The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

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***SPOILER ALERT: This article speaks of The Walking Dead primarily in general, but events in Season 5, Episode 2 are discussed.***

In the last GFTM article where we looked at The Walking Dead from a Christian worldview, we explored how the Bible teaches that God restrains evil through governments (though those governments, being human, are imperfect). Once government collapses, evil is left to reign unrestrained.

Another way God restrains evil is through humankind’s innate morality.

So, the question is, is this innate moral law enough to suppress evil in a world of anarchy and chaos?

Are Humans Worse Than Zombies?

As discussed before, a major theme in The Walking Dead and nearly every post-apocalyptic TV show, movie, or book is the “good” man or woman struggling to hold on to his or her goodness in a world full of evil. Even in stories with people struggling to survive in post-apocalyptic environments – whether it be because of zombies or just lack of food – the main threat inevitably becomes other humans.

As The Walking Dead continues into Season 5, this is undeniable. In fact, the advertisements for the new season even read,

“Fight the dead. Fear the living.”

 

Further, in Season 5, Episode 2 (titled “Strangers”), we find this brief exchange:

Gabriel: “People are just as dangerous as the dead.”

Rick: “No, people are worse.”

 

Clearly, once law and order are gone, the darkness that is in people’s hearts is free to overflow like water behind a destroyed dam. Yet though we witness the internal struggles of Rick, Carl, Michonne, Tyree, Carol, and others to not be dragged completely down into the sludge – some characters teetering on the edge, maybe even going over it, but then pulling back again – they still manage to hold on to their humanity.

In fact, this often has a redeeming effect on them. Simply look at Michonne’s change from a woman who was quite crazy (to put it bluntly) and animal-like when they met her – wandering about with a samurai sword and leading two armless, jawless zombie slaves with her – to a person who actually smiles now – who actually makes an effort to bring others back from the brink, as seen in her relationship with Carl late in Season 4.

Despite the rest of the world succumbing to darkness, Rick Grimes’ crew often grasps on to what is right, even when it’s nearly impossible to do. This is, after all, why they are the heroes. Heck, it can even be quite easily argued that Daryl has become a better man because of this whole zombie nonsense.

But why? Why hold on to moral law in a world of lawlessness? Why do the right thing when everyone else openly pursues evil?

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The biblical, Christian worldview can answer this question:

Romans 1:18-20
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

Romans 2:14-15
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them”

We are all created by God and made in his image (Genesis 1:27) and we live in his creation, meaning whether we claim we believe in God or not, we know him and we live in his reality.

What the above verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us is that everyone knows there is a God, and everyone has God’s law written on their hearts. They may deny God’s existence; they may suppress God’s truth because they love their sin; they may even be able to numb their conscience; but they all know God and know his Higher Law. Thus, they are without excuse.

Philosophers a long time ago realized if we have an innate sense of a Higher Law, then there must be a Higher Law-Giver. Again, the Bible confirms this. In fact, the Moral Law is not something God created apart from himself, but it proceeds from God’s very nature. God is perfectly good, just, and holy. Thus, God’s own nature is the source of good.

Morals Without God

Even when I was a self-professed atheist I recognized that one couldn’t make sense of morals without God. Please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that atheists don’t have morals. They certainly do. Indeed, what I’m saying is that atheists can’t make sense of their morals – they can’t justify them – if there is no God.

The fact that self-professed atheists still hold to morals in what they believe to be a mindless, meaningless universe that is only here by random chance shows that, in fact, they’re made in the image of God. The fact that atheists make stout, absolute moral claims, despite many believing morals are subjective (or only a convenience to assist survival), displays that they know there is a Universal Law, though their denial of Christ has perverted their sense of it.

Recently, a self-professed atheist tweeted me in response to something I had tweeted about this very subject. Essentially, he claimed the Bible promotes rape and murder. Now, anyone who has a decent understanding of the Bible knows this is not true, but to prove the point of my earlier tweet, instead of giving him a Bible lesson, I simply asked him to explain why, according to an atheistic worldview, rape and murder is wrong.

Here is some of the interaction. I polished up some of the “tweet-speak” to make it more readable:

 

Ben: “In what universe are rape and murder moral? The Bible says to do both.”

Me: “So, are you saying rape & murder are immoral? According to what standard?”

Ben: “According to the standards of anyone.”

