Eternity of the Living Dead
I made the mistake of watching a zombie movie last night on the Internet (yes, I know, lousy social life). It was pretty much the same as all zombie movies, lots of slow moving, non-thinking zombies (sort of like me on Monday mornings), getting gunned down by a wide variety of firearms by poorly acting terrified non-zombies. Some interesting points about pop-culture zombies: they resurrect in the same form as when they die; they don’t get any smarter or better looking, just hungrier; and they want to eat living people. No one needs to attend acting school to portray a zombie.
(I know, I am talking about Hollywood zombies here and not the single reanimated corpse zombies of voodooist lore, which are restored for the purpose of serving their masters. Hollywood zombies are closer to religious ones.)
I have no idea where the idea of a wholesale resurrection of all the dead humans originated. Many religions have single person or special sacrifice resurrection myths. Quite often these are associated with the cycles of death and rebirth as seen in nature or with recurring seasons. These views are widespread and similar myths have existed in a great many cultures (“The Golden Baugh” by James Frazer, is still a great source for many of these). Kill someone, bury their body, and it comes back to life, or the crops grow, or winter ends, or your wife is fertile, or you can find the TV remote, etc.
The earliest organized religion I came across that believed in the resurrection of the dead (as in everybody being eligible to resurrect and not just some god or select individuals) was in Egypt. It was a tenant of Zoroastrianism too, and it probably made its way from these into Judaism, although there was a strong (and remaining) line of thought within Judaism which rejected this, as it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah (this was one of the differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees). Christianity probably picked it up from the Egyptians and sects of Judaism, and Islam could have got it from sects of Judaism and Christianity. Or maybe not… This idea of the “reawakened dead” has very deep roots, so any insistence on a pinpoint source is going to be wrong.
It doesn’t seem to have caught on anywhere else as part of a mainstream religion, at least that I am aware of. Let me know if you know of any other major religion, present or historical, that believed in the resurrection of all dead people at some point in the future. (And yes, I know about the Norse and the battle of Ragnarok, but unless you assume that everyone not selected for Valhalla ended up on Hel’s ship of nails, then it was a selective reanimation. Still, it is a great story. I always found Valkyries [but not the Wagnerian or “What’s New Pussycat” types] sort of sexy.)
In any event, although all these major religions claimed to know that the body would be physically rejuvenated, none of them really got into the mechanics of what this would mean. The Egyptians were probably the most sophisticated about it. They believed strongly in the preservation of the flesh (at least parts of it) in anticipation of revitalization. But they also seem to have believed that the rebirth was a near term event, with judgment and revitalization occurring shortly after death. This is quite different from the other four major religions with mass resurrection myths, as they (or sects within them) all predict that a mass resurrection will occur at some point in the future. That is, a true “Night of the Living Dead” but they will be happy and smiling, presumably, when they pop out of the ground. (Now, a word of caution here, this is a disputed topic and lots of sects with these religions believe that when you die, you go to heaven, do not pass GO and do not collect $200 (you have to like the game “Monopoly” to understand this reference). But significant parts of these religions do believe in a final resurrection, so it’s this belief I am talking about.)
CSI in the Next Life?
Now all this brings to mind a couple of musings, and I am not going to highlight any particular religion, but just focus on the absolute weirdness of this this concept—which is fundamental to many believers—of the dead walking again. A few questions, Mr. God, if I may?
First, why reanimate a corpse? If God can make galaxies and stars and K-pop, why can’t he/she/it make you a new body? Why have to work with the old rotting flesh or dusty bones? The problem here is that the Egyptians thought it would happen right away, but in another place. No one in Egypt predicted that the dead would go strolling along the Nile. But with later, less sophisticated religions (yes, I reject the contention that religion has become more sophisticated over time and I certainly reject the idea that monotheism is an improvement on polytheism), the element of resurrection was retained, but they don’t seem to have an idea of where it would happen so they just pushed out the time for the event. It became an “end of the world/age/trial/whatever” event. So bury the corpse for now and revive it at some point in the future, like a dog does bones or a squirrel nuts.
