No, this isn’t about the big news that Tim Minchin will play Judas in a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar. (JT for Jesus, anyone?) This is about Pastor Mark Driscoll who recently decided that popular culture had given him a great idea for a sermony blog post. That’s always a dangerous decision to make.
Creatively, and because no one else was doing it, Driscoll decided to talk about The Avengers.
The plot line is nothing new: a big threat to human life is looming, and a superhero or team of superheroes rises to meet the challenge and save the day. To say it another way, a proverbial hell is looming and people cannot save themselves from this terrible fate. So, a humble savior comes to make a great sacrifice so that evil can be defeated, people can be liberated, and a new kingdom can dawn in which people can live peaceably.
What is curious is that the superhero is usually part human and part something otherworldly. In that way, the hero is like us but simultaneously unlike us. Or, the hero is like us, but better. They have emotional frailty, moments of grief and sadness. But, they somehow overcome all odds to do good and vanquish evil selflessly and tirelessly for the good of others. They also have superhuman powers, insights, and abilities. Sometimes they even die, or seemingly die, only to return to life as if they were invincible.
If you’ve been paying attention (for five minutes at any point in your experiences in religiously saturated culture), you may have some idea where this is going. Superheroes are popular? That must mean…
Maybe everyone who bought a ticket to The Avengers deep down really wants to meet Jesus?
I’ll bet that took a lot of thinking. It almost makes me sorry to have to tell him this: Pastor Driscoll, the last “people” I want to meet are the Avengers–even when I’m in trouble.
First off, anyone actually familiar with the concept of superheroes, anyone who’s done more than just looked at the box office results and said, “Huh, this comic book stuff seems to be popular. What’s up with that?”, knows that life among superheroes is nowhere for your real human being to be. It gets dangerous out there, what with the villains they fight and the bits of landscape they throw around like confetti.
Beyond that, superheroes are built for serials. They have personalities made to generate and sustain drama, not for cozy palling around. Did this guy see either of the Iron Man movies? Did he notice that Thor only worked as a romantic interest because he spent essentially no time with Dr. Foster? Does he not know the basic premise of the Hulk? Superheroes are not your first choice for a chat over a nice cup of tea.
Then there’s the fact that superheroes can’t solve the problems that are actually important. The world isn’t full of basic injustices because some demigod or mutant or mad scientist built a fiendishly clever contraption on the moon and pointed it at us. No matter how good a shot each is, neither Hawkeye nor Black Widow can take down complex systems and their emergent abstractions. Cap’s shield won’t block any of the isms that make real people’s lives harder. Nick Fury is not pulling together the best team of teachers or tax policy analysts or clean energy experts in the world.
In other words, the Avengers only stay appealing as long as they stay very firmly fictional. They’re a fun escape into a world where life is unrealistically simple, but that’s about it.
This, of course, is where Driscoll is on firmest ground in comparing Jesus to superheroes. I doubt he thought that far, however. After all, it seemed like such a clever idea.