Me: “Why is this a standard to everyone? Where does this value come from?… [Furthermore, you said,] ‘standards of anyone.’ Anyone?? [There’s] sure lots of rape & murder out there… Does majority define truth? If everyone said you were a duck, are you a duck?”

Ben: “Murder isn’t illegal because its ‘immoral,’ it’s illegal because no one wants to get murdered. Same with rape and stealing.”

Me: “So other people don’t want to be murdered. Why should I care? Survival of the fittest, baby. See my point?”

Ben: “No, because in today’s society there are consequences for your actions, and you’d most likely be killed as well, by police.”

Me: “So we shouldn’t do rape or murder because we’ll get arrested or killed but they’re not wrong to do. That’s what you’re saying.”

Ben: “Right and wrong are just subjective. Everybody believes whatever the **** they want to believe. So if you want to go rape and murder people, that’s not my problem, so I don’t give a ****.”

Me: “Right. Just wanted to be clear. So you have no grounds for making any moral judgment. Rape, murder, racism, “homophobia,” sexism, killing babies, killing in the name of religion, slavery, genocide – are all OK according to your worldview, right?”

Ben: “No, according to the Bible those are all OK. The Bible actually tells you to do those things.”

Me: “[Even] if it does [which it doesn’t], according to your worldview that’s no problem. So, there’s nothing to argue about. Everything is subjective, so who cares?”

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Christianity on Secular TV

Interestingly, Episode 2 of Season 5 introduced a Christian character, an Episcopalian priest named Gabriel. I’m always curious to see how secular TV portrays Christians, since Hollywood often portrays them as either crazy or evil.

It’s also interesting to watch Hollywood’s assuredly poor understanding of Christianity and the Bible. Once, I remember looking over at my wife during an episode of Lost after Mr. Eko made some “Christian” statements and asking her, “What Bible is he reading?”

What pop culture does with the Bible is essentially what cults do too: They pick and choose Bible verses, take them out of context, and use them how they want to use them, making them say whatever they want them to say. So, it’s always interesting (and entertaining and infuriating) to see how Hollywood uses Scripture, whether it be in horror movies about demonic forces or political dramas like an infamous scene from The West Wing where the president uses the ol’ Why do Christians follow some of the Bible but not everything in the Old Testament? argument, showing an utter void of understanding of biblical theology (just like real-life politicians, including our presidents).

(If you’d like to know how to respond to both make-believe presidents & real presidents concerning the Christian understanding and use of the Old Testament, read my articles Making Sense of Old Testament Laws, Part 1 and Part 2.)

As one can expect, as Rick Grimes’ crew checks out Gabriel’s church in “Strangers,” we see “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6:54) in the sanctuary, which when not understood in context of the Lord’s Supper certainly sounds creepy, and certainly loosely fits with what both the zombies and the human cannibals pursuing our heroes do.

Another blogger did us a service by looking up verses seen on a verse board in the episode. All the verses have to do with the resurrection of the dead. Of course, the resurrection the Bible writers tell about is nothing like a zombie “resurrection” of the undead – but, hey, to be perfectly honest, if I was living through a zombie holocaust, I’m quite sure I’d be combing the Scriptures trying to make sense of what was going on as well.

But what this other blogger overlooked is one more verse used in the episode. The verse was in a framed picture quickly seen as our heroes searched the rooms of the church. Its message is quite fitting for The Walking Dead and is one we would all do well to remember:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good,
for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
(Galatians 6:9)

 

NEXT: WHY AREN’T THINGS WORSE? & WE’RE ALL WALKING DEAD

GOD FROM THE MACHINE has published it’s first book! Searching the Bible for Mother God is for educating and evangelizing those in the growing “Mother God cult.” Visit our page here.

Read the 1st article: “The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil” here.

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The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil

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***SPOILER ALERT: This article speaks of The Walking Dead primarily in general, but an event in Season 2 and the first episode of Season 5 are discussed.***

 

AMC’s zombie apocalypse TV show The Walking Dead, based on a comic book series of the same name, is not one of my all-time favorite shows, yet I find myself unable to stop watching.

I read the massive Compendium One collection of issues #1-48 of the comics before I knew the TV series was being planned, and I found much of the story-telling flat and didn’t feel compelled to continue reading the series. Though I do believe The Walking Dead makes a much better TV show than comic, the show has suffered spells plagued with lack of tension where you’re left wondering, How can a show about a zombie apocalypse grow stale?

