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Gods Help Us!

supergodsA couple of brief thoughts on comics writer Grant Morrison‘s debut book, Supergods, and his recent interview in Wired magazine. The book “probes superhero myths” from a decidedly new slant. Whereas superheroes have traditionally been cast in a monotheistic worldview, inhabited by ultimate Good and Evil, some even representative of Christ-figures, Morrison envisions new gods to “fill the gap in a secular culture.”

EXCERPT: (bold is mine)

Wired.com: One thing I love about the Supergods thesis is that, by accepting these heroes as our new superhuman ideals, we’re pulling away from monotheism and perhaps even, through superheroes, upgrading the more realistic pantheism of antiquity.

Morrison: Yeah, I think it’s natural to get away from that, because monotheism came from a specific region in the desert, from a bunch of cultures who discovered written language around the same time. And really, in monotheistic culture, the book is the god. The actual text, whether that’s the Bible, Koran or whatever, inserts its instructions and commands into your brain like a programming code. And that was an interesting way of looking at the world, where a singular force was in charge. But pantheism is more like real life. We don’t have to believe these things actually exist, and I don’t think sophisticated people ever have, now or in the past.

Who would have thought that comic books could be a tool for helping the unsophisticated masses migrate away from monotheism? Apparently, Morrison does.

Morrison: …We need to re-enchant the world, which is what magic is all about. It’s easy to forget the wonder that we live in, and I think it’s important to remind people of that, and stoke their interest in the world around them.

And what better way than for a new mythology (pantheism), to replace the old mythology (monotheism).

From there, the interview tumbles into discussion about “our alarming consumption and waste of our planet’s resources.” Which seems only natural for one who believes we are gods / God, inseparably part of Earth’s essence.

Anyway, I had a couple of quick questions / observations after reading this interview, which I’ll pass along for your consideration.

First, Is there any question that pop culture powerfully shapes worldview? In light of another recent public massacre (the Sandy Hook school shooting), we are once again debating how much pop culture (in this case, violent films and video games) actually influences and shapes people. I’ve never understood how someone could object to that premise. Pop culture — TV, news reportage, films, music, etc., etc. — seeps into our being. Here you have an influential comic book creator not only interjecting a specific worldview into his stories, but doing so “to re-enchant the world” and lead us out of our religious ignorance. Any more questions about the power of pop culture?

Second, Where are the complaints about fiction / art being used as a tool for religious propaganda? Morrison’s intent seems openly religious: to re-introduce and indoctrinate a new religious worldview. Christians are regularly whacked for writing stories that seek to employ and sell a specific worldview. So how is Morrison’s intent any different?

Third, Why is pantheism considered a more sophisticated view? If everything is God, as pantheism suggests, in the end, the Impartial, Impersonal Force that is US, shouldn’t give a rip about whether I am a monotheist or not. It simply doesn’t matter. I am he, as you are he, as you are me, as we are all together. How’s THAT for sophistication?

Anyway, there’s a few quick thoughts. Do any of them have any validity?

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{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Jessica Thomas January 17, 2013, 6:53 AM

    Thank goodness Mr. Morrison is here to enlighten us all.

  • Jason Joyner January 17, 2013, 8:21 AM

    Ugh. I read comics as a kid and a few years ago was back collecting some again. DC Comics did a huge event, “Final Crisis”, that they spent a couple of years building up for it. Morrison wrote it, and I’ve never read a more incomprehensible mess in comics. It was a frustrating waste of money. However, I can see from that series the same worldview that is popping up here.

    And yes, pantheism is *so* realistic compared to the foolish monotheists. Except when monotheism offers the philosophical framework to explain both the grandeur of creation and the miracle of personality and relationship.

    • Mike Duran January 17, 2013, 8:42 AM

      Not surprised the story was incomprehensible. Pantheism would ultimately undermine the need for superheroes. If God is All, as the enlightened pantheist suggests, then Good and Evil are parts of Him/Us. So the superhero ultimately has no real opponent.

    • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 9:24 AM

      It got better: last year DC completely re-booted its line-up. All comics went back to issue #1. Obviously a ploy to make money (#1 issues are thought to be collector’s items) and drum up excitement for an industry that’s on life support (irony of ironies: Comic book films are guaranteed box office gold. The source material? An old-fashioned afterthought).

