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01 January 2015

{Guest Post by Cody Doremus, aka Hubby Bear} Biblically, Critically Thinking About Superheroes [and everything else]

I wrote the following to further a discussion started by a blog post about why a family does not do super heroes. I am not trying to directly contradict it, but to make sure there is a larger context on critically thinking how this decisions relates to different decisions and where these fall within the context of sin as presented in the Bible. Before I begin a discussion of super heroes, let’s first clarify a world view that I believe is a Biblical truth (Ecclesiastes, words of Jesus, James, passages about God not desiring sacrifices, etc.):

1) Things are not inherently bad when reduced to their simplest level

2) WHY you do something is what makes something sin or not

Examples: Sex is not bad. Abusing sex and using it selfishly (even inside marriage) is sin.

Reading bad things is not sin. If it were, we could not read the Bible since it is full of bad things. Reading/Seeing bad things is not inherently sinful. If it were, all apologists who say "I read/saw this and these are the reasons it is not Biblical" are apparently sacrificing their souls for the sake of others. Reading/watching something bad BECAUSE you get pleasure from the bad thing, now it has become sin.

On to super heroes…

Using Bible verses that say “abstain from evil” as proof for something being evil that is not specifically stated in the Bible is a misapplication. In the case of media, I can accept drawing a line that only specifically designed to honor God programming and history is acceptable (and you would have to throw out a lot of the specifically designed to honor God programming because it is almost impossible to get all the details right). If you move the line anywhere from there (Curious George, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc.) you have just moved yourself firmly into 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 concerning foods sacrificed to idols. In other words, it’s complicated. It is not about a thing that is good or evil, it is about you and the people you are around and everyone’s conscience. There can still be a black and white, but it is based on circumstances and will not necessarily be the same for everyone. If it is okay for someone (freedom in Christ) it will not necessarily be right for them based on who they are around. My pastor made a good flowchart based on this section.

Question 1) Are super heroes inherently sinful? I will break down some of the different parts of the medium.

-Is violence inherently sinful? Not necessarily because God used violence to correct or punish as documented in the Bible. Is it the ideal? No, and quite a lot of super heroes try to avoid violence whenever possible. If force is required, they try to capture, not kill the villain. Quite often there is even a moral discussion on these lines as super heroes who have a moral view will even use force against another super hero to prevent them killing a villain.

-Are super heroes morally relative? Some maybe, but most are like real life people as in “it’s complicated.” Are people with good morals perfect? Nope, we still sin. In fact, while the summation of how to live a Christ honoring life is very simple (Love God, Love others) how to put that into practice every day in every situation is very complicated and requires a lot of thought (see 1 Corinthians passage and above flow chart). Do we struggle and grow with that? I know personally I have grown in my faith and figuring out how to love people when I went through collage, when I got married, when I started having a pastor that teaches critical thinking, and when I started doing marriage counseling (if you have problems, it really does help. Just having someone there to force you to not get emotional, make sure both people listen, both sides get a fair hearing, and summarize the big picture instead of getting hung up on details). [note: I did not list having kids because my parents did such a good job I have felt very confident in how to raise mine, even though I am still learning]

Super heroes are a medium to have morality questions brought up and asked without having to screw up in real life. The Green Arrow keeps having sex with different women and it screws up his life every time. Tony Stark is a womanizer but after he finds he can do some good as Iron Man he slowly starts to get better (He’s still a jerk but I know some Christians who are jerks and need to grow some more too). I think part of why Spiderman has stayed so popular for so long is Peter constantly struggles with what is the right thing to do. Quite frequently bad things happen when he makes the wrong decision. Quite frequently different bad things happen even if he makes the best decision (bad things happen to good people in real life too). He and many other super heroes end up having an Ecclesiastes moment asking “Why? No matter what I do the people I love get hurt! What’s the point?” which is an excellent teachable moment. Occasionally they even have the right answer like in the 90’s X-Men cartoon where many of the X-Men have the exact opposite of peace and are trying to figure out their purpose. Enter Nightcrawler, the German Christian Monk who has found peace from God despite looking like a monster. He prefers not to fight and he shares Jesus with the X-Men seeking answers and consequently to a whole bunch of kids watching that may never have been to church before.

Villains range from “this person is pure evil” to “this guy is really trying to do the right thing and they just are not getting it.” In real life, according to the Bible, we are supposed to Love our Enemy (Matthew 5:44). In fact, the only real enemy is Sin (Yes Satan is a bad angel. That’s not who Jesus defeated at the cross though (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). Sin is a lot more powerful than Satan is and a lot harder to defeat. You would either have to make everyone perfect or get rid of everyone who is not perfect… See Revelations…). People are always to be loved and if possible saved. Having “grey” bad guys is actually real life. We should be rooting for the super hero to convert the villain just like we should be rooting for people to find Jesus (which means we should tell them, not just wait for someone else to do it). In the comics/shows sometimes the villain just won’t change. Just like in real life, sometimes you tell somebody about Jesus and they don’t want anything to do with Him.
Super heroes actually are one of the few mediums in modern programming that actually deals with morals. Many current Nickelodeon cartoons and Disney TV shows have characters that do absolutely whatever they want with either no consequences or good consequences for bad morals. No way are my kids (or me) watching those.

