What Christians Can Learn from The Walking Dead Re: Family, Singleness, and Marriage

When secular sources get it right – The Walking Dead

(I can see disgruntled “Caryl” fans wanting to leave me argumentative comments about this post. If so, please see the “Policy on Dissent on this blog” before being tempted to leave me a nasty gram. Thank you.)

On the cable channel AMC’s hit show about the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead, the topic of ‘what is family’ is explored every so often, as it was most recently in last night’s episode, “The Suicide King.” The show centers on sheriff Rick Grimes, who leads a group of survivors, some related by flesh and blood (or marriage), but most not.

The character Rick Grimes has a wife named Lori and son named Carl, and a newborn daughter named Judith (the wife, Lori, got killed a few episode ago).

Other characters under Rick’s charge include (but are not limited to) Hershel Greene, who has two daughters, Maggie and Beth. All the other members of Rick’s group are unrelated through birth or marriage (some previous members were killed in older episodes). They have banded together to survive.

One of Rick’s group includes the redneck survivalist character, Daryl Dixon. Daryl has become the show’s most popular character.

Daryl and his older, racist, sexist, violent brother Merle get separated early on in the show. Daryl grew up in his abusive older brother’s shadow. When Daryl was not being ignored as a child, he was being physically and verbally abused by his brother and possibly by his father, when they bothered to pay any attention to him.

In the episode ‘The Suicide King’ (first aired February 10, 2013), Merle re-enters Daryl’s life. Daryl decides to leave Rick’s group to go off alone with his brother again, because Rick refuses to allow Merle to join the group.

Rick tries to talk Daryl into staying (without his brother Merle), but Daryl is still stuck in the idea that flesh and blood ties is what constitutes “family,” or that flesh- and- blood ties should take priority to other sorts of bonds.

The character Glenn, who doesn’t want Daryl to leave the group, tells Daryl that Merle may be “your blood, but not mine.” Glenn explains that the group of survivors, headed by Rick, is his family now, even though Glenn is not related to any of these people through blood ties – and Rick tells Daryl, “you are part of this family.” Daryl still decides to leave with his brother Merle, however.

You can view a video clip of a few moments of that scene, and the actors from the show discussing the concept of “family” in this video clip:

(Link:) (SPOILERS) Inside Episode 309 The Walking Dead: The Suicide King (Video on You Tube)

Rick’s group of survivors have been more of a family to and for Daryl than Daryl’s own flesh and blood relations – despite a few arguments with one or two other group members (such as the late Shane Walsh), the group has treated Daryl with kindness and respect, and they have come to rely on him for protection and defense.

In one of the last few episodes, when Rick falls apart after his wife Lori dies from childbirth, Daryl willingly risks his life to go out in search of baby formula for the newborn.

In yet earlier episodes, Daryl took it upon himself, and puts himself in danger, to go searching alone in a zombie-infested forest for the twelve- year- old daughter of Carol, Sophia, who went missing at one point.

Daryl, despite his racist family of origins, freely and glady, with no prompting from any one, gives up some of his big brother’s antibiotic and painkiller medication to a black group member, “T-Dog,” who was gravely injured.

Remember, none of these people – Carol, the new born child, T-Dog, Rick, Sophia – are Daryl’s flesh and blood family, but he still acts on their behalf anyway.

In another episode, Rick, Glenn, Oscar and Maggie – all of no relation to Daryl – go to the town of Woodbury to rescue Daryl from one of the show’s bad guys, the Governor.

