When the world is smashed and burning, I believe people will question why God abandoned us, while many who are not religious will turn to religion as a way of coping with the pain and destruction around us. Two of my favorite Post-Apocalyptic novels deal directly with faith: The Stand, by Stephen King, and A Canticle For Leibowitz, written by Walter M. Miller. These novels both had a direct influence on my writing.
I’ve had a few reviewers attack the religious elements of my work, although the overwhelming majority of readers, both religious and agnostic, are not troubled by the way .the characters respond to the end of the world as we know it. While I wrote these novels from a Christian perspective, the books are by no means intended to be an extended sermon. Man has an innate need to connect to our creator, to find a way to explain our existence. Indeed, the idea of the apocalypse itself appears in Roman and Greek myths. The stories of the Biblical Flood and Armageddon go back thousands of years, and are a part of our collective human psyche.
There is a reluctance now, it seems, for post-apocalyptic fiction to address religion. I wonder why that is? Are authors fearful of alienating readers? (This was certainly very much on my mind when I wrote Objects of Wrath.) Whether it’s zombies, a virus, an asteroid, or a war, the majority of PA novels delve into the questions of faith in a cursory manner. I’m not implying there is anything wrong with this approach, and certainly many survivors would not ask larger questions, being more concerned with finding food or fleeing the approaching hoarde.
When I read a novel or watch a movie, one of the things that keeps me interested are the questions, “what would I do? How would I react? How would that feel?” Whether it’s watching an epic battle from Braveheart and putting myself into the shoes of the men waiting for a thundering charge from heavy cavalry or reading the heart-wrenching scenes in The Road, where the father tells his son how to shoot himself. I contemplate the emotional impact, try to see and feel what the characters would be going through. In Saving Private Ryan, when the soldiers are coming toward the beach, rounds zipping through the water, bombs falling, what would that feel like, to have been one of those men? What would I do?
I’m certain that I’d pray. I’d question my faith, but I’d be simultaneously clinging to it. I think that’s how most people would behave. There are atheists in foxholes, but not many.
One of the things about post-apocalyptic fiction which appeals to me is that it offers an unflinching examination of the human condition, a window into our essential being. When laws have disappeared and civilization is absent, what sort of people are we? Philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Hobbs talk about our “state of nature” before the social contract. I love books that take a look at this question. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy The Walking Dead. While some novels offer a very dark outlook on humanity, in which most men are truly evil by nature, others are more hopeful. I think most people are decent and good, although evil is hungry and seductive. Can good defeat evil, even when it looks as though darkness has already won?
Religion can be a force for good or great evil. In my second novel, Children of Wrath, this is the central theme. Faith in and of itself is not always a good thing. There are atrocities being committed around the world even as I write, killing carried out in the name of religion. Whether or not one believes in any sort of God, there is no denying the way that religion has shaped our world. After the world as we know it ceases to be, people will still turn to the heavens, sometimes shaking their fists, other times begging for help.
With Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio throwing their hats into the ring for the Presidency, the battle for the Oval office is beginning in earnest, and Americans can brace themselves for exhausting months of harsh rhetoric, attack ads, and promises that will be broken. The poor of this country will continue to suffer.
Steinbeck’s brilliant novel The Grapes of Wrath depicts the hopeless, terrifying poverty of the Great Depression in an era before “safety nets.” Since the recession which began in 2008, the middle class has been hit hard, with the number of people receiving some kind of public assistance soaring, many good jobs vanishing, earnings remaining stagnant, and the cost of living steadily increasing. We keep hearing about a recovery, and indeed Wall Street is enjoying record highs. Main Street has yet to reap similar rewards.
Against this backdrop, the hard-core conservative talking heads have embarked on a systematic strategy of demonizing the poor, portraying them as lazy, dependent, entitled, and faintly evil. This campaign has worked. People like Reince Preibus, the chairman of the RNC, have framed the issue in such a way that the shrinking and embattled middle-class, one paycheck away from needing help themselves, buy into the distorted caricature. Democrats have fueled the fire in some ways, and have fired back by seeming to couch the debate in ways that make it seem as though class-warfare is actually happening. Both sides are wrong.
