What effect do heroes, or superheroes, have on the way we see ourselves, on the way we see the victory of good over evil? If Jesus were cast in a superhero movie, would He look like He does in the Bible? Does God call us to be superheroes? Superstars?
My wife and I enjoyed watching Mission, Impossible recently. All kinds of bad stuff is prevented by Ethan Hunt and his IMF force. One could even see this as a classic tale of good vs. evil, and good wins! Agent Hunt's wife says toward the end of the show, "Nothing (bad) happened because you were here. I sleep soundly at night because you are here." That sounds like the hero is an agent of God, not just of a covert government agency. Kinda reminds you of David killing his ten thousands, Samson ripping the bad guys to shreds with the jawbone of an ass.
But the movie, and the previews of other hero and superhero movies, troubles me. Deeply. In the same way some Biblical violence troubles me. I left with a serious question, as a Christian and as a minister:
Does our love for our heroes, from John Wayne and Roy Rogers to Superman and Ethan Hunt, from Samson to Batman, distort God's picture of the truly great and powerful in human life? Does our adulation of superstars leave little girls and boys, who may not look like Hollywood models or NFL football stars, with a perception that they are less than beautiful, wonderful children of God who are profoundly treasured? Is our praise of larger than life conquerors, and their "impossible" destruction of evil and protection of good, a participation in socially endorsed or systemic sin?
I don't want to be judgemental. I believe in grace, and the core theme of my theology is that God is constantly seeking to love all of humankind into life. Many Christians share similar faith; God's active, seeking love in Jesus Christ is central to many of our lives. And I'll keep watching action movies...well, some of them...as part of my enjoyment of life in Christ.
But repentance is part of our reception of Jesus and His love. My own growth in and coming alive in Christ has included (still does include when identified) repentance of the socially enabled or systemically entrenched sins of racism, sexism, privilege, judgement of homosexual persons, ministerial grandiosity, and other systemic sin.
Many of us share repentance of those systemic sins. Do we need also a corrective repentance, by parents, churches, and individual Christians, of the praise of superstars in our society? I know parents who do an excellent work of loving and teaching their children even while watching modern day Greek mythology like The Avengers or Spider-Man. They are doing the challenging work of balancing yes to the victory of good, no to the achievement of that triumph by violently impossible and self-destructive feats of bravado.
But, as a society, could our love for superheroes distort God's vision of the wonder and beauty, even power over evil, in human life? Could such adulation of the impossibly explosive power and battles of superheroes leave us feeling we also have to be superheroes to be of value in God's sight? Could those tales of good triumphing over evil with grandiose noise, fast cars, great big ole guns, bulging muscles or voluptuous bodies and violence...could those stories leave members of our society believing we too must triumph over all (über alles), be the greatest, if we are to be of value? God forbid, but could we even come to wish, as Judas did, that Jesus Christ were a superstar?
And if that is how we see the triumph of good over evil, is that belief part of a systemic sin of hero worship? Sin that could leave the least of us (children, the poor, the disempowered, the mentally ill, the less educated, the elderly ill, the homeless, the immigrant, the skinny or obese, the "different," etc.) believing we are not worth much because we aren't impressively beautiful or "normal" or powerful?
Is Jesus calling us to follow Him whose power gives life by washing feet, healing and forgiving, by touching and loving us in our leprosy, by dying, by being among us as One who serves? Is He calling to a new mission, made possible by the Spirit, to love God, love life and ourselves, love our neighbors? Even if our neighbors are our enemies?