Thor is the Asgardian god of thunder in Norse mythology. The Scarlet Witch was given psycho-magical powers by an Elder God. The infinity stones and the tesseract of a pre-universe signularity have in them vaguely Vedic elements. So I am certain the undertones of numerous religions are present in the Avengers, as they are throughout the comic book universe. After all, these are worlds built on the supernatural.

But because The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an American movie and because I’m much more apt to pick up Judeo-Christian symbols than those of any other religion, the blockbuster struck me as rife with Christian references. While I don’t think every reference is an attempt to make a deep theological statement, I also don’t think most of them are accidental.

Up front I must admit that I am not a comic book reader and never have been. I don’t know back stories or character interactions, so forgive me if I say something foolish. But I do know some things about Christianity, so as a way of being nerdy, and to respond to Age of Ultron (which I thought was surprisingly good), I wanted to comment on some of the overlap I noticed.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

False gods

To begin, Ultron is a being made for the purpose of saving humankind. But as created beings frequently do, he quickly abuses his power and makes himself superior to his creator not just in strength, but also in moral judgment. Ultron confuses saving humanity with destroying it. Ultron makes himself out to be God, but a malevolent one. Like many devils, he does not think he is evil, and he is not evil in a purely black-and-white sense; he’s more cunning than he is hateful, at least to begin with.

Apart from Christ figures in our narratives, there a few more prevalent themes of the Christian ethos reflected in popular culture than the creature turned monster. As in heaven, as in the Garden, as at Babel, as Caesar and the pharaohs, we tend toward the power-hungry and the know-it-alls. We make ourselves gods, whether we intend to or not. And soon we find ourselves despots instead of noble kings. Ultron, as such, is not just a blueprint of fallen man, he is a fallen angel, claiming the high place of knowledge and truth, though he distorts them both.

‘The geometry of belief’

Interestingly, and like many powers and false prophets, Ultron sets up the heart of his world-domination project in an old church. “They put the building in the middle of the city,” he says, “so that everyone could be equally close to God. I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of belief.”

In The Avengers, Ultron has deified himself, and because he has the ability to invade all corners of creation through the internet, he is seemingly omnipresent, always just around the corner. In a way, the “geometry of belief” that allows all people to be equally close to God is democratic in the Protestant sense — we need no priests; we can all access the Father. But it is Catholic and rightly monarchic in that, though we can all find God, He must be the focus of the circle, the hub around which everything else spins. Ultron abuses this power. Though he was created to shield all of humanity, he instead uses his closeness and oversight to destroy it.

Matthew 16:18

One of the most surprising and blatant Christian references comes in Ultron’s (mis)appropriation of Jesus’ words to Peter. Like Christ, Ultron says of the heart of his deadly plot, “On this rock I will build my church….” The irony is proven in the fact that he leaves out the end of the sentence, which concludes, “…and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” Whenever we establish our own church — a church in our own image — it is a false church, and so it is not the gates of hell that overcome it, but the pearly gates of heaven. If Ultron is a devil and his church a false one, the Avengers are made out to be angels when they take over the church, rescuing it and all the town’s inhabitants.

Apocalypse

The destruction of the world, in a very Christian sense, is prominent throughout the movie. Dr. Banner says outright it is the End Times.

As one might expect in a blockbuster, action-packed, superhero megamovie, apocalyptic violence is everywhere. Ultron compares the Avengers to Noah, saying they’ll watch the destruction of the world unfold before them. Whereas in the first Avengers, Loki wanted humanity to bow before him, Ultron wants to change people into something nearly robotic, something artificial, or destroy them. He insists that God requires people to evolve, that if they become complacent, they need to be destroyed: “When the earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it.”

And the Avengers’ view of salvation in the apocalypse is not utilitarian. Though they could destroy the town, killing all its residents but saving the world, they refuse (as led by “God’s righteous man,” Captain America). Instead, they are not willing to lose a single person, risking all of humanity in order to give every person a chance at rescue.

Proverbs

Though The Avengers doesn’t hearken back to any biblical proverbs, it tries to add a few axioms to Solomon’s wisdom, some of them slanted.

