Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 5

In which the captives try to define Christianity and go off to visit a church.

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

At this point in the story, Narrator-Matt and his partners (the Mad Scientist Dr. Culbetron and the Hibbs 3000 android) have been captured by the werewolf, Luther Martin, whom they had hoped to capture themselves. Luther has revealed that he recognized Narrator-Matt as the author of a Christian novel, and hopes that Matt will explain to him about "the transformative effect of being a follower of Jesus" - in other words, whether Christianity can cure his lycanthropy. At that point, I stopped to discuss the presence of Matt Mikalatos the author, and Matt Mikalatos the character, and how that shared identity affected the story.

So now, back to the text. Luther insists that he is a Lutheran, but not a Christian - a distinction which, unfortunately, comes off as more confusing than funny. (I think it's meant to be a comic reversal of the common conceit that people of other denominations aren't Real True Christians - in this case, Luther is only certain that despite his denomination, he isn't a Real True Christian.) At this point, Narrator-Matt and his companions are trying to help Luther, so they agree to answer his questions.

Before we get into that, though, Luther digresses into telling them about his wife, who has left him and taken their daughter because he hurt them when he was being a wolf. So, again, we're seeing that the problem with werewolvery is the uncontrollable rage - which makes it somewhat puzzling that Luther had enough self-control to capture Narrator-Matt and his companions, who at the time were making a concerted (if incompetent) effort to capture him. I don't know, maybe strangers assaulting him in his own front yard just doesn't piss him off the way arguing with his wife does. On the other hand, they annoyed him enough to trigger a transformation, so...?

So, having firmly established why Luther wants to find help, we return to the Lutheran-But-Not-Christian distinction, and the companion question of how, exactly, you define “Christian.” Now, this might seem like a pretty simple question - especially since Matt is the author of a Christian book already, and a Christian book that apparently convinced Luther to consult with him about the subject. But... no. Narrator-Matt, Culbetron, and Hibbs 3000 huddle up and start working out a definition. After a while, they take their results back to Luther, who unhelpfully shoots them down.

In fairness (especially since, so far, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about problems I had with the book), there are some things here that - as an unbeliever myself - I’m particularly glad to see the author get right. Chief among them is that Hitler was not, in fact, an atheist; but rather considered himself (or at least promoted himself as) a Christian. Luther also points out that claiming to follow Christ does not automatically produce personal transformation and profound improvements in one’s character, which makes much of what is called “Christianity” useless to him. Narrator-Matt suggests that he should try going to church, and Luther agrees (somewhat ominously) that he and Matt should attend a church together.

Luther selects a large, well-established church: one whose membership is composed of solid, respectable citizens. This, of course, turns out to be the sort of church where the members talk n glowing terms about the wisdom and guidance of their preacher, and consult his three-Bibles-thick "study Bible" for the answers to any and all questions they might have. And, using a nice little horror-story trope, Author-Matt has Luther and Narrator-Matt actually sitting in the pews before Narrator-Matt realizes that none of the worshipers think for themselves because they're all zombies! And Now We Are Surrounded By Them!

This is another of the sections that the book really does right, in part because we're once again playing to the author's strengths: slapstick comedy, with pratfalls and chases and funny repartee. This holds right up through the point where Matt and Luther are confronted by the preacher, Dr. Bokor, and on through their daring escape from the building and out of the parking lot. Along the way they pick up an incompletely-converted zombie named Robert - adding, I suppose, another verse to the Monster Mash that Narrator-Matt seems to be assembling around himself.

They question Robert The Zombie a bit, and find that he wants to "stop living this zombie lifestyle." So they suggest that he stop listening to Dr. Bokor entirely, an idea which Robert embraces enthusiastically. In fact, he's so pleased with their help that he immediately attaches himself to Narrator-Matt for guidance in anything that he might have to, y’know, think about.


  1. Dr. Bokor, eh? I suppose that's supposed to be a meaningful name.

  2. Rather like Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda, yes.

  3. You'd be amazed at how few readers catch the bokor reference... I think partly because modern (mainstream) zombie tales tend toward the scientific/virus explanation. I sort of prefer the malevolent will of the bokor moving the volition-less undead after people. I think it would make for scarier zombie movies. My first real introduction to zombies was "The Serpent and the Rainbow" when I was in junior high, so no doubt that's part of it....

    Re: Christians being unable to define what it means to be a Christian. I think that, in the presence of anyone who will push back on the definitions being offered, this is particularly difficult for evangelicals specifically and protestants generally. There is a big emphasis on having the correct set of beliefs, so most of the definitions will tend toward boiling down Christianity to the core necessary doctrines. If you start to add in requirements about behavior it gets messy... if you say "a Christian doesn't lie" for instance, you've got a pretty intensely difficult time ahead of you finding any Christians. And most people are uncomfortable with the vague definitions... "Someone who is truly trying to follow the teachings of Jesus." What does that mean?

    Which leaves you with a lot of people who think they could easily define what it means to be a Christian, but actually they can't when they get pushed.

  4. Yeah, Voudoun seems to have mostly left the public eye - the idea of infectious zombies has taken over almost entirely.

    Fred Clark (over at Slacktivist) makes an interesting distinction between descriptive definitions ("A Christian is a follower of Christ") and prescriptive definitions ("Christians do not lie"). The prescriptive definitions are obviously not literally true; they're a statement of intent, rather than an observation of existing qualities.

    All in all, though, I'm still a little surprised that Narrator-Matt didn't have a go-to definition to whip out for Luther. (Even if Luther immediately poked holes in it, which - as you pointed out - wouldn't be all that surprising.)


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