March 26, 2017

May 12, 2012

A religion geek hearts The Avengers

Caught The Avengers last night.  It was a blast and I had fun with it on several levels.  OK, let’s get it out of the way, Scarlett Johanssen in 3D was one.  Another was Samuel L. Jackson - looks like Jules found that redemptive path after all (but still got to shoot folks in the process).  God gives us more than we can ask or imagine, says the Book of Common Prayer.

But for a religion geek, there were many more enjoyments (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

Props to truth, monotheism, exclusivism, the scandal of particularity and other theological stuff that Christians love and others despise.  When Captain America is warned to stay out of the fight between Thor and Loki, because “they are gods,” he retorts, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I don’t think he dresses like that.”  A number of friends have commented on that line.  There’s a stunned hush that falls over the audience - you sense people ready to burst out in applause but the movie moves fast and there isn’t time to jump in if you dawdle.  But you see the shadowy heads in the audience leaning toward one another to comment on it.  Great line.  How did that get into a 2012 movie?

A metaphor for the church.  The superheroes are divided by egos and personal agendas.  Only when they recognize each individual’s special power, and unify those powers in a common effort, do they overthrow evil.  Jesus’ sign of “the vine and the branches” and Paul’s “parts of one body” express the church as a collection of individuals, all gifted by God for unified work for the Gospel.  No need to thank me for this post-it in your collection of sermon illustrations.

Evil is manipulative but ultimately powerless. Loki is most effective when he plays on the heroes’ egos, shames and fears.  He has some mind control ability, but it is rather easily undone, as Black Widow points out, by hitting the controlled person upside the head.  When the Avengers recognize what he’s up to, his plan begins to come apart.  And when Loki draws himself up to full height and delivers an oration about how he is a god and far superior to his opponents, the Hulk thrashes him and stomps off muttering, “Puny god.”  The Bible reveals the devil as a deceiver.  His power is in sales and marketing.  So the New Testament tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).

Seeking redemption. Black Widow is a former assassin for hire.  She keeps talking about “wiping the red off of my ledger.”  Now, before my elder SF bloggers Kennedy and Ould fly in to Calvinistically remind us, the Christian message is that Jesus Christ redeemed us by his blood - the “red on his ledger” is the only way to wipe our ledger clean.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV).  Black Widow does not have a conversion of that nature, but she starts to understand that constantly looking to the past as a balance sheet is fruitless.  When Hawkeye is rescued from Loki’s mind control, and comes to the horrified realization that he has been killing people for Loki, it is Black Widow who is able to warn him of the futility of going back over and over our shame and failure - redemption requires a true release.  Christians understand that Christ’s sacrifice is the only redemption of our lives.  But we also recognize that we are transformed in this life, turning from what we were into what God makes us to be. 

Tradition. Captain America is a throwback to the moral certainties of the Second World War.  When the Cap’n's world view is questioned, Nick Fury opines that the messed up world needs such old school virtue.  The movie suggests that our post-modern, high tech reality has failed to make us better as a race - Loki mocks the way that humans continue to kill one another in big bunches.  The Avengers encourage us to look back for values that subdue ego and invest life in caring for the common good.

As you’ve probably heard, the movie is chock full of action and humor, too.  I encourage you to take your eyes of faith along with your 3D glasses.  At the very least you’ll have fun, and you might come home with something more to remember.



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Thanks Tim, I’m looking forward to seeing it now with my wife.

[1] Posted by bob+ on 5-12-2012 at 10:00 AM · [top]

Saw it this afternoon and it’s amazing.  Thanks for the write-up and recommendation Tim.

[2] Posted by midwestnorwegian on 5-13-2012 at 04:06 PM · [top]

I appreciate superhero stories as some of the last moral fables we have left in the world.

I saw it Friday and it was fantastic, visually and substantively, everything I expected from a big-budget production by Joss Whedon (Grrr. Argghh.)

As an added bonus, the Fox Network was unable to cancel it halfway through.

[3] Posted by Ecclesiastes 1:18 on 5-13-2012 at 06:42 PM · [top]

The Marvel people are some of the nicest people in entertainment, and the strengths Tim highlights are real, but _The Avengers_ has the standard Hollywood conceit that good defeats evil through force.  Maybe, I’m a wildly optimistic pacifist, but I wonder if someone could make a blockbuster that shows good winning through non-violence.  But maybe that’s so miraculous, that movie would need divine intervention?  Do the CS Lewis movies go in that direction?

[4] Posted by The Plantagenets on 5-14-2012 at 12:13 AM · [top]

The Plantagenets - I would have to say, then, that Jesus showed the ultimate in conceit.  If he did not win the war between good and evil through non-violence, how could superheroes?  I am entirely uninterested in wussy superheroes.

[5] Posted by veritas2007 on 5-14-2012 at 08:50 AM · [top]

Fun review, thanks

[6] Posted by Wright Wall on 5-14-2012 at 09:13 AM · [top]

Only Jesus wins the war… without doing too much spoiler action I can say that the movie shows that The Avengers have won a battle against rather than a final victory over evil.

That’s perhaps another superhero theme to be teased out - “the church militant.”  The fight is constant (Tolkien is good on this) and fought with great sacrifice and loss (even the more rosy Lewis has this - plus there’s no victory until Aslan returns from the dead).

Good thoughts in this thread - thanks for knocking this around.  Looks like several of you could initiate theological reflection from a film!  Have at it with folks you know, especially those who aren’t going to hear the Gospel any other way.

[7] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 5-14-2012 at 09:38 AM · [top]

Veritas2007.  I meant “conceit” in the morally neutral, literary sense of an extended, conceived metaphor but that could have been more clear.  I think Jesus is the exemplar of humility.  And yes, it didn’t occur to me in that post that Jesus drove out the money changers, so that’s a good point.  And good points too, Tim, about the battle vs war and church militant.

After adoring action movies growing up especially the Hong Kong “heroic bloodshed” genre, the Plantagenets is trying to integrate his views on onscreen violence to his growing appreciation of the Gospels.  My personal sympathies are with Mr. T in the new _A-Team_ movie when he fears his own nature as a warrior.  But broadly, I have no problem with realistic, non-glorified violence with realistic consequences like in many good war movies or say, _The Godfather_.  And I think that children are smart enough to know the difference between Looney Tunes and life. 

But what’s tricky now is that after 9/11 traditional action movies were replaced in the mainstream by cartoony superhero movies (and hyper-violent video games, many that were developed by the military as combat simulators).  And now superhero movies are tacking back to reality, blurring cartoon and life, so we have something like _The Avengers_ where (spoiler alert) an anonymous race of slug people drones attack New York from above in a quasi-terrorist style that leads to 9/11 missing people posters.  _Transformers 3_ and _Battleship_ were similar scenarios but with closer ties to the Defense Department.

These are just movies, but they do implicitly and thus powerfully associate Christian themes with elements of American foreign policy for better or worse.

[8] Posted by The Plantagenets on 5-14-2012 at 06:15 PM · [top]

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