Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing

Nancy D. Wadsworth
Aleš Črnič

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TRANS-UNIVERSAL ZOMBIE CHURCH OF THE BLISSFUL RINGING TIMELINE

2012 (October) – 2013 (March):  An insurgent popular movement, known as the All-Slovenian Uprising, mobilized popular critiques of corruption and antidemocratic governance inside the Janez Janša regime, and demanded reforms in Slovenian political economy. The uprising created the context for emergence of the Zombie Church.

2012 (December 22):  Political “zombies” emerged en masse at a Ljubljana protest after Prime Minister Janez Janša’s party (SDS) critiqued the protests as a “zombie uprising,” via Tweet. This denigration of protesters as zombies was embraced ironically by protesters, who seized the moniker for their own purposes, threatening a zombie takeover.

2013 (January-February):  A group of protesters claimed the name of Church of the Blissful Ringing (a predecessor to the Zombie Church), conceiving it as a protesters’ church that expressed the spirit of the people’s protests through ritual banging of the pots and pans.

2013 (May 5):  Members of Church of the Blissful Ringing changed their name to The Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing after polling members on the group’s Facebook page.

2013 (May 5):  Members of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing announced the founding of the church and its mission on the Facebook page.

2014 (April):  The Zombie Church registered as a religious community with the Slovenian Ministry of Culture, Office for Religious Communities, under Order 46. This was not uncontroversial, as the Catholic Institute for Family and Culture of Life (KUL) objected to the registration on its website, arguing that it was not a legitimate religious community.

2014 (October):  Sanje Press released The Holy Book of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing.

2014 (December):  The Zombie Church claimed 10,000 members on Facebook, making it the fifth largest religion in Slovenia.

2019:  The Zombie Church claimed 12,000 members.

FOUNDER/ GROUP HISTORY

The Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing is an innovative, dynamic, twenty-first century religion born and bred in the small, southeastern European nation of Slovenia. The Zombie Church burst on the scene in early March 2013 during a period of creative political unrest in Slovenia, and subsequently consolidated as a religious community through public articulation and registration with the Slovenian Ministry of Culture. As of 2019, the Zombie Church claimed 12,000 members, which makes it the fifth largest religion in Slovenia, though its core of active members is estimated to be between twenty and thirty. The church is open to any and all who seek to join via its Facebook pages in English and Slovene, and does not exclude members of other religions.

It also has published a Holy Book,  [Image at right] an evolving compendium of its gospels, revelations, and dogmas. It has engaged in humanitarian outreach, and periodically asserted strategic challenges to the state on questions of religious freedom, church-state separation, and the privileges enjoyed by the dominant Roman Catholic church in Slovenia.

Initially (albeit briefly) named the Church of the Blissful Ringing, the church was born at the height of the then-largest sustained popular protests in Slovenia since the nation’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenians had taken to the streets in the tens of thousands, enraged over a series of corruption scandals under the national leadership of Prime Minister Janez Janša (pronounced YAN-sha). Unrest broke out in the northeastern city of Maribor in October 2012 after an expose revealed that a public-private partnership governing traffic radars was generating huge corporate profits on the backs of cash-strapped citizens. Protests quickly spread to the capital city of Ljubljana, where 30,000 demonstrators gathered in mid-November to rally against corruption and authoritarian government, and a series of large gatherings continued through March 2013. The protests were coined the All-Slovenian Uprising (also sometimes translated to English as “Upheaval”).

Protesters were rejecting the “austerity measures and necessary reforms” promoted by Janša’s right-wing government in the wake of the global recession that began in 2008; they eventually demanded his resignation. But, more broadly, the Uprising cast an ambitious vision for more equitable economic conditions, respect for the rule of law, the provision of generous social services, cultural renewal, and rejection of the Janša administration’s sell-off of Slovenia’s national industries to global corporations. The Uprising created public spaces of generative creative expression amidst political protest. Large gatherings in public squares, for instance, were called “protestivals” for their emphasis on playful but serious rebellion that asserted countercultural visions to the status quo, enlivened by art and performance.

A protestival motto was “Don’t wait for spring, spring is already here!,” a refrain from a popular Slovenian song that may also have been a call-out to the Arab Spring protests of 2010. As publisher Rok Zavrtanik put it to journalist Marjeta Novak in early 2013, “The protestival is calling for a social renaissance and a return to the human while rejecting the manipulations of capital. It is connecting people through their cultural expression, via musical performances, physical theatre, puppets, poetry, as well as giving a voice to the protesters themselves, thus creating a unique people’s forum.” To wit, the Uprising convened scores of initiatives (e.g., new women’s rights and artist-activist groups, an anarchist federation, sustainable-development cooperatives, a trade union revival, and LGBT groups) and the Church of the Blissful Ringing emerged in this spirit.

