American Mythology

Daniel as Batman - watercolor - Fr. TomMy family and I went to see the latest Marvel movie: The Avengers – Age of Ultron recently, and as we discussed the whole Marvel theme, the history of the comic book characters, and what they seem to be saying to us today, I had the sense that this whole mythological reality has become more than just another movie series. I wonder if Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the whole host of characters that live in our American imagination are more real to us than Jesus, the apostles, and pretty much all of the people who actually lived and died in scriptural history. These fictional characters represent our American Mythology. The irony is that children today would more likely equate Moses with a myth than Iron Man.  Moses doesn’t seem real. Iron Man does.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like the Marvel movies for the most part.  I wasn’t thrilled with Guardians of the Galaxy but that was more of a fluke considering the high quality material Marvel has put out recently.  I thought Age of Ultron did an exceptionally good job of portraying an intriguing story with wonderful character development while raising some significant moral questions. What interests me is how this plays in the imagination of our children. What do they take away from all this?

Mythology has been around (pretty much forever) to help humanity explain and discern supernatural realities. The whole Marvel Universe explores our need for God (or gods), our relationship with the larger universe, and our rights and responsibilities to each other. I find it fascinating that even as Christianity has been on the defense for the last few decades, the comic book characters have arisen to fill in the psychological gap.  Humanity still needs to deal with these profound questions.  If we consider Jesus and the whole scriptural revelation to be old news without relevance – why are we still searching (and paying good money) to see these same questions updated, dressed in modern clothes with some fast actions sequences shot at us from theaters across the globe?

I suspect that the reason we love these superhero movies is the same reason people loved Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, the story of Beowulf, the myths and legends of Rome and Greece, the Celtic stories of old, and a host of ancient fables and stories which have been adapted throughout the ages.  We need them.  They speak to the deepest part of us.  Humanity has a soul which yearns to understand and be understood.

Pity is, the kids today are dreaming about characters who only represent the best and the worst in us, they can only point indirectly to that which is real – God Himself. They are not real. Great as Marvel movies are, they are only an imitation of truth.  That yearning we have to go home, be it Tolkien’s Middle-earth or some other planet, is really a longing for the home we may someday encounter, within our souls and in God’s embrace, if only we are willing to separate truth from fantasy and engage in the messy, imperfect reality of humanity’s struggle to know God.  I’ll never be able to talk to, laugh with, cry on the shoulder of, Thor, Iron Man, or Captain America – but if I am willing to hang on to truth and believe – God is at hand, waiting to embrace me, now, and at the end of time.