Over at Religion Link, a story about superheroes and spirituality was posted recently. I guess it should’ve been clearer to me as a child with his head in the clouds that the superheroes buzzing around up there were really gods. Well, in an ultra-thou-shalt-have-no-other-gods setting, that wasn’t really a possibility my young mind could even comprehend. They were just guys (almost always) with super powers. In the Bible they would have been miracle workers. I dared not think of Samson in the same thought as the Incredible Hulk. Heroes, after all, are about wish-fulfillment. We all want to be more than we are—I can imagine a better me (speaking strictly for myself), so why not present that self in the form of a hero? The Greeks, and before them the Mesopotamians did it. Heracles was a Europeanized Gilgamesh, perhaps through the mediation of a Levantine Melqart, after all.
The brief article on Religion Link points out that young people identify with gods in popular culture more than a God in the pew. A veteran of many, many hours in church, I think I can understand that. What adults say is going on in the service is arcane and not prone to any empirical verification. What child sitting in church hasn’t wanted to be home watching real superheroes fight evil on television instead? The movies of the past decade or so have shown us flawed gods. Heroes with troubles. These are the gods for the twenty-first century. Omnipotence isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Scholars of religion are beginning to pay serious attention to superheroes. Books are beginning to appear offering analyses of these god-men, and a few god-women, among us. Funnily enough, some people find them more believable than the traditional gods. Perhaps that is the draw of heroes from the very beginning. Gilgamesh, after all, is asking the very human questions we still ask today. Where can I find a true companion? Why can’t it last forever? Why must we die? To find the answer Gilgamesh is sent off on an impossible task. He has fought monsters, he has defied the very gods. And when he finds the plant that offers a kind of immortality, it is stolen away by a snake. The story clearly influenced the tale of Eve and Adam in Eden. It has also inspired the more recent incarnations of superheroes, and we are beginning to realize that they often fly in the face of the divine.