According to High Priest Rok Gros, [Image at right] founder and Keeper of the Pot and the Pan, the initial iteration of the church occurred when a group of protesters inspired by Iceland’s 2009-2011 financial crisis protests (also known as the Pots and Pans Revolution or Búsáhaldabyltingin), embraced the banging of pots and pans and ringing of bells as a spiritual ritual to complement the Uprising protests. The church’s initial mission (and its continuing primary mission) was to ring the bell as a protest against corruption. “Our members said that it is blissful for us to ring the holy pots and pans,” said Gros in an interview in 2017 with American political scientist Nancy Wadsworth. However, the original name of the church only lasted “for about five seconds,” before a notorious tweet intervened. Following a large protest on December 21, 2012, Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party handle released a Tweet that read: “Communist International, Civil War Rhetoric, Totalitarian Symbols? A zombie uprising, not a nation uprising!”

The Tweet intended to dismiss the protesters as communist zombies, relics of a dead system. But it backfired spectacularly as the protesters commandeered the zombie figure for their own purposes. Overnight, the art and theater communities mobilized to organize mask-making and face-painting workshops, and at the protestival the following day, citizens appeared as zombies en masse, accompanied by towering zombie puppets created by puppeteer Matija Solce, the son of a famous Slovenian puppeteer. As Gros recounted, he and his friends said, “Ok, we will be zombie church (sic) because our government says we are all zombies–ok, then, let’s be zombies so they know what we are doing.” [Image at right] After putting the revised name to a vote, members named themselves the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful ringing on May 5, 2013.

The Uprising protests achieved a number of victories. They forced the organization of an anti-corruption commission, which issued a public report in early January 2013. The mayor of Maribor was forced to resign the same month, Janez Janša was ousted in a vote of no-confidence by the parliament in late February, and a left-center coalition was signed into parliament in mid-March. This juncture marked the end of the initial “protest moment” of the Slovenian Zombie, and the beginning of the consolidated Zombie Church. (It bears mentioning that in a strange twist of fate emblematic of the dramatic back-and-forth between parties in Slovenian politics, Janša was reelected as Prime Minister in February 2020 after serving a prison term, and has generated a new round of anti-corruption protests in April and March that may be larger than the 2012-2013 wave.)

In its afterbirth period, The Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing set about articulating itself as a new faith, primarily through its Slovenian website and Facebook groups in Slovenian and English. It worked out basic terms of membership; shared beliefs, which began rather tongue-in-cheek but became more serious over time; and rituals like masses and lifecycle events. It registered as a religious community in April 2014 and published its Holy Book in October of the same year. In subsequent years, the church has engaged in its public masses, volunteered and raised money for causes, erected charitable organizations, and tried to push the Slovenian state on matters of church/state separation and rights of religious minorities. It has also enjoyed some media interviews and profiles, although in recent years has been less active.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

Members of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing state that, relative to many other religions, their doctrines and beliefs are not strictly defined. However, as stated in Point 5 of the Church’s twenty formal points under its Statute, “Our holy books are Facebook notes and The Holy Book of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing.” The Holy Book contains an Introduction and preface, twenty constitutional Articles, a list of nine Sacred Dogmas, fifteen Good Announcements, nine holidays, a mission statement, and a list of twenty formal statutes.

The Church’s mission, as delineated in the Holy Book, is, first, “the ringing of the holy bell and the blessed pot and pan,” and it is the duty of all believers “to spread the faith, to communicate all revelations, and to ring the holy bell.” Believers are allowed to be members of other churches, but the church does not discriminate aside from adherence to its strict nonviolence policy.

The Facebook conversations and the Holy Book contain a mix of jokes, tongue-in-cheek statements, news and public policy commentary, and more solemn doctrines and beliefs. Doctrines and beliefs are notated according to the exact time and year in the Zombie calendar in which they were added, and the priest/priestess, brother, or sister who suggested the item. The Zombie Church counts the church’s birth at the protestival of March 1, 2013, as the Great Rising (also called the Resurrection) and the “zero hour” relative to which subsequent developments are measured. Below is an incomplete list of some guiding doctrines and beliefs of the Zombie Church:

The church is trans-universal because “Universal church provides resurrection beyond this world, but zombies are already resurrected in this world, which in the ethereal essence of trans-creation explains the difference between a universal and a trans-universal church.” (Introduction to the Holy Book)