  1. “Everyone creates the thing they fear. Men of peace create engines of war. Avengers create invaders. Parents create children… that will supplant them.”
  2. “Keep your friends rich, and your enemies rich. That keeps everyone happy.”
  3. “Every time someone tries to stop a war before it starts, innocent people die.”
  4. “You hope for the best and make do with what you get.”

Christ, grace

The most shocking biblical reference for me came when The Vision was “born.” He admits that he’s not really a human, and not really a robot either — he is a sort of synthezoid god. He says of himself, quite simply and bluntly, “I am.” Any good Christian will know that those two words, used in isolation, belong to God alone, who is the great I Am. And though The Vision, possessor the Mind Stone, is humanlike in his organic makeup, his more-than-human “worthiness” is revealed in his ability to lift Thor’s hammer. His Christlikeness is furthered when he compares himself to the Avengers’ present foe: “I am on the side of life. Ultron isn’t.” Is there a more christocentric statement, for Jesus too gives life, and life to the fullest.

In true biblical fashion, The Vision exhibits a unique empathy to the fallenness of humanity, saying, “There is grace in their failings,” and “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It is a privilege to be among them.” The supernatural, mutant, and magical powers of all the Avengers heroes lends an obvious divine quality, but Age of Ultron’s picture of The Vision lifts him above the rest.

* * *

I don’t know what the intention was in including all of these Christian elements. Surely, some of it was misused and some used more to stir discussion than as a means of furthering a gospel message. Still, with Judeo-Christian values and narratives as thick as they are in the West and in media, it is an interesting and though-provoking exercise to consider well their use in Hollywood’s work that millions will see.

Posted by Griffin Paul Jackson

15 Comments

  1. Yes. I think the best stories echo biblical themes, because it is impossible to be more creative than God! Your piece is a great example of Wheaton College’s (our alma mater) motto: “All truth is God’s truth”.

    Reply

    1. Griffin Paul Jackson May 8, 2015 at 4:36 pm

      I really like that motto. And yes, even though many of the themes in Western movies are unoriginal because they are picked up from Judeo-Christianity, most don’t seem to get old. No need to be forever reinventing the narrative wheel.

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  2. Love your analysis on the movie. I also saw much of what you picked up and you brought to light a few things I missed as well! I also wanted to highlight some themes that are quite interesting to look at though.

    From the beginning Ultron uses a tool of mankind to sow discord in the Avengers. This manipulation or deception is not only a favorite tool of Satan’s, but the unknowing tool, Scarlet Witch, faces her doom when Ultron’s plan is revealed to her. She repents and turns toward the good, becoming an Avenger. The theme is simply any man who has once sinned can be made new.

    To go along with the idea that Ultron is Satan, one could also look at the Avengers, a group of heroes, none like the other, as the Church, not just angels. The body of Christ is made up of many parts and none can be left behind, just as Vision (Jesus) says they must work together to defeat Ultron.

    Ultron (Satan) is also imprisoned by Vision (Jesus) in the sense he burned him out of the web (the connection to all the world), much as how Satan was removed from heaven.

    All in all, I do not believe the makers of the movie tried to put all this Biblical symbolism in the movie, they merely knew some quotes from the bible and took some themes out of context.

    In the end I believe when someone creates a story that removes shades of grey from the scenes, i.e. Good vs Evil, you will naturally use a character like Jesus and the Devil for it is within all of us to recognize the truth when we hear it, even if some of us choose to ignore it, our spirits carry within us the truth. This world is black and white, with no shades of gray. The enemy would like us to believe there is gray but God is perfect and holy as is Jesus and His church will be blameless and perfect and WE are the church. The “gray” people believe exists is only man’s interpretation of what is “right” or “wrong”, but when we listen to the Holy Spirit, it is obvious there is ONLY ONE RIGHT action to take in every circumstance. The Spiritual world is an unending war of light vs. darkness; death vs. life; and this movie reflects that truth. I think anytime we tell a story that reflects the truth of this world we will inevitably bring out themes from the bible without even trying.

    Reply

    1. Griffin Paul Jackson May 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      Thanks for this, Ben. I definitely hadn’t thought about all of that. The point you make about Vision burning Ultron’s connection to the world, and this being a reflection of the removal of the devil from heaven and, ultimately, the new creation, is really interesting to me. I’ll have to think about that some more.