The country is losing
If there is any sort of class war it is so one-sided that labeling it a war is like calling the United States invasion of Grenada a war. The elites, the upper 1% are crushing the rest of us. The irony is that they’ve managed to convince the nation to fight for them. It’s a shell game on a global scale. People like the Koch Brothers are buying and will continue to purchase elections for their own economic gain.While the average American saw savings shrink, retirement accounts vanish, jobs go to China, those at the top of the food chain got richer. And many of them did it with corporate welfare which dwarfs any sort of public assistance programs. The hypocrisy is astounding.
Banks bailed out by the Federal government held on to that money, earning billions from interest, while still not making loans and injecting more capital into the economy. Here’s a link to ten corporations with billions in earnings that didn’t pay taxes. It includes Bank of America and Facebook. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-us-companies-paying-no-taxes-2013-03-26
Average CEO compensation is up %50 over the last year, with top CEOs earning upwards of Fifty Million bucks. Meanwhile, the multi-national corporations are staunchly opposed to increasing the minimum wage for workers and continue to shift jobs overseas. To distract us from this fact, the media blitz focuses on the poor. Politicians buy into it, left and right, taking the money doled out by lobbyists for entities which don’t give a damn whether the average person lives or dies. Despite the absurd Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court, corporations are not people. We all know that.
I have absolutely nothing against wealth, but I do take issue with unadulterated greed which leads to great evil.Rather than pulling together as a great nation, we are increasingly divided, pointing fingers and accusing rather than trying to solve the problems we face. We are being manipulated.
Poverty is not an issue which should be owned by either the left or the right, for it is an American issue. Conservative Christians might take notes from the life and words of Jesus, who spent his time with the poor and the outcast, the disenfranchised and the hurting. Liberals should take a hard look at the Democratic party and the candidates they are continually presented with, who are just as much in bed with corporate money as the Republicans are.Politicians speak out of both sides of their mouths, held on short leashes constructed with money. Movements like Occupy Wall Street end up being polarizing and accomplishing nothing, as the protesters are marginalized and look foolish, the rest of the nation turning up their noses as the cliches of poverty and lassitude are displayed on national television.
“Since the market is right, poor people get what they deserve.”
Poverty must be a choice, then. Rather than try to improve their lives, the poor enjoy wonderful lives of lavish vacations, new cars, and mansions gilded with gold. Some of them even have phones. Damn them!
The fact is, no one wants to be poor. Furthermore, they don’t want to remain so. I’ve been reasonably well off, and I’ve been poor. At the moment, I routinely work fifty hour weeks, plus spend another twenty or thirty hours writing. I don’t want to remain poor. Since the market crashed, the company I worked for went out of business, my customers have less money, and I work harder to earn less. I struggle every month just to keep a roof over my children’s heads and keep the lights on. I know personally other people in the same predicament.
Education is the best way to combat poverty in the long run. Rather than cutting funding for schools and teachers, the Federal and State governments need to focus on this issue. Job training and trade programs should be much more accessible, and should begin in High School. Our education system does not prepare the majority of high school graduates for the real world. The fact is that most grads do attend college, yet school programs focus on this carreer path almost exclusively. As manufacturing jobs have fled the country to go to China, there is a great vacuum left for jobs which pay a living wage. Upward mobility, a crucial aspect of our culture is becoming a thing of the past.
Recognizing our similarities and common humanity, rather than focusing on our differences would go a long way toward restoring a hurting nation. It’s always easier to point a finger at some one else, rather than looking in the mirror, though, so America’s war on the poor will continue while the rich get richer and the American Dream dies a slow death. I pray every day for my beloved, broken country.
Christians face many dire threats around the world, from the decapitations in the Middle East to genocides in Africa, to the persecution carried out by China and Russia. Here in the United States, we hear much about the war against Christians, but it seems to me that the greatest threat comes from within.
