We all have a fascination with the supernatural, and, for some strange reason, many of us like being scared - hence the popularity of the horror/chiller genre in literature and cinema. My friends will tell you that I am no different - I love horror movies - decent ones (there is an awful lot of rubbish out there). That may be a fault, but it is a genetic one: my mother loves horror too - not that I'm blaming her! Why do we like such a genre? Perhaps we watch such things to remind ourselves that they are fiction and that we are safe, or maybe it just for the thrill.
That said horror can have some important lessons to teach us. Vampire stories remind us that it is the power of the cross that saves us and garlic is good for our health. And yes, always have a little bottle of Holy Water on hand. The exorcist movies remind us of the reality of the devil and the existence of hell and, despite all the negative publicity, the ministry of the Catholic Church and her priests is noble, important and necessary. Even the most anti-Catholic of people associate relief from the power of the devil in exorcism with Catholic priests - not a bad start. And then of course there are ghosts who remind us that we are not flesh machines but a union of body and spirit and there is a life beyond this one. Again, it is basic stuff, but good evangelisers can build on this.
And speaking of flesh machines, or flesh-eating machines, where do zombies come in? What is their meaning? In fact that is a question I have asked myself as I watched various zombie movies with friends, and I think the image of the zombie is perhaps the most meaningful of all. Another person is thinking the same way as myself: Rachel Mann in the Guardian: in fact she goes all the way in her reflection and sees in the reality of the contemporary "zombification" of humanity, hope for us all in the Church! Not what you expect to read in the Guardian!
Mann sees zombies as the symbol of an unthinking commercialism. She points out that in George Romero's sequel to his groundbreaking, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, we see zombies shuffling around a shopping mall pushing trolleys - doing the most basic unthinking thing they do: shop. Now that is a sight I often see when I go shopping; but Mann sees the emptiness of modern life symbolised in it - the power of "rapacious consumerism" reducing our humanity to unthinking objects who consume. Interesting.
I think the image is a good one. There has been a kind of zombification in last number of years. We have been caught in the trap of commericalism, we are referred to as "consumers", tempted from one fad to another, hoodwinked and conned. We are told, subtly, that we can be someone else or be more successful if we consume a particular product. The cult of celebrity has become so important we all want shares in it, to be famous, and commercial interests have siezed on this.
Indeed many of us are treated like unthinking zombies, even if we are told we are living in democracies or told to worship the god of choice and rejoice in our individualism. At the end of the day it is a facade - often we are told how to think. One of the things that was most offensive about Pat Rabbitte's recent remarks was the implication that though we are all told we are entitled to believe what we want, in reality we must believe and do what the government wants us to - anyone who opposes the government is not allowed to engage in public discourse. Come a referendum we are to become zombies capable of only ticking the "Yes" box - recent re-runs of referenda in Ireland is proof positive of this.
In spiritual terms, the zombie is an excellent image of the state of modern man - an empty shell, ugly to behold, with no mind of its own, only capable of tottering along in packs and eating. A mere physicality that is always in the clutches of death and can only find solace in the material and in satisfying the senses, or, the most base needs - hunger and sex. There is no awareness of the higher things.
Mann suggests that the Church is the one bastion against this zombification of modern men and women. She speaks of the life which Christ gives, and the hope and promise of new life the Church offers. Christianity challenges and it does make us think. Part of the reason many reject the Catholic Church's teachings is because they do not think. Oh yes, they say they are thinking, but delve deep enough and many are just following the zeitgeist of any particular moment (like zombies?) and choose not to examine the reasons why the Church teaches what she does.
For example, how many people who are contracepting actually know what is in Humanae Vitae? How many of its critics have actually read it and sought to understand it? How many have sough to walk in the shoes of the Church for a while and understand, for her viewpoint, what she is saying? Few I'd say. Most just think of sex, the Church interfering in their right to choose and so dismiss the Church as an irrelevant, authoritarian monolith. The fact that things have turned out as Pope Paul warned is ignored.
Often in debate, I rarely meet people who actually think - and when I do I am delighted. They may still disagree with me, but they are able to engage in dialogue and they listen and weigh up what you say. Too often people just say the same things, the meaningless platitudes that have been emanating from dissenters for years which they have accepted mindlessly.
And yet today we see a terrifying spiritual hunger, a hunger people try and fill with material things or by dappling in the occult, and neither of this will ultimately satisfy. I know people who move from one craze to the next to "fill their spirits", never considering the Church, and like nomads they wander endlessly with nowhere to call their home.
But there is a home for us all: the Church; and there is a lover for us: Christ. In that home we find solace and grace, but our eyes are also opened. I think the Scriptures were being ironic when we are told in Genesis that the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened - in reality they were closed, their minds darkened. Faith revives us and opens the eyes of our souls - this is what the Church teaches. When our eyes are open we see the truth and we embrace it even if the world and her governments tell us not to.
In his Audience yesterday the Holy Father spoke about this. Drawing on the witness of St John the Baptist, whose martyrdom we commemorated yesterday, the Pope reminded us that the truth is the truth, there can be no compromise. Here is an extract:
Dear brothers and sisters, the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist reminds us, Christians of our time, that we can not stoop to compromises with the love of Christ, his Word, the Truth. The Truth is the Truth and there is no compromise. Christian life requires, so to speak, the daily "martyrdom" of fidelity to the Gospel, that is the courage to let Christ grow in us and direct our thinking and our actions. But this can only happen in our lives if there is a solid relationship with God. Prayer is not a waste of time, it does not rob much space from our activities, not even apostolic activities, it does the exact opposite: only if we are able to have a life of faithful, constant, confident prayer will God Himself give us the strength and capacity to live in a happy and peaceful way, to overcome difficulties and to bear witness with courage.
No zombies there!