      A question about what you say at the end: Do you think there is no “gray” in the world as it is now, with imperfect people living in it, or do you think there is no “gray” only when the Lord makes things new?

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      1. Love the discussion about gray vs. black & white. I am going to agree with Ben, that in the biblical worldview of absolute values, everything is black & white, light vs. darkness. Living in the fallen world with our sinful natures, our understanding is incomplete, and there are many areas that will appear gray until Jesus’ second coming. I think the historical reformed creeds of the church are helpful in determining what areas are under the category of clear biblical teaching (black & white), and what areas are non-essentials (gray).

      2. In the world now and in the world Jesus lived in, people were people and therefore we have flaws, as you say, we are imperfect. The idea of Gray or even Black and White are not the best words to use really. Jesus discusses the concept of light and darkness during a parable for the masses. It is a teaching that holds far deeper meaning than what at first he is saying, the same as all his other parables. Jesus did not say “beloved I wish above all things, except” He did not say “the only way to the father is through me, except”. The laws of the Kingdom he lays down for us, His Church, are absolutes. Like Linda mentioned, absolute values. But if Jesus preached in absolutes, and we as sinners do not do as he preaches, we are living in chaos by definition. You can’t slightly live in chaos, just as you cannot slightly be pure white. When we describe people as “gray” we are doing so by looking at their entire lifetime of choices they have made, some being white and others black. Each individual choice was either Right or Wrong at the time it was made. There is no choice that is Gray. And we make thousands of choices every day. If you look at what you do its easy to say “I’m Gray”, but in fact if it were not for Jesus’ Blood, you would be “chaotic”, not “absolute” and therefore just as wrong as someone who chose “black” choices their entire life.

        It is truly sobering when we understand how great a gift he’s given us. For we could never in our humanness be “white” or absolute and enter heaven. With the holy spirit we can make more choices that reflect what Jesus himself would have done and therefore draw closer to God’s will for our lives. We can also ignore the Holy Spirit and push God away from us. Any good Christian would say they would never push God away, but it’s their heart and their obedience to follow the Holy Spirit which does it, not their words.

        My personal opinion is that Satan uses the concept of Gray to dull the reality that when we knowingly sin and push God away, we won’t feel so bad. “Hey everyone’s “gray”, no one’s perfect. Why should I be?” He does this because if we get used to acting “gray” ignoring any conviction in our Spirit, we will eventually push God far enough away from us that we can’t hear Him and we fall away into the world. Satan knows when a believer follows the Holy Spirit he cannot have us. We automatically fight for God, lay hands on the sick, speak life over people, spread the gospel, and do all things for God because we are following His calling in our lives. Every Christian is called to spread the Gospel in their own ways. When the enemy can confuse us into unknowingly pushing God away we no longer fight for Him, but we are tools of the enemy. We may even go to church and pray for people, but if we live apart from God in our hearts and our actions, then we are the same as the world.

        So I know I wrote a LOT but its something that really bugs me about the current state of the Church. We should NEVER accept anything less than following God, i.e. striving to live absolutely or “white”, for if we do, then we are not the church, we are the world. The world is Satan’s and I for one, will not bow to him. This message may seem demanding but remember, Jesus said his Yoke is light! When we press into the Spirit and live in ways that God himself would live, our lives become less stressful and blessings abound for us. Truly, the deception is that living “white” is actually hard and that being “gray” is natural. The truth is that we have the laws of the Kingdom so we may Prosper and Be in Good Health, even as our Soul Prospers, not so that we are worn down by the world. God is no taskmaster and Jesus gave everything so we could fellowship with Him always. Choice is left for us to make every second of every day and when we recognize there is no Gray, only Black or White, it’s actually a very easy thing to choose correctly. When God is our sovereign lord and we no longer care what our own flesh or mind thinks, but only what He thinks, it’s easy to choose “white”.

        I didn’t really mean to sermonize that whole thing but it’s a hot spot for me. I apologize if anything I said offended or if you disagreed with it. But if it provides someone some clarity I think it was worth it to get into all that detail. 😉

      3. Griffin Paul Jackson May 11, 2015 at 12:56 pm

        Thanks for this, Ben. Really helpful thoughts here, and I think you’re 100 percent right that the devil tries to convince us that things are gray that are really black and white, easing us into complacency, indifference, or genuine opposition to the truth.