-Are super powers sin? This one again is complicated. There are super heroes with no super powers. Are these fine? There are “heroes” and “villains” that get power from Demonic forces. Does that mean these need to be completely avoided or since people try to do that in real life is it a teachable moment like the morals? (It’s a teachable moment in the Bible when Saul sought this out) There are heroes and villains who get powers from physics that don’t work in real life (I include mutants in this category because evolution in real life only breads out traits to exemplify another or is harmful [dieses, missing/distorted limbs, etc.]. Mutants can be another teachable moment: “Do people really get born with super powers from genes going wonky? No”). If an imaginary world with different physics is evil, that means Thomas (how else could Trains talk and have personalities), Curious George (sorry, monkeys don’t really act like that), and anything with talking non-people or otherworldly physics are out. The original concept for the X-Men was to have an extreme example of people born different and feeling on the outside like Jews (Stan Lee is one) or practically any teenager. Then there is a moral dichotomy about what you do if you are in that position. Do you like Professor X love people that hate you or do you take the route of Magneto who, persecuted as a Jew during World War II, essentially becomes Hitler, i.e. hate those that are different for hating you and become the thing you hate. Is using an alternate universe to get people to think about something by framing the same topic in a different light inherently wrong? I don’t think so, unless you are drawing the line I made in the first paragraph.

Question 2) Is this going to edify me? This is going to be dependent on each individual. Are you going to think critically and have teachable moments? Is it going to be like a philosophy class where you get hard moral questions? This could be edifying. Are you in it to watch the violence and laugh at everyone’s problems? Maybe you should abstain… Are you letting kids watch super heroes? You should be selective about what you pick (The 90’s cartoons are good, the current movies are probably not for under 13 or older) and watch with them so you can have teachable moments instead of giving them the opportunity to just want violence (just like you should watch most ­shows with them seemingly benign or not).

It is important to note that I believe this is where the arguments actually lie against super heroes. It is important to distinguish between an argument with Question 1 or 2 because it is the difference between anyone engaging in the thing or the thing itself being sin verses anyone abusing it being sin. Examples: Is Sex inherently bad (The Catholic Church declared this at one time) or is sex outside of marriage bad? Is the marijuana plant itself evil and from the fall or are people abusing it doing evil (are hemp crafts and diapers allowed? What constitutes abuse anyway?)? Is alcohol evil or is getting drunk evil (I don’t drink but I really don’t buy the fact that Jesus never drank fermented grapes or that Paul meant just grape juice when he told Timothy to drink some wine)? Is everyone who watches super heroes sinning or if you don’t like super heroes do you just think people can find better uses of their time?

“I don’t really want violence in my house before it comes there naturally. We are not going to watch any shows with violence. We will re-evaluate when my son starts making weapons out of his cheese.” – Completely valid

“I don’t have a problem with make believe but I don’t see anything beneficial to the super hero world.” – Valid even if I don’t agree. Don’t do them.

“I don’t have a problem with make believe but I think X aspect is bad. I don’t want it as a teachable moment, I want it out of my house.” – Valid

“I don’t want to present morally complicated situations to my kids until I feel they are old enough for us to talk about them constructively” – Valid

“X super hero is bad and has nothing good I can teach.  Any super hero eventually leads to super hero X and badness.” – I don’t agree, but if this is how you think you better not start. It is very good to know you have a personality that will make you want to get into every facet of something so you can make wiser decisions on if something is good for you or not.

“I think X about super heroes is bad. Therefore it is sin for anyone to engage in them.” – Not Valid. Now you are forcing your answer to Question 2 into Question 1.

Question 3) Is this going to make others stumble? If someone starts believing the occult and disbelieving God because of a specifically fictional world, they have a problem with almost all media and you probably need to work on that and not watch anything with them. If someone has a problem with being violent, they should not watch super heroes, history, or anything else that has violence (like a recovered alcoholic should not go to a bar). Mostly, I think you need to answer question 2 for the people with you to decide if it is going to make them stumble or not.

This is also where “You will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:18-20) I don’t think you can say watching super heroes is a fruit. You can definitely say HOW someone watches super heroes is a fruit. HOW someone plays super heroes, action figure or pretend, is a fruit. HOW someone talks about super heroes is a fruit (I just had a good conversation with someone the other day who said they thought The Punisher was under appreciated. I talked about how I did not care for The Punisher because other super heroes eventually realize revenge is wrong and do their best not to kill. I know he leads a pretty tormented life, but I have not read or seen enough of him to know if he ever starts to think twice about his methods.). If anyone is showing that all they care about is violence or they are not learning from the moral mistakes, apparently super heroes are making them stumble and you should not do super heroes around them.

As my Pastor says in parenting class, “It is better to world proof the kid then try to kid proof the world.” We selectively do super heroes in our house because we believe all of the discussion points help us start that process early. Our kids also get grounded from super heroes if they hit or do anything violent and we have a discussion about reality verses make believe and how to love people. Our son very rarely hits anymore and when he does he is usually super cranky and tired and just acting out randomly because his brain is not working. (We also had to cut out almost all spanking because us hitting him was teaching him he could hit. I think a lot of people would say spanking is not discouraged in the Bible.) We have also been able to use concepts from the imaginary world to help him start to get a grasp on deep Biblical concepts.

I understand this approach is not for every family but God has blessed us through it. I ask that you critically think about your objections to any topic and realize where they fall within the 3 questions so you know if everyone is sinning that engages in something or if it depends. Also do not use this line of reasoning as a license to sin. If you have to think critically about everything instead of following rules it is possible to butter your toast in a sinful manner. Loving correctly is complicated and takes thought.