      And better: To put an exclamation point on how edgy DC was going to be in their re-booted lineup, Catwoman’s first panel in her comic (as in, the very first time we see her) she’s seen in lacy red underwear. By the end of the issue, she’s had sex with Batman on a rooftop. Starfire, another DC heroine who’s a cold, alien princess, has callous, casual, drop-you-when-it’s-done sex with her two male partners, who happily oblige.

      • StuartB January 17, 2013, 11:14 AM

        To be fair, that wasn’t necessarily out of character for Starfire. It was just the depiction of how she was doing it that was the problem.

        But really, the problem is and has always been Judd Winick. Get rid of him, restore DC Comics back to glory.

        • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 12:29 PM

          I hear you, Stuart, and you’re right, but I guess to me it just smacked of “ooohh… look how edgy we can be!!”

          When you’ve got heavy page time of Starfire in the tiniest bikini you can put her in, it almost seems like two teenage boys drawing it for the sole purpose of oogling her.

          • Kaleb January 17, 2013, 12:57 PM

            Yeah, I noticed that. DC hasn’t been up to its previous snuff lately. If tossing Judd would fix that, I”m all in favor of it.

        • D.M. Dutcher January 17, 2013, 1:19 PM

          Just the idea of a cold Starfire is out of character for me. I grew up with the Perez/Wolfman run on the New Teen Titans, with a warm Starfire in a relationship with Nightwing. Reading about what happened to her with the whole New 52 thing reminds me why I’m no longer a comics fanboy.

          I’ve seen way too many characters I love warped. It’s pretty funny actually-I loved New Mutants, only to see Cypher die and it turn into the horrible X-force, I always thought the Scarlet Witch was a cool heroine, and then Ultimates or House of M. Don’t even talk to me about Nextwave-I liked the old Machine Man, liked the second Captain Marvel, and even Boom-Boom. It’s hard to connect with comic characters any more since they are likely to be taken up by random writers and changed completely.

        • Jon Mast January 19, 2013, 6:27 PM

          Yeah – Judd Winick has always started strong for me, and within a year he does an issue or two that throws me off the series. See also: Green Lantern and Exiles. Sigh.

          Speaking of writing with a specific worldview…

  • Kessie January 17, 2013, 8:31 AM

    Interesting. Materialism is so stifling that people have to worship something, even if it’s only superheroes. Makes me think of my uncle, a staunch atheist, who believes in fairies. Like, hardcore, superstition, build-them-houses-everywhere belief in fairies. His wife faithfully follows her horoscope.

    I mean, if we throw out God, we have to worship SOMEthing. Man is a religious creature. The line about re-injecting the magic up there is telling. Science doesn’t give us magic. Science gives us (supposedly) facts. It’s cold and sterile, and it’s a religion (which is why people scream about science and religion being incompatible, because they’re two religions). But people have to have the mysterious and spiritual–so why not believe in something, even if it’s only Gaia and other gods?

    Which is sad, because little gods can’t talk to you.

  • Andrew Corey January 17, 2013, 8:32 AM

    I’ve read some of Morrison’s comics and have found him to be an extremely dense author, which doesn’t necessarily translate well to comics. I was already planning to read Supergods but I think I’ll go in with a bit more of a critical eye now.

  • Nikole Hahn January 17, 2013, 8:59 AM

    Anything, but Christianity is okay. Due to the secular’s blindness to the spiritual battles around us, they can’t see this reasoning. They can’t argue it either.

  • D.M. Dutcher January 17, 2013, 9:22 AM

    Eh, I don’t think people will care. Not everyone likes what Morrison does to iconic heroes. Just mentioning Xorn will start forum fights, for example. I don’t think people are going to like a book based on no-names who just exist to show flaky Morrison philosophy. That may have worked in the 80s with Animal Man and later on with the Invisibles, but the whole Brit-transgressive formula is getting pretty stale. It’s no coincidence a lot of the vitality in comics has shifted to webcomics and manga.

    I think your points are valid. The only problem I’d have would be for #1, pop culture can change so quickly that there’s really no coherent message that can affect people. Especially in comic books, it seems like the universe is reinvented every five years. #2 and #3 are dead on though, #3 especially. Not even just pantheism; I think Christians build up a lot of these opposing philosophies in their minds, but when they actually look at them, they seem far weaker than the Christian faith.

