You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Friday, January 11, 2013

To kill or not to kill: the zombie dilemma.

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. 


  1. From my novice understanding of zombies, gleaned exclusively from the Walking Dead, I think humans complete the process of death prior to their bodies being reanimated as zombies. The incorporeal aspects of the person have proceeded to their intermediate state, while their bodies become the host for the zombie virus. For that reason I think the physical matter, as necessary as it is for a whole human person, is no longer a component of a whole human person and therefore not of the same ethical value as a whole human person. The point is not that their capacities have diminished, but that their person has been dismembered. (Perhaps the romantic comedy zombie flick "Warm Bodies" will clear things up this summer, though it doesn't look like it will hold true to zombie-orthodoxy.)

  2. Hey Seth, thanks for dropping by... great comment. The Walking Dead is setting the standard for the genre, at least currently. There are several historical loci from which one can examine the problem: you could think about it from when Rick initially awakes from a coma and is completely ignorant of the zombie situation or you could look at it from the various people who try to care for zombies because they are folks they knew from the past. Your perspective, which is entirely appropriate, comes after the visit to the CDC where Rick's group learns about the process of zombification. Up until then, they were limited to their observations, where a person appears to die and then several minutes later reanimates into a zombie. My initial comments rely on an earlier time in the storyline, while yours comes in later.
    I wonder if the argument of an 'absent soul,' which is my restatement of your thought above, could be applied to folks who are in a coma and need a machine to provide life support? There are issues here, as in 'locked in syndrome,' where the person is awake and aware, but totally paralyzed. Giving the appearance of an absent soul, but in reality present in soul, but not in body. It's definitely a 'sticky wicket,' and requires care and discernment to deal with in the real world.
    In a zombie apocalypse, it may be better to ask forgiveness rather than permission, as there is the threat of being eaten. Perhaps the initial argument is self-defense against a vicious human which changes into self-defense against a vicious former human?
    I'm looking forward to 'World War Z' this summer, but I'm a little bummed that the lead character is from the UN. If they're in charge of the zombie apocalypse, we're doomed.

  3. Wow, zombies are dead muthafookas with rotting flesh hanging off of em and stuff.Bullet through the brain be the only cure for that my friend. Voodoo zombies are the only ones that arent dead and thats a completely different kind of "zombie". More like a mindless drone slave who does anything you tell them too, you should look it up.