Zombie Jesus, Nazi Christians, Jacques Derrida, and Morality: Some Easter Reflections

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Zombie Jesus, Nazi Christians, Jacques Derrida, and Morality: Some Easter Reflections

(from the regular Column: “Meaningful-Faith: Words, the Word, and a Life of Substance”)

Mark Williams, Ph.D.
Professor of Rhetoric, California State University, Sacramento

In my church, Easter is a season celebrating the bodily resurrection of Jesus and it lasts fifty days. On the internet, Easter is a season of about four days where people who have not been inside a church in years, and possibly ever, post riveting memes portraying Jesus as a zombie and/or explaining to the faithful what Jesus actually taught.

Before we Christians get too smug, remember: the Protestant Christian Faith Movement of Germany celebrated the rise of Hitler, praying that Nazism would “sink indestructible roots” into the souls of the faithful. A leading pastor of the movement noted that “God fashioned for himself” a leader to renew the nation and all Christians were bound to honor that leader.[1]

Meanwhile, Jacques Derrida, one of the favorite whipping boys of the moderately educated Right, said: “If there is no Christianity without a pure morality, it is because Christian revelation teaches us something essential about the very idea of morality.”  He wonders if we are “ready to measure without flinching the implications and consequences” of that idea.[2]

Putting these perspectives together—the too-cool-for-you meme culture of Christian mockery, Christians praying to be better Nazis, and the postmodern godfather asking why we lack the courage to face the implications of Christian truth—suggests that Christians, at least, are not always the best judge of their own truth, and maybe we deserve the mockery that is heaped upon us.

Maybe. But before praying mea culpa to a meme, let’s think a moment.

One—perhaps the—essential thing that Christian revelation teaches about “the very idea of morality” is the scandal of Jesus’ physical body. The Christian’s moral life is intimately animated by the body of Jesus.

Early distortions of Christianity rarely debated what Jesus said. They attacked who he was. They redefined his body and tried from the beginning to separate it from the infinite God.

Jesus, some attackers said, was an average human being, but his body was periodically possessed by God: God would simply overwrite Jesus’ humanity and use his body like a puppet, stripped of any human identity. Jesus’ body didn’t really matter. When it was not possessed, it was irrelevant. When God was done with it, he discarded it.

Others tried to say Jesus was never human; his physical body was an illusion. The fullness of the Godhead did not dwell in him bodily, it hid behind the special effect of Jesus’ fake body. The infinite almighty God, these attackers said, would never lower himself to touch the rotting matter of this world. God was too spiritual to be involved with sweat and blistered feet. Jesus’ body was an illusion that could not be contaminated by physical embarrassments like digestion, weariness, sexual desire, and the fear of pain. The masquerade of Jesus’ body never needed the toilet or sleep. Never felt desire or discomfort. Holiness is too high for all that.

Different parties tried to press both ideas onto the early Church. Both were rejected completely, and Christianity remained committed to a thoroughly different understanding of Jesus, one inherited from the apostles who had actually touched Jesus’ body. God, according to those apostolic teachings, had become fully human without compromising his divinity or our humanity. His body could be tempted and tortured, could suffer and desire in every way a human body could.

God became fully a man in Nazareth. That man, who was also fully God, was tortured in Jerusalem and died there. He was buried. Afterwards, he finished being dead and went on to a new way of living, physically, bodily.

Derrida saw clearly—more clearly than many Christians see—that claims this astonishing could never establish a moral code that agreed with any political-economic ideology.

Let’s take an honest look at our own moral priorities. If we, like those Would-be-Nazi-Christians, find our morals are comfortably consistent with the political or economic perspectives around us—Left, Right, whatever—then certainly we have failed “to measure without flinching the implications and consequences” of Christ’s body, and we have conformed to our culture. Perhaps, then, we should be mocked for glossing over truths we were told to cherish. Perhaps.

Alternatively, we could work to understand and cherish those truths.


[1] Dolberg, Mary M., translator and editor. A Church Undone: Documents from the German Christian Faith Movement, 1932-1940  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 124, 245

[2] “Faith and Knowledge.” In Religion, ed. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 10-11.

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