Friday, August 1, 2014

Villain Morality: Religion (part 3/3)

We talked about what villains should (or should not) believe, and how and why villains might consider starting a religion of their own. Today I'm going to talk about the other side - the effects of superpowers on existing religion. Disappointingly, not much outwardly has changed.

Sir James George Frazer published the first edition of "The Golden Bough" in 1890. His idea was that several ancient religions (and some still going today) had this "sacrificial king", who would periodically be worshiped and then killed. He claimed this was ancient humanity's mythic retelling of the seasonal harvest cycle, acted as the basis of many old fertility cults, and was a central element in most religions. Recent writers took a look at superhuman biology - where the Hashmal process energizes supers at death's door and brings them back with more power - and thought, "y'know, maybe early man was worshiping supers".

It's not like the major modern religions are immune to this sort of re-analysis. Let's take the Gospels as a totally random example. You have a guy who was ritually drowned by a fellow preacher, went to a desert to starve himself for six weeks, nailed to a tree for three days when the local fuzz took a dislike to the smack he was talking, and finally sealed in a cave for the weekend. If he was superhuman, what the hell do you think that would have done to him? While the major Christian churches haven't said anything that might get their followers thinking this, a lot of people came to this conclusion independently.

Noted atheist Bill Maher describes the Church as "selling an invisible product". I guess the existence of real powers, like those described in the stories that make up most religions, represents a sort of competing business. This is probably why so few major churches have taken any official stance on superpowers - any new position threatens their stability. Even Martin Luther - who made a clear case against the abuses of the medieval Church - needed the political power of the German princes of the time to get the Church to shift position.

Speaking of the Catholic church, I feel bad for them. They can't look at every young villain who uses physics-breaking superpowers to rob a liquor store and say, "that's a miracle". So far, no supers have been canonized, though there's been calls for a few of them. Mostly in Europe and South America, which figures. That said, a little bird tells me that the Church has been working for years to assemble a super-team of its own, and plan to unveil it when the time is right.

A lot of Westerners, especially since 9/11, have the mistaken idea that "fatwa" means "Islamic death sentence". It's not - it's just the name for an opinion issued by somebody with stature and authority within Islam. Several leading Muslims have issued fatwas regarding superheroes and supervillains and powers in general. Not all of them agree with each other, which is to be expected. So the next time someone tells you "Islam issued a fatwa against all supers", go find out what they're actually talking about instead of just blindly assuming Muslims are anti-super.

I like what one Buddhist acquaintance told me when I asked about this. There's no central authority, as usual, but this seemed wise. "The gods feel suffering, the gods have intent, the gods can practice righteousness. They are already welcome among us."

With that, I'll call the religion section of my morality series wrapped up! Thanks for reading.