Thursday, December 8, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 18

Inside the burning 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:

Luther is a werewolf who wishes to be free of his curse. He has spent most of the book trying various things, none of which have worked. Now, following a confrontation with his father and fight with a monster hunter, he is standing inside a burning church which is about to collapse: caught between death and redemption. His buddy, Narrator-Matt, is outside the church and has just watched it collapse.

Before the reader has time to worry about Luther’s fate, we switch to another of Luther’s interludes. Luther now explains about how his father’s sacrifice has caused him to realize that he really does love the old man. (He doesn’t share my misgivings on the topic, apparently.) And then he hears a voice calling him back into the building, and sees a burning man inside. This is obviously Jesus, and Luther approaches Him just as Borut (who is now a Satan-analogue, it seems) rises up from beneath a pile of burning rubble and demands the wolf’s life as his due. Jesus proceeds to coax Luther through a series of questions and answers, including a question of Luther’s: “I want to follow you. You know that. But what is the cost?”

I want to pause here, because this bothered me. I think it’s Biblical - or Biblical enough that most Christian readers won’t be especially bothered by it. But here is Jesus’ response to that question:

"If you were at war with a foreign king with an army twice as large as yours, Luther, an army you knew you could not defeat, what concessions would you make for peace?"

I looked at the floor. "I would give him whatever terms he asked for."

"In the same way, you must give up everything you have or you cannot be my follower."

There’s a rather disturbing implication, here. If the choice is between following Jesus or eternal torment in Hell, then every conversion is a conversion at gunpoint. Heck, if the choice is between following Jesus or death, then every conversion is a conversion at gunpoint. God is, metaphorically, holding a gun to the head of all of humanity. This does not strike me as the behavior of a being who is loving, good, or just. I realize that this is an objection to Christian doctrine in general, rather than a complaint specific to this book, but I found it troubling all the same. (And it is outlined very explicitly here.)

Secondarily, what exactly does Jesus mean by “everything you have”? Isn’t that exactly what the zombies have done? They’ve given up their thinking, their free will, and presumably a fair chunk of their Earthly possessions - everything they have. And yet they are not presented as an ideal (or even a particularly good) approach to being a Christian. Is the problem here that they've given those things up to Dr. Bokor, rather than to Jesus? Or does "everything you have" not actually mean "everything you have"? Maybe it's more like owing "a favor" to a mob boss, where you know it's going to be something and possibly something unpleasant, but you don't get to know what? Or maybe it's just Jesus' way of saying, "Don't ask." Night of the Living Dead Christian raises the question, at least by implication, but it doesn't really try to answer it.

Facing Jesus, Luther declares himself His servant. Beside them, Borut is still demanding the death of the wolf, and Jesus says something about needing to die in order to live. All this comes together - very nicely, from a story and pacing perspective - when Jesus reaches down and tears the werewolf apart.


  1. I'm guessing from what I've seen that you've had this conversation plenty of times with semi-reasonable people, so I won't rehash it here. I'll just share that from a Christian's perspective, we'd mostly describe it less like a gun to the head conversion and more like a doctor telling a patient that he has cancer, and that he has to choose between selling everything he owns to get the surgery or refusing the surgery altogether. We could pick either of these metaphors to pieces pretty easily, the point being that on the skeptic's side we have God as aggressor, and on the non-skeptic side God as the physician providing a cure. Granted, both metaphors are used in scripture (though I think when paired with the tower metaphor that immediately follows the army one, it's pretty clear that what Jesus is actually trying to bring out is to weigh the cost of the decision to follow rather than "follow or burn in hell") . Slave-owner, father, husband,judge, lover, brother, friend are all used to attempt to describe the relationship between humanity and God. I'm not comfortable with that, but there it is.

    One of the main things I'm trying to hammer into Christian readers here is that the whole "magical conversion" theory doesn't work in light of the what the Bible says. There's no "say the prayer" and then live how you want without some attempt to live a life that brings righteousness, peace and healing in the world around you.

    I'd be glad to talk more about this, but don't want to force a conversation like this if there's not interest.

  2. "...On the skeptic's side we have God as aggressor, and on the non-skeptic side God as the physician providing a cure."

    Yeah, and I'm not sure that either one is a terribly good metaphor; human, earthly metaphors break down pretty fast when you're trying to talk about an all-knowing, all-powerful (and, to at least that extent, inhuman) being. That is, if you have beings of limited power dealing with a being of limitless power, there's essentially no way to have that imbalance not be at least potentially threatening.

    I suppose Jesus could have said that price of being saved is that you have to become a better person, but it would be awfully easy to mistake that for an argument towards salvation by works. (In the Christianity of my youth, salvation vs. works was never a question. If it had been, the answer would have been something like: "both, and by the way you can't really separate them.")

    But this really isn't a major issue for me; that is, I find it troubling, but it isn't significant to why I'm not a Christian.

  3. It's probably why the metaphors vary so widely in trying to explain a relationship with the infinite.

    So, what would be your significant issues related to not being a Christian? I'm not asking as an evangelist, I'm just curious.

  4. Oh, sure, ask a simple question with a complex and extremely personal answer, why don't you?

    But, okay. Hm. The really short version is basically that Christianity doesn't work for me as a worldview. It simply doesn't resonate, for lack of a better word. It doesn't reflect my experience or describe my awareness. (Other people, of course, will have other experiences, and their awareness will be different.) On a fundamental level, Christianity just... doesn't make sense to me.

    There is, of course, a rather longer version of this answer... but I'm a little reluctant to point you to it. Not because it's hostile to Christianity, but because I don't think there's a way to say, "I disagree with this way of looking at the world, comprehensively and in detail," without sounding like I think that anyone who doesn't see things my way is, you know, stupidly overlooking the obvious. But, with that caveat, if you want to read it, it's here.


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