The Avengers, Cultural Hope and the Transcendentals

avengers_age_of_ultron_2015_movie-wideMy 13 year old Marvel loving son and I saw the latest Avengers blockbuster recently. I’d read a piece prior to seeing the movie  titled, “Age of Ultron May Be the Most Spiritual Superhero Movie Yet,” and I can see why. But it’s not just spiritual in the amorphous sense of the word, like people today might say, “I’m spiritual not religious,” but Christian. Even, if I remember correctly, when one of the heroes near the end of the movie sacrifices his life to save innocents from the bad guys, or bad robots, he is laid out in death in a cross-like fashion.

So as I’ve been thinking about the movie a question came to mind that I’d like to put out there: Why do you think in the liberal bastion of Hollywood where there are not many overtly religious people, would they take the trouble to put so many religious and specifically Christian references in a blockbuster movie? I have a theory, but I’d love to hear any others with ideas why this might be so in the age of the “nones.”

It is common among those of a conservative, more traditionalist bent, to see America as Slouching Towards Gomorrah,” the title of a book by the late Justice Robert Bork, or going to Hell in a handbasket. Maybe it’s the optimistic disposition I seem to have been born with, but I’m more hopeful. This blockbuster Avenger’s movie is just another reason why. My theory is that Hollywood, and those that produce, write and direct movies, have seen the economic clout of conservative Christians, Catholic or protestant, and realize appealing to them makes good business sense.

Not only this, but the essential conservative message of the movie appeals to the better angels of the American public’s nature. In addition to the basic good versus evil motif, we see the fundamental downside of utopian idealist visions to make the world what it simply is not and can never be; good intentions can lead to very bad results. We are also shown the hubris of thinking technology can solve what is intractable in human nature, when it clearly cannot. Of course Tony Stark, Mr. Hubris himself, would be the one to learn this lesson the hard way.

The American people are fundamentally decent and conservative by disposition. Even in the drive to redefine marriage, polls tell us that a majority now think same-sex marriage is ok. Why? Because the dominant media culture has made the issue fairness, and Americans above all want to be fair. Not a terrible character trait in a people. No, to hell, I think, we are not going.

Another reason for Christians to hope is cheesy Christian movies. I say this partly with tongue in cheek because the only way to really effectively engage the culture and have any kind of positive influence is excellence. Yet, having been a Christian since 1978, it is very clear to me that Christian engagement in culture is much more robust now than it has been in my Christian lifetime. Just the fact that Christians are even making movies and attempting to tell redemptive stories is a huge advance from the Christian sub-culture that dominated much of the Church over the last century.

It takes time to get good at something, and I’m convinced that in due course we will see Christian excellence in all areas of culture engagement because the vast majority of the evangelical Church agrees that cultural engagement is no longer an option and that excellence is our calling. There are numerous examples. One of the objectives of this website as my busy schedule permits, is to make it a resource for where all this excellence exists in the modern Church, and where the pursuit of excellence can be developed.

The dominant cultural forces in the West are inimical to the Christian faith and Christians themselves, so we have to out-perform, out-think, out-produce, out-create, out-act, out-teach, out-write, out-work, out everything our cultural enemies. And make no mistake, there is indeed a culture war and we are right smack dab in the middle of it. There is no sitting this one out, sticking our head in the sand pretending we can “all get along.” But this war is not one of hostility and vitriol, or conquering and control, but one of reifying the transcendentals.

Whating the what, you say? I just learned this term last weekend at an apolotigetics conference, and I love it! (“Reify the Transcendentals” is my new favorite bumper sticker, just edging out, “Eschew Obfuscation.”) But what does it mean? The transcendentals according to the ancients are beauty, goodness and truth. You can look up the definition of reify, but the essence of it is to make something that is not concrete, concrete, to make an idea into a thing, if you will, to make it appear more real to us. As Christians we need to with excellence make the transcendentals, these character traits of the living God in creation, real by our work. All of reality is God’s reality, and the Christian witness in the culture will always go  back to him when we make His reality in our work real.

  • GeniusPhx

    religious people, christians will pick out the smallest scene in a movie and say it’s a christian movie. there is a web sight all about finding biblical parallels in movies, and there are many. But the christian story is generic, guy is born, (disappears for 25 yrs), guy finds enough strength within to go to battle for a cause he believes in, winds up risking all to save those less ppl who just didn’t see far enough ahead to leave town before the tornado hit.
    I was raised Baptist and became a non believer 15 yrs ago. I study religion everyday from the outside, i know the story of Jesus as you know it (I just dont believe it happened) and I didn’t see any religious references in the movie. I’ve left movies that got too savior oriented.

  • Hmm, maybe we didn’t see the same movie. How about when Ultron says that, “Upon this rock I will build my church”? A direct quote from Matthew 16:18. Doesn’t get much more Christian than that! When it comes out on DVD, I’ll watch it again and give you all the specifically Christian references.

    I believe the story of Jesus happened because of all the evidence that it indeed did happen. I’m sure your mind is securely made up, but is a great resources to see just how much evidence is claimed for the veracity of the Christian faith, whether you buy it or not.