Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Knows Two Gods, Still a Christian

After The Avengers came out, many people discussed Captain America’s famous line about God and Thor.

CapSome people were surprised that Joss Whedon, an atheist, included the line in the movie. Others were either pleasently surprised or dismayed at the inclusion of religion in the Marvel Movie Universe, but the most interesting response, and the one I’m going to address here, is: How can Captain America still be a monotheist when he knows two gods personally? People also pointed out that characters like Iron Man, who is typically written as atheist, would also have issues coming to terms meeting two gods.

In the comics in general, a variety of religions are often included or referenced. In the Marvel universe there are mentions of Christianity, Norse Mythology, Greek mythology, Judaism, Islam, and other forms of Paganism and Wicca. However, despite all these religions being referenced, it is usually the pagan religions that are “proven” when characters actually meet the gods they learned about. For today I will just address religion in the Marvel Universe since each comic book universe deals with religion a little differently.

avengers-faith-captain-america-iron-man-265817In the Marvel Universe, when religion is introduced, it’s usually through various mythologies that most people today don’t follow (though admittedly some still do), such as Norse mythology or Greek mythology. The presence of characters like Thor shows this tendency to take great myths and heroes and turn them into primary characters in comics. The reason for this has less to do with religion and more to do with storytelling. Myths have larger than life characters that make for great stories. On the religious end of it, the writers are less likely to offend anyone by focusing on religions that most people don’t follow.

Mainstream religions are either shown through personal faith or through the evil characters in their religions. The most you’ll see of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other mainstream religions is through personal faith. Nightcrawler is shown as a Catholic and Kitty Pryde is Jewish, but more often than not when elements of these mainstreams religions are brought into comics, it’s always the evil aspects of them. Mephisto, who clearly represents the Christian devil, is often depicted as a villain in the Marvel Universe.

So how would this affect the faiths, or lack thereof, of the heroes? Well, it depends on the version of certain characters. Thor in the movies could just be viewed as an alien who people mistook for a god. That could mean that all gods, no matter the religion, could actually be aliens, or something else humans didn’t understand, but I personally believe that humanity wouldn’t largely default to atheism. Religion answers the questions of “who made us” and “why are we here”, so it’s likely that if many gods like Thor are revealed to be aliens, people would still believe in some type of higher power, even if they left their original faith. An atheist in this situation would probably feel the same way, except they would continue to not believe in a god. And perhaps their faith in atheism would be bolstered by the proof that at least one supposed god isn’t really a god.

However, other versions of Thor actually say that he is a god. Asgard is not another planet,Thor First Appearance Jack Kirby Stan Lee Thor the Mighty and the Stone Men from Saturn Marvel Comics Journey into Mystery 83 but another realm entirely, where gods exist and magic is wielded. Even here, though, there is very little that reflects religion. Thor doesn’t want anyone to worship him, and neither do any the other gods (except for Loki), and no devotion to Thor begins in the Marvel universe when it is revealed that Thor actually exists. That is what I find most surprising in the Marvel Universe, that no people actually start worshiping the Norse gods again after Thor appears on earth. Furthermore, many other gods appear in the Marvel universe. What then could Marvel’s heroes make of that? It makes sense that Captain America would still believe in the Christian God (especially if people like Mephisto exist), but he might have difficulty remaining a monotheist. Cap could also believe that maybe there are many gods, but the Christian God is the original or most powerful. Or he could even believe that despite people like Thor calling themselves gods, they aren’t really “gods” in any true sense.

Probably the hardest question to deal with is the same as one of the hardest we deal with today: Why does God let bad things happen?

And if Thor is actually physically present to battle evil, I think this question would be the most difficult to answer. Why isn’t my God stepping in to help people?

Religion in the Marvel universe or any comic book universe is a tricky and complex topic, and sadly one that isn’t always thoroughly explored, because of fear of offending people. But it’s still fun for us nerds to wonder about and discuss, and maybe one day these ideas will be more thoroughly explored in comics.

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3 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Knows Two Gods, Still a Christian

  1. Pingback: Doing Missions in the Marvel Universe. Part III | MMM -- Munson Mission Musings

  2. Calling atheism a faith is mildly offensive, thank you very much. It is a lack of belief. Many people use statements like ‘faith in atheism’ to attack the position, which is why I cringe whenever I see that kind of statement. I know you probably did not mean that in the slightest, but regardless, please don’t do it in future. You may have meant instead ‘people who have faith in the scientific method’, which happens to include agnostics, some of whom are religious. It’s not a terribly useful statement (kind of like saying ‘having faith in chairs’), but at least it is true.

    If Thor, the god of thunder, came down to earth, many atheists (not all, because atheism is not a belief system [ all rocks are atheist ], it is likely that, due to culture, an atheist in one country will share some beliefs with other atheists in that country, like, I dunno, murder is bad and the scientific method is awesome.) would:

    1. ask what one means by ‘god’, and, if necessary, ask for evidence/proof. if simply having sufficient powers and having a norse-gody name is what makes a god, then yes, an atheist would believe in the god Thor. A separate argument, however, would be req. for worship; why worship Thor instead of, say, his team mate the Hulk? If Thor wants to claim to be a god, it is on him as the maker of the claim to back it up with evidence.

    2. if devoid of the opportunity to ask (which is likely), interpret strictly via the evidence actually available. occam’s razor would lean toward Thor being an alien (depending on the version), however, with little evidence one could certainly not call it proven. An atheist would probably become agnostic; without the ability to make tests or gather proof of whatever claims are precisely being made, with only the information that some fellow named Thor with fantastic abilities is roaming around (in a world with mutants who also have incredible abilities!) I certainly would not find the case ‘there is a god named Thor’ very compelling. In fact, I would imagine the existence of other beings of power being the number one reason people don’t blink at it; they probably assume at first that Thor is just a mutant.

    If I knew about Asgard and their claim that magic is indistinguishable from high level technology (at least in the movie version), I would be even more inclined to view them as aliens because that is exactly what a culture of highly advanced human-like beings would say; it certainly does not sound like ‘worship me to go to valhalla’. That and (in all versions) Thor is disinterested in worship. If even the said god does not believe in their divinity why should we?

    That said, I would like to see characters struggle with their faith or the idea of taking up faith more with super heroes, and I actually really like that the Captain is religious. It adds character and depth to show people of different viewpoints. Of course, I don’t think I would enjoy it much if characters started ranting about which religion is best or getting into conflicts over it with other people; that would be too much realism for me, thanks. I’d also really like to see more realistically done atheists and agnostics, as people have so many misconceptions about them. I say realistic because I really hate the ‘stupid atheist’, ‘angry inconsistent atheist who for some reason curses a god they do not believe in’ or ‘coward atheist who turns religious because near death experience’ tropes that pop up from time to time.

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