        I think, overall, I tend to agree with you on “right and wrong” / “black and white” as it relates to morality and God’s law (though, certainly there are plenty of non-moral questions that I think have no right or wrong answer: i.e. should I have a turkey sandwich or a ham sandwich? but I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here). God’s law is made of commands and prohibitions, not suggestions. I do believe that, while we can know most of this, we can’t be 100 percent sure 100 percent of the time. For instance, I think there are a lot of good Christian arguments for pacifism as well as good Christian arguments for Just War. They can’t both be right — and while I have my own beliefs about these things, I’m not sure that my position is the correct one. I guess that’s what I’m getting at about the gray. We all know the Lord tells us not to steal — and it’s not a particularly murky question — but there are some moral and theological questions that, I think, are harder to answer, even if there is really only one correct answer.

        Am I getting at the right question here? And you’ve definitely not offended me at all! I love talking about these things. Talk, persuade, sermonize away!

  3. satan misquotes the bible all the time and so do his followers….like mr whedon ? there are a bunch of misled fools who truly believe that man will invent machine and the mix will be something greater than god….that is the theme of this move and prometheus….hubris and evil that flow from using our free will to reject our creator…when we are nothing and do nothing without Him

    Reply

    1. Griffin Paul Jackson May 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      I’m not sure Whedon was misquoting the Bible. At least, I didn’t feel offended by his usage. I think he was using it to make some thematic points. Do you think he used it badly? Wrongly?

      Reply

  4. For some reason I couldn’t respond to your last comment Griffin…so I’m making a new thread lol. Anyway you do bring up an interesting point – absolutely I understand and agree that there are questions one can pose that are much harder to answer because our own intelligence is not sufficient, yet if God were on the earth with us he would of course have the “right” choice discerned instantly. That is one BIG reason we must all strive to stay in touch with the Holy Spirit to ensure we do get His perspective whenever possible.

    In respect to the idea of a Just War vs. Pacifism I also have my beliefs and as this is an open forum I will share them. By no means am I telling someone who believes differently they are sinful or even that they are wrong, for I only know what I know. But studying the Word and asking God questions can provide great Revelation for anyone. I have found a common scheme of the devil is to cause confusion among Christians. At first confusion does not seem so evil but Satan knows that while it seems harmless and in fact in the physical world it can very well be, confusion in the spiritual realm kills faith and actually forces us to think based on our own wisdom instead of seeking God. Unless we are aware what confusion can do to us, and we can turn that confusion into a positive seeking God for the answer, we very well may become caught up in our own ideas and views of the world and lose connection with the Truth.

    I say all that merely to ask anyone reading to be careful what you ponder. If you seek to know true answers there is only One who knows.

    But from my perspective I believe we must consider Jesus’ actions and his Words on Earth. He commands that we should love our enemies, turn the cheek, harbor no ill will, forgive, and many other seemingly meek or weak willed ideas. Some people at that point then believe Christianity is all about being a “good person” and that’s where the common image of Jesus with long hair, thin, and “pretty” comes from. But really, when’s the last time you saw a carpenter with skinny arms and perfectly combed hair? All I’m saying is the reality is that while he utters those commands in respect to how we should treat our fellow man, he was still most likely very physically intimidating or at least, he looked like you’d expect a man who works timber all day to look. Jesus was in fact a warrior. And in fact, so are we! While he asks us to treat every man regardless of his actions against us with love, he DESTROYS demons and evil spirits and battles Satan and defeats him.

    So in our world where there is war, we must consider the cause and our motivation for entering battle. Simply put, as a Christian we battle spirits and thoughts, temptations, and deception. We are not called to battle man. Under the new covenant there is no need to put sinners to death as they will be cast into the flames or they will choose to repent and be saved. We should HATE the sin, but not the man. Often times that is difficult as our human minds long to group everything as one (much as we see people as gray since we group all their actions as one). If Jesus were on Earth and confronted Hitler, I believe he would have perished in a concentration camp like other Jews or perhaps he would have freed Hitler from the demons tormenting his soul and changed human history. We will never know, but what is certain is he would not harm him physically. The man himself is God’s creation and we should honor all men regardless of their actions – do not combine the sin with the sinner.

