I’m feelin’ snippy this morning. Couldn’t sleep. So, I’m going to do what the subtitle of this blog promises. I’m just going to blather. The topic du jour? Religion and comic books.
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So, here’s the thing.
I like to watch stuff on YouTube as much as the next nerd does. Unlike the vast majority of people I know, I also get sucked into the comments from time to time and mix it up with those whose intellectual stylings include, “You suck ass!” and “U R stopid…” and my personal favourite: “Kill yoself!” Those are the PG-13 excerpts.
Anyway, I engage in debate for two reasons. First off, I do believe in dialogue. It is hard to learn about the world and, specifically, our place in it if we never bother to consider how others may see it. The same holds true of expecting others to share, even in small part, your own worldview if you don’t tell them about it. And by “tell” I mean offer your thoughts in the form of polite conversation or even heated yet still cordial debate. Invectives and snarly epithets rarely convince anyone to come around to your way of thinking. So, if I see a view with which I do not agree, I may just pipe in with my own thoughts, even if the arena in question is the wonderfully urbane and delightfully buoyant realm of YouTube.
Also, I do it because I clearly have an issue with expressing my pristine and invaluable opinions for all the world to ingest and be bettered by them. I mean, really, who starts a blog? You know who? Writers, wannabe writers, and people who think David Hasselhoff is awesome. I fall into Category B with delusions of Category A. Look, I’m not fishing for hollow compliments. Though I may feel all writerly and schtuff in my heart, strictly speaking, I’m not published, no one is waiting in line for my next book, and HBO hasn’t optioned any of my works. I’m nuthin’ nobody nowhere. However, I can run around the internet with the assumption I have something of value to share and feel as though I’m the savior of YouTube. Truthfully, I know there’s an element of ego in the exercise. There’s just no getting around it.
The TL;DR here is: I get engaged in online debate because I like learning and teaching, and because I have a healthy arrogant streak.
So, when the teaser for Man of Steel, the latest movie incarnation of Superman, got posted on YouTube (after being ripped from Yahoo!), I found myself in yet another conversation. While scarfing down some whole wheat pasta with a mushroom and basil tomato sauce, I started off addressing the kvetching about the use of the Lord of the Rings score in the trailer for Superman. World-changing matters here, folks. Hey, I like my movie scores and, in some cases, consider them fine art on par with the classical masters. I have always been drawn to movie scores, thanks in no small part to a little-known fellow called John Williams (who might just amount to something someday), and am delightfully self-satisfied when I recognize a re-purposed excerpt in another trailer.
Nothing came of the numerous examples which I believe sufficiently proved that using the “Oh, Gandalf died / What a bummer” music (perhaps not the actual title) in a Superman trailer was not an aberration of the industry standard. However, in looking for the requisite “Thank you for educating me with your benevolent knowledge, you fine specimen of a man” from my opponent in the debate, I came across another discussion of critical importance.
In regard to whether or not this or any film portrayal of Superman is accurate to The Unequivocal Truth of the character, I read this exchange:
Person A: …Sure bad things happen to him that we can relate [to]. But that doesn’t mean he should be a [character] we relate [to]. He is Superman, he is a perfect image of good. That’s what we should strive to be.
Person B: That title actually belongs to God and Him alone. Superman isn’t perfect and he strives to be accepted into a world he feels alienated. Somehow it is the same representation of Christ who is the symbol of hope, justice, and peace.
As Julius Caesar famously said to Brutus, “Are you friggin’ kidding me?!” I’m paraphrasing (a little). Anyway, I nearly dropped my pasta-swathed fork and wondered how discussing a man who wears skin tight pajamas and a cape turns into a religious debate. I suppose I see the logical leap from A to B but the logic itself baffles me. Short of running around waving placards filled with ten-penny words, let’s just skip the whole perspective and relevance of Person B’s interjection of religion into a discussion about comic book superheroes. And, for the record, interjection is a seven-penny word. It’s a different aspect of the religiosity itself which I want to address.
See, this is the bit which bugged me. Who cares what your reasoning is for doing the things you do? What you do ends up being more important than why you do it or, more to the point, why you say you do it. It has always bugged me and is a part of my not-entirely-unique thoughts on religion on the whole.
Religion on the whole? Sounds like a menu item in a New York Deli. Alas, I digress — yet again.
The short version of my thoughts were put into this response for the YouTube crowd:
Good grief, Charlie Brown! If God cared as much about semantics and nomenclature as some Christians do then he truly needs a hobby. I’m fairly certain if someone lives a clean life, is kind, helpful, honest, and all the yummy stuff, then it doesn’t much matter if they do it in the name of the J.C., Mo’, happy-fat Buddha, the Jedi, Starfleet, the Tennessee Titans, or the Teen Titans. Heck, if someone is out there doing good works in the name of Spongebob Squarepants then what’s the problem?
Now, before you start gathering kindling, let me point out I’m not picking on Christians. However, Christianity represents the vast majority of my religious experience and I’m not to going to claim any equal knowledge of other religions beyond what I’ve read and what I’ve seen on The Learning Channel. Plus, y’know, “He started it!”
