Monday, March 24, 2008

Faster than a speeding Bible -- Superheroes and Faith

I was checking out Ship of Fools (the e-zine of "Christian Unrest") early today. One of their pieces noted a site that catalogs the religious preferences of comic book heroes. “This section of the site catalogues the religious affiliation of hundreds of superheroes, their archenemies and sidekicks.” Well, I was a kid who read lots of comics and attended church as a kid – so I thought I’d check out who was what in the religious super-hero world (or is that super-hero religious world).

I was a bit surprised to learn that Superman was a Methodist. Part of the surprise comes from him being drawn by a couple of Jewish guys. Another part comes from trying to get my head around a true Methodist being a super-hero – “faster than a Wesley hymn, more powerful than the General Board of Discipleship?”

Batman turns out to be a lapsed Episcopalian. That doesn’t surprise me. The BatCave with all its secrets reminds me of a “smells and bells” congregation gone amok. And Bruce Wayne/Batman is always showing up at various society affairs – definitely not Pentecostal.

I was disappointed to discover than Blackhawk (the Polish freedom fighting flyer) who led an ecumenical band of pilots, was a lapsed Catholic. Disappointed in the lapsed part, that is. His fighting fit perfectly with Catholic just war theory in my thinking.

It seems that just about every faith tradition represented in America – United Church of Christ, Baha’i, Hindu, Presbyterian, et al – has at least one superhero affiliated with them. Even the Seventh Day Adventists. Every faith tradition, except, and you may see this coming… Quakers.

Now there is a list of possible Quakers, but I’m not buying it. These all were lumped under the category “Legion of Quaker and/or Radical Pacifist Super-Heroes.” Well, as anyone who knows Quakers (at least Midwest Quakers) will tell you, there’s a big difference between “Quaker” and/or “Radical Pacifist” – except, as my son-in-law Mark will tell you, when it comes to Nancy and me.

Indeed, the only true (sorta) Quaker on this list is Richard Nixon. And he, even on this list, was hardly a superhero. His appearance is due to Robert Smigel and Adam McKay’s X-PRESIDENTS, which originally appeared as animated “TV Funhouse” segments of NBC’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE! This parody comic featured a resurrected Richard M. Nixon (the real Nixon being dead at the time). The “sorta” comes in because, 1) he was dead, and 2) Nixon also attended a Presbyterian church in California, so I’m willing to cede him to the Calvinists and the whole concept of total depravity.

The closest we’ve come to having a superhero was in the late 80s when Quaker Oats launched a campaign featuring Popeye the Quaker Man. “Instant Quaker Oats Presents the Fight of the Century: Popeye the Quaker Man vs. Bluto the Bad!”, a pamphlet of cartoons, was one of their ads. The campaign was withdrawn after a flurry of mail from outraged “radical pacifist” Quaker. ;-) You know what they say, “Hell hath no fury like a pacifist scorned.”

So, here we are in the 21st century, and still no Quaker comic book hero. It’s enough to drive a person take a swig of Old Quaker Whiskey – which did exist.

-- Brent


cath said...

You said: "Well, as anyone who knows Quakers (at least Midwest Quakers) will tell you, there’s a big difference between “Quaker” and/or “Radical Pacifist” "

I think that portrait is perhaps painted with a pretty broad brush. For one thing, you haven't defined a Radical Pacifist and I suspect that there are more than you know here in the Midwest.

That aside, what I admire about f/Friends I know is that they are comfortable being radical pacifists who aren't in it for the publicity--they just quietly go about their business of seeking to take away the causes of war and engaging in conflict resolution, and generally trying to live up to the Peace Testimony--which doesn't need a war to exist, but it does need people who are willing to live it day in and day out without become known as superheroes.

To perservere this way is "radical" in my mind.

And, come to think of it--is there another faith tradition with its own lobbyists? That's pretty radical. :)

p.s. I've noticed that you seem to apologize for the Midwest in some of your posts. I don't think the Midwest needs that. Every region has unique qualities. We're doing fine with ours, IMO.

cath (east coast gal who's grown to appreciate the midwest) :)

Brent Bill said...

Yes, Cath, well, of course, you're right on a number of counts. I was thinking mostly of pastoral type Quakers and even that group I painted with a rather broad brush (one might even say in old comic book style -- no shading there!).

And I am proud (well at least as proud as a Midwesterner is allowed to be) of being from here. But that apologetic tone is, I think, natural to native Midwesterners. It comes from the voices of our ancestors saying "Now don't be gettin' a big head about yourself."

And, while FCNL was the first religous lobby, it's not the only. The Methodists and others have their presence on Capitol Hill now -- following our lead.

Up, up and away -- to go plant some trees on this rainy day!

cath said...

Interesting to know about the Methodists in D.C. :)


Anonymous said...

Several years ago a Meeting member brought me a copy of a book/comic book her eight-year-old son had been given. In this edition, Captain Underpants was called upon to battle the evil environmental tyrant, the Earth Quaker. Who was dressed, as you might imagine, like the Quaker Oats guy, and who shook the ground, collapsing streets and bringing down buildings, with every step. So we're not absent from comic books entirely.

cath said...

I've been doing more thinking about being a "Radical [fill in the blank with Testimony of your choice]."

Our Peace Testimony isn't the only one we have, but it's the one that comes most quickly to mind if you put the modifier "radical" first. But I wonder if we can also think about being "Radical Eqalitarians" or "Radical Simplicity Seekers" or "Radical Persons of Integrity."

The being radical part is something that is troublesome to folks, sometimes because we often associate that word with in-your-face agitating.

But if we think of our Testimonies as *already* radical, then perhaps it's easier to see ourselves committed to them. It's counter-cultural (in the developed world, at least) to live a simple life, for example. And so, the person who has made a sincere commitment to live that life, in spite of the discomfort of being different or the lack of convenience is a person I want to know--and learn from.

We all have the opportunity to think about our Testimonies, figure out how they might work in our lives and then go foreward with a plan to live them.

I wonder how often we (including myself) take a break from being in the world--attached to life as defined by media, trends, and affluence--to comtemplate the spiritual nourishment we might receive by acting upon our already radical spiritual tradition.