Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Failure of a Pseudo-Christian Community in a Nation-State in Crisis: 28 Days Later

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Failure of a Pseudo-Christian Community in a Nation-State in Crisis: 28 Days Later

Article excerpt

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) tells the story of a neoliberal nation- state that dissolves into chaos under the pressure of a massive public health crisis and the story of an army officer who tries to re-constitute the nation-state and, he believes, civilization itself, through the imposition of military discipline and brutal coercion. In the midst of this violent transformation, a small group of plague survivors tries to reach a place of safety and "salvation." Through the film's use of Christian symbolism associated with the plague survivors, it reflects the complexity of attempting to form and maintain an alternative community in the political context created by the nation-state in which all such alternative groups are seen as merely subsets of the nation-state rather than communities that have a clear standing of their own. The film displays this complexity in two primary ways. First, it displays the way the nation-state privatizes Christian faith both before and in the midst of the crisis.1 Early in the film, Christian faith and practice are presented as purely private matters that can ease the emotional burden of the individual in the midst of a public crisis but cannot address the public crisis itself and certainly cannot provide the basis for the creation of an alternative community. Secondly, the final action sequence of the film dramatizes the way agents of the nation-state claim sole authority over lethal violence and thus tempt the plague survivors to engage in what Rene Girard calls mimetic desire by adopting the violent means of the nation-state rather than opposing the nation- state through the formation of a truly alternative community with its own politics.2

This reading of the film is deeply informed by theorists of the development of the neoliberal nation-state and how such nation-states privatize what they define as religion and claim authority over all uses of lethal violence. In a lecture given in the spring of 1979, Michel Foucault argued that neoliberal nation-states exhibit a "state phobia," a fear "that the state possesses in itself and through its own dynamism a sort of power of expansion, an intrinsic tendency to expand, an endogenous imperialism constantly pushing it to spread its surface and increase in extent, depth, and subtlety to the point that it will come to take over entirely that which is at the same time its other, its outside, its target, and its object, namely: civil society."3 "Religion," I would argue, can be defined as one expression of that civil society.

The film is set in a nation-state that has privatized religion in ways scholars have argued is typical of the neoliberal nation-state. In his study The Myth of Religious Violence (2009), William Cavanaugh argues that the nation- state ascribes to the foundational myth that it was born promising to bring an end to religious violence, specifically violence between Catholics and Protestants, who, the myth proclaims, were killing one another over doctrinal differences. Cavanaugh's primary claim is that this "religious violence" does not exist as an identifiable category because "religion" itself is a category created by the very nation-states that claim to provide an alternative to religious violence. In his argument, Cavanaugh builds on the scholarship of Jonathan Smith who claims, "Religion is solely the creation of the scholar's study. It is created for the scholar's analytic purposes by his [sic] imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy."4 Cavanaugh writes, "Religion is a constructed category, not a neutral description of a reality that is simply out there in the world."5 Applying Smith's insights to a study of the development of the modern nation-state, Cavanaugh argues, "The modern state was born as a peace maker in this process, relegating religion to a private life and uniting people of various religions around loyalty to the sovereign state. …

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