I just don’t understand the logic of exclusionary monotheism in a religion which is all about loving thy neighbour and turning the other cheek. According to some North American Christian beliefs, billions of people went to Hell because they did not welcome the benevolence of Jesus Christ into their hearts. Whether they were from the Far East prior to colonial expansion or Africans who worshipped earth goddesses or the indigenous people of the Americas or any number of non-Christian folk, these ‘heathens’ worshipped false gods and damned their souls for all eternity, according to this modern day notion. To be fair, from what I understand of other major religions, this is the opinion of most monotheistic faiths, if you just swap out the name of the deity and the particular brand of eternal punishment Who is the One True God and what is His/Her/Its Holy Name? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? This notion is best summed up for me by my friend Steve M., who likes to say, “My invisible friend can beat up your invisible friend.”
For a certain segment of fundamentalist believers, X part of the global populous is righteous and Y part are doomed to suffer in the land after time unless they join up with the aforementioned X. How is that fair? “Hey, Tzing-Li Sui, nice to meet you, I’m Jesus. Welcome to the Afterlife Retirement Home. I know you’ve never heard of me. You did spend your life voluntarily in the service of others. You were hardly ever cruel and never selfish and you died when you led that tiger away from the village’s children. That was pretty awesome of you. All told, you were a very decent man. Unfortunately, you didn’t accept me into your heart as the Savior of Man and that means there’s no reservation here in your name. Yes, I realize you didn’t know I existed, and I already said that, but it’s not my fault. I mean, at this point, it’s been almost 500 years since I got nailed to a cross! So, we’re sending you to our alternate accommodations which aren’t as … comfortable. What’s that? How long? Oh, just forever.”
Even back when I could call myself Catholic-ish (bear in mind I essentially ditched First Communion), I actually thought Mister Christ was a cool dude. In fact, the further away from the church I got, the more I respected what was written about the guy. Eventually, I just decided that the religion based on the novel (not by Sapphire) just wasn’t as good as the novel itself. One day — and I’d like to take credit for this but, like many things, I probably picked it up through osmosis — I came to the conclusion that the theme of his story was neatly summed up by two dopes from San Dimas, who said, most eloquently, “Be excellent to each other.”
Like, really, dude. That was my take-away from my time as a Christian. That’s what it meant. The evangelizing, the condemning, the judgmentalism, the denouncing, the rituals, the rules, the whole schtick of organized worship just wasn’t for me. Sure, I had a time of bitterness post-churchiness, but I harbour no ill will toward it, in general. You can be as faith-driven as you like. That alone does not bother me. However, the second you become rigid and exclusionary and deny the value of other faiths, you lose me. When someone wades into the moors of YouTube to tell us that Superman cannot be termed, even loosely, as an example of “perfect good” because that title belongs solely to your God, you not only lose me, you offend me.
I don’t give one damn whether you are inspired to do good things because it is the Word of God or because of a song sung by Kermit the Frog. I don’t care if you are kind and respectful and caring because Allah has commanded you to be or because you listen to Oprah. Heck, if you wear a crucifix or an honour patch of the Mandalorian Supercommandos when you engage in charity, who am I to judge? Moreover, if you try to be a decent person every day of your life, regardless of whether you occasionally fail (and you will), it’s perfectly fine with me if you do it for no reason at all except you simply think you should.
Life isn’t fair but, according to almost every religious text I’ve read, the Afterlife is supposed to be. It’s the whole point. The good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. So what about all those folks who died not knowing of your religion? I’m sure there were some really nice people among them. Why do they have to rot in Hell because no one bothered to ask them to join your book club? That’s pretty unfair, if you ask me. Does it really matter if we give these ideals names, or embody them with familiar forms? Why must your god be the One True God and the title-holder of all quintessentially positive things? For religions which tout selflessness as a core belief, that seems rather selfish.
I’m not denouncing your right to have a faith-based belief system. I’ve seen wonderful things done by churches. I was lucky enough to part of a few of them myself, even though some of them broke my heart. But, if someone wants to look up to a man with a giant S on his chest and emulate his rather chaste and gentle virtue, where’s the harm? It means they ascribe value to generosity, hope, peace, justice, and ultimately forgiveness. It means they value the sanctity of life, the glory of love, and the resilience of a kind spirit. These all seem like neat things. Earth’s resident Kryptonian immigrant, all in all, seems like a righteous man, even if he’s fictional. Either way, no one ever started a war at the alleged behest of Superman.
Although, with the way the YouTube community is going, I might just eat my words someday.
Anyhoo, I’ll stop there. I’m at 2000 rambling words in what was meant to be a short rant. So, this is the part where The Great Rulebook of Blogging says I’m supposed to ask for your say. The kicker is, I’m actually interested in your thoughts because, at the end of the day, what the hell do I know?
However, I will warn you, once, to keep it civil and respectful. Because that’s what Clark Kent would do.
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Angelo Barovier is a professor of nothing and has never undertaken a spiritual journey because sometimes you get sick from the water. He hasn’t spent a single day in Tibet (much less seven years), hasn’t been to Mecca, the Wailing Wall, or the Sistine Chapel. Although he once had a crush on the daughter of a preacher man. Also, he has sat through an Orthodox Greek marriage, an Orthodox Hungarian Christening, and Catholic Christmas Mass which was almost entirely in Old French and Latin. But not all at once.