Secularism describes attitudes, activities or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. For people, however, true secularism is a fleeting thing. We humans are hard-wired for faith and cannot help but be consumed by the maw of religion, even when we think we are running away from it.
Throughout time, people have taken up alternatives to religion. But these alternatives always develop religious qualities in themselves. Secret societies, fraternal orders and the Great Truth of Science are all good examples.
The best contemporary example can be seen on every TV channel, in every bookstore and at every movie theatre. Zombies are everywhere. Popular culture has been inundated with the undead. There seems to be a fervent obsession with zombies, or the living dead, or whatever your favorite franchise calls them. The current zombie trend displays many elements of religion, catered to today's culture.
Zombie stories promote the idea of life after death. In the zombie scenario it happens for everyone. You don't have to have lived an exemplary life or be enlightened to come back as a zombie. Unfortunately, an afterlife as a shambling shell of your former self is not quite as appealing as Valhalla or Heaven, but no one gets left out.
At least, no one is left out except the few survivors. Like many of the world's religions, zombie stories include the promise that a select few people will survive the apocalypse. It just depends on how they interact with the world.
For those fighting off the undead there are no inconvenient standards to be held to or a demanding God to judge them. People survive zombies by being brutal and harsh and, in a word, selfish. I suppose this can be seen as a virtue in an amoral, Darwinian sort of way.
Zombie stories share yet another similarity with religion, despite the secular tone they are told in. In all zombie media, there is an explicit cause for the dead rising. In order to maintain their perception of secularism, zombie fans and writers always make sure there is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. It is usually caused by a virus, or a fungus, or radiation, or something!
Sure, there are the groups of survivors who believe the living dead are a judgment on an evil world, but they are always portrayed as crazy kooks who more often than not quickly succumb to the rotting hordes. The main characters know there is no divine or unnatural explanation.
In truth, if dead people ever start rising from their graves to eat the flesh of the living, it can only be a supernatural occurrence. Therefore, anyone who loves the idea of the undead must also love the idea of things existing beyond human perception or comprehension, and sometimes in spite of it. But don't tell a zombie fan that their hip new obsession is just another form of the age-old human desire for understanding. They might never forgive you.
Personally, I like a good zombie story as much as the next person, but I could never actually believe in it. I know as a human I need to believe in something, but I can do without the rotting corpses. They are scary, and even worse, they smell bad!
Joe D. is a local writer. He enjoys living on the planet Earth, a source of unlimited inspiration. More of his writing can be found at www.sinisterbend.com.