Did You Know that Superman is a Methodist?

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

A couple of months ago, I went to see The Avengers just like millions of other people. I came out of the theater wanting to watch it all over again. It is the most entertaining movie I have ever seen. Nostalgia had something to do with it. I was reminded of early childhood watching Batman and, later, The Incredible Hulk on television. It made me remember seeing Superman and being captivated by Christopher Reeve like many other teenage girls. But it was more than just memories that made The Avengers great; it was the message of good triumphing over evil in a rather spectacular way that made me love this movie.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about superheroes in general and why there might be a resurgence in their popularity now.  The  Avengers, Spiderman, and The Dark Knight Rises are among this summer’s top movies and there must be a reason. Before I continue, I should say that I am not a superhero expert. I was never a comic book fan, either. But, I will go and watch any superhero movie. I even watched The Transformers despite having no real idea who was who or what. It’s the story that gets me every time. Evil forces threaten the planet and in spectacular feats of power and might, good wins… Every time!

This is in direct contrast with day to day life where good struggles to survive and seldom seems to win on a large scale. These days the economy is shaky. War continues with no real end in sight. Fires and floods destroy communities. The future looks uncertain on so many fronts. Where are The Avengers when we need them?

Where indeed? It seems incredibly ironic that superhero movies and mythology are gaining popularity, or at least enjoying some new publicity, at a time when the Church (and I do mean the Church as a whole in all its various forms) is losing more and more members. How has the message of the Gospel been so lost and weakened as to be upstaged by fictional heroes? I would bet that more people under the age of 40 (if not 50) know far more about various superheroes than they know about their own faith traditions.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Hunger and thirst we have in abundance. What we seem to be missing is faith – faith in God and faith in ourselves as God’s beloved children. But even the superheroes of box office fame have faith and they certainly don’t lack faith in themselves. I was surprised to discover that these cultural icons have faith affiliations with few exceptions. Did you know that of The Avengers, only Iron Man has a purely secular philosophy? That’s right. The Hulk is Catholic, Black Widow is Russian Orthodox, Captain America is Protestant, Hawkeye is at least nominally Christian, and Thor is, of course, a god in his own right. Batman is Catholic and Spiderman is Protestant. (References below.) Apparently, nearly every superhero out there is affiliated with one faith tradition or another. How many fans would be surprised to hear this? Or do they already know and point out that at least Black Widow and Batman do not practice their faith?

I’m not sure why, but it seems important that these fictional forces of good are at least loosely connected with faith traditions – both ancient and contemporary. Of course, none of the movies I’ve seen show any religious traditions except the idea that good wins and evil is eradicated. And, I suppose, this doesn’t matter so much as why superheroes are seemingly more popular than God.

On the surface, the answer is easy. Superheroes always win while doing something extraordinary; it’s what makes them superheroes. God, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to win much and hasn’t been seen doing anything extraordinary in a couple thousand years. Well that and the fact that movies are way more exciting than the average worship service.

Below the surface, though, it gets way more complicated. Wouldn’t it be nice to be rescued from all the negative things at play in the world? If Superman would come and end all wars… Or Batman would come and stop all crime… Or The Avengers could right the wrongs of the planet… If these things could happen, then we humans would no longer have any responsibility to work toward correcting what we have done wrong or what has simply gone away from what is right and good. Jesus works through us in ways that could potentially make any one of us into a superhero for someone else. I think of the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Now this is not nearly as exciting as The Avengers in IMAX 3D, but you won’t fall asleep in church if you are thinking about words like these which are rather reminiscent of the reading from Ephesians for this week. We all have different gifts given to us by Christ. How has this lost power over the centuries? How has our worship become so boring and foreign to more than one generation of people? It certainly is not for lack of need. We flock to the movies to get relief from the seemingly hopeless state of the world. Wouldn’t it be better if people were flocking to worship?

Surely, being Christ in the world is quite extraordinary. When did it become boring? I’m not suggesting that we need to compete with IMAX technology, but the Church seriously needs a makeover if it is going to last much longer. We have a message that is desperately needed in the world today: Every human being is worthy of love. It doesn’t even stop there. In Christ, evil does not win. It’s just that simple and just that complicated.

Superheroes do what they do with gusto. Those of us who call ourselves Christians ought to be doing what we do with passion. God is not boring and the amazing acts of God in the world far exceed IMAX 3D special effects.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

We can all agree that there are no superheroes. Some very creative people over the years have made them up. In contrast, there are a fair number of people who will say that Christ is not fictional and he has all the superpowers we need. So maybe it is time to remake our image in the world. Even though I have a great fondness for those old Batman episodes, they are pretty lame in comparison to today’s movies. So, the question I leave unanswered is:  How do we make Christ alive today so that more people will pray than will yearn for Superman swoop in and fix everything?

For more information of the religious affiliations of superheroes, check out this site: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html

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2 Responses to Did You Know that Superman is a Methodist?

  1. Liz Brimm says:

    Thanks, Rachael, loved this. Despite being an avid comic book fan as a child, I didn’t know about any of their religious affiliations, and I appreciate the writing of Teresa, of whom I know nothing. She sounds stunningly contemporary.

    • rachaelkeefe says:

      Thanks for reading, Liz! Since you are unfamiliar with Teresa, you should check her out. Although, I doubt you will find another place that mentions her and Superman in the same essay.

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