While my oldest son was visiting for Thanksgiving, he lobbied hard for me to watch one of his favorite shows, The Walking Dead. Being the wonderful father that I am (this is where you smile), I gave in and watched the first episode of season one, then I watched episode two, three, four – you get the picture.
Why did I keep watching a show about a group of people trying to survive in a world stricken by a zombie apocalypse? Good question.
As I watched the show, I began to ponder what the show was really about. And because I see my world through Jewish lenses, it brought me to the idea of the relentless need that humans have for order and structure. In fact, think about how the Torah begins, the world was in chaos and God brings order. Now think about the early stories of the Torah and how it evolves. Essentially most people in the Bible lived in chaotic, violent and morally blurred societies. To bring order to humanity, grounded in ethical and moral norms, an ethical, monotheistic God gives the Israelite people a body of laws by which to live.
The Walking Dead takes us back to circumstances where a group of people have to survive in a world that no longer has laws or mechanisms for enforcement or structure. The differences between ancient society and the characters in the Walking Dead are that these characters had lived in a world of law presumably guided by ethics and morality but now find themselves in a lawless, hopeless situation, forced to make moral and ethical decisions that can seem subjective and relativistic.
What is striking about this show is its depiction of how quickly civilization and humanity can disintegrate without structure and no external legal force to keep the order. It’s like Lord of the Flies, but with adults. In the first season, which is all that I have watched so far, there is also an overwhelming sense of hopelessness which further clouds moral and ethical thinking. The group struggles to stay together and have some sense of order. The lead character also tries to engender some sense of hope to give the others the will to continue. People in the group challenge each other for authority and have no qualms about pointing guns at each other. The only thing that keeps them going is their urge to find safety as a means of restoring some sense of hope to create a “new normal.”
This show not only reminds me of the extreme fragility of life and society itself, it also reminds me of the deep human need for order, purpose and faith. Humans need structure, predictability and the moral compass ultimately provided by an ethical God.
I don’t know what will happen in the next seasons, but I do know, having searched the Internet, that this show does, in fact, spark many articles and conversations about the human condition, religion and moral and ethical dilemmas.
In the end, I do not need a zombie apocalypse to remind me of the extraordinary value of religion and religious customs and rituals to bring order and purpose into our otherwise fragile and unpredictable lives. I also don’t need zombies to remind me that we only survive as a people if we hold dear to our ethical monotheistic values and morals as expressed in our tradition. That doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t watch season two!