The beginning of the world was not the Big Bang, it was the Big Bong! Archpriest Adis, November 14, Zombie Year 1, 1 hour and 5 minutes after the resurrection. (Sacred Dogma of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing)

On heaven and hell: Members believe that “we automatically come to paradise in our own image. Both on earth and in our church and in the trans-universe with the blessed Bell” (Mission)

The Trans-Universal Church has no competition, for all churches are self-limiting to the universe, and the universe is expanding into nothingness, so indeed only the Trans-Universal Church maintains the hope of eternal blessing in the name of the almighty Bell. High priest Igor, first miracle maker, May 9, year 1 of zombie counting, 1 hour and 12 minutes after resurrection. (Article 8)

The holy drinks of all Trans-Universal Zombie Church zombies are beer and piña colada. For the little zombies, however, water that, unfortunately, will not by miracle become beer. High priest Rok, May 9, year 1 of zombie counting, 10 hours and 37 minutes after resurrection (Article 9)

Forgive yourself and the Bell will forgive you. Brother Toš, June 4, year 1 of zombie counting, 6 hours after resurrection. (Article 15)

Every believer of Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing automatically comes to paradise in their own image. Both on earth in our church and in trans-universe at the blissful Bell. Blessed High Priestess Mirjam and High Priest Rok, June 20, year 1 of zombie counting, 7 hours and 2 minutes after resurrection (Article 18)

If you have hope that the world can change for the better and that we shall live a fairer life, then you have to constantly point out the injustices, to grumble. Conflict contributes to progress, and time spent arguing is never wasted. I’ll be quiet when I’m in the grave. Brother David, January 2, year 2 of zombie counting, 12 hours after resurrection (Good Announcement)

First Monday in the New Year is a holy lazy Monday when every believer tries to rest as much as possible as it is pleasing to the Bell.

August 14 is the holiday of the multi-billion euro ascension in Corrupto-land as we remember things that have disappeared into Trans-Universe or to the beautiful islands. (Author note: The day before the Assumption of Mary which is an important Catholic holiday in Slovenia is used to mock the bankruptcy of Maribor diocese and greed of the Church in general.)

The Holy Book specifies different types of believers: “sister, brother, high priestess, high priest, blissful, miracle maker, good hearted.” And adds: “Other titles are possible, according to a democratic vote or a miraculous revelation. All Marys and believers, holding any derivation of the name Mary, automatically become blissful.” (Point 11)

There are a few things for which Zombies can be excommunicated, including sexual molestation of a child and rejecting the claim that “free contraception is a holy right for every woman” (Article 16).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

The Zombie Church exists to foster and support community-building, to help others through humanitarian efforts (“to do good”), and to draw public attention to political corruption through specific religious rituals. Through its public engagement and interaction with the state, it also draws attention to issues of church/state separation and the rights of religious minorities.

The central ritual of the Zombie Church is the ringing of the bell at bell services, which are the religion’s masses. The main rituals “are performed at masses in public places, holy places, or wherever the believer feels the need to do so. The most likely place for any believer is his holy object and the seat of the church. There, according to the Mission section of the Holy Book, “he must perform the religious rites as often as possible.”  Weekly during its early years, and today more intermittently but especially during periods of political unrest, Zombies “ring the bells” by banging on various pots and pans with spoons and other kitchen implements in front of the Temple of Corruption (or “Corruptland”), which is the Slovenian Parliament building. (According to Rok Gros, the same ritual has also been performed in front of the Croatian ‘House of Original Sin.’)

The bell ringing carries layers of significance: it repeats the political act of public expression that began during the Uprising; it creates a tension with the state regarding the group’s right to do so, as a religious faith; and it gestures rhetorically to the cultural and legal privileges the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia has enjoyed to ring church bells at all hours across the country. However, the form of religious ritual is not strictly defined. Again, according to the Mission of the Holy Book: “It is desirable to ring and make sweet sounds from the sacred pot and pan, but not necessary. If the believer so desires, he may also meditate or think deeply in prayer.” Following the bell ringing, members may provide sermons or “read wise thoughts,” which may also be shared on Facebook. Each reading is followed by a collective “bong!” said aloud by members, in the tradition of “amen.” They may also thank the bells directly.

As early as their second public mass, when more than thirty people joined Zombies in front of the Temple of Corruption, the Zombie Church placed an emphasis on helping others. Following their decision in 2014 to hold masses on Wednesdays, Rok Gros noted in 2016:

We had also heard that charities such as the Red Cross and Karitas ran out of food, because the secular power fucked up all that could be fucked up. We concluded that it was time to start collecting food and other items in front of the House of Original Sin during our Masses, so that the powers that be could see how much they led us astray. Well, after a few weeks they magically solved the problem and found the money for the said charities. Indeed, the Bell moves in mysterious ways.

