The pop culture hysteria is getting ridiculous. The movie 300, based on a graphic novel treatment of the sacrifice of the Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae, has become a political palimpsest with everyone trying to find support for their agenda in it—but get serious, it’s a comic book on the big screen. Similarly, a few have tried to see omens in the death of comic book hero Captain America recently. Again, it’s a comic book — superheroes die all the time, and they bounce back like Jesus or get replaced by someone else willing to look ridiculous in public wearing garish Spandex. For the most obvious example of a hyperbolic search for Meaning and Significance in the death of fictitious characters, though, we have to turn to the religious — they’ve got so much practice at it, after all. Ladies and gentlemen, behold Rabbi Marc Gellman, whose thesis is that the Spartans and Captain America died for God.
Neither Leonides nor Captain America were religious, but both of them stood for that part of the religious world that believes in a God who fights for freedom. They both stood for the proposition that freedom is the foundation of all meaningful life. Religiously speaking, this is the belief that God gave freedom to all people made in His image, and that those who oppose freedom must be prepared to fight God.
Yeah, yeah, the whole essay goes on in that vein. He admits right out front that there’s nothing particularly religious about either story — perhaps the glorification of the butchery of weird-looking foreigners in 300 fooled him by looking biblical? — but that’s not going to stop him from turning the events into religious allegories.
Leonides and Captain America were heroes not because they entered the field of battle with a shield of Vibranium or were in possession of abs of steel, but because they entered battle with a spiritually authentic idea: that God is free and we are made in God’s image to be free as well. We were not placed on planet earth to avoid death. We were placed here so that we could avoid surrendering our God-given freedom to tyrants.
It’s been a while since I read Captain America (he was one of my favorites in the late 60s/early 70s, though), but I seriously do not remember him ever announcing that he was fighting the Red Skull because God is free. If the Spartans and Thespians at Thermopylae died for any gods, they were members of a pagan pantheon that the monotheists despised and stomped out of existence. Shall we restore the worship of Zeus and Ares to the ranks of “spiritually authentic ideas”? They certainly are as authentic as his belief in Jehovah, or the Christian Jesus-idolatry.
Remember your comic books! The willing suspension of disbelief for ridiculous wish-fulfillment fantasies is exactly the training you need to be a member in good standing at your local church or synagogue. They’ll also help you see Muslims as the personification of absolute evil.