By Steve Major
Superheroes have always been awesome, and their devoted fans are, in my humble opinion, society’s most intelligent and attractive members. I know that I, for one, learned to read by watching Spiderman angst over which girl to date, and horrified many a babysitter with violent Punisher comics at bedtime.
Traditionally, comic book characters are designed to appeal to a wide fan base and generally avoid classic hot button issues like religion and politics. Part of the reason superheroes have traditionally kept their religious affiliations under wraps, despite coming into existence in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s when secularism was not seen as a particular virtue, is because many of the greatest comic book creators of the time were Jewish. Social pressures prevented them from making their characters Jewish, but nor were they inclined to make them overtly Christian. Instead, many of the superheroes we celebrate today were created with an inherent outsider status that particularly resonated with the authors.
But comics have also gotten increasingly mature over the past twenty years, and partly for that reason, and partly because comic book writers need to find something new to talk about as long standing characters enter their seventh decade in continuous print, religion has begun playing an ever increasing role in the superhero mythos.
Just for a bit of light entertainment, below is a list of various A and B-list superheroes and which religion they adhere to.
Superman has never given much indication that he subscribes to any particular religion. But he was raised in rural Kansas, so it’s reasonable to assume that, even if Superman believes in Truth, Justice and the American Way, Ma and Pa Kent probably believe in Jesus. The Kent family, and by extension Superman, Superboy, all three Supergirls, and Krypto the Superdog, are Methodist. Superman was the only Kryptonian raised by the Kent family from childhood, but all of them were deposited in Kansas for varying lengths of time to establish secret identities, and presumably John and Martha Kent took their solar powered charges to church with them on Sundays.
A strong argument could be made that Superman is, at heart, a humanist. Clark told Lois Lane he stopped attending services because he “knew too much about their lives—their problems—their lies … he was afraid that he might lose his faith in people.” So he decided to distance himself from congregational worship and put his faith in “the best that humanity has to offer.”
Batman has been transported to numerous alternate dimensions, traveled through time, “died” and reincarnated himself from the Stone Age back to the present, met angels, and battled zombies, but he is still a scientist who demands evidence to back up every claim and gives no signs that he has retained the Episcopalian faith of his parents. He does, however, consistently use giant marble crucifixes as headstones whenever he buries one of his friends or teammates.
Daredevil, Nightcrawler and Hellboy
These three heroes are in many ways very different from one another: Daredevil is a Marvel character whose powers consist only of ninja fighting prowess, acrobatics, and advanced touch and hearing to make up for a chemically induced blindness; Nightcrawler is a Marvel character with dark blue skin, a prehensile tail, and the mutant power of short range teleportation; and Hellboy is a Dark Horse character who is a demon from hell, raised in America by a well-meaning scientist to fight evil with a giant stone hand useful for punching monsters. I’ve grouped them together because they’ve all either been born with or adopted a demonic appearance, and in all three cases their Catholicism is an integral part of their identities. Nightcrawler even gave up superheroing for a while to become a priest.
Wolverine, the second most popular character out of Marvel Comics, has possibly the most complicated and ridiculous canonical backstory of any superhero out there. Raised in 19th century rural Canada with a low-grade kind of Protestantism, Wolverine has since become an avowed atheist with Shinto tendencies. This is despite having literally traveled to both heaven and hell where he confronted his deadbeat father and various fallen enemies. He has also occasionally claimed to be a Buddhist, but if so, he is the most lapsed and murderous Buddhist in history.
Spiderman has made at least one unfortunate deal with the Devil (or more specifically “Mephisto”), and we have a record of his Aunt May telling a contrite supervillain that only God can forgive him for his crimes, but that’s all I could find about the religious beliefs of Peter Parker. I’m inclined to suspect that Spiderman would consider himself a secular humanist: he has a Ph.D. in chemistry and, despite having a higher density of terrible things happen to him than just about anyone else I can think of, he’s never seen praying or going to church.
Magneto and Kitty Pryde
Magneto and Kitty Pryde are both Marvel characters, both Jewish, and both Mutants associated with the X-Men. Magneto escaped from Auschwitz, but his family was killed, an experience which shaped his complicated and ever evolving world view. Kitty Pryde is from a Jewish family in suburban Chicago and, along with the Russian atheist Peter “Colossus” Rasputin, one half of my favorite comic book on-again-off-again-destined-to-be-together couple.
For more information about the religions of some of your favorite superheroes, visit adhereants.com.
Steve Major is the development associate for the American Humanist Association.