If you don’t teach your kids about religion, it seems Marvel is more than willing to do it for you.
Now that Gen-Xers and Millennials are in full parent mode I hear a lot of conversations about whether or not they will raise their kids in the church. Believe me – when people find out I’m a pastor, everyone from my barber to the half-naked guy standing next to me in the locker room seem more than willing to share their opinions on organized religion.
Folks often tell me stories of of bible camp counselors who filled their heads with R-rated scenes of souls tortured in hell, a local priest who was discovered abusing children, or a parent who refused to let them listen to Radiohead.
And I hear one phrase over and over again, “I just want my kid to choose for themselves.” I can hear the genuine concern in their voice. They want their child to have a moral grounding and yet organized religion has failed them. They want to protect their child. And I understand that.
But if you’re unwilling to take your kids to church, you better teach them spiritual lessons at home. Because our children need religion every bit as much as they need food. It’s not whether or not to eat, its deciding between Chicken McNuggets or fresh veggies. A child simply can’t wait until their college Freshman Intro to Religion course to satisfy their religious hunger.
I believe this hunger is what is driving children’s fascination with superheroes. In the absence of David and Goliath, Peter and Pilate, Jacob and Esau
children are chasing after Thor and Loki, Spiderman and Green Goblin, Tony Stark and Ultron.
I admit Bible Characters are complicated. Equal parts heroic and selfish, altruistic and petty, saviors and murders. Take King David. Teenage David kills Goliath, saves Jerusalem from a demon-possessed king Saul, then sleeps with Bathsheba. Like I said, complicated.
But isn’t that basically the classic rise-and-fall-of-the-hero plot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
After the Avengers gain notoriety for defeating their respective super villains (i.e. Iron Man 1 and 2), they are called upon to save New York from agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who have fallen under a Loki induced spell, all the while Tony Stark is surrounded by busty starlets. King David starting to feel like an ancient Tony Stark yet? Heck, the Hulk is basically Sampson with green skin.
When I tell parents I am in charge of picking out which Bible stories to teach our children, they often ask if I teach the kids “the violent stories.”
But often this seems like a veiled criticism of teaching children the Bible stories at all.
Our church doesn’t teach 1st graders about David’s murderous affair with Bathsheba, but they know that David was a hero. But learning about Iron Man doesn’t make kids run out and attach a flame thrower to their hand every time a bully shows up. And on the flip side, learning about David and Goliath doesn’t lead to every bully in the local school taking one in the forehead. Believe it or not kids are capable of understanding metaphors.
It’s similar to the discussion parents have around whether or not to let their 1st grader go see Iron Man 2. Although I sure see a lot of 1st graders with Iron Man T-shirts on, and whether or not they know all of Tony Stark’s escapades, when I ask them who Iron Man is, they seem to know A LOT and are certainly eager to hear more.
Because there is something that rings true about flawed characters. We grow out of Barney and Big Bird. We need flawed heroes who stumble after justice. Who, beaten and bruised, crawl their way to self-sacrificing victory. In fact, they are the only heroes children will accept.
Now this whole comparison begs the question, “why not just let superheroes take the place of Biblical characters?” If they are functioning essentially in the same role (giving our children altruistic super-human heroes to teach moral lessons), why not go with it?
But that isn’t the real question we need to ask. The deep, often hidden question is, “should we allow a 90 year old multi-billion dollar entertainment corporation (ie. Disney) or a 4,000 year old religious tradition teach our children?”
And if you don’t think Marvel/Disney are trying to scratch the spiritual itch I would submit to you these quotes from Avengers: Age of Ultron:
The super-villain Ultron is seated in a church pulpit preaching to the Avengers,
“The church is in the exact center of the city. The elders [of the city] determined everybody should be equally close to God.” Ultron calls this “the geometry of belief.”
Later Ultron quotes Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18,
“Upon this rock I will build my church.”
And as the Avengers stand assembled to fight Ultron, he declares they will know what Noah felt like as they watch all of humanity die, ending with the line,
“When the earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it.”
Marvel is using Biblical language to scratch a spiritual itch.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love superheroes. I grew up watching Marvel cartoons and playing with action figures. I still read comics. But superheroes can’t replace biblical heroes.
The superheroes Disney gives us are just too American.
Captain America is a little too muscular, Black Widow is a little too busty, Iron Man is a little too plastic.
But the Bible is something else. It’s a 4,000 year old path, albeit a winding path to truth.
The Biblical characters transcend American culture, stumbling along the line between the cross and resurrection, life and death, hope and despair. Ancient characters who remind us to throw our proverbial stones – whether it be a protest sign or a glitter bomb- at the Goliath’s of our day.
I’m not saying don’t teach your kids about superheroes. But they need more than good looking people in spandex if they are going to feel spiritually satisfied.
You can’t raise your kid on just Avenger’s Happy Meals. They need the Bread of Life.