The word “Christian” is first used in the book of Acts, and it means one who follows Christ. In America, this definition has been lost, ursurped by other things. Politics, and economics have nothing to do with following The Lord, and yet it seems that many Christians identify themselves by how they vote and where they shop. There is a shrill meanness to the way many Christians go about it, and it gives the rest of us a bad rap.
Jesus gave Christians a great commission, to spread the gospel to the corners of the earth. In the United States, generations are turning from God, and well meaning Christians with microphones and political signs and spirits full of judgement are a big part of the problem.
What Would Jesus Do?
Remember this catch phrase? It was effective because it asked an excellent question. So what would Jesus do now, in this world of sinners like me? Let’s look at what he actually did.
He offered forgiveness. We celebrated Easter last week. Jesus was nailed to a cross so that our sins would be covered. We know that none of us are perfect, that the wages of sin are death. Christ died so that we would not be condemned, giving us grace we did not deserve.
It seems many Christians have forgotten this.
Jesus spent his time among the outcasts. The prostitutes, the tax-collectors, criminals and sinners. He admonished men to leave behind their worldly belongings and follow Him. He was welcoming, not shunning, leading by example and truth, offering healing in a hurting world.
Judgement is reserved for God, not man. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone..
Love Transcends Law…”The Greatest of These is Love”
The Old Testament Levitical laws no longer bind us. Entry into Heaven is given, not earned, and it is through faith not deed that we come to the Father. In James we read that “Faith without deeds is dead,” but again, it is not for us to decide who has faith and who does not.
Christians seem to be focused on the wrong things. If we should, as Paul says in Hebrews “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith,” we have lost sight of the things that matter, missing the forest for the trees. When I see the new pope washing the feet of a Muslim woman, I think, that’s what Jesus would do!
One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is Ephesians 2:3:
“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ been when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”
A God-Shaped Hole
America is indeed hurting, and there is a God-shaped hole in each of us individually, and the nation entire. What we need is more Jesus, less hate. Greater love, less judgement. Faith which manifests itself by doing what Jesus actually did, bearing fruit that sustains a hurting world. Giving to the poor, helping the sick, spreading the gospel not with a sword but with the Truth.
No Safe Place
No safe place is left these days
Though I wish it wasn’t true
Hunkered, shaking, in silent cold
A piece of me in you
Amid the ruins and bleached bones
This world gone insane
Bitten, bleeding, dying, dark
In the end betrayed
It wasn’t really you
I try to believe
Like the thing I am becoming
Won’t truly be me
Maybe we’re all hungry
And that’s how it’s always been
The ones that take big pieces
Are the ones we let in
DEATH OF A NATION Canadian vs. American Post-Apocalyptic Visions
by Jamie Mason
Broken windows stretch to the horizon. A noxious twist of grimy smoke clutches the clouds and a stench of bodies – the piled carnage of the City’s dead, an odor to corkscrew even the heartiest stomachs – lies heavily on the street. A door opens in a darkened shop-front and a man swathed in camouflage steps into view carrying an automatic rifle. The pearl-colored light reflects in his mirrored shades and the red, white and blue of his shoulder patch provides the only flash of color in an afternoon the hue of gun-metal and sorrow. A noise. He spins, bringing the rifle to bear … and is brought up short by the sight of a young, unarmed woman with a backpack slung over one shoulder, a maple leaf sewn into its pocket flap. She grins and flashes a peace sign. 1. The journey inevitably influences the traveller. But it is equally true that the traveler defines the journey. This is never more true than in the post-apocalyptic genre. One of my favorite films is the oft-overlooked 1985 gem REVOLUTION, starring Al Pacino. When Tom Dobb, the illiterate fur trapper Pacino plays, sails into New York Harbor on the eve of the War of Independence, he sums up the chaos unfolding in the streets tersely: “New York, goin’ crazy.”
