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A Depraved Mind} ?> Foraging for food, seeking shelter, and facing hordes of undead is just another day in the life of the group of survivors from Atlanta, Georgia, in The Walking Dead.
Something else that strikes me, though, is that there are several occurrences in The Walking Dead that are reminiscent of Christianity—from the group holing up in a church in episode 2.1, to Hershel’s daily Bible study, occasions of prayer and scripture quotation, mentions of Christ, and the character of Father Gabriel. Beyond these nods to the Christian milieu of the American South, the show’s portrayal of the human condition is of particular interest to me. Namely, The Walking Dead juxtaposes hope with the brutality of a savage, amoral world. The behaviour of the people in the world of The Walking Dead evidences the depraved disposition of humanity as described in the Bible. The Walking Dead, like other apocalyptic fiction, portrays humanity as self-serving.
It is this selfishness that leads to the human-on-human thievery and violence that begins full-force in Season Three. As Rick and Shane’s factions threaten to split the group after they imprison a stranger who attempted to kill them, Dale’s plea for the group to remember its humanity by not executing the young man is a moral event horizon. When Dale dies and the walker herd descends on the farm, the characters lose their home as well as their hope that the world can ever go back to the way it was. Dale was a tangible symbol of that hope. Now, other survivors may be more of a threat than the walkers themselves.
Congruent to The Walking Dead, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight provides an apt ethical meditation on the implications of facing a merciless foe who will be stopped by nothing short of force. The Joker will never stop unless killed or imprisoned. The Governor, though defeated in Season Three, returned to destroy the prison in Season Four precisely because he was not killed or imprisoned.
The Joker tells Batman that when the chips are down, the so-called “civilized” people of modern society would eat each other. History has provided countless examples of altruism. This sums Batman’s retort on top of the skyscraper. The Joker’s reply: “…Until their spirit breaks completely.” Altruism survives because of hope, and hope motivates so long as it is seen as attainable.
The Walking Dead takes the audience on an existential roller coaster in which this principle is consistently played out. Each promise of hope is ultimately shattered, and some of the characters mentally deteriorate (Shane, Beth, Morgan, Sasha) when they realize what a world of “me and mine” looks like. Touching on our most primal fears and instincts—lack of food and shelter, fear of the unknown, the unleashing of death from the cage modern science and medicine have put it in—the characters devolve into individualism and tribalism as their senses of national and ethnic identity deteriorate and their concerns shift to seeking and, if necessary, killing for the bare necessities of survival.
To me, three Biblical phrases summarize the human condition portrayed in The Walking Dead and The Dark Knight.
The Earth Is Filled With Violence
The first event narrated in Genesis after Adam and Eve are ejected from Eden is Cain’s murder of Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). The very next narrative is the flood, where we read that the earth was “full of violence.” One of the most profound outcomes of separation from God, which was the result of Genesis 3, is that human beings commit violence against one another on an unmitigated scale. This is absolutely prevalent in The Walking Dead and embodied by the Joker.
Everyone Did As He Saw Fit
The recurring refrain of the Book of Judges—“Everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) pictures a society without God. Judges portrays some of the most heinous acts recorded in the Bible, not because it is lauding rape and violence, but because the intent of the book is to showcase what a society not abiding by Torah looks like. Judges, in essence, is Israel without God, and on a wider scale, Judges is a world without God. The Walking Dead, too, portrays a world without God.
God Gave Them Over To A Depraved Mind
Paul’s injunction in Romans 1 is often a cherry-picked proof text concerning sexual ethics. While this is present, we do well to understand the text’s primary concern: describing humans who have been given over to the power of sin. The Bible maintains that God has allowed sin and death to exist in the world. Thus, people engage in “…Wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice…”
The Joker Was Right
People are only as good as the world allows them to be. Take away food, shelter, security—take away the hope of these things—and even contemporary Western society will devolve into self-service as people strive against one another to survive. Without the promises hope provides, can altruism truly exist? The frightful truth of apocalyptic fiction is that deep inside ourselves, we know it can’t.
The Bible vividly portrays this truth in its left hand while holding out another in its right. In my opinion and experience, when people believe in Christ, their disposition changes. Self-service no longer describes them. They put something bigger ahead of themselves. They become as humans were always meant to be.