    • Kessie January 17, 2013, 9:39 AM

      “I think Christians build up a lot of these opposing philosophies in their minds, but when they actually look at them, they seem far weaker than the Christian faith.”

      Hear hear! I always find this out when I start researching an opposing philosophy I’m kind of afraid of. Like when I started trying to find out where, exactly, was the evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds. What I found was a lot of laughable contradictions, “sideways branches of evolution”, and fossils showing that modern beaked birds “existed before dinosaurs”, so birds evolved into dinosaurs which evolved into birds. I lost all fear of the argument.

  • Elizabeth Seckman January 17, 2013, 9:34 AM

    Thanks for the warning. My guys are huge comic book readers and I’ll be sure to put this on the banned list. We serve one God, proudly.

    • Kaleb January 17, 2013, 1:01 PM

      It’s not even a comic book, apparently. It’s more of a history book with an agenda.

      • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 4:00 PM

        It’s several things: biography, analysis of superheroes, movies, culture and, of course, comics.

    • Jon Mast January 19, 2013, 6:31 PM

      This isn’t a comic book, as others noted. And Morison has actually written some really fun stuff — All-Star Superman, for example.

      • Christian Jaeschke January 19, 2013, 8:16 PM

        No, you’re right. All-Star Superman was very good and I’m not even a Superman fan (Batman’s more my forte).

  • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 9:37 AM

    I finished this book a few months ago.

    Eh, I don’t see a lot of other folks agreeing with Wired’s supposition. Especially in the comic book-y/video gamer/pop culture-phile crowd. They’d roll their eyes at any mention of the phrases “gods,” “God,” and “sophistication” together.

    Morrison has a penchant for going off on rambling, twisted bunny trails anyway, whether in interviews or his stories. He reminds me of a feather: he just floats along and experiences whatever he happens to experience.

    If Pantheism has any draw, it’s that many gods are created by humans and, like the Greek gods, are just as petty as humans. Therefore, we have superiority over them. They teach us whatever it is we want us to hear. If they start to get larger than life, we knock them down a few rungs. No big deal. Superman reminds us of an optimistic hope, something anyone who has a future wants to have. Batman reminds us of the dark side of humanity, of obsession, of paranoia, of a strong moral code and a never-ending fight. Unlike Yahweh, we don’t need to worry about Supes or Bats getting out of hand and telling us something we don’t want to hear.

  • Ramona January 17, 2013, 10:11 AM

    I spent much of my life as a pantheist without even knowing it (long story), and my gut reaction to the claims of Mr. Morrison and Wired is they are slightly deluded. The most substantial “attack” on monotheism in the last fifty years was a little thing called “Star Wars.” While it made a dent, I can’t see that monotheism has been totally pushed aside. It takes a serious sense of self-grandeur to think your latest book would have a more significant reach into the culture.

    • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 12:31 PM

      If you watch a few interviews with him (or his docu-biography on Hulu), one can easily get the sense he might take himself a bit too seriously.

  • Kaleb January 17, 2013, 11:25 AM

    Final Crisis? Was that like the Crisis on Infinite Earths? To say that one was confusing would be a major understatement. I saw he also did “All-Star Superman” which was actually really good. But with this one, I think he’s going more along the lines of Joseph Campbell and his monomyth and what they teach than actually saying they’re gods to be worshiped, but I’ve not read the book yet, so I can’t verify.

    • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 12:34 PM

      Both of them were so messy they make your statement about understatements seem like an understatement. That’s when you got several versions of the same heroes. That’s when you’re reading and you’re saying, wait, which Green Lantern are we talking about now?

      • Kaleb January 17, 2013, 12:59 PM

        Yeah, I noticed that. Not to mention all the stories happening in different places and it was like trying to navigate in Coruscant without a guide.

  • Bob Avey January 17, 2013, 11:55 AM

    After reading the posts here, I’m thankful I stopped reading comic books when I was a kid. Super heroes having sex? “God help us” is right. And pantheism is about as sophisticated as Jethro Bodine, and about as modern as The Roaring 20’s.

    • Bobby B January 17, 2013, 12:46 PM

      Bob, the sad thing is that there’s still some great story-telling in comics. Good, thick, meaty stuff.

      You just have to wade through a swimming pool of muck to get there. And that seems to be the way culture is now: how much junk will you put up with to enjoy a well-written story, whether in film, TV, comics or novels?