Zombies continued to collect clothing and voluntary contributions for those in the community who needed help. Donations have been given to maternity homes, safe houses, and single mothers needing assistance. Zombies have also collected spare tires and other things for the police who guard Parliament, with whom they have tried to build a good relationship.

In the wake of catastrophic floods in 2014, the Zombie Church collected supplies to support people throughout Slovenia, collaborated with the Orthodox Church to collect, transport, and distribute aid to people in Bosnia and Serbia, and assembled special packages for women impacted by the crisis. In 2016, through its Trans-Universal House of Good Things committee, the church set up a pro bono health clinic in Novo Gorica, called the Free Clinic of Hugo Chavez. During the Serbian refugee crisis, members of the church raised money for immigrant communities.

In addition to masses and good works, Zombie Church members recognize their own holidays. The Holy Book lists a number of recognized holidays. These include the Day of Burning Shrubs and Speaking Stones (May 9); Youthful Dedication to the Universal Creation (May 25); Multi-Billion Euro Ascension day in Koruptland (August 14), the day of Transuniversal Peace and Wisdom of the Holy Pan (September 8), and the Day of the Holy Drink (December 13), in which “it is the duty of the believer to immerse himself in the holy drink and to reach a contemplative state in prayer.”

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

Zombie Church members express commitment to preserving a democratic, horizontal structure. [Image at right] All believers are considered equal brothers and sisters, and there is no gender discrimination in the church, as recorded in a church statute. However, high priests and priestesses are dedicated members of the community tasked with leading masses and deciding important issues when necessary. As Metija Grah noted in 2014, important decisions are made by a “twenty-four-hour council of high priests and priestesses” via Facebook, concluded with a vote.

A special category of believers are “Marys and derivatives of this most common name in Slovenia. Micke, Marjeta, Mija, Mance and anything like that are automatically blissful.”

High Priest Rok Gros has been the most prominent public spokesperson for the church. He also holds the titles of founder and keeper of the Pot and the Pan. He has been on record saying he had the idea for the new faith after taking part in the All-Slovenian Uprising. His wife Andreja Gros is also a high priestess.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

One of the major challenges facing the Zombie Church is its public identity. Both academics and Slovenian interest groups have presented alternative images of the Zombie Church that contrast with its self-understanding. Some scholars (notably Marjan Smrke) have described the Zombie Church as a parody religion. However, though it has demonstrated irreverent and parodic stylings, its spokespersons firmly reject that label. We submit, following religion scholar Carole Cusack, that the church is better characterized as an invented religion, in that it announces its invented status, refuses to make itself legible to (and indeed often purposely irritates) dominant religions, draws from popular culture symbols and narratives, and yet asserts itself as an authentic, living religious community. Invented religions may parody and tease established religions, but that is not necessarily their raison d’etre; they often either begin with a serious claim to self-chosen religious community, or develop authentic attachments along the way. The Zombie Church in Slovenia began with the idea of serving protesters’ spiritual needs and, over time, evolved into a self-described religious community.

The Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the blissful ringing seeks to test the relatively young democratic state of Slovenia’s approach to the definition of religion, the state’s role in regulating it, and questions of the respective rights and privileges of dominant and minority religious traditions. Three ways it has done so are: (1) by asserting itself as a legitimate religion, despite its perhaps idiosyncratic origins and dogmas; (2) by registering as an official religion, forcing the state to recognize its existence and extend it the same rights and privileges of all religions; (3) by attempting to raise questions of equal treatment by the state, relative to conventional religions such as Roman Catholicism. In the latter category, it has raised the issue of representation in public chaplaincy, access to public funding for its humanitarian organization, and the matter of needing a permit to practice religious rituals like the banging of pots and pans in public space.

Given the attention the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing attracted during and after the All-Slovenian Uprising, the church would seem to be in a good place to revive its social and political profile today. By June 2020, Slovenia has seen bicycle protests attracting upwards of 10,000 participants each Friday in most of April and March to express outrage over President Janša’s management of COVID19 pandemic resources and other policy issues. The Zombie Church has posted regularly in support of these protests on its Slovenian Facebook page throughout much of April and May, and Zombies have been spotted attending in costume. The Zombie Church will likely remain a presence in Slovenia so long as its members remain active in Slovenian civic and political life.

IMAGES

Image #1: The Holy Book of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing.
Image #2: High Priest Rok Gros of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing.
Image #3: Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing protests as zombies.
Image #4: Logo of the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing.