All that being said, there’s something irresistible about a story continuing as a TV series long after the point where most zombie movies would’ve ended. Further, I’ve always found the post-apocalyptic genre fascinating since watching as a kid the post-nuclear holocaust movies of the 80’s, including films like The Road Warrior and Terminator. Throw in zombies on top of that, and how can I not watch?

Where I would not classify The Walking Dead in the same category as ground-breaking TV as far as story-telling, character development, or acting goes as The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, the creative forces behind The Walking Dead have created one of the most engrossing shows on television at this time, and they should be commemorated for putting together some truly gut-wrenching episodes. I mean, who can possibly forget in Season 2 when Carol’s lost daughter, Sophia, comes ambling out of Hershel’s barn with other zombies?

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COMMON THEMES

Whether it be William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies, the more recent Denzel Washington post-apocalyptic movie Book of Eli, or the zombie world of The Walking Dead, we find similar themes in all of these stories where civilization breaks down. Evil is left unfettered. Anarchy reigns. Survival of the fittest is the only law. And we see the “good man” (and woman) swimming against the crashing waves of this new, harsh world, trying to maintain goodness – a sense of compassion, a sense of right, a sense of justice, even a sense of humanness – yet often being sucked down by the riptide and barely keeping his head above the waters.

This theme is seen throughout the four completed seasons of The Walking Dead as well as a theme so prevalent in the first episode of the 5th Season (titled “No Sanctuary”) that it’s nearly smashed into your face.

Season 4 ends with Rick Grimes and his grimy crew locked in a storage container in Terminus. In “No Sanctuary,” we see the true colors of the people at Terminus as they line bound men up on their knees, knock them senseless with a bat, cut their throats, and let them bleed out into a tub in a literal human slaughterhouse. As in movies like Book of Eli and The Road, cannibalism is often symbolic of the ultimate breakdown of humanity.

But the theme of “the good” fighting tooth-and-nail to not spiral down to “the evil” in this episode is mostly felt in the contrast between Rick Grimes’ clan and the Terminus clan through the opening and closing flashbacks of the episode. It’s revealed that Terminus had, in fact, been a true sanctuary for people at one time and the people there had been good, compassionate people. But then, another group attacked them. The people of Terminus were locked in the same storage containers they now trapped people in, and they were raped and brutalized. Somehow, they escaped, killed their captors, and decided they would never be victims again. Their new outlook is summed up in one telling line from the show:

“You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.”  

Interestingly, in most post-apocalyptic stories, even in a world where zombies surround the characters, the real danger is humankind. The true threat isn’t simply a harsh environment. In the genre, the search for food or shelter eventually falls into the background. Humans adapt; they learn to survive, even when living among the mindless undead. But then the true threat becomes other humans. We see this clearly in the zombie film 28 Days Later as well as The Walking Dead. Once civilization collapses, evil can reign unrestrained. All of these sorts of stories speak of the darkness that comes out of the human heart.

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HOW GOD RESTRAINS EVIL

As stories like The Walking Dead make clear, there are two things that restrain evil: government and the moral law. And though I assume secular shows like The Walking Dead are not consciously advancing biblical truths, these truths are, in fact, ordained by God.

 

Government

D.A. Carson in his book How Long, O Lord? states, “As a whole, the Scripture recognizes that civil authority restrains evil.” As he points out, the Book of Judges makes this resolutely clear. Anyone familiar with the pattern throughout Judges knows that the book is a continuous cycle that progressively spirals downwards into more and more chaos. The continuous refrain said throughout Judges also closes the book:

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

As Carson points out, “unless there is a responsible authority to curtail evil, individuals become more and more brazen in their greed, pillage, and violence.” It’s interesting how with a little tweaking, all of the above statements could be speaking about the world of The Walking Dead.

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Earlier in the Bible, when we read the Old Testament laws given by God to the ancient Israelite nation, they may seem needlessly severe, even harsh, but one has to recognize it was a much harsher time. Much of the progress towards a more civil, humane society in the West is due to 2,000 years of Christianity. Though the Old Testament law seems harsh to us today, it must be understood in the context of the ancient Near Middle East. God’s law was set in place to minimize bloodshed by giving due process, for instance, before executing someone for a crime. Other examples are the “cities of refuge” established by God as safe havens to prevent unnecessary blood feuds between families and tribes.