This makes no sense. Why keep the original body? Nothing I can find in any religious literature tells you why this is so. Maybe the underlying thought was that in order to preserve your “essence” you need some bits of your physical form. But if that is so, then why do you need a soul? No religion really explains why you need some vestige of your former physical self. Maybe God needs it for the DNA evidence so he/she/it can match the right soul with the right body? Still illogical, errant nonsense as far as I can make out. Why do you need the old body? Who knows.
If you had a physical disability, what is the point of having to have this throughout eternity? If you are stuck with your old body, does that mean you have what you had at the time of death? You can never be a professional basketball player, even in heaven? At least in Islam, they put you back to 33 years of age. Some believers when you talk with them assume that all the problems are healed. The blind can see, the lame can walk, etc. Pity God was too busy to help fix these problems when they were living, but he/she/it is a busy intergalactic deity and some things just don’t get addressed on time.
But even assuming everything is “fixed,” are we going to get better? Will the ugly be beautiful? Will everyone be taller, less fat, sparkling eye colors, and never have to worry about a “bad hair day”? Can I keep my beard, or is heaven a “crew-cut, no beards except for prophets” sort of place (as some American evangelicals seem to think). A critical question for most men is, will the bald have their mane restored again? Will women lose their stretch marks? Will my nose finally fit my face?
When you ask believers about this they usually don’t know what to say (although not Muslims, as their paradise is very well described, and it’s full of sensual delights with things to eat, drink [including a river of wine] and enjoy). Okay, it’s not as great for women as men, but it’s still a better description than you get in other religions. If you’re going to spend your whole life working towards something, it’s better to at least have some idea of what you are supposed to get in the end.
No one has an authoritative source on what you’re going to look like or be able to do in heaven. Seems rather odd to me to be spending your whole life working towards a reward when you’re not really sure what it will be, but then I am a bit of a literalist. Some people must just like a surprise. Just ask an American Southern Baptist whether we will be wearing clothes in the afterlife, and then ask them what the clothes are made of and whether they came from Wal-Mart…No one has any clue at all.
Walking Zombies for Sure
Go ahead, ask a Christian if there will be great sex in the afterlife and you are likely to get a blank stare and some stuff about you not needing that anymore. How about food and drink? Well, you won’t want that any more either. (Some people are sure that their pets are going to heaven, so you can still play catch with Fido and clean up hairballs left by Fluffy the cat.) How about music? Can I enjoy my preferred iPod music and never again have to listen to rap (yes, I am from “that” generation)? I won’t go through the whole list, but basically most Christians and Christian writings assume that heaven will be wonderful and involve the contemplation of God or singing (there are virtually no descriptions of heaven in the Bible, and those that are there are mostly about God on his throne with multi-winged angels singing or chanting “holy, holy” around him—he obviously has a personality in need of some serious positive reinforcement…or maybe just lack imagination).
Well, if this predominate Christian view were to be correct, then virtually everything you like here in life would no longer be desired in heaven. No more naughty, but nice, thoughts about sex; no more enjoyment from food or drink; everyone will be happy with everyone else, so no competition, rivalry, etc. between people. You can imagine the rest. In short, a very small percentage of our current human emotions and perceptions will be left to us. We will be happy, delighted with God, and what else…? What are we supposed to talk about to each other for an eternity?
“Great cloud over there, Bill.”
“Yes, Bob, but it wasn’t as nice as that one over Montreal in 2367.”
So basically, we will not be who we are now once we get to heaven. We will be lobotomized sheep, bleating platitudes to our creator forever and ever in a perpetual state of bliss. Sounds like a really good drug trip to me. Massive doses of DMT for everyone! (If you don’t know what DMT is, find out about it. It’s the surest way to see “God”; trust me on this.) Sounds like being a zombie to me, albeit a happy, non-flesh eating zombie, but a mostly mindless reanimated corpse all the same. Gone is everything that makes me “me”—it all sounds like a storyline from an original Star Trek episode. But I guess being high for an eternity is not a bad way to imagine it, but it does mean my mental prowess will probably be more akin to the movie zombies than to my current self. No desires, no ambition, no curiosity, no anger, no jealousy, no goals, just bliss and the occasional chorus of “holy, holy, holy.” As Joseph Campbell put it, “And won’t it be a bore.”