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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2017

Our Concept of Superheroes Comes from Christianity

Many scholars have categorized the superhero tale as a type of grand myth,1 and the hero is a common archetype in myth.2 However, the modern superhero is different from Homer's heroes. The hero in ancient myths was more driven by self-interest or in protecting the state of the polis or the societal norms from change. Larry Siedentop explains how "the ancient hero had been Odsessyus-like—an aristocrat. Springing from a leading family and often associated with the foundation of cities, the ancient hero was typically male, strong, wily, and successful."3 So, Jason seeks out the Golden Fleece to return to his family and receive the crown, Heracles seeks to perform labors to pay for his sins, and Theseus seeks to restore his birthright.

Siedentop argues the concept of what a hero is morphed as Christians began to topple the values of the Roman Empire. He states the Christian martyr didn't reinforce the established societal expectations, but rebelled against them by refusing to "bend under the claims of family and civic piety or to worship the Emperor." Instead of strengthening the social order of the polis, they "disregarded gender, class, and status."4 Their very public deaths were the epitome of selflessness to the underclass:
In making martyrs of Christians, the ancient world was consecrating what it sought to destroy and destroying what it sought to preserve. For Christian martyrs gained a hold over the popular imagination. And it was easy to see why that should have been so. The martyrs offered a model of heroism. As Tertullian remarked early in the third century, the martyr's blood provided "the seed of the church."5
Siedentop summarized it was the cult of the martyrs that "began to redefine heroism."6 Self-sacrifice is the most uniquely Christian aspect for all superheroes. Every hero sacrifices his own happiness or comfort in some way. Superman could rule the planet given his powers. Instead, he accepts being humiliated as Clark Kent in order to serve humanity as Superman.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark realizes that his weapons have been misappropriated by terrorists and his experiences change him so he is no longer driven to build more and profit from them. This even shows up in more complex Marvel storylines, such as Captain America: Civil War. There, the Hobbean Iron Man supports a government registration program for all super-powered beings while Capitan America believes freedom is the natural right of the superhuman. But both are driven to their positions in seeking what's right, not their own interests. This is the opposite of Roman and Greek myths. Leo Partiple observed "Whereas the god heroes of old were petty, cruel, or indifferent, the traditional superheroes try to mirror Christ. They stand against injustice and offer us a moral example to follow."7

Siedentop uses the hero as only one small example in his sweeping survey showing how Christian "moral beliefs have given a clear overall ‘direction' to Western history."8 Still, the Christian concept that every human has intrinsic worth stands in stark contrast to pagan societies who would do unconscionable things like discarding infants because they were the wrong sex,9 or selling them for profit or sacrifice.10

The sanctification of human life runs throughout the genre. The 1966 Batman movie has a scene where the caped crusader finds a lit bomb in a dive bar on the wharf and spends several minutes running around Gotham's ship docks seeking a place where he may dispose of the sparking globe without injuring bystanders. The scene is camp and played for laughs. However at the end of the sequence, after Batman is nearly blown to bits, Robin expresses his amazement at taking such a chance:

ROBIN: Holy strait jacket, Batman! You risked your life to save that …riff-raff in the bar!

BATMAN: They may be drinkers, Robin. But they're also human beings, and might still be salvaged. I had to do it.11

The intrinsic worth of all human beings is just one of the uniquely Christian values that are indispensable to creating costumed crusaders. Marco Arnaudo emphasizes this when writing "the traditions that have most profoundly made a mark on the development of the modern superhero genre are undoubtedly Judeo-Christian."12 Christianity changed the idea of what it means to be a hero, and thus opened the door, allowing the modern superhero to emerge.


