God

God and the Daredevil: Marvel’s Foray into Theology

281662-g3Warning: Potential Spoilers Follow

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.

cene from Daredevil #229, Marvel Comics Group: New York City (1986), page 4, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Reprinted in Daredevil: Born Again trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2005), 7th printing, page 56.

Scene from Daredevil #229, Marvel Comics Group: New York City (1986), page 4, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Reprinted in Daredevil: Born Again trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2005), 7th printing, page 56.

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.

Objective Personality: Arguments for the Personhood of God

Recently in discussion a friend of mine brought up the fact that all of the arguments for the existence of God, are good, but only get you to a sort of Platonic Form of the Good. A metaphysically necessary, first cause, moral ground of the universe. He then said that this object could be impersonal, and so they are not good arguments for Theism.

While I certainly believe that God is a person I will admit I was a bit stumped here, if only for sheer surprise, Normally I have people reject premises or just get annoyed, but this did seem like a semi-solid objection. The Contingency Argument got you back to a Metaphysically Necessary thing, the argument for Objective Morality got you to a Platonic Object of the Good, and the Cosmological Argument from Absolute beginning got you back to a Timeless, spaceless, immaterial, thing. The only one I knew that could definitely prove personhood was the Telelogical argument, assuming it went through successfully.

After a bit of reflection though, it occurred to me that this is false. All of them refer back to a Personality. We will take each argument one at a time and show how.

The Moral Argument.:
1. If God does not exist objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective Moral Values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

First, let us define objective morality. Objective morality is the state of affairs in which for any situation x, there is a moral thing to do.1 But what do we mean by ‘moral’? Morality seems to be rooted in the idea of persons: The Oxford Dictionary2 has as their first definition for the adjective moral as:

Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character:

and Merriam-Webster has three:

: concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior

: based on what you think is right and good

: considered right and good by most people : agreeing with a standard of right behavior

Notice, they all refer to people or persons. Morality has to do with people and our behavior, how how we treat people due to their inherent value. Rocks cannot be said to be ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’. Therefore, if Objective Morals exist, it also means ‘objective personhood’ exists. There is of course Kant’s Principle, wherein we are to treat people as ends in themselves, is an objective statement, but implies no direct personhood. The problem with Kant’s principle is that there seems to be no way to make sure that that actually aligns with the world. It seems utterly contingent.

“Apparently, Kant’s Principle of Humanity, as it appeared in the empyrean and before the foundation of the world, read, ‘Should, against all probability, there be stars, and should, also improbably, those stars align in such a way as to permit the emergence of life, and should, against overwhelming odds, some of those living things turn out to be ‘human’, then they are to be treated as ends-in-themselves and never as means to an ends, and this even in the event that the contingencies of evolution direct them to think otherwise. Disregard this directive in those universes in which these conditions fail to obtain.” (Mark Linville: The Moral Argument, The Blackwell Companion for Natural Theology)

And the reason for that brings us nicely into our second argument.

The Argument from The Absolute Beginning
Simply put the argument from the Beginning of the Universe goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. The Universe has a cause.

The cause of the spatio-temporal-material universe could not have been anything spatio-temporal-material, which leads to a non-spatio-temporal-material thing that caused the universe.3 The problem with this, is that there are only a scant few things which could be immaterial/spaceless/timeless, and those things are ‘abstract objects’ and ‘unembodied minds’.

Abstract objects would include things like numbers, shapes, universals, propositions, and so on and so forth. The problem is however, that all of them are causally impotent. They bear no causal relationships to anything. The number seven does not cause anything, but seven objects might. This is the problem with the above statement of Kant’s Moral Principle. As a principle, it stands in causal impotence with the world unless the world happened to be aligned to it, or else was aligned to it by a mind, then it seems implausible to think it shapes the morality in the universe.

This leads us then to a cause of the universe that is an Unembodied Mind. Minds in most cases are regarded as persons, persons here being something with will and knowledge, and power. (The ability to make a decision, know the decision, and execute the decision.) Or else we have a universe that is contingently aligned with principles and propositions.

The Contingency Argument:

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God.
3. The Universe exists.
4. Therefore the Universe has an explanation of its existence. (Modus Ponens, 1,3)
5. Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Modus Ponens, 2, 4)

Assuming that the argument goes through we wind up with an explanation of the universe that is God. 2) seems at first blush to be an unfounded assertion, but lets pick it apart a bit. If the Universe is taken to be all of material-temporal-spatial reality, then that would include anything material-temporal-spatial that could exist. Therefore the explanation of the universe has to be in something timeless, immaterial, and spaceless. This thing, which we established cannot be an abstract object without itself being contingently aligned (though not necessarily contingently existent) with the universe, must therefore be an unembodied mind. Which is a being with will and knowledge and power, which is a person. And an unembodied mind that is spaceless, timeless, and immaterial is what everyone means by God.

So we can conclude that the personhood of God is deducible from these arguments when you really begin to ponder them. There are some arguments that might go to show that he’s multi-personal, but these require theological assumptions and could belabor a whole post by themselves. We do know however, that if these arguments go through, we have a timeless, spaceless, powerful, willing, personal being, who is also immaterial, who is the source of the universe and the cause of the universe, as well as the being who is good enough to be the grounding of all our moral values. Which sounds a lot like God to me.

 


  1. This allows you to deal with difficult situations. While “It is wrong to lie” is a general absolute, when you have Nazis banging on your door it may not be okay to follow. But there is nonetheless a ‘right’ thing to do in this situation. This is not to suggest situation ethics, where it may be okay to slaughter little children if it brings around a good result or if the situation requires it. That would imply that there are relative morals that change depending on the circumstance. 
  2.  http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/moral 
  3. Cause here is being used in the sense of ‘efficient’ cause, not ‘material’ cause.