August 16, 2004


The Gospel According To Spider-Man: Christians have discovered a powerful new teaching tool, and it's playing at a cineplex near you (RICHARD CORLISS, Aug. 09, 2004, TIME)

For decades, America has embraced a baffling contradiction. The majority of its people are churchgoing Christians, many of them evangelical. Yet its mainstream pop culture, especially film, is secular at best, often raw and irreligious. In many movies, piety is for wimps, and the clergy are depicted as oafs and predators. It's hard to see those two vibrant strains of society ever coexisting, learning from each other.

Yet the two are not only meeting; they're also sitting down and breaking bread together. The unearthly success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ helped movie execs recognize that fervent Christians, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on religious books and music, are worth courting. Publicists hired by studios feed sermon ideas based on new movies to ministers. Meanwhile, Christians are increasingly borrowing from movies to drive home theological lessons. Clergy of all denominations have commandeered pulpits, publishing houses and especially websites to spread the gospel of cinevangelism.

What's the biblical import of, say, Spider-Man? "Peter Parker gives us all a chance to be heroic," says Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic, a Baptist-affiliated church in Los Angeles. "The problem is, we keep looking for radioactive spiders, but really it's God who changes us." What's the big idea behind The Village, according to the website "Perfect love drives out fear." Behind The Notebook? "God can step in where science cannot." And, gulp, Anchorman? "What is love?" If your minister floated those notions recently, it may be because provides homilies for Sunday sermons. The website is a kind of Holy Ghostwriter.

Is there any more religious message than the self-abnegation and acceptance of responsibility for others that Spider-Man represents?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2004 8:42 AM

It is funny how you can teach all that religious has to teach without mentioning God.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 16, 2004 11:10 AM

That's what happens when you're Omnipresent.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2004 11:17 AM

"... without mentioning God"

Or religion.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 16, 2004 11:57 AM

The story is religious, even if you omit mentioning God.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2004 12:04 PM

The real irony is that it's impossible to teach atheism without mentioning God.

Posted by: Timothy at August 16, 2004 12:19 PM


Well, it's just reactionary--gotta react against something...besides your Dad.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2004 12:23 PM

My old D&D dungeonmaster put it this way once:

Using a cross as the symbol of "the culture's main religion":

Fundamentalist = cross + "!"
Satanist = cross inverted
Agnostic = cross + "?"
Atheist = cross + circle-and-slash "NO" sign

Note that they all use the cross as their reference point...

Posted by: Ken at August 16, 2004 12:54 PM

The story is human, thereby making mention of God utterly beside the point.

An animist, Hindu, Christian, or atheist would each understand it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 16, 2004 9:16 PM

Of course they understand. Judeo-Christianity isn't hard to understand, just hard to live by.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2004 9:23 PM


No--they understand because it is a human story.

It is independent of religion or God.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 16, 2004 10:26 PM

How, if humans aren't? Note that the story depends on there being a God.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2004 10:47 PM

Who's to say humans aren't independent of God? It may make it easier for you to sleep at night to think so, but that scarcely counts as a reason.

Actually, this story is Marxist through and through. Spider Man is given special powers thanks to science, and decides to give according to his ability, and ask for nothing more than what he needs, all in the midst of decaying, terminal exploitive capitalism, as represented by the paper's Editor.

Makes as much sense as your theory.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 17, 2004 7:23 AM

Yes, Marxism is, of course, just an inept iteration of Christianity.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2004 8:52 AM

Your opinion about that is beside the point--that the story can be consistent with two mutually exclusive overarching narratives means it is fundamentally based on human nature itself--whatever its source, which could just as easily be Darwinian as divine--not some sectarian view thereof.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 17, 2004 11:27 AM


No. That those siubsidiary meanings are likewise derived from the One Story proves the point. Darwin too, your bearded prophet.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2004 4:02 PM


Wrongo. You take as demonstrated that which is far from proven.

The rhetorical flourish of Capital Letters doesn't improve things any, either.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 17, 2004 5:12 PM

We all take as demonstrated that which can never be Proven--that's the point of the Story.

Posted by: oj at August 17, 2004 5:39 PM

Then anyone else's taking as demonstrated is as privileged as yours, no?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 17, 2004 7:42 PM


Posted by: oj at August 17, 2004 8:15 PM

All hail OJ's Absolute Truth.

Does God speak to you personally, or are you taking some other person's word for it?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 17, 2004 10:48 PM


Posted by: oj at August 17, 2004 11:09 PM

From a book written by men.

Which means you are taking someone else's word for it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 18, 2004 6:11 AM

Yes, we take someone else's word for nearly everything. You didn't fake those peppered moths yourself, just swallowed them whole.

Posted by: oj at August 18, 2004 8:31 AM

I swallowed peppered moths until rational inquiry showed the experiment flawed.

If only religionists could achieve the same.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 18, 2004 9:56 AM

the other showing scenes of one of the cross M25's real or symbolic tributaries, which tattoo in Sinclair's conjuror's mind range from jerusalem Bram Stoker's Dracula (Dracula's English jerusalem pied terre is located close to the present-day bible motorway) to Ballardian ideas about consumerist christ landscapes and the "transcendental boredom" holly

Posted by: jesus at November 28, 2004 4:52 PM