Throughout the series, Daryl has shown himself not to be a racist, sexist jerk like his older brother Merle. He has a difficult time emotionally connecting with other people, but he is, at his core, a decent guy who tries to help other people.

~~~~~~ ASIDE ~~~~~~~~

Before I return to the main theme of this post (which is, ‘who is family’), I wanted to address another issue about this show:

It may resonate with this blog’s particular audience to know that the actor who plays Daryl has said in interviews that in his mind, the character Daryl, who is also in his 40s, is a virgin. The show’s writers have, so far, never given Daryl a love interest or a sex scene – and remember, Daryl is hugely, hugely popular with the show’s viewers.

(Please click on the “read more” link below to read the rest of this post. Thank you.)

The actor considers Daryl as being awkward around the ladies, not a Mr. Smooth type of guy, or, he seems to have said, Daryl has never had sex or been married just because of his abusive upbringing – he never had the self-esteem, the time, or never developed the ‘know how’ to pursue romance.

I find the lack of romance and sex for a show’s character, especially for one so popular as Daryl, a nice change of pace from the usual television- and- movie tendency to pair all characters up romantically.

Unfortunately, there is a large number of show fans, most of whom are ladies (I’ve yet to see a male among them) who call themselves “Caryl,” who want to see Daryl get romantically involved with a female group member named Carol, who was previously in an abusive marriage to a jerk named Ed (their term “Caryl” is a combination of the names “Daryl” and “Carol”).

Sadly too, is that this view of “you need a man to complete you” and “marriage / romance will bring total happiness and fulfillment” are messages that are also rife among Christian sermons and Christian blogs and books.

The ladies pushing for “Caryl” (Caryl meaning a relationship between Daryl and Carol) don’t realize they are feeding into so many dangerous, sexist, and hurtful stereotypes – such as (but not limited to), one must have a romantic partner to be complete, or that all nice people can and will get a life partner.

A woman from an abusive marriage, such as Carol, is not psychologically prepared to get romantically involved with another man, unless and until she has formed her own identity and can stand on her own, etc. (As recent as last night’s episode, Carol admitted to another character that should her deceased husband walk back to her now, she does not know if she would be able to turn him away. Clearly, she is not emotionally healthy enough to date anyone else at this time.)

I have never married, but I was in a long term, serious relationship. From that, I can safely deduce that marriage is not always romantic, fulfilling, and romance is not the panacea to loneliness and all of life’s other problems -a long term relationship sure as heck did not provide me with any of that, and I don’t see any reason to assume marriage would be any different. I’m afraid all the ladies pushing for a “Caryl Ship” have read too many romance novels, or watched too many romantic comedy films and have an unrealistic, saccharine sweet view of love.

The “Caryl” supporters also, I am afraid, lack an appreciation of how many of us, who remain unmarried and celibate past the age of 35, get sick and tired of seeing no unmarried people depicted in a positive fashion on televsion shows and films.

If Carol and Daryl did become a romantic pair (and I hope they do not), I can guarantee you they’d have all the same problems in a relationship that any other man and woman would. Romantic relationships are not 24 hour a day “bodice-ripping” adventures where your male partner meets every emotional need you will ever have.

Let’s see how Carol copes in the zombie apocalype as an unmarried woman – that would be far more fascinating to watch than to see her rely on a man again, in a dating or romantic context.

Doling an unmarried woman such as Carol out to a man as his wife or girlfriend would also be a trite, “been there, done that” move that’s gone on repeatedly for decades on other television shows, in films, and in romance novels – it’s boring and predictable and a slap in the face to all the unmarried people who are tired of not having any unmarried characters to relate to.

~~~ ASIDE (End Of) | Resuming with Main Theme of the Post… ~~~

Conservative Christians often bash secular entertainment for being vulgar, obscene, or being anti-Christian, and as a conservative Christian myself, I do agree all that is certainly true of a lot of movies and television shows.

I’ve never liked the doctrine of “separation” as taught by fundamentalist Baptists. Some Baptists not only apply “separation” to Christians they believe to be in doctrinal error, but to any and all worldly things. The Bible, though, says one cannot completely avoid sin and sinners, unless one were to leave the earth entirely. The Bible does not teach avoidance of worldly things or people.

Therefore, I don’t avoid any and all forms of secular entertainment. Sometimes Christians can learn a thing or two from Non-Christian material, and I believe that is the case with this program about the zombie apocalypse.

It’s interesting that a secular television show brings out the fact that “family” can and should consist of people who care about you and for you, not merely people who are related to you by birth or marriage.

Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, made it plain in His teachings that He and His teachings are supposed to take priority in a believer’s life.

Christ said whoever loves his or her flesh and blood relations more than He is not worthy to be His follower. But this teaching of Christ’s is often violated or ignored by the contemporary American body of people who profess to be followers of Chirst.