The opening scene of that film confounds every expectation by painting the launch of the American Revolution with images of unimaginable brutality and human ugliness. Mobs smash British shop-windows, tear down statues of the King and (sadly for Tom) confiscate boats for the cause. Although history has vindicated the wisdom of the American Revolution as a critical step in the advancement of human freedom, I can’t help believing that the film’s portrayal is likely accurate. Strip away the historical bunting, and America was basically a colony that revolted against its landlords. Its birth was midwifed in a blaze of gunfire and death. War is war and, no matter how noble the cause, it’s always certain to unleash a level of apocalyptic violence. Canada’s birth was more ambiguous. We came into existence two short years after the end of the American Civil War, the result of a process that began in direct response to that conflict. By the time the British North America Act was passed, Canada was a sprawl of disconnected communities, ripe for annexation by a vigorous and ambitious neighbor. Invasions had been attempted five times in two previous wars and there was no reason to expect it wouldn’t happen again. (Indeed, a few of Lincoln’s generals lobbied for it.) Independence from a war-weary Britain seemed the most prudent way to secure the national welfare. Negotiations were lengthy and complex, tangled in British legal red-tape and impeded by competing colonial claims. Sir John A. MacDonald, our first Prime Minister, rose to lead a nation that was still very much unexplored and only just beginning to understand itself. Canada very literally emerged, blinking and uncertain, from the mists of the historical wilderness into a deafening silence.
2. In our beginning lies our end. These two emergence narratives have served to shape, fundamentally, the contrasting American and Canadian visions of the post-apocalypse. I would hold that while television shows like THE WALKING DEAD and JERICHO and novels like WORLD WAR Z and THE PERSEID COLLAPSE portray a uniquely American apocalypse, Canadian equivalents such as ORYX & CRAKE, the collected stories of FRACTURED: TALES OF THE CANADIAN POST-APOCALYPSE and my own KEZZIE OF BABYLON (Permuted Press, March 2015) offer an equivalent Canadian vision unique in its own right. While there will always be an appetite for American entertainment north of the border, our American friends might be surprised to learn how our apocalyptic visions differ.
3. ENEMIES & ANTAGONISTS Every good post-apocalyptic tale needs an enemy, and in American stories that enemy is usually a group or (in the case of zombies) a faceless horde which must be attacked and defeated militarily. THE WALKING DEAD handles this trope well, providing combat engagements pitting the protagonists against legions of zombies as well as human threats like the Governor and his dystopian serfs. WALKING DEAD s/heroes pack guns and katanas and these tools are always the go-to choice when trouble comes. This is not to dismiss other points of tension in the show (exploration, parlay with bad guys, character arcs), but to highlight the uniquely weaponized nature of the American post-collapse world. In a nation where the right to own firearms is enshrined in law and whose birth occurred in a storm of violence, it is logical that its death-throes would subside to the howl of gunfire. By contrast, the “enemy” faced by the main characters of Morgan M. Page’s poignant “City Noise” (FRACTURED: TALES OF THE CANADIAN POST-APOCALYPSE) is of an entirely different order. In Morgan’s vision, Toronto smoulders in the aftermath of a nebulous event known only as “The Crash” (an end every bit as ambiguous as our nation’s founding). The protagonists, Sarah and Johnny, are both transsexuals caught in the mid-point of transition when The Crash occurs, leaving them to scavenge in a blighted city for the drugs their bodies need in order to continue their biological migration. Instead of hordes of zombies to be vaporized by gunfire, the enemies Johnny and Sarah face are the ticking time-bombs of their own medically-altered biology, caught mid-way through a complex and transformative procedure
INDIVIDUAL VS. GROUP The cult of individualism is strongly rooted in the American consciousness and, for this reason, plays a titular role in any American post-apocalyptic story. The tendency for people to coalesce in a crisis is a historical given. But in American PA tales like OBJECTS OF WRATH (Permuted Press, 2014) the need for individualism sometimes leads to tragic results. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel involves a group of military first-responders flying into a remote encampment to offer aid to some backwoods survivalists. The unit’s doctor is turned away from caring for the group’s terminally-ill children because he is black. Here, hyper-individualism – the determination to survive with or without assistance from others, despite all logic – plays out in the ideology of a group existing in opposition to mainstream values of racial equality. Contrast this with the plot of my own novel, KEZZIE OF BABYLON (Permuted Press, 2015) wherein the Canadian tendency to seek accord and accommodation within groups – however dysfunctional – leads to disaster. A commune of biker outlaws, sheltered in the sanctuary of a remote grow-op in the hinterlands of Vancouver Island has, within its ranks, a deranged psychopath determined to impose her religious vision upon the group. The reluctance of the collective’s leaders to confront and disempower this person leads to murder, imposition of a form of worship that involves zombie crucifixion and (ultimately) destruction of the commune itself. Like those whose appeasement of the Quebecois nationalists resulted in the Meech Lake debacle, the reluctance of Buzz and Deacon to act allows Kezzie to take over and slaughter any who oppose her.
