Zombies and Worldview


There some foundational questions that every human beings asks. They don’t always literally ask them, but they will live their lives out of the answers to these basic questions. In his book, The Universe Next Door, James W. Sire, lays out what he calls the basic worldview questions:

  1. What is prime reality—the really real?
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
  3. What is a human being?
  4. What happens to a person at death?
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
  7. What is the meaning of human history?
  8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Our society made the turn toward materialism over a century ago.  Materialism in the philosophical sense: the idea that that mater is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in physical terms.   This is what Friedrich Nietzsche had in mind when he voiced this idea through the madman declaring the death of God in The Gay Science (1882). This idea didn’t immediately percolate down to the popular level of our culture.  They were beginning to be felt in the 1960s.  The implications of materialism are one of the key features of the Dead in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Zombie answers to Sire’s worldview questions:

Question 1: The world is matter and matter only.  There is no spiritual reality, no transcendent — no God or gods, angels, demons; no objective Good, Truth, or Beauty, no universal meaning or human purpose.

Question 2: External reality is a random interaction between objects and competing impersonal forces.  From the answers to these to questions, the rest follow.

Question 3: A human being is a bag of guts, meat, blood and bone.  We see this graphically as the zombies tear human bodies apart.

Question 4: They rot.  They dry up.  They fall apart.  Zombies show us our material future.  Without the transcendent, we will look like zombies do–except we won’t walk around.

Question 5: All knowledge is subjective.  It lies in the individual human mind.  The  destruction of the human is, therefore, the destruction of meaning and knowledge.  In this sense, zombies are a picture of meaning and knowledge in a materialist reality–obliterated with a blow to the head.

Question 6: There is no right or wrong except the one we individually determine for ourselves.  This will often lead to practical ethics.  In the context of the zombie apocalypse, ethical decisions often hinge on survival.  Consequently, theft, murder, lying, etc. frequently fall into the category of the good.

Question 7: History has no meaning other than the one created by the subject.

Question 8: To avoid any appeal to a transcendent good, consumption of the world of objects, and this includes other people, might be our only core commitment.

The zombies are hyperbolic and metaphoric representations of how our culture might have to answer these questions if materialism is, in fact, a true expression of reality. Or at least zombies touch on some of the enduring problems with the way we’ve answered them in the West.

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