REFERENCES**
** Unless otherwise noted, the material in this profile is drawn from Nancy Wadsworth  and Aleš Črnič. 2020 (Forthcoming). “Invented Religion, the Awakened Polis, and Sacred Disestablishment: The Case of Slovenia’s ‘Zombie Church.’”

SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCES

9News. 2014. “Zombie Church attracts disillusioned voters.” 9News, December 23. Accessed from https://www.9news.com.au/world/zombie-church-rises-in-broken-slovenia/832b6d34-c29a-4fd2-b45f-61c9f0d4dead on 1 June 2020.

“Admin.” 2013. “Slovenians Demand Radical Changepr.” Critical Legal Thinking, January 15. Accessed from http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/01/15/slovenians-demand-radical-change/ on 1 June 2020.

Catholic Institute for Family Culture. 2014. “Minister Uroš Grilc insults religious communities with the registration of the Transcendental Zombie Church of the Blessed Sacrament?” April 4. Accessed from http://24kul.si/minister-uros-grilc-zali-verske-skupnosti-z-registracijo-cezvesoljska-zombi-cerkev-blazenega-zvonjenja on 1 June 2020.

Grah, Metija. 2014. “Upasana and the Zombie Church Offended Some Catholics. Delo, April 21. Accessed from https://www.delo.si/novice/slovenija/upasana-in-zombi-cerkev-sta-uzalili-del-katolicanov.html on 1 June 2020.

Gros, Rok. 2016. Sermon posted to Facebook English page, June 10. (Sermon apparently written for March 13 anniversary.) Accessed from https://www.facebook.com/groups/705947819468540/search/?query=Holy%20Book&epa=SEARCH_BOX on 1 June 2020.

Gros, Rok, 2014. Sermon posted to Facebook English page (December 25). Accessed from https://www.facebook.com/groups/705947819468540/search/?query=Holy%20Book&epa=SEARCH_BOX on 1 June 2020.

Gros, Rok. 2014. “Interview for MMC,” April 29. Accessed from https://www.rtvslo.si/slovenija/zombi-cerkev-zalitev-je-da-nam-recejo-da-nismo-vera/335694 on 1 June 2020.

Hay, Mark. 2015. “Zombies, Pasta, and the Future of Political Protest.” Good Magazine, January 13. Accessed from https://www.good.is/articles/zombies-vs-pasta on 1 June 2020.

Kavčic, Bojan. 2014. “’‘Zombie church’ helps Slovenia crucify corrupt leaders.” Yahoo News, December 22. Accessed from https://news.yahoo.com/zombie-church-helps-slovenia-crucify-corrupt-leaders-042155991.html on 1 June 2020.

Loštrek, Neža. 2019. “The Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing: Slovenia’s 5th Biggest Religion.” Total Slovenia News, July 7. Accesssed from https://www.total-slovenia-news.com/made-in-slovenia/4057-the-trans-universal-zombie-church-of-the-blissful-ringing-slovenia-s-5th-biggest-religion on 1 June 2020.

Novak, Marjeta, 2013. “Slovenia Rises in Artful ‘Protestivals’.” Waging Nonviolence, March 21. Accessed from https://wagingnonviolence.org/2013/03/slovenia-rises-in-artful-protest/ on 1 June 2020.

RTNews. 2014. “‘In the name of the holy pot’: Zombie Church preaches against corruption in Slovenia.” rt.com, December 24. Accessed from https://www.rt.com/news/217235-slovenia-zombie-church-corruption/ on 1 June 2020.

Sanje (publisher of Holy Book),  Facebook page,  Accessed from https://www.facebook.com/zalozbasanje/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARAF3AKjhi3ZnlJq-KuANja5922G4Lv8GZSHYbzimOWzQIsl8VNLCKw8wT5RHxl0v1Ve8zQVPU7iJPsq on 1 June 2020.

Utenkar, Gorazd. 2014. “Čisto prava Cerkev. Zombi Cerkev.” Delo, May 10. Accessed from https://www.delo.si/zgodbe/nedeljskobranje/cisto-prava-cerkev-zombi-cerkev.html on 1 June 2020.

Wadsworth, Nancy. 2018. “Awakening the Civic Dead: Political Mobilization of the Zombie in Real Time.” The Popular Culture Studies Journal 6:190-216.

Wadsworth, Nancy and Aleš Črnič. 2020. (Forthcoming) “Invented Religion, the Awakened Polis, and Sacred Disestablishment: The Case of Slovenia’s ‘Zombie Church.’”

Publication Date:
16 June 2020

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Updated: — 11:36 am

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