By John K. Lee
About the same time each year, my shoulders become tense with subconscious anticipation. The sun-worn skin on the back of my neck tingles. I sense something coming. When I leave the house it’s apparent that the buttery warmth of summer is giving way to a crisp, less forgiving, chill. The days are shorter. The nights are long. I can almost smell it. In fact, when I close my eyes and take it in, I get hints of…of…chocolate?
That’s when a tired voice snatches me out of my revelry to ask, “Do you want paper or plastic?” Immediately, I’m brought back to reality. I then realize that the aroma is nothing more than the unintentional potpurri of assorted, pre-packaged, candy packs on a seasonal display behind me. As I quickly pay the checkout clerk, I’m subtly reminded that [please read the remainder of the sentence in a creepy pirate voice] Halloween be upon us!
All jokes aside, as followers of Christ, this day can be confusing. And while there is no consensus on how believers choose to collectively observe and/or ignore this pseudo-holiday, I think that we can all agree that, in America, pop culture’s influence on how we view this strange appropriation of a pagan solstice celebration is still very strong. After all, when I think of ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, my thoughts range from the nostalgic (á la It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown), to the sinister (i.e., 1980s era urban legends of devil worshipers sacrificing neighborhood cats). So in the spirit of the season, instead of writing the expected 5 Tips for Harvest Partying Like It’s 1999 or Hell House Evangelism: How To Scare the Bejesus Out and The Holy Spirit In, I want to ask you if you’ve ever really considered this question–what kind of monster are YOU?
Now before you let your imagination run wild with elaborate, quasi-psychological, explanations as to why you think that The Creature from the Black Lagoon truly represents your essence, let me narrow your selection to three possibilities: vampire, zombie, or werewolf. From the plethora of ghouls and goblins I could’ve chosen from, you may be wondering why just these iconic three? The following paragraphs will explain my rationale and once you’ve read through them all, feel free to make your selection.
Lets be honest, the vampire has always been the sexiest of the creatures that go bump in the night. Forever young, void of physical imperfection, the vampire didn’t need the support of tween Twilight fans to give this classic bogeyman a PR makeover. Good ol’ nos veratu has been holding it down since the days of Bram Stoker.
However, if we really analyze this bloodsucker we must first ignore recent authors’ revisionist attempts to humanize vampires as tortured souls who reluctantly succumb to their literal bloodlust as infrequently as is necessary. The truth is vampires are creatures who embrace the darkness. They chose not to follow the natural order of life to death. They were transformed of their own accord. Willingly, they tasted the blood of their vampire host. In exchange for their immortal souls, they are granted powers both physical and paranormal. Being almost immortal, they deem themselves to be free of the morality that encumbers mankind. Their only concern is to remain entertained and well fed on the blood of whomever they choose. The fact that they are skilled in the art of seduction further justifies their choice to murder as they please. After all, the entranced victims seem to come of their own free will.
Simply put, the vampire can be likened to the evil men of this world. For individuals of this ilk, harming others is both practical and at times enjoyable. They feel free to do as they please because the ends justify the means. Because they are not hindered by the confines of ethics or rule of law, these individuals oftentimes find great worldly success. With this success, they are able to attract others who are likeminded and the vampire’s alliances, and in-turn their power, grows. Unfortunately, this power can be mistaken for goodness (the might is right fallacy) and that’s when the well intentioned expose themselves to victimization.
Although, I could objectively see how some could idealize the vampire, I can’t imagine anyone envying the lot of the zombie.
The zombie is beyond any romantic reinterpretation. It’s sole motivation for un-living(?) is to devour the flesh, and preferably the brains, of warmblooded people. A zombie does not discriminate. He would just as easily feast on its own child as it would a random stranger. There is no cure, no magic potion, and no amount of pleading that can quicken this walking dead. The zombie’s only hope is to be put out of its misery via shotgun blast to the dome or brain crushing blunt force trauma. And though the zombified don’t choose their fate like vampires, if you are a fan of zombie shows and movies like me, you will be quick to note that most of the characters that are bit do so by being absolute morons. With common sense cast aside, the soon-to-be-bit are generally the foolhardy ones who choose to leave the safety of the group to take risks that are infinitely not worth it. So while there is some pity for them, it’s also not uncommon to feel that the infected are partially deserving of their current states.
If making comparisons to the world of the living, the zombie is most like the addict. The addict lies, cheats, and steals. He is an equal opportunity offender. Family and friends are not immune to his ways. To insulate ourselves from having to truly deal with what the zombie is, we caricaturize them. Using them as cautionary tales we create this separation from them because if we are really honest with ourselves we all have at least one zombie in our lives and we have to acknowledge that, had circumstances been different, we could have very well been in the exact same position. Pitiful, yet demonized, just like in the movies, the zombies in our world are avoided at all costs.
Among the three, the werewolf stands alone. Truly more victim than villain. But still, even the most conscientious werewolf has blood on his hands. Cursed with the fate of monthly transformations into a horrific nightmare, the werewolf is undeniably the most sympathetic of all monsters. In most pop culture mythologies, the werewolf, in his human state, is wracked with guilt, does everything he can to prevent the dormant terror from harming others. They will attempt to chain themselves up, seek out a cure, do everything they can to liberate themselves from the bondage of their inner beast. With no solution, the werewolf will unintentionally hurt the ones he loves most. For the werewolf, the guilt of hurting others is only outweighed by the reluctant knowledge that the mayhem he despises–at least in the heat of the moment, he equally enjoys.
For those of you who haven’t yet figured it out, the werewolf is the everyman. Most of us try our best to curb our inhibitions, limit the amount of pain we cause to others, and especially when it comes to those we care about we want to spare them of all the hurt and suffering that we can. Nevertheless, when the circumstances are right, don’t we all find ourselves howling at the moon?
Now that you’ve been presented with an explanation for all three monsters, I’m sure that most of you fall into the category of werewolf. I highly doubt a vampire would care to read a church blog, and a zombie is far too busy getting his next brain fix.
But I have to confess something. The initial query was actually somewhat of a trick question. You see, if you are reading this, and you are a believer, then you are not any kind of monster. The monster is the old you. In Christ, we are no longer under the dominion of our instincts as bloodsuckers, brain eaters, or monthly anarchists. While the old ways seem only a decision away, as Christians we have been given the power to act against what was once inevitable. Though you may still feel the hunger for blood, brains, or flesh, for the first time you can decide that it isn’t for you.
The most important thing to take away from all of this is that you have to realize that you really were a monster. You hurt others, you acted in your own interests, and even when you didn’t intentionally do wrong, you are still responsible for what you’ve done. And for the sake of argument, lets say you were a werewolf, and you were able to figure out how to prevent yourself from wolfing out on others 99% of the time, it’s that 1% when you couldn’t keep it together that makes you deserving of the silver bullet through your heart.
So this Halloween as you celebrate or abstain from the festivities, take the time to think of the monster you once were and thank the Lord above that unlike the fictionalized world of television, books, and movies there is a way out that doesn’t involve a stake to the heart, exploding craniums, or silver bullets and in God’s infinite grace you have found him.