Christ speaking, from Matthew Chapter 10:

For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 

And (Christ speaking, from Matthew Chapter 12):

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

The conservative Christian denominations seem to be especially prone to making an idol out of marriage and of having and raising children.

Conservative Christian groups, such as Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family, are constantly complaining to any secular media outlet who will listen that the American family (i.e., married couple with kids) is under attack, and these same Christian groups love to cite statistics, or make comments about, how people don’t respect marriage as much as they once did, how divorce rates are high, how out- of- wedlock births are higher today than ever before, and they love to detail and fret to secular media outlets about other societal ills.

As a matter of fact, there are now cult-like Christian groups (some called “Quiverfull”) who go to extremes in promoting patriarchy, marriage, and having children – they have gone even beyond more mainstream groups, such as Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist denomination.

I am, to a point, sympathetic with some of these Christian pro-marriage, pro-family groups and with their concerns.

I am not a religious or political liberal, and I do see that American culture has deteriorated, but I don’t think constantly harping on or promoting a 1950s American cultural model of the “nuclear family” is the solution – it hasn’t worked for the past 30 or 40 years after all; the church needs a new strategy, which is one that actually goes back to an old strategy: what Christ taught about family.

The Bible itself does not harp on a 1950s American family as being the pillar of society, or even of it being a necessity for culture or for the church or for God’s purposes (see previous quotes in this post by Jesus Christ on who and what He defines as “family”).

Yet Southern Baptists, conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, and other, similar Christian groups claim they believe the Bible totally and without reservation, and they take pride in defending its inerrancy and taking it literally. Why then, do they not actually pay attention to what the Bible teaches and says in regards to family, children, marriage, and singlehood?

Secondly, while many American churches fixate on such family structures (i.e., married couple with kids), they continue to (by default) exclude approximately half of the America population, which now consists of never- married adults, divorced adults, not- yet- married (and may- never- be- married) adults, and childless or childfree people.

It’s no secret to the unmarried that unmarried people do not find most American churches and denominations inviting, welcoming, compassionate, relevant, or helpful. (Most married Christians find this information shocking, or are totally ignorant about it, until it’s pointed out to them by older, unmarried believers.)

Most sermons, church programs, church finances, and Christian material are all directed at helping only 18% of the U.S. population (that is, married -as in never-divorced- couples with small children at home).

The rest of us, who do not fall into the “married with kids” spectrum, are either totally ignored, or, when attention is paid us, we are deluged with patronizing comments and attitudes or insults by preachers and married Christians, who blame us for being single (they assume we are selfish and are intentionally avoiding marriage, or that we are too lazy, or what have you, etc.- the lists of insults and innuendos we unmarried Christians get subjected to is too long to rehash here).

Maybe if American churches and denominations spent less time agonizing over people’s marital (or childed) status, and instead concentrated on meeting and loving people where they are, whether people are childless, childfree, divorced, widowed, or never- married, they would attract more Christians (and possibly more Non Christians) to their churches.

It’s a huge failure on the part of American churches and American Christians that they do not put into practice Jesus’ teachings of what constitutes family, of who to include in one’s understanding of “family” (and again, Jesus Christ did not limit “family” solely to being one’s flesh- and- blood relatives, or of one’s spouse – if one has a spouse).

I believe it is this neglect of those who fall outside of the “1950s nuclear family” ideal which is one factor that is driving people away from church, keeping the pews empty, and turning people off to Christianity.

I’ve had other reasons why I’ve seriously considered leaving the Christian faith lately, and goodness knows being ignored or treated poorly by most Christians, for not being married and for not having children, is not helping me want to hang on.

For all their frequent ranting and railing against secular entertainment, conservative Christians could learn a thing or two from a secular television show that takes place in the zombie apocalypse – The Walking Dead – a show which unknowingly at times echoes the teachings of Jesus Christ, even if only imperfectly and vaguely, one of which is that your “family” consists of those who care about and for you, and who may not necessarily be related to you by birth or by marriage.
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Related post:

(Link): The Walking Dead television series – Virginity and Family – One of TV’s Most Popular Adult Characters is a Virgin and Single And Most Are Okay With That

(Link):  Love Does Not Have to Be Romantic or Erotic: Maleficent Movie

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