Robert Joustra on Zombies, Cylons, Charles Taylor, and the Apocalypse
Date: October 29th, 2017

It is the end of the world as we know it!  Actually, when hasn’t it been the end of the world as we know it?!  That is the question that motivates a fascinating new book looking at the world going to hell.  Dr. Robert Joustra, an associate professor of international relations at Redeemer University College (Canada), calls in to talk about the book he co-authored with Prof. Alissa Wilkinson (King’s College) entitled How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World.  This is a fascinating work that employs the thinking of political philosopher Charles Taylor (also Canada) to understand how we have come to terms with the coming apocalypse through the ages.  While reviewing the history of the apocalypse — because it always has been coming as long as there have been humans around — we spend most of our time talking about recent apocalyptic movies, television series, and literature, including Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, and – of course – Mad Men!  As Jerry  Garcia would agree, this is one long, strange trip.

Prof. Joustra kicks us off by indicating that he might go trick-or-treating as Martin Luther on Reformation Day, but then we settle things down to the more serious issue of looking at the history of the apocalypse.  We start with Revelation in the Christian Bible, but also acknowledge that the ancient Greeks had their own visions of the end.  Indeed, the end of the world has always been coming and it actually serves to help us understand our contemporary times, including such desperate eras as the age of medieval plagues, Mongol invasions, and the threat of nuclear war.  Robert notes that something interesting has happened in the past century or so, and that has been a turn to viewing the apocalypse as something humans bring upon themselves through their own actions rather than something visited upon all of us from “on high.”  This insight comes by way of Charles Taylor, who penned the monumental book The Secular Age.  Robert explains how he and Prof. Wilkinson were able to filter his thinking through a wide variety of popular culture movies and get their work published at Eerdmans, the purveyors of fine spiritual books.

We review the thinking of Charles Taylor and his concern over the “malaise of modernity” (the title of one of his other books, though published under a different title in the U.S.).  Robert reveals how Taylor points out three “pathologies” of our contemporary age that include being adrift in the cosmos, making efficiency king of all goals, and the paradox of freedom’s double bind.   Battlestar Galactica illustrates the first pathology and Robert lays out the plotline of that television series (both the old and new), showing how the robotic Cylons that humans created want to destroy the human race but simultaneously cannot live without the humanity instilled in us.  The move Her, a story of a man who falls in love with a disembodied artificial intelligence, also harkens to this theme, which leads Tony to point out how he and Matthew Moore talked about artificial intelligence and the Robopocalypse via Buddhism a few months back (see below for a link to this incredible discussion).  We jump forward to talk about the third pathology of malaise — the paradox of freedom — in relation to zombies (The Walking Dead) and The Hunger Games.  All throughout this conversation, Robert isn’t simply satisfied with laying out the comic book version of these stories for Tony, but he drops important names such as St. Francis of Assisi and Thucydides connecting what Tony thought was the totally un-connectable.  We go through the third theme of Taylor’s “malaise of modernity” with reference to television shows that at first glance do not appear apocalyptic, namely Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and House of Cards.  (Tony admits to not watching any of these series given that he prefers happy endings, which prompts Dr. Joustra to cite G.K. Chesterton!)  All of these shows, Prof. Joustra argues, talk about “end times” in terms of the transformation of humans into something other than the ethical beings they were meant to be — a radical individualism and desire for efficiency gone awry.  Robert concludes the podcast with his own thoughts about what he learned throughout the process of writing this book.  Recorded: October 16, 2017.

RELATED LINKS

Prof. Robert Joustra’s bio at Redeemer University College and the Center for Christian Scholarship.

Prof. Robert Joustra’s personal web page.

How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World, by Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson.

The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom, by Robert Joustra.

God and Global Order: The Power of Religion in American Foreign Policy, by Jonathan Chaplin and Robert Joustra.

The Church and Religious Persecution, by Kevin den Dulk and Robert Joustra.

The Secular Age, by Charles Taylor.

The Ethics of Authenticity (a.k.a. The Malaise of Modernity), by Charles Taylor.

RELATED LINKS

Our Halloween Episodes (including zombies, Bigfoot, ghosts, UFOs, monsters, ancient aliens, and many other tricks and treats).

Matthew Moore on Buddhism, Meditating Machines, and the Robopocalypse.


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