Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist



Why I’m sick of Morally Ambiguous “Heroes”

They’re everywhere. The thuggish anti-hero who turns from his hideous past because of a threat to his cute niece and her kittens. The selfish lord who only helps others when he has something to gain in the end. The cold-hearted killer who, for some reason or another, only kills those who deserve to die.

The Punisher Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Punisher Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I get it, people are messed up. We all have baggage and we all make mistakes. The shining white knight is not really cool because no one thinks he or she exists. The only protagonists we seem to want to read or watch these days are the broken everymen who are just trying to get by. Even our superheroes are rarely morally respectable all the way through. Thor is arrogant and brash. Ironman is also arrogant and narcissistic. Batman carries a serious burden and disappears for great lengths of time. Where have our heroes gone?

We are obsessed with dark these days. Popular books and movies are getting darker and darker. The Hunger Games, for example, is about a bunch of kids killing each other, and it’s a series for youth. I understand that this outlook is easily adopted by looking around the world. War seems to be looming around every corner. The news is full of stories of murder, theft, and corruption. But our reaction does not have to mirror the world.

Some respond to this darkness by claiming that’s just the way it is. The world is dark, and we have to just make it through on our own. Game of Thrones, one of the most popular novel series (and HBO shows) right now is one of the most depressing stories I’ve come across in a while. There are no real morally upright people, and any who are quickly find themselves on the wrong end of a sword. This teaches us that standing up for the right will only lead to disaster. The only way to get through this world, and hopefully do a little good, is to do some pretty dirty things along the way, according to George R. R. Martin.

But does this reflect the truth of the world? I don’t think so. I think the only way to really make changes in this world is to stand up against injustice and evil, even if it costs us everything. Love is the only thing that can change this world, not self-preservation.

We’ve bought the lie that self-interest is what is going to change the world for the better. What we need to realize is that taking a risk for love and kindness is far more powerful than anything that evil can throw at us. And this is why we need to find real heroes again.

Heroes are not those who seek their own good. They fight for someone or something else. They defend the weak, the helpless, the poor. They fight against those who would oppress, misuse, or dominate. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to make the right choices, no matter the cost. In the end, they have to do the right thing. If we don’t have heroes to show us this, how are we going to act when we are faced with challenges and temptations in our lives?

Enough of anti-heroes. We need good old fashioned heroes again.


Beliefs of the Batman

We are now into our second week of finding the connections between God and the Marvel and DC super heroes. You can find last week’s posts here and here. The goal of these explorations is to find out why we connect to our heroes so strongly, and to see if there are any deeper spiritual truths that we can glean from the pages of comic books. Today, I want to talk about the Caped Crusader: Batman.

I am not the only writer to look under Batman’s mask in my search for God. Paul Asay’s book God on the Streets of Gotham, was partially the inspiration for my two week super hero kick. He delves into detail the connection between Batman’s quest for justice and our search for God. I want to take some highlights and expand on them here.

The Dark Knight is not always a great hero. He uses questionable methods to intimidate, capture, and interrogate criminals. He has an on-again-off-again relationship with a cat burglar. He has lost many fights, and even had his back broken. He is dark, brooding, and enigmatic. Batman is not the Christ-like figure of hope in a shattered world. But that is not his role. In the great cosmic story, Batman is us.

I have yet to see a darker portrayal of a city than that of Gotham. Drug lords and corrupt officials run the city. Prostitutes and thugs patrol the streets at night. Compared to the bright, optimistic cities of Superman’s Metropolis or Spiderman’s Manhattan, Gotham appears to be a city that no one would ever want to live in. This is why it is the perfect analogy for the Fallen World.

God made the world good. Everything, from the plants, to the water, to the people were good. However, we messed it up and everything changed. Death entered the world and Creation spiraled down from there. We now live in a world of crime bosses, corrupt politicians, poverty, and the sex trade. These were not created by God, but were the result of a good Creation falling. Similarly, Gotham shows evidence of being, at one time, very bright and prosperous. The size and style of the city suggest that it was, at one point, a very exciting place to live. Yet, like our world, it has become corrupt and diseased.

Batman, like so many of us, is not immune to the decay of his city. Even his parents’ wealth could not protect them from the dangers of a dying economic system. The city claimed the life of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the tragic moment that would drive Bruce to become the World’s Greatest Detective. He had to live through the pain of a fallen Gotham and somehow continue on. Throughout his training and career, he was able to hold onto one hope: that one day, Gotham could be better again.

We also carry this hope: that tomorrow can be better than today. The hope that one day, our Fallen World will no longer be fallen. Jews look to the coming of the Messiah. Christians look to the return of Christ. Materialists look towards a steady progress of humankind that will one day result in a utopian marvel. For many, this is why we continue on: the belief that the problems of today will one day be overcome.

This is why Batman fights. He believes that if he can show the people of Gotham that the city does not need to be a cesspool of crime and narcissism, then it will slowly transform the city back to a place of peace and happiness. He believes that if he can overcome the fear that holds people back from doing what is right, then the common good that is within all people will prevail against the evil that threatens to overwhelm his city. Batman fights because it is the right thing to do.

Just as the Dark Knight lives with a higher sense of calling and morality, so must we seek out what is good and right and decide to live by a code of ethics that rises above the cries of the masses. Our media tells us that overt sexuality is the key to all success, but do we have to believe that? The government tells us that wars are justified, but must we agree? If we are to find an ethical code that drives us to our feet, then we must look deep inside ourselves, and out to a higher power. For Batman, he found a sense of justice. For me, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ propel me forward in my quest to do what is right. We all must find something to hold fast to, or we will be swept away with the masses.

Unfortunately, if we are going to become like Batman, we must recognize within ourselves the capacity to not only do good, but to do evil. The Batman stories have some of the most compelling villains because we are often only a few steps away from becoming like them. A different upbringing, a tragic event, too much time alone: these can push us away from our code of ethics and down a much darker path. We can see our own baggage in at least one of the Batman villains.

Falcone allowed his ambition to cloud his judgement, leading him to become one of the crime bosses of Gotham. Who hasn’t felt the pull of power, money, and influence at some point?

Scarecrow’s obsession with fear is particularly haunting for me. In trying to control our own fear, it is easy to either play down or ramp up the fears of others.

Ra’s Al Ghul is perhaps the villain closest to my heart. If I do not daily seek greater understanding of grace and mercy, I could easily find myself turning to a religious zealotry that would burn everyone for the greater good.

Two-Face is a warning of what happens when our hope is placed in something too frail to hold against the darkness. The White Knight was Gotham’s hope until his own pain pushed him towards the dark.

The Joker is the epitome of Chaos. The narcissism and self-absorbed nature of our current society loves the self-gratifying nature of the individual. When we all try to please ourselves, chaos ensues. Unity can only be formed through selflessness.

I could continue writing on the moral and ethical goldmine of Batman for quite some time, but I must wrap today’s post up quickly. I want to open up the discussion with a few questions:

What is the driving force that pushes you to fight? What causes you to put on your mask and cape and head out into the night? What can you hold on to, no matter your circumstance, and know that it will get you through? And what steps must you avoid that would turn you into a super villain rather than a super hero?

Come back Friday when I finish the series with a discussion about the original super hero: Superman!


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