During the summer of 2008, my girlfriend came to my house for a visit. I had been talking up the new release of The Dark Knight in theaters all week and how excited I was that we were going to see it. When she got to my house, she informed me that her parents didn’t want her to see the movie, because it had received a bad review from some Christian website (which I recognized to be a case of judging something you probably didn’t even watch.) Nonetheless, I was kind, and so we stayed at home and watched Batman Begins while my sister and brother-in-law went to the movies, and I silently weeped inside my soul.
Batman has always been my favorite superhero. And for a long time, I couldn’t figure out what about him was so damn good. During that same summer, I watched The Dark Knight at least 8 times, and 3 of them were in the theater. And besides the fact that movies are my personal heroin, there’s another reason that The Batman is so satisfying, and it’s because Batman is Jesus.
He is willing to be sacrificed for his people (Philippians 2:5-7 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant…”)
Batman is willing to be the center of often brutal punishment for the protection of the people of Gotham. Whether it’s making supremely difficult choices about the value of life, spurred on by the Joker, or it’s getting his shit wrecked by the walking steroid that is Bane, Batman is the scapegoat sent away with the sins of the people upon his head, willing and able to stand up for the people of the Gotham in the way that they most need him.
He is willing to be sacrificed BY his people (Isaiah 53:1-6 “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”)
“Things are worse than ever!” an outraged citizen cries at a town hall meeting. They demand that Batman reveal himself and stop opposing the forces of evil that run their corrupt little town. Sometimes it means taking responsibility for murders that Harvey Dent committed instead of him, and sometimes it means having his house burned down by an immortal Liam Neeson, but what matters is that he is willing to serve his people, even when they hate him for it.
He is faithful and just (1 Cor 1:9/Isa 61:8 “God is faithful”/”For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery, and iniquity”)
The Bat Signal is a reminder to the people of Gotham that Batman will answer when he is called. He is faithful to the cause of protecting the city, even when this means that he can’t love Katie Holmes like he wants to (or Maggie Gyllenhaal).
As far as being just, the most important code in Batman’s morality is not killing anyone (even though you have to have suspension of disbelief to think he’s never done it, in theory, we’ll say that he hasn’t.) This code ensures us, the viewers, that Batman is fair, and that he doesn’t punish people unjustly. It does lead to difficult questions about his leniency, like the emphatic question about the Joker from Batman: Under The Red Hood, “Then why is HE still alive?”, but it assures us that capital punishment is the absolute last option for Batman, and in an overwhelming majority of cases, not an option at all.
He is fully divine and fully human (Matt 28:18/Isaiah 53:7 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”/”He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter…”)
Let’s face the facts: Illimitable wealth and superhuman strength are superpowers. So is his seemingly total ability to monitor the city and understand basically anything that he wants to at a moment’s notice, like physics, hydraulics, city planning, piloting, or jetpack thrustage (everything except human relationships.) The fact that Batman could own Superman in a fight (and he could) is a testament to the supernaturalness of his stature in our eyes.
But here’s the hook: he’s totally human. This means that he cries when Alfred leaves him, or when the Joker gives him the wrong address and he saves Harvey instead of Rachel. He doesn’t really understand women, and he has to manage life being seen as the beautiful and spoiled sultan of Gotham as well as beating criminals to a pulp under the cover of night’s dark blanket.
Many would argue that these elements of similarity are due to the fact that many other traditions, including Batman, have borrowed from the greatest story ever told. But I would argue that both of these stories contain things that help create deeply satisfying narratives within them, and that these motifs and themes are not unique to the Bible, that the Bible actually borrowed from traditions that came before it, and that these themes are compelling simply because they are what we find compelling in narratives, not because of any supernatural truth therein.
Check out that Hercules story. I’m sure that has no similarities to Jesus at all. You know, like supernatural parentage, conquerage of death, snakes as symbols of evil. Yeah, probably none of that.
You know why stories about gods who are gods and nobody else can be like them and who don’t like us or care about us never seem to catch on? It’s because this is the story that people want to hear. The one about the man who is sacrificed for his people and continues to be, even when they hate him. The one who is faithful to them, the one who doesn’t punish disproportionately, the one who is like a god, but still totally human.
One day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. Batman is Lord.
More next time on Batman, Jesus, and the importance of belief!
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