Industrial Revolution; the 1848 year of revolutions; human versus machine; humans in the Imago Dei or just by-products of evolution; would scientific experiments improve humanity or turn us into beasts?; was humanity inevitably progressing onwards to a golden age?

Similar issues lurk in today’s Gothic stories. Is unending life really worth having? What will humans become if the Genome is decoded? Are we destined to overcome death through technology? Will we be cyborgs? Is cloning morally dubious? Why tamper with human biology? Are humans equal to non-human animals?

These days the possibility of redemption for the Undead has also emerged. Blade has twin natures: vampire and human — recall in theology that Christ is both Divine and human. Blade stands as a quasi-Messiah figure standing between the Undead and humanity.  Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series also toys with the question can the Undead be redeemed?

The connection points between pop culture and Christians about resurrection and the Undead are just going begging.

The steampunk TV series Sanctuary also touches on many of these same fascinating questions. The Sanctuary exists as a safe haven for all kinds of “Abnormals”, other-than-human creatures. The opening soundtrack for the series is ‘Symphonie pour un monde étrangé’, which is about a symphony for an estranged world. The soundtrack that accompanies the closing credits for series 3 and series 4 of Sanctuary features some Farsi and Latin phrases. The Latin phrases, which are not intended to convey any special meaning, are sung by the Armenian-Iraqi born female soloist Nova Emad: “fides scriptura”, “fides Christus” “fides Quarens Intellectum” (faith in Scripture, faith in Christ, faith seeking understanding). [Also refer to Disc 6 of Series 3 extra chapter “The Music of Sanctuary”]. Nevertheless the three Latin phrases that conclude Series 3 and 4 open up the vista on faith.

To find out more about resurrection and the Undead, vampire spirituality, and about resurrection and other views of the afterlife (like ghosts) check out chapters five and seven of The Cross Is Not Enough.

Resurrection in Callan and The Eagle (Ørnen: en krimi odyssey)

Callan (British Spy) and The Eagle: A Crime Odyssey (Danish Crime Fighting Special Unit) might seem two very improbable places to find analogies of Christ’s resurrection.

When we wrote The Cross Is Not Enough it was much longer than what was eventually published. In chapter four where we explore analogies of Christ’s resurrection in pop culture, we also spoke about Callan and The Eagle: A Crime Odyssey (Ørnen: en krimi odyssey). Space limitations meant we had to drop them out.

RESURRECTION IN CALLAN

Edward Woodward (1930-2009), (starred in The Wicker Man, Breaker Morant, The Equalizer) was the star of the British cult-TV series Callan (1967-72).  Callan is an espionage agent working for a mysterious government agency merely known as the Section. At the end of the second series the story ended on a cliff-hanger: Callan is wounded and very close to death.

The first episode of the third series of Callan is called, “Where Else Could I Go?” It opens with Callan having recuperated from his wounds. His boss Colonel Hunter muses: Does Callan still have what it takes to be ruthless? Hunter says to a subordinate James Cross that he will give Callan three days to see what happens. Cross who is skeptical says, “It will take a miracle.” Hunter retorts, “Resurrections usually are.”

Notice that Hunter allows for three days for Callan’s metaphorical resurrection?

RESURRECTION IN THE EAGLE: A CRIME ODYSSEY

The Eagle: A Crime Odyssey (Ørnen: en krimi odyssey) won the International Emmy Award for the best non-American drama series in 2005. The Eagle is the nickname of Hallgrim Hallgrimsson a half-Icelandic and half-Danish lead investigator of the RSA an International Criminal Investigation Unit. In episode eight Hallgrim is stabbed in the chest and in hospital dies and undergoes a near death experience (NDE). After Hallgrim returns to his body some of his colleagues gather around his hospital bed. His subordinate colleague Villy Frandsen opens a bottle of wine and offers a toast: “To Hallgrim’s resurrection.”

Both Callan and Hallgrim Hallgrimsson have experiences that take them to the threshold of death. Both return to fullness of life. Both characters are flawed men. Their work in espionage and international police work involves frequent violence and sometimes dubious ethics. They seem very unlikely to qualify as Messianic figures. Nevertheless the scripts of both stories make allusions that echo Christ’s resurrection.

Check out our book and especially chapter four to see other examples we discuss. Can you think of any other resurrection analogies from TV series or movies? Drop us a note below.

Torchwood and Christ’s Resurrection (Part One)

Torchwood and Christ’s Resurrection — it sounds a bit weird, right?

Well, we don’t think so. In The Cross Is Not Enough we talk about Captain Jack Harkness who is the lead character in TorchwoodHe acts at times like a Christ figure who saves others, indeed saves the whole world.

A key clue is that in several stories Jack dies and is resurrected from the dead. If you didn’t realise it, Jack’s death and resurrection is a veiled analogy to Christ’s Resurrection.

WHO IS CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS?

Captain Jack Harkness was created by the Scottish television writer and producer Steven Moffatt. He is played by the Scottish-born American-raised actor John Barrowman.

Captain Jack, as he is also known, began life not in Torchwood but in the BBC’s long-running series Doctor Who. Its in the 2005 series that Captain Jack first appears and he shares five episodes with the Doctor, and the Doctor’s assistant Rose Tyler.

In the story “The Empty Child“, Captain Jack turns up on earth during the London Blitz of 1941. He seems to be an American-born volunteer who serves as an officer-pilot in the R.A.F. That is when he encounters the Doctor. As that story unfolds, its revealed that he is a human being but actually comes from the 51st century. In that futuristic time he worked as a Time Agent but then through a chain of events became a con-artist selling off pieces of technology to the highest bidder. He tries to hide in the twentieth century to evade being arrested.

CAPTAIN JACK’S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD

Captain Jack and the Doctor initially harbour doubts about each other but as they share in subsequent adventures they become good friends. Under the Doctor’s mentoring, Captain Jack is transformed from feeling like a coward to being a man of action who says “no” to evil.

In the final story of the 2005 series — “The Parting of the Ways“– the Doctor, Captain Jack and Rose Tyler are pitted against the power of the Doctor’s most formidable and evil enemy the Daleks.

The Daleks kill Captain Jack in the climactic battle. However, Rose Tyler amazingly intervenes. She accessed the power of the time vortex out of the Doctor’s time-travel capsule the TARDIS. Using this power Rose pours energy into Captain Jack’s corpse and astoundingly he is resurrected back to life again. Unfortunately for Captain Jack he is left behind as the Doctor and Rose rush away after the battle.

As we discover from later stories in Doctor Who, Captain Jack used a time-vortex manipulator and travelled back in time to the earth. He wants to be reunited with the Doctor and he knows that when the earth gets into huge trouble the Doctor always returns.

TORCHWOOD

Before Captain Jack manages to become reunited with the Doctor he lives a new kind of life on earth during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.Torchwood (unscramble the letters and you get “Doctor Who”) developed as an adult spin-off series from Doctor Who. The Torchwood Institute is the name of a secret organisation that hunts down aliens who threaten the earth. Captain Jack leads the Torchwood team in an underground base in Cardiff, Wales.

Throughout the four series of Torchwood we learn more about Captain Jack’s life, and we see him in different stories saving others in a Christ-like fashion. He also experiences death and resurrection a few times but that’s something we’ll chat more about in the next post.