    • Jon Mast January 19, 2013, 6:35 PM

      Comics are just like television: Merely a medium to tell a story. Some stories are great, many are meh, and others are complete junk. There’s some very mature superhero stories, though many are “merely” entertainment. Thankfully, there’s also a lot of comic stories that aren’t superhero.

      CrossGen is a company from about a decade back that did fantastic fantasy stories; Meridian was my personal favorite. A young teen girl lead discovering independence and ending up leading a rebellion against her dictator-uncle. Great stuff with great messages!

  • Jason H. January 17, 2013, 1:29 PM

    D.M. Dutcher said “The only problem I’d have would be for #1, pop culture can change so quickly that there’s really no coherent message that can affect people.”

    This statement seems to contradict your agreement with #’s 2 & 3, since they are examples of Satan’s cumulative influence on Pop culture, which is simply the prevailing cultural viewpoint. The advertising industry – the Breeders of Discontent – exemplify the power of popular culture in shaping worldview. Though the specific message may change, the cumulative message is the same. “The same meat, but different gravy” as a dear friend says. It calls us to occupy the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional parts of ourselves with everything BUT God’s truth and his desire to have a relationship with us.

    • D.M. Dutcher January 17, 2013, 2:03 PM

      You have a point. I didn’t really think of it as a cumulative effect, but more as how specific messages just get picked up and forgotten. You’re arguing that the sum of the messages can distract, maybe regardless of content, and that’s a bit more meta than I had considered.

  • Christian Jaeschke January 17, 2013, 5:14 PM

    Several years ago, I read the first volume of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles”. It was purely out of curiosity, since I’d heard that much of “The Matrix” had ‘borrowed’ greatly from the series. So I read the book and found many similarities but what really disturbed me was Grant Morrison’s world-view. Looking past the strong language, the graphic violence, the alternative sexualities (ick!), there’s a very compelling and intriguing story being told, but I’m not sure it’s worth all of the crap. Morrison’s philosophy is a weird and disturbing amalgamation of many world religions and this comes through loud and clear. I later read up on him (should’ve done that beforehand) and found he is steeped in the occult, and openly admits it. Yes, this man is bad news. A damn shame too, since he has some obvious writing talent. Needless to say, I didn’t read any more of his works.

    • D.M. Dutcher January 18, 2013, 2:26 PM

      Honestly, that whole generation of writers and many creative types in general are like this. If you think Morrison is bad, read the wiki about Alan Moore sometime. It seems like comics writers especially though, and whenever they get the ability to do their own works, it comes rushing out like a flood. If not occult philosophy than weird author appeal fetishes or bizarre fixations. I think it became noticeable once DC’s Vertigo line enabled a very heavy European comics vibe into the american mainstream. I mean, we always had American indies like Crumb and Heavy Metal, but Vertigo really brought the whole “transgressive comic” idea to the mainstream.

      • Christian Jaeschke January 18, 2013, 5:56 PM

        True, Alan Moore is another one but for some reason I find him less creepy than Morrison. Also, I’ve read a few of his works. My favourite is “Watchmen”. Some of the others just get a bit too weird for me.

  • Greg Mitchell January 19, 2013, 6:04 AM

    Oh, I love this post. I wish I had something witty to add to the conversation, but I don’t. This post says it all for me 🙂

  • Jenni Noordhoek January 22, 2013, 9:29 PM

    I did write a paper for Humanities class last semester comparing superheroes to Greek mythic heroes – from my limited research (it was only a four page paper) I think that the idea is much more complex. In the rest of the article, he references Greek myth (Hermes being similar to Flash) – I’m not sure why he keeps going on about pantheism when Greek myth is polytheism.

    That being said, I always have liked Marvel better than DC and I’m really not sure what to think of the reboots on both sides. I’m still catching up on the best of the best classic comics.

    Oh, and about Vertigo – I generally stay away from mature readers lines of comics, but on the recommendation of a friend I read the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and it was brilliant. It’s not kidding when it says ‘mature readers only’ – wouldn’t hand to my kid siblings though I consider it required reading for any adult interested in meaningful fantasy or horror literature. Definitely disturbing at times, but all disturbing content is used to further the story.

  • Conner January 28, 2013, 3:04 PM

    Thank-you for your post but what does (Rip) really mean for a Christian?

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