RELATIONSHIP TO NATURE Although environmental devastation often triggers the apocalyptic moment in American PA stories, it is rarely an ongoing threat as the plot progresses (THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD being the only exceptions that spring to mind). By way of final example, I contrast two short stories with the same title, one American, one Canadian. In Eric Del Carlo’s fascinating and brilliantly-rendered tale “The Herd” (OG’s Speculative Fiction, Issue #11), the Earth’s collapsing environment unleashes a series of devastating storms, driving a mass migration of human refugees ahead of them. Because I have spoken with Eric about the story’s origins, I can reveal that “The Herd” is based on his own experiences during Hurricane Katrina. Former residents of New Orleans, Eric’s family joined the stream of refugees clogging the highways just like the characters of “The Herd”. But it is what the storms cause people to do to each other as opposed to the storms themselves that form the real basis of Eric’s story. This in contrast to its Canadian counterpart. “The Herd” written by Tyler Keevil is first up in Exile Edition’s 2013 DEAD NORTH: CANADIAN ZOMBIE FICTION. In this unique twist on the zombie trope, Tyler presents us with a zombie horde migrating across the tundra, shadowed by an Inuit hunter. At play in this crisp, visually-evocative tale are all the elements of the classic Canadian wilderness survival story. It is Man against the elements as much as it is Man against … whatever. “A heaviness is in the air, a change in temperature, the wind, the look of the clouds. I know it is going to snow, and it comes in the early morning, just after the herd has set out. It arrives first, as a brief sprinkle … Then a lull, the air charged with a static crackle … Some of the deadheads stop, confused, and look up at this white confetti raining down …” – “The Herd”, Tyler Keevil, DEAD NORTH (Exile Editions, 2013) 4. And so we can see: the post-apocalyptic visions of both Canadian and American writers are informed by the human experience and social dimensions of the writers’ host countries. But it is in our origins, I think, that we find the defining characteristics of each country’s post-apocalyptic vision. We must remember that America and Canada are both nations engaged in the ongoing process of democratic evolution. Societies in both countries adapt to prevailing circumstances, learning from their mistakes, making mid-course corrections and each working to preserve the ongoing experiment that is any free society. We are unique, yes. But we influence each other enormously and are mutually fascinated by visions of the apocalypse. Americans, robust and individualistic, fight each other over possession of the wasteland while Canadians, willing to pay almost any price to remain within a group – however dysfunctional – seek to survive its ambiguous wilderness. As both nations emerge from history and grow toward self-actualization, we both imagine our own demise only to discover that we die very much the way we were born.
My friend Jamie Mason is a Canadian writer of dark fiction whose stories have appeared in On Spec, Abyss & Apex, White Cat and the Canadian Science Fiction Review. His zombie novel KEZZIE OF BABYLON was published in March of this year by Permuted Press. He lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more at www.jamiescribbles.com