Why Do Superhero Movies Resonate?

The Reason Behind My New Book Superhero: Being Who God Says You Are

Isn’t it strange when someone claims to believe something strongly, but the entirety of their life demonstrates this claim to be untrue?

While an increasing majority of people around us claim to believe in moral relativism, autonomous individualism, narcissistic hedonism, and reductive naturalism—the most popular superhero movies go completely against these claimed values.

The question is, why?

Can I tell you that the reason why is an encouraging spiritual reality that can ignite your passion to live as the person God intends you to be? Let’s unpack our friends and neighbors tension between their claimed values and what resonates in their hearts—and see how it can empower our own spiritual transformation and confidence in reaching your world for Christ.

Those Professed Values—a Review

Those claimed values above were summarized by one of my favorite thinkers and authors, James Emery White in his short but excellent book A Mind for God.

Moral Relativism is just the concept that there is no absolute truth. Of course, except for the statement “there is no absolute truth.” Although the concept is self-refuting—many believe that I can have my truth and that you can have your truth, and that we can both be right. Unless of course, my truth is that there is absolute truth. The big concept in moral relativism is that truth resides in the individual. This makes moral values something that is entirely personal rather than objective.

Autonomous Individualism is the belief that each person generates their own moral standards. These values can be entirely self-serving and no one has the right to question them.

Narcissistic hedonism embraces the right or even priority of choosing whatever brings pleasure and fulfillment for the self ahead of all else. Personal well-being takes first place.

Reductive naturalism says that nature (and science) is all there is. There is no transcendent cause or person—we are accidental creatures on our own in the universe.

Given these values (briefly presented, once again I give my highest recommendation to the book above) let us unpack the encouraging oddity of superhero movies.

The Wonder of Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is my favorite. I get some chuckles when I say that—but it isn’t because of the physical beauty of the women at all.

It’s the story—and the story illustrates the reason why we as believers should be stepping out and living a bold faith.

The movie has some common elements with a lot of our media, two attractive main characters (Diana and Steve), a growing romantic relationship between them, and a crisis.

But to look at the young heroine Diana Prince she seems an unlikely hero. Her desire to intervene in a World War is based upon her perception that it needs to be done in order to benefit others—and it will likely (and possibly) cost her life. Her own mother warns her against getting involved. But Diana repudiates the views of moral relativism and autonomous individualism. Instead of choosing what will be best for her she chooses to sacrifice for the good of others. She fights against what she knows is objectively wrong (exterminating millions of men, women, and children with a chemical weapon) not just against something that she personally considers wrong.

Obviously, leaving the beautiful island where she lives with her tribe in safety to get involved in stopping a sinful sinister plot to kill millions with terror-weapon is completely antagonistic to the idea of narcissistic hedonism. She chooses intense suffering, confusion, and loss for the good of others over her own pleasure and safety.

Although the creator of the original comic series was a bit of a questionable character, the values of Wonder Woman embrace an absolute and transcendent view of right and wrong. Naturalism cannot do so. While most naturalists are strongly moral people—that is an inconsistency in their manner of life that reflects something important we will cover shortly. In an accidental world where we are just advanced creatures, there are no de facto transcendent values. Ultimately in a world without God what happened in Hitler’s Germany or in the former USSR, or in any other of the numerous mass-killings of the twentieth century—while the results may be unpleasant for a naturalist, they cannot say “that was wrong.” For in a truly natural world right and wrong are just constructed ideas of those in power (or not). Once again, this movie and other superhero stories are about fighting for objective truths and thus they all refute reductive naturalism.

Why is this Good News for Those with the Good News?

The reason why this is so important for those of us who know the Savior of the universe is found in answering that first question,

Restated for clarity—why would a movie that embodies the opposite values much of the world thinks they embrace seem to be so needful?

It is because of what is found in the very beginning of the Bible—a simple but profound statement by our Creator that should thrill us and that this superhero popularity confirms:

“Let us make man in our image.”(Gen. 1:26)

No matter how much someone who claims that nature is all there is protests; those beautiful values of the God who gave each of us life are buried deep within our truest self.

As opposed to moral relativism the image of God infuses our lives with an appreciation of absolute wrongs and rights. Abusing a child for your own pleasure is objectively and always wrong. Exterminating 6 million people because you think they are evolutionarily less evolved is and will always be pure evil. Superhero movies call us inward to the beautiful protective and loving truths of who Yahweh is to the core of his being.

Instead of autonomous individualism the image of God within every soul shouts out another truth from the Genesis account:

“It is not good that man should be alone.” (Gen. 2:18)

From the very beginning we were designed to be interdependent and relational. Yes, we have been gifted by our Creator autonomy to choose our actions—but it is not good to think in terms of only what benefits you. We were created to be a we—in my book Superhero I continually reference the “our not my” nature of being a member of a church, as best illustrated by Jesus’ model prayer (a.k.a., “The Lord’s Prayer”) in which he teaches us to speak to his/our Father as “Our Father in heaven…”.

While our Creator gave us the liberty to act as autonomous individuals—to do so is to go against the image of God within—and the results will be hurt and suffering.

The fact that superhero movies in their portrayal of sacrificial actions pulls so strongly reflects again the beautiful heart of the One True God. This person we know in the English language as Jesus the Christ (Yeshua or Joshua more accurately) is the embodiment of unselfish love and giving. The very concept of this beautiful spiritual King voluntarily coming to earth through the womb of a poor Jewish girl, and then living as an ordinary member of his society—is majestically opposed to the absurd and ugly value of narcissistic hedonism. When those who might claim to (and in many cases do live this way) believe in seeking their own pleasure see a fictional account of a Jesus-value on the screen and love it—is it not dramatic evidence of the heart of their Creator oozing out through the hardened selfish crust of their lives?

This is very good news…

Obviously one of the most powerful moments of Wonder Woman is strangely symbolic of the death of Christ. It is also remarkable that it only incidentally involves the hero Diana Prince.

In the budding romantic relationship between her and the ruggedly handsome pilot Steve Trevor (being a pilot named Steve, I have a soft-spot for hero’s who are pilots named Steve), a moment comes when she must fight the super-villain and Steve recklessly hops aboard the giant airplane loaded with the destructive terror weapon that will kill millions. Once he wrests control from the crew—he knows he has to get rid of the weapon and the only way to save millions, including his new love Diana, is to destroy the airplane—with him in it. The greatest act of love in this action movie is not a kiss or a sex scene, but a death offered to save another.

Right, where does that instinct come from?

It isn’t from a selfish naturalist embracing relative and self-chosen values, living for their own pleasure.

The Big Message and Reason for Superhero: Being Who God Knows You Are

We live in a world that often on the surface claims to disbelieve in our beautiful and loving Yeshua yet their entertainment choices reflects a soul-level desire that proves their chosen values absolutely false. They crave these beautiful and sacrificial elements of the Christ because they are in spite of their rebellion carrying the image of Yeshua in their soul!

What does that mean for us as blood-bought believers?

The words of God to Ezekiel are helpful here—just insert ”America” or whatever earthly nation you reside in in the place of Israel in this passage:

“Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me…be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 2:3-7, sections)

Exactly how do we kick fear to the curb and gain the voice to speak God’s message to a rebellious people whose inner image of God still loves the beauty that is our Lord?

More on that in future posts, or you can find the answer in my book Superhero: Being Who God Says You Really Are.

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