THE BLOG
11/24/2015 05:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Walking Dead: Rorschach Test for Faith

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And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. Corinthians 13:13

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

"After I save the world, I still have to live with myself." -Eugene

You know you're going to die or go insane if you try to make it alone. You can survive the perils of this fatally dangerous moment only if you run now! ... or... you can considerably lessen your chances of immediate survival if you stop and attempt to save your partner and bring him/her with you. Which do you do?

When we speak of "faith" in America today it is often specifically associated with the belief in and acceptance of Jesus within a Christian fundamental and/or Evangelical tradition. For many others Jesus might be substituted for Yahweh, Allah, Krishna or other names denoting the supreme entity within the context of each organized religion. For some, faith conjures a meaning of belief and trust in some form of unprovable benevolent "higher" power. And finally, the notion of faith in an entirely secular tradition simply might refer to a focussed intention for a certain outcome based upon hope and confidence, less based on logic and proof. What all these approaches to faith have in common is a forward leap toward filling an unknown future with a projected hoped-for known future.

And then there is The Walking Dead. As someone who doesn't like zombie lore, video games and comic/graphic novel culture I assiduously avoided the AMC TV series, The Walking Dead, since it began five years ago. Then a smart, sensitive and like minded close friend of mine told me that it wasn't about anything that I thought it was about. That it was amazing, emotionally and intellectually engaging and well worth the time. So two month ago I gave it a try and five seasons and seventy-odd hours later I am an avid convert.

The Walking Dead is the single most riveting narrative I have ever encountered that continuously demands that the viewer confront the big questions of existence, such as what does it mean to be a human? How can we go on living as humans in a world where predatory strength trumps any sense of morality? How much of our humanity can we lose to reprehensible deeds undertaken for our survival and sometimes for unbridled, nearly understandable retribution -- and still be considered human as opposed to a beast? If our understanding of what it means to be human is constantly betrayed by the disappointment of pernicious actions and schemes of others, why continue on with any human values at all?

To survive in the post apocalyptic universe of The Walking Dead requires an unabated desire to survive, period. Not much time to create art, an endeavor that some have speculated uniquely makes us human. Many people simply don't have a strong enough will for survival to continue on in The Walking Dead. And no wonder, it is a world where flesh eating zombie, that make up the vast majority of living creatures, are not the worst enemies. Other "humans" are far worse. Which again, begs the questions what is human? Zombies (or "walkers") destroy human bodies. Bad humans, through beastial brutality, betrayal and perversion, destroy the heart, soul, mind and will of other humans. (Bertrand Russell believed that "speech, fire, agriculture, writing, tools, and large-scale cooperation"--set humans apart from animals.)

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Our core cast of characters in The Walking Dead, have more going on than solely surviving. And that is why we love them and root for them and suffer when they suffer. In spite of it all they aspire; they have a conviction to maintain their sense of humanity despite every reason to abandon any moral principle of civilization at all. This conviction requires faith that people are better with core moral values than without. It requires positing a hoped for future against constant evidence to the contrary. You survive to see the next moment; to continue on into the future. If you believe in a future, a better or even the same as the present future, it requires some sort of faith in the unknown, hoped for future.

Obviously, you don't need to follow The Walking Dead to question the nature of humanity or to wrestle with inevitable doubts about your core faith -- all you need to do is open your eyes, watch the news. But if you do watch The Walking Dead, just like for its characters -- Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, Carol and Carl, et al. -- it demands that their and your faith be tested in ways that are compelling and often provocatively instructive. It's very intense; if you have no faith, you couldn't continue watching it.