Superheroes were kind of a sensitive subject around my house when I was growing up.
My best friend and I loved ’em, and whenever he was over, we’d stuff socks in our shirtsleeves (to make our muscles look bigger) throw some bath towels around our necks and zip around our back yard, fighting for truth, justice and the American way.
My dad hated ’em: When I was about 6 years old, he went through a beautiful religious experience—but one that threw our house in chaos. Superheroes were among the casualties. My dad thought that superheroes, what with their godlike powers, were designed to replace the ultimate hero, Christ, and were thus banned.
Well, sorta. Reading superhero comics or watching Superfriends on television was not allowed. But I could pretend I was a superhero as much as I wanted. To this day, I’m not quite sure why there was this inconsistency, but there it was.
I was reminded of all this when I heard that Westboro Baptist Church—the cultlike Kansas group that regularly pickets soldiers’ funerals, churches and, at one point, Focus on the Family—is scheduled to protest at Comic-Con in San Diego today. The story I saw had a member holding a sign saying “God Hates Nerds.”
“The destruction of this nation is imminent,” reads Westboro’s website, “so start calling on Batman and Superman now, see if they can pull you from the mess that you have created with all your silly idolatry.”
Now, I’ve got some pretty strong opinions about Westboro’s operation—I cringe that they call themselves a “church,” quite frankly—but do they have a point here?
I see where they’re coming from, I suppose, but I’d have to disagree. Once I grew up and began examining superheroes for myself, I began to see them as not replacements for Christ, but as echoes of Him. Not perfect echoes, mind you: They often resemble our sinful selves as much as they represent a sinless Savior. But they nevertheless allow us to delve deeply into some Christian themes—redemption, sacrifice, salvation, the nature of good and evil—in ways that feel new and resonant. Little wonder the Christian subculture has long co-opted the superhero trope to tell its own stories, from Bibleman to Larryboy.
My dad, great guy though he is, never quite understood what I saw in superheroes. But he’s grown to accept that, perhaps there can be something to see.