1. See Marco Arnaudo and Jamie Richards. The Myth of the Superhero. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2013; Ben Saunders. Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes. London: Continuum, 2011; Zanne Domoney-Lyttle. "Comic Books as Religion: How Superheroes Connect Ancient and Contemporary Beliefs." Diss. U of Glasgow, School of Critical Studies, 2013.
2. See Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008. Print.
3. Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. London: Penguin Random House UK, 2014. 79. Print.
4. Siedentop, 2014. 79-80.
5. Siedentop, 2014. 80.
6. Siedentop, 2014.79
7. Partible, Leo. "Superheroes in Film and Pop-Culture." The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Pop Culture. Ed. B. J. Oropeza. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 251. Print.
8. Siedentop, 2014.2.
9. Schmidt, 2004. 49.
10. See Paul Chamberlain's summation of ancient infanticide in Why People Don't Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011. 130. Print.
11. Batman. Dir. Les Martinson. Perf. Adam West, Burt Ward. 20th Century Fox, 1966. Film.
12. Arnaudo, 2011. 27.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Star Wars, SideWays, and Film as Cultural Touchstone

As the culture shifts and Christianity becomes less understood, it is becoming more and more difficult for Christians to share their faith.  That's why I'm so excited about being a part of Sean McDowell's latest book A New Kind of Apologist. With twenty-seven short, easy to read chapters by noted Christian thinkers tackling the most prevalent issues believers are questioned on today, it will be a tremendous resource for the church.

Below, I've provided an excerpt from my chapter entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith." I hope it will whet your appetite enough so you can check out the rest of the book.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Star Wars. I was young enough to see it on the big screen and lucky enough to have no expectations. The theater darkened and John Williams' majestic theme burst forth. Then, a rebel ship appeared with lasers blazing, fleeing for its life. It was quickly followed by the ominous Imperial Star Destroyer that didn't simply fly into the frame; it consumed the screen! This ship never ended! The experience still resonates with me today.

Star Wars didn't impact one generation. It continues to influence culture even decades later. Films have that kind of power. They are the modern equivalent to the traveler who visits the local village and weaves a tale of exotic places and heroic exploits. We get a new perspective on the world and we become the heroes we see on the screen. Movies whisk us away from our problems and our dreary lives. The storyteller has always had this power, but now the power is enhanced by computer-generated graphics and multi-million dollar budgets.

Movies will influence people in ways they never even realize. Take The Sideways Effect. The 2004 film centered on two friends touring California's wine country, where the main character gives an eloquent speech about his preference for one type of wine, Pinot Noir, and his disdain for Merlot. In the year following its release, sales of Pinot Noir jumped 16% while Merlot sales shrank 2%. The wine industry dubbed this "The 'Sideways' Effect."1 This is how effective powerful storytelling is in transmitting new ideas.

Using Story to Communicate Truth

Jesus knew the power of story. He continually used storytelling to more easily communicate difficult concepts, both to his disciples and to his challengers. Jesus relied on parables so much that "He did not speak to them without a parable" (Mark 4:34, ESV). Jesus's parables would use the familiar experiences of that culture then draw a spiritual lesson from them. Like Jesus, we need to use examples to help us illustrate our points. Our apologetic can be more effective by drawing on the shared experience of popular films to share spiritual truth.

Movies are not only shared across our culture, they're highly relatable and they can present clear pictures of complex ideas. Movies have the added benefit of being enjoyable to watch. While your non-believing friends or family may balk at the idea of attending a Bible study, most wouldn't mind watching the latest blockbuster. And with any good film, people get excited to talk about it afterwards. That gives you the advantage. Using movies in your apologetic offers you a non-threatening way to witness to friends or family using a powerful medium with relatable examples that they'll remember for a long time. Here are just three examples of how you can use Hollywood blockbusters in your apologetic.2


1. Cuellar, Steven S. "The 'Sideways' Effect: A Test for Changes in the Demand for Merlot and Pinot Noir Wines." Wines & Vines. 1 Jan. 2009: n. pag. Web.
2.Excerpt taken from  Lenny Esposito. "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith." A New Kind of Apologist. Sean McDowell, General Editor. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Pub, 2016. 119-20. Print.
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