As God’s progressive revelation through history continues on to the followers of Jesus, the most explicit biblical teaching about God ordaining government to restrain evil is found in Romans 13:1-5:

 

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

 

It must be noted that this by no means leads to the conclusion that all governments are good and just or even that a perfect government exists. The Bible is quite clear that all people are imperfect sinners, and, thus, all governments are likewise imperfect. D.A. Carson states, “Thus, while the Bible insists that both ideally and in practice the state retrains wickedness, it fully recognizes that the state may perpetrate it. That means that the state sometimes protects us from suffering, and sometimes causes it.”

Though there is much more that can be said about how Christians should respond to unjust governments, for our purposes here concerning The Walking Dead, we need not go further. Christians worship a God of order, not disorder, and without government – without structure in place to protect, police, and practice justice – evil spreads like a zombie-making plague.

 NEXT: Part 2: “The Walking Dead & Moral Law,” “Why aren’t things worse?” & “We’re All Walking Dead”

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What BREAKING BAD Teaches Us About Evil

*Before knowing anything about Vince Gilligan’s intentions, it struck me early while watching the series that Breaking Bad is making a statement about the nature of evil.*

***SPOILER ALERT: I discuss the TV series Breaking Bad as a whole and the final episodes in the following***

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The premise of Breaking Bad is an attention grabber: A high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, after learning he has cancer, starts “cooking” the illegal drug meth (methamphetamine) with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, so he can leave his family with plenty of money before he dies.  The show is a perfect blend of character and plot.  Fully actualized characters (brought to life by strong acting) and a plot that the series’ creator, Vince Gilligan, has kept fresh after several seasons (unlike so many other TV shows) has made it one of my all-time favorite shows.

Before knowing anything about Vince Gilligan’s intentions, it struck me early while watching the series that Breaking Bad is making a statement about the nature of evil.

Moral relativists deny that there is an actual thing we can call evil, stating that right and wrong are on a sliding scale from culture to culture or even person to person.  Where there is some truth in this, I have found that these arguments against the existence of universal evil are primarily weak ones.  One only has to bring up such horrible things as cannibalism or the Holocaust or murdered children to quickly see that there are things all people consider evil.  We have an innate sense of morality that points towards universal moral laws.

Occasionally, a moral relativist may bring up an objection like: “There are primitive tribes that practice cannibalism, and they don’t think it’s wrong” or “The Nazis didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong.”  My response would be that people who break these universal moral laws still know what they’re doing is evil.  When I was younger, I read a lot about serial killers.  I wanted to know why they did what they did.  Some of these serial killers have done unspeakable things that I would not write about here and rather not even think about.  Yet, no matter how twisted — mentally and emotionally — these people were, they still had a sense they were doing wrong.

Further, often those who do evil attempt to justify the action by connecting it to something virtuous.  For instance, some tribes that practice cannibalism try to justify it by reasoning that it will give the consumer the powers of his enemy for the betterment of the tribe.  Even in a culture that practices cannibalism, there is a sense that cannibalism is only done to an enemy.  One doesn’t eat grandma simply because he’s hungry and grandma is an easy target.

Likewise, people justify their inhumane treatment of other people in a very simple way: they deny that their enemy is human.  Is this not how Nazi Germany justified the horrific things they did during the Jewish Holocaust?  So, a Nazi would say treating a fellow Nazi like a Jew is morally wrong, and a member of a cannibalistic tribe would say the sort of cannibalism like American serial killer Jeffery Dahmer did is morally wrong.  The innate sense of morality we all have can be suppressed by justifying evil behavior with a morally superior reason or even by removing the humanness of the victims of our evil.  The need to justify the evil behavior is evidence of this innate, universal morality.

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In Breaking Bad, we see a similar mindset.  Walter White, an otherwise moral man, a high school teacher and loving family man, starts cooking and selling meth, an evil act.  Walt knows this is evil, but he justifies this as something he must do to provide for his family.  In his mind, the end justifies the means.  Providing for his family is a good thing; in fact, some of us would say it’s the most natural thing for a man to do for his wife and children.  This further shows that evil is dependant on good.

Some Christian philosophers go so far as to argue that evil is not an actual thing, but not in the same way that the moral relativists do.  These philosophers’ idea is that evil is simply the absence of good.  If God is all-good and holy and the creator of all things, then he could not have created evil.  Augustine considered evil as “not something that exists.”  Scholar John Frame explains that evil is “a lack, a defect in a good universe… an absence of good where good should be” and “a deprivation of being.”  The biblical teaching that the world was created good but corrupted by evil supports this view (Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:4).

