Dystopian Religion

As we read dystopian novels dredged in death or oppressive government regimes, religion is brought up. Because of the mass amounts of death and negativity found in an apocalyptic world, we are not only faced with the question of will humanity survive, but will religion survive? I know there are probably more important things to worry about during an apocalypse like, “Will I be able to find food today?” or “How will I cross the street without being attacked by zombies?”, but survival isn’t only about staying physically safe, there is also the preservation of the mind that contributes to survival. In Zulus and Zone One, religion is discussed in different ways.

First, let’s look at Zulus. So, in the dystopian world of Zulus, the earth is dying and cannot support life of all forms anymore. Because of this, people are forced to live in cities driven by strict routine and uniformity. Even their diets are restricted to just cheese and crackers, not good cheese like Gouda or Asiago either, probably easy to make cheese like Velveeta that resembles a sponge. On top of a creatively dead society and menu, the population is living in forced sterility. As you can see, there’s not a lot to look forward to, and here is where religion comes into play. Alice Achitophel records people’s religion as a job; people come to her office and wait in line to declare what they think they believe in, sort of like picking from a catalog. Because of this, religion doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as it is in our society. People are ill-informed on religion and seem to choose it because that is what everyone else is doing. We can see this in a conversation Alice has with a citizen looking to sign up for a religion and goes like this:

 

Alice: I already have you down as a Christian.

Man: No,I used to be Catholic.

Alice: A Catholic is a Christian.

Man: What other kind of Christians are there?

Alice: Catholic or Protestant, those are your choices. One’s as good as the other.

Man: you think so? What are you?

Alice: Me? I’m a Heifer.

Man: What do you believe?

Alice: We Heiferists are dairyists and believe that God works in the cheese warehouses.

Man: Are you happy?

Alice: Very happy.

(Everett 23)

 

So as we can see Alice makes up a religion to mock the man, but that’s not what we’re focusing on. What we’re focusing on is the man’s last question to Alice, “Are you happy?” This shows that despite living in a dying world people still look for ways to make the best of it and still look to religion as a way to find that positivity. Later on in the book Alice ends up seeing that her dairy religion gains a following.

In Zone One, there also seem to be a small chance of survival, except in this version the earth isn’t infected, the people are. There is a parasite spreading through the human population that causes people to turn into zombies. These zombies are separated into two categories, Skels and Stragglers, based on their appetite for human flesh post-mortem. A lot of the world has gone to chaos since the outbreak, people are struggling to find food and safe places to live while also having to fend off their zombified neighbors. We follow the story of Mark Spitz who is part of a sweeper unit that works to clear out “Zone One”, or lower Manhattan, of zombies in order to make it habitable again. In this rendition of the apocalypse religion has started to make a comeback, but in a different way than conventional religions of today. Religions are melded and shared as both a way of common ground amongst survivors and used as another form of contributing to the fight for humanity. “Religion had been a taboo subject in former times, but now impromptu proselytizing sessions broke out in besieged department-store stockrooms, in the attics of crumbling Midwest Victorians, as the holed-up survivors swapped deities and afterlife hypotheses.” (Whitehead 49)

When I ask the question “Will religion survive the apocalypse?”, what I am also asking is “How easily does humanity lose hope?” I have always seen religion as a form of hope; hope for a life after death, hope for the wellbeing of people, and hope that life will treat a person fairly. Or at least that is how I have interpreted it based on watching my more religious friends and family. My grandmother prays when I am sick, church-goers call out in prayer during service when there is a natural disaster or an evil has been committed to innocents, and my close friends pray as a form of thanks before dinner. I have constantly seen religion used to ensure safety and good-fortune for the future, also known as hope. In both apocalyptic worlds some form of religion survives and, I see in both, forms of hope. In Zulus, it was the man’s search for happiness, while in Zone One, it is the gatherings and sharing of pre-apocalypse faith. The idea that after so much death and hardship humanity can still look forward to the future is uplifting.

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