No Dolls Required

Moving is a never-ending process.  We’ve had some new neighbors move in next door over the past couple of weeks.  Seeing their boxes reminded me that we have many we still haven’t unpacked and sorted after over two years.  (That’s what attics are for.)  One of the novelties I found while doing so recently was one of those bookstore impulse buys at the checkout counter, “Voodoo Lou’s Office Voodoo Kit.”  This was actually a joke gift given to my wife some years ago.  In all probability it was me that insisted we not throw it out.  Perhaps I was saving it as an object lesson.  One of the religions I very briefly discuss in Nightmares with the Bible is Vodun.  This African diasporan religion is frequently demonized as “voodoo” because of its supernatural beliefs.

Many religions, of course, harbor supernatural beliefs.  The ballots are still being counted on whether such things exist because we can never wrestle them into the laboratory to measure them with instruments designed for physical applications only.  Vodun isn’t the source of evil perpetrated by the cheap (and often exploited by horror) “voodoo doll” narratives.  It is a complex blend of traditional African religions brought into forceful contact with Roman Catholicism.  We shouldn’t treat it as exotic, nor should it be a codeword for evil.  Like most religions vodun is an attempt to navigate the world of the gods and spirits that people everywhere believe in, even if they can’t be quantified.  The religion was mysterious when first noticed by travelers from the United States and it quickly became fodder for horror films.

We tend to judge religions just because they’re different.  One of the more insidious aspects of global religions is that they create the illusion among their believers that they are the “only true religion.”  Those who study religion professionally know that all religions are “syncretistic.”  There is no such thing as a “pure” form of any religion.  Just try getting a Calvinist and Catholic to come to a common understanding of what Christianity is.  Both want to claim their version as the true one.  Religions, however, have developed as ways for people to cope with the world as they’ve experienced it.  Just because fewer people believe one way we can’t assume their religion is inferior.  Vodun, in which I’m no expert, is far more complex and sophisticated as might be suggested by and impulse buy for frustrated office workers.  Still, it works as an object lesson.


Zombie Friday

New Jersey is known for its zombies. Last October Asbury Park gained admission to the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest zombie walk (exception is made, of course, for daily life in Washington, DC). The movie zombie, in its now classic form, was reborn in western Pennsylvania, but New Jersey is the place where strange afterlives appear to gravitate. Yesterday Stephen Finley was sentenced. Finley, a mortician, had been convicted of selling the healthy organs of his dead customers to earn a little extra on the side. Given that the governor, Chris Christie, might rival Vlad the Impaler in his zeal for chopping, this really does not surprise me at all. Is it not the ultimate triumph of the free market to consider human beings commodities to be packaged, used up, repackaged and resold? Moral rectitude is on the side of the strong arm.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of the chop more than once, and reduced to a zombie-like state of perpetual job-insecurity, I think I know how the undead feel. Not having a place in the normal world of the living, but not quite dead, the zombie wanders about looking to feed on brains. This idea of brain-lust seems to stem from the cult classic The Return of the Living Dead, although, not being a film specialist, I would welcome correction on this point. Nevertheless, like the modern zombie I hail from western Pennsylvania and nothing satisfies me like a good brain (metaphorically, of course).

The idea of harvesting the organs of the powerless dead also suggests the endlessly referenced Soylent Green. Here the staunch NRA promoter Charlton Heston fights against the establishment that is turning (spoiler alert) people into Soylent Green, the ultimate solution to food shortages! For, after all, are people not just commodities? America’s thirst for zombies reflects our growing sense of victimization: the zombie is primarily a creature without a will, brought back by powers beyond its control. In the original vodun context the zombie was a source of cheap labor. Is it any surprise that West African slaves brought the concept to the New World with them? Today, of course, those with the cash may simply purchase the organs they desire, cutting out the middle man and going straight to the source.