Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

Rick’s Three Questions: The Walking Dead, Spirituality, and Science

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How do we live a spiritual life in the face of a science-driven world? Religion of all kinds asks you to accept beliefs and experiences that are not scientifically provable or replicable. Similarly, purely scientific thought can close you to deeper mysteries. We need a model of balance. I find a good model in– of all things – The Walking Dead.

The zombie apocalypse series has covered many different angles, including the spirituality angle. But more important are the ideas and moral deliberations of the survivors who are trying to re-establish their lives. Sometimes one group of survivors runs into another. When this happens, Rick Grimes, leader of the band of survivors at the center of the story, is often confronted with a decision: do we accept these people into our fold or not? Do we trust them? Can they help us? Will they hurt us?

When this happens, Rick always asks the potential new recruits three simple questions:

How many walkers have you killed?
How many people have you killed?
Why?

Asking these three questions gives Rick the chance to quickly discern a person’s competence, history, and morality. He can get a sense of a person’s beliefs and their choices. The characters who are asked have an opportunity to truly reflect on the kind of person that they really are. I wonder if we can modify the same questions into a spiritual framework to help us identify the root causes behind whatever spiritual beliefs and practices we choose for ourselves. I propose this:

How much peace and understanding does your faith give you?
How much of science, people, or self does it encourage you to deny?
Why?

If everyone could take an honest look at these three questions about themselves, just as some characters on TV get the chance to come to terms with their true selves, so can we.

How much peace and understanding does your faith give you?

The universe is a mystery. Our lives are a mystery. Death is a mystery. Understanding of those mysteries gives us peace. Those in the scientific community are exploring one aspect of the mystery just as we in the spiritual communities are exploring another. Each person is looking for a model that helps them understand the nature of existence and an understanding of where our bodies, souls, and minds fit into the grand starlit beauty of the cosmos.

If your religious beliefs and practices give you peace and help you come closer to your personal truth of the Great Mystery, then you have satisfied the first question. Traditional religion does that for a large portion of the world’s population. Mystic versions of the same religions do it for others. For some, alternative views of the Great Mystery, including a view that negates all things mystical and seeks answers only in scientific understandings, give them that peace that they need.

At this point it really doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in. What matters is the peace that your beliefs bring you. It may be the hardest question, because it asks you to truly take stock of what your beliefs actually do for you. If you don’t have peace you aren’t doing what is right for you. Make a note of that.

How much of science, people, or self does it encourage you to deny?

In all religious practices, there is going to be something that challenges the more materialistic view of scientific thought. Pure scientific thinking can only endorse what it can prove to be true, and nothing in the spiritual realm can be proven to a point where it meets scientific thresholds of skepticism. This is the age old challenge between belief and material reality. What do you do with these grey areas?

There are extremes on both sides. Some choose a laser-focus on material reality. While this grounds them quite strongly in the physical world, it closes their minds to what else might be out there that their instruments can’t yet measure. What if Galileo had believed the initially obvious observations that the sun revolved around the Earth? What if 20th century scientists had believed in the static, unchanging universe before they could reliably measure that that belief was false? Human understanding of the Mystery would have become stagnant.

At the same time, others focus just as strongly on their personal religious beliefs to the detriment and in the face of all other understandings. As human understanding of the Mystery continues to progress, these people remain fixed in place. The Mystery passes them by as the stake their claim on one doctrine. It’s like pinning your faith to one cloud in the sky and sticking with that form no matter how much it changes form, moves position, or dissipates.

Then there’s a greater issue: does it cause you to deny others or yourself? It’s comforting to place your own beliefs as THE ONE belief that will bring the gifts of the divine to all of humankind. But in doing that, you are stepping on other people’s understanding of the Mystery. If you deal with this conflict by hurting or advocating for hurting others, you have missed the boat. You don’t have to like other people’s understanding of the Mystery, but you do have to accept it. To do otherwise is straight up bigotry. You are hurting others rather than showing them the love that you would like shown to yourself.

Sometimes a spiritual belief encourages you to deny yourself. There’s this idea that you can’t have money AND be spiritual, enjoy food AND be spiritual; have lots of sex AND be spiritual; enjoy life AND be spiritual. These are the gifts of life, part of being in this world. If you choose to give them up, it’s important for you to really distinguish WHY you are doing so.

Why?

This may be the most important question of the three. In the TV show, it goes to a person’s morality. It isn’t as important how many living, non-zombie people you’ve killed as WHY you killed them. There are characters on the show who are so enamored with their own personal glory that they’ll kill anyone any time for any reason. Why you choose to break the pre-apocalyptic code against murder is vitally important.

If your spiritual beliefs encourage you to deny the findings of science, if they tell you to deny provable reality, you’d better have a damn good reason why you are willing to comply. All spiritual practices encourage this to some extent, but if you spend more of your time denying the provable world than worshiping, helping others, or looking for peace then something is wrong.

If your spiritual beliefs encourage you to deny the basic human rights of others, you’d better have an even better reason why. This is actively harming other people, and much like killing living people on The Walking Dead, it is something that should be avoided at all costs. If these other people harmed you, or harmed children, or advocate for policies that harm others, then maybe we can talk. Those willing to inflict harm because of their interpretation of someone else’s writings, regardless of the biases and context inherent in all writing, or blind obedience to an unrealistic ideal without comment, discussion, or interpretation, are not much different from an undead, unthinking zombie.

Religious belief always asks us to believe the unseen. Many of us choose that because it brings us peace, understanding, and a feeling of closeness to the mysteries of the universe. It really doesn’t matter what faith you practice, as long as you can answer these three questions in a way that makes you happy and makes the world a better place.

In the final episode of the season, The Walking Dead explores the real nature of humanity. Are we the enlightened species we think of ourselves to be, or are we “Just another monster.” This is a fair question to ask about your beliefs in all realms: religion, politics, social issues, and whatever else. Are you helping others by providing avenues toward their own understanding of the Mystery, or are you just another monster?

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Author: Tim

I am a teacher, a theater lover, and a High Priest in the Temple of Witchcraft. I love to point out the places where the everyday world, arts, science, and religion intersect. I stand for interfaith cooperation and the belief that people of all religions, political beliefs, and nationalities have more in common with each other than differences.

3 thoughts on “Rick’s Three Questions: The Walking Dead, Spirituality, and Science

  1. Pingback: Zombie Archetypes Enliven Creative Non-Fiction Writers and Poets | Maryann Pasda DiEdwardo

  2. It’s 3 am my time, too tired to write, but just to comment -I like your writings, reasons of the 3 questiona as they are thought provoking… I’ve believed all along the 3 questions aren’t simply – can you kill because we need strong people, but rather you don’t kill living or non living just because you like to kill.

  3. Pingback: Scientology, Mormons, Witches, and Zombies: The Why | Intersections

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