Likewise, in his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues that evil cannot exist without good, but good can exist without evil.  He explains evil essentially wants things that are not inherently evil — like pleasure, comfort — but pursues them in the wrong way.  Walter White is an example of this.  He wants to care for his family, even after his death — a good, honorable thing — but he uses an evil means to achieve this good thing.  Apologist Frank Turek explains evil as rust: you can’t have rust without a car; take away the car and rust cannot exist.  Even money itself is not inherently evil, but some people’s love of it and their means of getting it are evil.  Thus, as C.S. Lewis writes, “evil is a parasite, not an original thing.”

But even if a person convinces himself that his evil acts are justified by a greater good, no one can dabble in evil and not be affected by evil.  Walter’s plan, at first, was to be in the meth business only long enough to build up a good savings of money for his family and then walk away untouched.  Of course, things don’t work out that way.  Evil cannot occur in a vacuum.

It’s not long into the first season when Walter and his partner Jesse’s new business gains the attention of rival drug dealers, and soon Walter takes his first life to protect himself, his new venture, and even his family.  The entire series is about how Walt’s venture into evil continually snowballs out of his control.  By the end of the series, both Walt and Jesse are responsible for taking life, both indirectly and directly.  Though a separation exists between them (who cook the meth) and those who willingly buy and use the meth, it’s impossible for Walt and Jesse to remain untouched by their evil, whether it’s conflicts with experienced, hardened criminals or Jesse’s personal struggle with drug abuse.

Further, though Walt claimed throughout the series that he did it all for his family, his family is destroyed by the end of the series: his wife faces legal and financial hardships; his son hates him; Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law (in the most gut-wrenching episode of the whole series) is killed; and Walt dies, never to see his infant daughter grow up.  The end doesn’t justify the means, because the means leaves its odor on everything it touches.

Not only this, but throughout the series, we witness the internal changes in Walt and Jesse as well.  The series starts with Walt as the harmless family man and schoolteacher and Jesse as the reckless young drug dealer.  As the series continues, we witness the transformations in Walt and Jesse. The writers do this masterfully, not overdoing the changes but showing how it progresses gradually.  This is the advantage of a TV show with several seasons to allow a story to unfold: they can show change naturally, unlike most movies.  Instead of showing Walt abruptly going from family man to Scarface, we witness him shape and morph into “Heisenberg.”  We still see the “old,” nice-guy Walt throughout the series, all the way up to his death, but we also recognize how the “new,” bad Walt — Heisenberg — has become who he truly is.

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This is how it is with evil.  Few good people dabble in evil and suddenly turn into a monster.  But as we allow more evil into our lives, evil comes more easily to us.  A person will feel a lot more scruples about stealing something the first time, but with repetition comes a deadening of our innate sense of right and wrong.  Moreover, evil also progresses from something we do to something we are.  Just as Walt developed his Heisenberg personality over time, a person’s actions come to define them.

Finally, in the last episode, Walt admits, “I did it for me.  I liked it.  I was good at it… I was alive.”  But by the time he finally admits it, it’s no surprise to the viewers.  We’ve witnessed the change.  We’ve recognized that Walt’s pride, ego, and greed had long kept him involved in his illegal venture even when he had opportunities to walk away.

Conversely, by the end of the series, Jesse is no longer a reckless, conscienceless youth, but a weary and scarred (both physically and mentally) man, a sympathetic character, who, despite efforts, can’t escape his connection to Walt and the meth business.  As Jesse and Walt change, eventually Jesse becomes the voice of reason, not Walt.  Jesse’s mental deterioration grows with each season.  Near the end of the series, we witness his mental breakdown when he tosses stacks of money out of his car window as he drives.  The fact that Jesse in the last episodes is literally a chained slave to the meth business can be taken as symbolic.  It’s easy to conclude that once he escapes at the end of the final episode, Jesse will stay as far away from such evil as possible.  But perhaps he will never mentally recover.

According to the Christian worldview, all of us are slaves in chains to sin and have the potential for doing great evil.  We can all become Heisenberg.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Later, in Romans 6:16, Paul tells us that we have only two choices: We can be slaves to sin, which leads to death, or we can follow God and be righteous.  Either way, we are following someone — either Satan or God.  There’s no third option.

Jesus, the Son of God, said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).  Here, Jesus is being clear that true freedom can only be attained through him by accepting the gift of his sacrifice on the cross.  Thus, we must align our will with God through Christ: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

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