Think about the movie coming out this summer you can’t wait to give your money to. If you’re not thinking about Avengers: Infinity War, you should be. For those unfamiliar, it’s basically about aliens with superpowers and giant muscles who come to earth and fight humans with superpowers. There are flying suits and magic spells, and it all revolves around a glove that holds glowing stones with powers to manipulate reality as we know it…
How did Marvel do it?
Think back to the first Iron Man. A rich genius makes a suit that can fly and shoot missiles. It’s powered by a new form of sustainable energy which became attainable when the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark developed new technology. Cool, and not too far beyond belief that I wouldn’t want to see it happen.
Then, Thor. Throughout the movie, and in a particularly important conversation between Thor and Jane – an astrophysicist – the theme of magic and science is developed; for Thor and his alien race, they are “one and the same”. This was especially important here, since Thor is himself a harder to believe character. If Marvel went too “out there” without any real bridges to our current cultural realism, they’d have lost us.
Captain America? Normally, a super soldier with some crazy tech and a special formula wouldn’t be too out there. But they continue to develop the theme of science and magic around the ancient and powerful tesseract through the movie’s villain:
“So you plan to win the war with magic?” one of Hitler’s men asks the Hydra villain, Red Skull.
“Science,” he replies. “But I understand your confusion. Great power has always baffled primitive man.”
And so the stage is further set for all that’s developing and will develop in the MCU. A rainbow bridge across space? The infinity stones? Cosmic powers, to be sure, but not so crazy in this vast multiverse where there is much our young civilization on earth has not yet seen.
All of a sudden, what would have been a little too wild for most of us non-comic book nerds becomes a household and very normal thing. Throw in some humour here and there to make it more down to earth, and voila. The absurd is no longer so absurd.
The beauty of it is like any truth (or lie) that we come to be convinced of. One small bit of logic leads to another, and eventually you have a system of belief that you see things through. A conclusion is eventually reached – perhaps one that you never thought you’d get to, but a sensible process got you there and so it all makes sense now (whether or not the conclusion is true).
Thus we have Marvel’s genius in making us all mildly regretful nerds. We never thought we’d be here, but here we are. Bring on the Multiverse, the dark dimension, and whatever other craziness, as long as the action is fierce and the characters cool and funny. Give us meaningful ideas, and we’ll even write blog posts on them.
Science and Religion: Not so different?
I think the process Marvel has used parallels an interesting phenomenon: some logical inches can take our beliefs miles beyond where we thought they could go. And I think that both religious and non-religious people could sit back and learn from this process.
Disclaimer: I realize there’s a big difference between suspending one’s disbelief and actually believing something to be true. But humour me.
Let’s open our minds up a bit. If you’re a Christian, you have to admit you have a whole slew of underlying beliefs that have led you to logically agree that there’s a supreme being in control of all things and that he became a person, died and rose from the dead.
That might sound pretty par for the course for you, but again, you have a whole bunch of underlying logical steps that you’ve taken over time to get you here. To the non-Christian, in our day, this stuff can be quite literally unbelievable.
If you’re a non-Christian, however, the same is true for you. You might consider yourself a person of “reason” as opposed to faith, but those things are not as opposed as you might think. You too have your own set of underlying beliefs that have led you to believe whatever it is you do. And you might be surprised at how crazy some of those beliefs are.
You might take a purely secular perspective on human origins, for example. Perhaps we did indeed evolve over billions of years beginning as mere proteins replicating in early earth conditions. If you take the supernatural out of the picture and consider observed natural selection over a long period of time, perhaps it’s not all that hard to believe – or at least there aren’t many other options. But again, you still believe that time plus matter plus chance made your brain. That’s pretty wild if you ask me (note: many Christians believe in evolution, too… they just believe God used the process. But that’s for another article).
Now I realize that I’m drawing parallels between a fictional universe to what Christians believe to be actual supernatural truth claims. But even the fictional MCU can bring up some interesting questions. What really is the “supernatural”? Is it all that crazy? Is it all that super? Is there more to this universe than we know? Are we open to those possibilities?
Perhaps things that seem crazy at first can make sense once we see more deeply.