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IT’S NO SECRET that religion is largely on its way out—at least amongst North Americans. Though a whopping 77 per cent of Canadians identified as Christian on the last census that measured religious affiliation, the closest runner-up was no religion at all, and studies suggest that number is on the rise.

According to a study conducted by Harvard professor Robert Putnam, the number of young Americans that identify as having no religious affiliation is hovering somewhere within the 30 and 40 per cent range—up from the usual five to 10 per cent for that demographic.

This trend in turning away from religion means more than just lower church attendance. The absence of faith, for many, means increased anxiety and pressure to find their own answers to the great questions of life.

“Religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God [are] much less anxious and feel less stressed,” reported Michael Inzlicht, a University of Toronto researcher, in a report to the Association of Psychological Science.

Conversely, those without any faith or personal religious beliefs often display increased symptoms of death anxiety, the imposing fear of death and what happens after. As Pope Benedict XVI explained in his 2012 State of the World address: “Truly the world is dark wherever men and women no longer acknowledge their bond with the Creator and thereby endanger their relation to other creatures and to creation itself. The present moment is sadly marked by a profound disquiet.”

Rejecting religion is not the only trend our generation can be credited with. Affected by death anxiety and fear far more than our elders, we have turned in droves toward the same coping mechanism: Escapism.

Book sales, box office numbers, and our generation’s unrivalled passion for the Twilight, The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, and 28 Days/Weeks Later franchises attests to more than an upswing in fantasy fanatics. This demand for escapist fiction that focuses exclusively on the undead says something about our society’s psyche.

Youth are obsessed with the undead. Be it vampires, walkers, the infected, or plain old zombies, we eat up anything to do with these seemingly immortal beings as much as our favourite characters would a piece of exposed flesh. But why the undead, in particular?

One of the longest-running arguments against violence in cinema, comics, or video games, is that it desensitizes youth to pain, death, and dying. But what if that process of desensitization was necessary?

Our generation, faced with the dilemma of understanding death without the support of their fathers’ faith, has found a new way to cope with mortality. We watch Twilight and fantasize about eternity, instead of fearing it. We watch animated corpses get shot in the head time and time again and are not only used to it, but entertained by it.

By romanticizing the dead, familiarizing the concept of mortality, and making images of death and dying common to the point of being mundane, we have used fantasy fiction to our emotional advantage.

Though religion has by no means been abandoned by youth, its diminution in the face of increased obsession with fantasy and escapism speaks to a major anxiety of our generation. Without God, we need to find our own way to deal with death, and literature has provided us just that. We need vampires, zombies, and the fantastic—without them we wouldn’t have the ability to handle reality.

—Jaclyn Lytle