I’m not often impressed enough with how theology or religious people are handled on television to say anything about it, but I’ve been impressed with Marvel’s Daredevil and their treatment of the protagonist, Matthew Murdock, and his faith. For those of you that don’t know, within the Marvel Universe Daredevil is Catholic.
In the Comics we know that Matt Murdock’s father was Jack Murdock, a boxer and his mother was a nun. She became a nun after he was born, but he still grew up never knowing her. He only met her once as a kid. It was shortly after he went blind saving an old man from being hit by a truck that she came in to visit him. She asked him to consider his blindness not a curse but a gift.
And this I think is where we begin to get into some of the territory that the Netflix series covers. Matt Murdock grows up to be a defense lawyer by day, vigilante by night, hunting down those who deserve judgment. He never kills though. The first season of this series is about him hunting down the man that is trying to abuse the people of his home, of Hell’s Kitchen New York, and make them leave while he remakes the city in the image he wishes it to be. This is not what I want to talk about though, what I want to talk about is some of the Theological questions they actually raise in the show.
1. What is the purpose of law?
Matt Murdock is a lawyer, but he recognizes that not everyone who is guilty of a crime is brought to justice by the legal system. He takes it on himself to use his vigilante status to bring them to justice(usually through gathering evidence and then using the law.) but he limits himself to never cross the line and become executioner. (At least in the Netflix series, the comics are a little different of a story.)
“Judgment is best left to God…” his priest says in the Netflix series and Murdock seems to agree with that in regards to life and death.
In addition, in a particularly interesting scene they are in a courtroom defending a guilty man. Matt Murdock presents the law as is, namely, the accusation has to show that there is no reasonable doubt that this man killed in self defense. No one witnessed him not doing so. He does not deny that his client killed a man, and did so rather brutally, he only states that in the court they are there to decide ‘legal judgments’ not moral ones.
In other words: The law does not decide whether an action is good or bad, or a person is good or bad, but only whether they are culpable of the action in question. That is an interesting distinction for a lawyer/vigilante to make. If breaking the law does not make you a bad person, how is he justified in referring to the Kingpin as “the devil.”
It’s possible he was just being showy, saying what he needed to. Or he actually thinks it and behaves inconsistently(that wouldn’t be a surprise. He is only human.)
2. The social character of sin and righteousness.
Matthew and his Priest are discussing a particular proverb: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. (Proverbs 25:26 NIV)” Matthew takes an interpretation that that is a mandate to stand up to the wicked, lest they poison the entire village and harm everyone in the process.
His priest takes a different interpretation (though it isn’t mutually exclusive): That if a man who is righteous, falls into sin, he poisons everyone and everything around him. Sin isn’t just his private affair, but it harms those around him.
We see this, for example, with his lying. In keeping secret his identity from his friends Foggy and Karen, he feels he is protecting them, doing them no harm. But soon, Foggy finds out and gets mad and stops speaking to Matt because he’s not sure who he is anymore. This causes Karen to begin to get upset because Matt and Foggy are fighting and there can’t be “Nelson and Murdock: Attorneys at Law” is Nelson and Murdock are fighting. Eventually she winds up not being able to tell either of them the truth about what happened one night when she shot a guy to death. This one lying habit, quickly spread to all of them.
This is one of the tensions of the series. How do we stand up to evil men, without becoming evil men ourselves? Especially, when the law can’t touch him.
3. God’s gifts/will and how to use them.
In the Comics, Daredevil’s mother asked him to view his blindness as a gift from God. After all, he wound up being able to see the world better than he could before, and hear the pain of people around him. He was given this power for a reason, he argues. In the current television rendition, he tells a story of a time he was lying in his apartment and he heard a man down the street violating his young daughter. He did it in such a way the wife didn’t know and it didn’t leave any marks, and so when Matt called CPS it simply got brushed under the rug.
But it kept happening and only he knew about it because of his gift. Was he supposed to sit on it? He followed the man and beat him up and told him that “he’d know if he ever touched his daughter again” and then disappeared. The man, as far as Matt could tell, never did touch his daughter again.
But Matt’s struggle is that exactly. If God is to be the sole judge, why did he give him this gift that allows him to hunt down and destroy evil, if he had no intention of it being moral to do so? Surely we see that God uses certain forms of Earthly Punishment as Divine Punishment, we see it in the Babylonian Captivity, just to give one example. So maybe Daredevil is like the Babylonians, God’s instrument of punishment on Earth.
But how much is in his hands? Can he take life? Is he judge, jury, and executioner, or just the instrument for that? But how? Matt Murdock is a complex character in this way. He always wants to do what is right, by both man and God, but isn’t always sure what that is. What is the line between standing up for the weak and righteous against evil, and becoming that very horror yourself?
This is but a few of the issues I think the plot raises. There are additional interesting points, for example: “Whether or not there is a singular entity called ‘the Devil’?”, “Are there such things as absolutes? Even Lucifer the absolute evil in this universe, was once an angel.” but though they are in the series, they have not yet become big themes in them, so I have chosen to not focus on them.