I have a guilty confession: I like zombies. I know, I know… it’s horrible and gross, but it does bring about some important ethical questions related to desperate circumstances. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, a horrible virus has turned the majority of the population into zombies. The zombie has an unbelievable hunger to kill other humans and seriously diminished intellectual capacities. It’s impossible to reason with a zombie, and it wants to eat you. Worldwide authority structures have collapsed, and there is no apparent cure for the condition, thus the world is now kill or be… gulp… eaten.
From a Christian perspective, this creates an interesting thought experiment. At what level is the zombie still human? How should we treat someone (or is it something?) who is afflicted as a zombie? Well, one might say, the zombies have already died once as part of the zombification process, so they are not really human. One might further argue that a zombie’s diminished capacities for reason or love render it non-human and thus ‘disposable.’ Not to mention that they want to consume the flesh of the living. Not so fast, another may counter, during normal times, we don’t regard the disabled as less than human, so what’s really changed? A person who is born with a disability may have a reduced capacity for reason or emotion, yet we do not prematurely end their lives. Someone who attempts to harm another human being, and is ignorant of the consequences of their actions is considered mentally ill, and yet we do not destroy such persons. We don’t kill other people who have diminished capacities because we recognize, explicitly or implicitly that it’s morally wrong. We don’t kill such people because we shouldn’t.
Christianity teaches that God created mankind in His image (Gen. 1:26-27) and because of this, humanity is worthy of respect and care (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9-10). Does this change in the zombie apocalypse? Our answer to the zombie problem reveals something important about how we handle real people here in the real world. When we are pushed to the wall in desperate circumstances, retaining our humanity means that we accept an ethical standard that is beyond our current problem. We treat people humanely because God created us in His image. Even though someone may have a reduced set of capabilities (and who doesn’t), that person bears His image and is worthy of dignity, respect and fair treatment.
I might be persuaded otherwise with regard to actual zombies, should that situation ever actually arise. Until they, stay human.