The Bishops’ Book of Beasts

Benjamin Church meets World, Free Range, Life on Planet Earth

A blog post recently started me thinking (always something dangerous!). I was thinking that Catholic thought on the body and soul can be applied to the whole spectrum of monsters we see in popular culture.

By way of introduction, Catholic thought sees the human being as a creature composed of the union of a body and a soul. The body is similar to those of other animals in its basic design, but it is adapted to the special needs of the soul. The soul is spiritual, not material, and it gives the person the capability of rational thought and free will. The soul is the principle of harmony and life in the body, but the body stays alive by using various natural processes and it requires a steady supply of oxygen, water, and nutrients. Keeping this in mind, we can easily classify the monsters in Hollywood. Watch to see philosophy in action!

+ Beasts +
Beasts have a non-human body and lack a rational soul. We see them as large, frightening animals (tigers, sharks, giant squid) or fantasy creatures (dragons, king kong). Without a rational soul they completely lack the use of reason. For example, Godzilla can’t explain why he is destroying Tokyo because he functions entirely on instinct. Sometimes the instict is very sophisticated (e.g. the Velociraptors from Jurassic Park) but they lack any form of self-reflection or moral conscience.
Vulnerable to: physical attack, traps involving food (or you) as bait.

+ Rational Beasts +
If the beast can speak, then no matter how stupid it might be, it can still have a conversation. This ability to communicate indicates the presence of a rational soul, and with the rational soul comes the ability to reflect on its actions and the will to choose. The creature must then have a reason for being evil, even if that reason isn’t very good. Sometimes, without being able to speak, the creature still manifests a rational soul (for example, the dragon in Shrek). Since it has free will, it could also chose to be good (like Hellboy).
Vulnerable to: physical attack, traps involving attractive monsters of the opposite sex.

+ Werewolves +
These are rational human beings who transform into beasts, sometimes at will, sometimes involuntarily. In some versions they keep the ability to reason, but in other films they just act on instinct until the phase passes. Without the use of reason, even temporarily, their instincts can drive them to do horrible things to people they would otherwise love and cherish (terror!).
Vulnerable to: weapons of silver.

+ Zombies +
A zombie is a human body with no soul, animated in some unexplained, unnatural way. They are completely mindless and wander in search of food (usually living humans, oh no!). A true zombie has no soul and is usually a reanimated corpse. Some “authorities” say a similar effect can be caused by a virus, but in this case the condition is reversible because the rational soul is still present somehow (e.g. I am Legend). Since true zombies are not kept alive by the usual natural processes, they can lose several vital organs and appandages and continue to shuffle after you (run sweetie, run!!).
Vulnerable to: decapitation and most physical weapons.

+ Vampires +
This is the intriguing figure of a rational mind united to a body which is animated but is not alive (hence, they are called the undead). They maintain their form of animation by drinking the blood of the living, which also gives them sparkling white skin and perfect, pointy teeth. It is interesting to note that (following solid philosophy) since the body is physical even if not alive, the bond between body and soul can still be severed by a physical attack (stake through the heart). Since their mode of existence is so obviously contrary to nature, they are also harmed by holy things.
Vulnerable to: certain wounds, crucifixes and other blessed items.

+ Ghosts +
A ghost is the spiritual presence of a person who has died. Although the body is buried, the soul continues to be present in the world. Unlike the monsters mentioned above, Catholic thought leaves open the possibility that ghosts could exist, because of two reasons. First, we don’t completely understand spiritual realities but we know that persons (especially saints) can be present to us after their death. Second, the doctrine of Purgatory leaves open the possibility that we do not immediately enter Heaven, so there is a chance of people being between this world and the next in some way. Catholic thought, however, insists that while the soul can survive separation from the body this form of existence is incomplete, and the human soul longs for the resurrection of the dead.
Vulnerable to: blessings and prayers.

+ Demons +
Demons are spiritual beings that have no bodies. Hence, they have intellect and will and rational thought but without any physical component. Catholic thought teaches that not only are demons real, they are constantly tempting people towards evil, because they are beings consumed by hatred. Many film “demons” are actually beasts (cf. Hellboy) but many cinema ghosts have the characteristics of demons: intelligent, malevolent, immaterial, and connected to some evil (crime, violence, cursing, spells). Since they have no bodies, demons cannot be attacked with weapons, but they can be attacked in spiritual ways.
Vulnerable to: blessings, exorcisms, blessed objects