    So what is “just war”, it is a lie from the enemy to convince us to kill fellow men, God’s very creation. Each of us are unique and perfect in God’s eyes and he commands us to Love each other the same. What is “pacifism”, it is a lie from the enemy to convince us that Christians are meant to be meek and peaceful when in reality we are called to be fighters, warriors, battling the true enemy of God.

    To me, knowing what I am fighting against provides clarity and understanding of why I fight and when I fight. I do not raise weapons or a hand against a child of God but I will strike down and stamp the Enemy beneath my feet. Remember God tells us, the Believers, that HE will have our vengeance [Romans 12:19, Proverbs 20:22].

    Reply

  5. Griffin Paul Jackson May 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Don’t worry about not being able to respond directly to the previous comment. I think WordPress only lets comments go 3-deep in replies, so you have to reply to the previous level comment in order to go underneath a 3rd-level reply. (Confusing.) Seems weird that it’s designed this way, but oh well.

    Man, you’re really giving me good stuff to think about. I think you’re spot on in continuing the idea that one of the devil’s primary weapons is confusion. While my views on pacifism/just war could and probably will be the topic of future posts, I’ve never thought of it the way you describe as just war and pacifism both being lies. But I think that could definitely be an accurate way of thinking about it. By using those terms, we get distracted from the main issues — who God is, who we are, who/what is an enemy.

    The Bible clearly uses a lot of militant language and metaphors, but it also uses plenty of peaceful language, and the Spirit certainly provides the peace that passes all understanding. I’ve heard that military language in Scripture would have made a lot of sense to the Romans and Greeks (and others), while they would not have been able to empathize as easily with direction toward poverty and carrying our cross. That language would have made more sense to Jesus’ Jewish disciples and other poor, persecuted peoples. The same is probably true for us. We understand what it means to fight, but do we really understand what is means to carry our cross?

    We are always approaching these things with cultural, economic, temporal biases. But pursuing wisdom from the Lord can help us get past those things.

    Reply

    1. Amen. Very well put.

      I want to recommend a book series to you by Cliff Graham – Day of War. It is fictional but tells the story of David and his mighty men. Phenomenal book and I believe it will soon be made into a movie! You will certainly love it and any other people who read this should check it out. Because it is based on Old Testament times it is quite violent and can be a bit hard to read in places but the realism and overall story make for some great reading. Of course its nothing compared to the Bible but if you liked the Avengers then I think you’ll get a kick out of Day of War.

      I’d love to read your thoughts about that book series in a later thread/post!

      Reply

  6. Griffin Paul Jackson May 14, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Interesting. I checked it out online. It doesn’t look like something I’d normally go for, but all the reviews make it sound really great. I’ll have to add it to my list! Thanks!

    Reply

  7. Well, I’d argue that as soon as any story teller sets up a struggle between ‘ultimate good vs. ultimate evil’ overlain on a global apocalyptic scenario, the Biblical parallels are going to be almost unavoidable…or at least easy enough to wring out of it. In terms of sheer entertainment value, there is no limit to which pure retelling of Bible stories can test Hollywood’s technological limits. There’s unending possibilities for generated variations on The Bible’s themes, spun into new stories or woven into magnificent entertainment of all kinds, from romances to travel adventures to war to natural disasters to intergalactic struggles for power between an evil empire and a band of rebels led by “The One.” The Bible is often referred to as “the greatest story ever told” for good reason.

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  8. Fot those of us not baked in a Christian world view it is possible to not see a paradigm of innocence and protector of life like the Vision as a Christ figure, but as an innocent and protector of life. Sometimes an android is just an android. It is not necessary to fit everything into Christian allegory in order to understand it.

    If Ultron quotes Jesus’ words to Saint Peter, “On this rock I will build my church,” it mostly shows he has a sense of humor. (Doubly funny as these words are of dubious veracity in the first place since the historical Jesus is much more likely to have seen his brother James as his spiritual successor anyway.)

    I once tried to collaborate with a minister’s son on a science fiction novel. When we set out to invent the local religion and he insisted (in discussion) on referring to the beliefs as “pagan,” I knew the effort was doomed.

    Really, Thor has just as good a claim to godhead as does the Christian God. God up, Griffin! Smell the comparative religion…

    Reply

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