By Dan Russo
I’m a fan of both “The Walking Dead” and “Fear The Walking Dead.” The original series on the AMC network about a zombie apocalypse is arguably the most popular show on television, and “Fear,” its spinoff, also has an audience of millions. I enjoy the two shows because of their exceptional story telling, special effects and character development, but one aspect of them bothers me. I’ve noticed that there is a consistent bias against Christians in the shows.
Christians are typically portrayed as weak, naïve, cowardly or deluded. Furthermore, at various points, the writers have gone out of their way to deface or disrespect places, objects or practices that are sacred to Christians.
Let me provide an example. The most obvious religious character on ‘The Walking Dead’ is Father Gabriel Stokes, an Anglican priest. When the zombie outbreak began, Father Gabriel locked himself in his church with a large amount of food and supplies. Members of his congregation knocked on the doors looking for sanctuary. Father Gabriel let his community die outside, rather than risking himself to save them by opening the doors. Instead of aspiring to the type of selfless love Jesus displayed, Father Gabriel decides to be a coward. In another episode, the main characters massacre their enemies in front of the altar of Father Gabriel’s church, desecrating a holy place.
I’m used to seeing the disparagement of Christianity in popular entertainment and other media, so I’ve become largely numb to it. Watching a recent episode of “Fear the Walking Dead,” however, I saw something so over the top that it jarred me out of my numbness like a slap in the face. The title of the episode, called “Sicut Cervus,” (Season 2, episode 6) refers to a Latin version of a phrase from Psalm 42.
The episode opens in a Catholic Church in Mexico. The priest there gives a passionate homily telling his people he doesn’t know why God is allowing such suffering, but that the plague is not coming from God and that the people should fight against the zombies. The congregation is then seen consuming the Eucharist. Soon after Mass, they all die painfully, children included. Celia Flores, a character who has a non-Christian belief system that glorifies death, disagrees with killing zombies. She decided to murder the entire congregation by putting poison in the communion wafers to prevent the parishioners from fighting the zombies.
The body of Christ, in the Eucharist, was used as a weapon to commit mass murder on a major TV show. I couldn’t help but notice the irony as a Catholic — instead of leading the people to eternal life through Jesus, the transubstantiated hosts brought death and “resurrection” as zombies to the church goers. I felt sick watching this. We’ve come to the point in our society where most Christians, especially Catholics, are desensitized to seeing their faith insulted or misrepresented in popular culture and media. When it happens, most of us, myself included, usually do nothing.
The antidote to rising anti-Christian sentiment in the United States and the slowly increasing suppression of religious freedom that comes with it, is more engagement by Catholics and other Christians with the rest of society. To counter profane or objectionable material, Christians have to exercise our right to free speech. We should reach out to those who produce this type of entertainment and to their customers. We need to explain to them in a rational, peaceful and compassionate way why we disagree with what they’re doing.
I’ve sent letters to the creators of the “Walking Dead” shows. I asked them to portray Christian characters with more depth and balance and to have more respect for what Christians believe is sacred. In my letters, I also gave real world examples of Christians who have shown courage and strength in crisis situations. Christians aren’t perfect, I argued, but most of them aren’t cowards or delusional, as the writers of the shows seem to believe. I told the network executives to look at the stories of those in Iraq and Syria suffering under ISIS rule, yet refusing to abandon their faith, for inspiration as they craft Christian characters. I also mentioned Father Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who gave his life to save a stranger at a Nazi concentration camp in 1941. Will my letters have an impact? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.
The next time you see something in popular culture about Christians or the faith that you know is inaccurate or disrespectful, do something. If enough people speak up, the squeaky wheel will get the grease — or to put it in zombie apocalypse terms — the walking corpse will get the machete.
Photo:A child reacts while touching a skeleton model, which is part of an art installation to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Zocalo Square, Mexico City, Oct. 30. (CNS photo/Tomas Bravo, Reuters)