For a long time now, I've been anticipating the new movie, The Man of Steel. In case you need a reminder:
Now, I don't know how you can see that trailer and not be inspired, and not immediately begin to think about parallels between superheroes and religion. That is certainly what happens to me.
Despite obvious similarities between Superman and Jesus, stories like this immediately bring to mind religious ideas that are worth continually evaluating (after all, the most important questions of life are worth reconsidering simply because they are so important). Here are the top 4 ways superheroes make me question my religion:
1) The Bible is More than an Instruction Manual
Often there is a thought circulated that tries to equate the Bible with God's Instruction Manual (sometimes cutely called Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth). Could anything be more boring? We have somehow taken the propositional portions of the Bible and made them the stand-in for the whole thing (synecdoche of the worst kind). We take what is wild and unclear and messy and paint over it with what is easier for us to understand. We bury the crazy stories of heroism and greatness behind rules and propositional truths. Instead, the Bible is full of stories of people doing the rebellious, the dangerous, the uncomfortable. It contains some laws and propositions, sure, but the vast majority of it is story. Story has the ability to inspire us, to provoke a response in us, to raise questions in us. The Bible is, predominantly, a collection of stories to be wrestled with. Which brings me to the next way superheroes make me question my religion:
2) We Don't Have to be Flawless to be Great
In the best superhero stories, the hero has a flaw. Batman is an orphan. Ironman is a jerk. The Hulk has rage issues. Black Widow has a guilty past. Thor is cocky. Spiderman is awkward and an outcast, misunderstood by all around him. Captain America's family and friends died years ago, and he is often isolated because of his convictions. Nick Fury is blind in one eye. Daredevil is blind in both eyes. Hawkeye is surrounded by demigods, and while his abilities are amazing, he looks pretty useless compared to, well, everyone. No one is without something that makes them incomplete. Everyone has something missing, or lost, or hurt. For some reason, religion often says that because of this, we are all worthless. We are broken and bad and pieces of sh*t. Religion is quick to cite Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (yes it ends in a comma). After that comma, though, is Romans 3:24, which religion is quick to not cite, "and all are justified freely by his grace," which means we aren't broken and bad and pieces of sh*t, we're good, we're fixed, we're living pieces of grace. We're superheroes. Yes, we have flaws just like superheroes do, but the line that we have to be flawless to be great is a lie. Which brings me to my next point:
3) We are Capable of So Much More
I love the act in Spiderman 2 when Peter Parker decides to throw away the Spidey costume and just be regular old Peter. The world can take care of itself - he's done helping people. I've had that same impulse. I'm sure you have, too. And while I'm not advocating abandoning personal mental, physical, and spiritual health, or saying that you are responsible for the whole world, I think we function best when we have an eye open to helping others. Peter eventually realizes that just delivering pizzas and chasing Mary Jane is not a satisfying life. He is capable of so much more, and so are we. There's a song to that effect on the soundtrack. It's stories like Spiderman 2 and the Man of Steel trailer above that remind me that life can be about more than the mundane, that we, too, can follow our heroes into greatness, into the sun. Finally,
4) Our Gifts are Ours to Use
You may not think you have much to offer. You may think a comparison between you and a superhero is laughable. But I have never met a person that had no abilities, no gifts whatsoever. They may not be stellar. You may not be able to inspire millions of people, or save people's lives on a daily basis, or change our understanding of the universe. I can't either. But you are gifted. You may just have to stop and think for a minute or a month to figure out how. A good friend of mine, after much thinking and praying, determined that his gift, the gift he has to change the world, is kindness. That might seem rather unremarkable, but it's not unremarkable to the two orphans he has worked tirelessly for months to listen to, to spend time with, and to find a loving home. Their lives are forever changed because he decided to use his gift of kindness. You may feel like a Batman or a Hawkeye, having no real special abilities or skills, but what you have and what you use can make a difference to those we meet, to those whose lives you invest in. And no one else can use what you've got. And where we lack, others can pick up the slack. That's what's so exciting about superhero teams like the Justice League, the X-Men, and the Avengers. Alone, they are amazing. Together, they are awe-inspiring. And so are we.