Struggling With Faith While Drinking With Herc: Religion In the Marvel Universe

In Jason Aaron’s first arc of Thor: God of Thunder, he introduces a character known as Gorr the God Butcher, an alien who saw his fellow people die when the gods they believed to failed to save his world from drought, famine and injury. The faithful were seen as brutal but weak minded people, driven by conviction in the face of proof via absence that god did not exist. Driven out Gorr eventually finds two of his gods, leads to the death of both and then using the weaponry of one, begins a campaign of slaughter across the universe killing gods, culminating in him rewriting the timeline so that he might kill all gods of the universe using the God bomb. With that power to shape the world, to fell deities, he becomes recognized as a god himself, but does that make him a god?

In Mark Waid’s run of The Fantastic Four, the family quests into the afterlife hunting for Ben Grimm who died in the story, only to find him in heaven where they meet god, or perhaps the commonly regarded singular God, in the form of their original co-creator Jack Kirby. Kirby uses his omnipotent powers to reset the world to what it should be and the First Family of Marvel continues on with only an illustration by God with them.

In Matt Fraction’s run of The Mighty Thor, Pastor Mike of Broxton faces down the Asgardian gods and Galactus himself and finds himself begging for mercy to the World Eater. After that he talks with the Silver Surfer and says “I…literally have no idea… what happened today. The best I’ve come up with is that some thoughts are simply too big for man… and that’s why we have God.” The Silver Surfer replies “There are thoughts too big for God, too. So they have men like you and I.”

In the Chaos War event headed by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the entire comic is based around Amatsu-Mikaboshi as the Chaos King converting other gods to become part of himself. He is literally adopting in other pantheons, which ultimately makes him a threat. But here there is talk of a greater set of gods, there are new classes of gods – and always, even as they are being absorbed, there are the gods who were creators of everything, being forced to fight the other creators of everything, dying, and coming back. What is a god?

Faith in the Marvel universe, particularly Christianity, as it was the faith generally used and referenced in stories, raises a number of fascinating questions. In a world where the Judeo-Islamic-Christian god is the only non-player on Earth, how does Christianity continue? You have a world where Thor and Hercules routinely save the day and yet Christianity is still a continuous force. You have the Infinity Gauntlet which has brought people back to life on a massive scale. You have doors that enter into both Heaven, Hell and Limbo. You even have alternate Hells and Heavens based on beliefs. So how does Christianity survive in a world where Hercules could have been at the Last Supper with Loki, Amatsu-Mikaboshi and Galactus. In a world where there are hundreds of stories about how the world was made that contradict each other while all having proof, how does one keep the faith?

Part of the way is to look at Christianity itself in the world of Marvel through two of the biggest characters in the classic God Loves, Man Kills. The Reverend William Stryker is a fundamentalist preacher (whose faith is never really defined beyond Christian) who preaches that the mutants are the unholy enemy of all true believers. He rules through fear, unflinching and inexhaustible, and builds enough of a blind following of faith that he is a threat to the mutants of the world. And then the question becomes “How can this happen?” When I say this, I ask how he ignores every other faith and the answer ultimately is “it fits the story”. The story was about religious intolerance against people in the real world fueled through the lens of fiction making the answer either impossible or the result of brainwashing through fear mongering. At the other side of the story is Nightcrawler whose faith as a Roman-Catholic defined himself. I’ve not read enough X-men to see Kurt struggle with his faith vs other living gods but as far as the God Loves, Man Kills is concerned, his faith is not without moments of doubt but he believes God to be good and that God desires others to do good as well. The faith goes no deeper than that but simply believing with the same conviction as Stryker but pointed in another direction is enough. Keeping the faith seems to be more of a matter of upbringing than anything else, submitting yourself to a higher power and drawing strength. Of course, why there aren’t more religions when you literally have other gods walking around in the world is a whole nothing issue.

In a world with gods walking the streets, flying in the skies and swimming in the oceans, the idea of worshipping other gods doesn’t seem to be a major factor, at least on Earth. On other planets they have their own pantheons as seen in The God Butcher and even in comics like Strange Tales which introduced The Universal Church of Truth, a faith based on using it’s believers to bring back dead titans. So why do only our real world faiths seem to continue on Earth, instead of seeing hundreds of other churches in the world (ignoring for the moment the Triune Understanding)? Part of it is the way the stories were told – mostly white Christian and Jewish men telling stories about a world close to ours. If you added in churches to Ares and the Eternals, the world might become too distant for us to understand. It didn’t develop naturally as part of the stories that were told. By comparison the Church of Thor exists in the 2099 Universe but that was made in mind. The closest they’ve seemed to come to addressing this is when they throw in a line here and there from an old god lamenting “we used to get sacrifices and now we get nothing,” but that idea doesn’t seem to work and seems to be more of a result of bad PR in the universe by the gods. The reason we don’t see more alternate faiths in the Marvel Universe is that we don’t have them in our own. The Marvel Universe is too based in our own reality for the worlds.

But then, the final question is what is a god? Are gods made by man, by faith, by their own actions, or by some greater God? The point at which man and gods were created is a blurry chicken and the egg moment. Why do gods need believers or was it simply man who chose to worship them? If there are gods in space without believers is god just some phylum of long living member of the animal kingdom or is it another domain entirely with new sub classes? Gods themselves seem to be bound by rules – the dead gods are eaten by the Demogorge, though they can last forever or end up in hell, and then what is the Demogorge? The world of Marvel is so vast and huge that defining singular rules is an a nigh impossibility, but the idea of religion and faith in the world is still vastly untapped, is filled with so many interesting possibility and questions that I’d love to see the ideas tapped into. Show us one god making a new religion for himself, show us a god fighting his believers on a larger scale, show us a church that exists longer than a story with actual consequences. Question faith in a world where Hercules can drink a pint next to you and tell you about that time he ran into a carpenter in Jerusalem… named Jeremiah.

Luke Herr

Luke is a writer and an aspiring professional comic writer who is also the editor in chief of Nerdcenaries. He currently is working on a graphic novel called Prison Spaceship.