During the height of the zombie craze a meme went around the internet proclaiming “zombie Jesus.” It was funny because the salient feature of zombies is that they come back from the dead. Noting the resurrection and the easily annoyed trigger finger of Fundamentalist Christians, some wag brought Jesus and the undead together. We had a good laugh and forgot about it. A guy in Ohio with a sense of humor, took the zombie Jesus meme and constructed it into a zombie nativity scene in his yard. None of us knew about it, of course, until it caught the attention of the news. A story in the Washington Post notes that the man was required to take the scene down for violating zoning laws.
People take their religion very seriously and have a hard time laughing about it. Religion is under constant fire from angry atheists and it already suffers a complex from having so many liberals pointing out the historical and logical faux pas from within the tradition. Some people take advantage of American gun laws to stock up against the day when they’ll step over the line and join those who shoot up offices where they think Mohammad is being mocked. Then we’ll sit around and wonder if we should classify them as terrorists or just deranged. And we’ll post a take-down order, just in case any zombies remain.
As an academic (at least erstwhile) I noted how little religion scholars reveled in the humor of their traditions. There’s funny stuff in the Bible, believe it or not, and many religious traditions allow for a Mona Lisa smile every now and again. A far more common stance, however, is that of taking offense. Something that most critics just don’t realize is how much religions mean to those who believe. I chuckle once in a while, but I never belittle the beliefs of others. I have been in this religion thing since I can remember, and I know what it can mean to people. The best way to avoid offending, I think, is to keep our jokes among the crowd of those who have a sense of humor. Of course, the undead obey no rules and the media (and its unruly accomplice, the internet) can’t resist spreading memes that might earn a buck or two of advertising revenue.