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Superheroes Are Important For Boys – And For All of Us


Rachel Lu - published on 04/09/14

As Christians, we really are destined for greatness - if only we have the courage to live it out.

Little boys love superheroes. It seems to be written into their DNA. I’m proud to say that I’ve got three aspiring heroes living right under my own roof. My closets are pretty stuffed with capes, masks and Spidey suits.

The Justice League has been big around our house for awhile, but I recently branched out by introducing the boys to Hercules (the Disney version). The very next day I found myself searching for audiobooks that could help me brush up on my own knowledge of Greek mythology, so as to accurately answer my eldest son’s surprisingly detailed questions. (Of course the movie gets the story all wrong. It’s Disney. But at least it got the wheels of their little brains turning, and provoked an interesting conversation about how Zeus was perhaps less like the Christian God and more like Captain America, the leader of the superheroes.)

I can remember being a teenage girl and finding the whole little boy superhero fixation a little ridiculous. Admittedly it’s pretty comical to watch the speed at which a three-year-old can vacillate between saving the world and crying over a skinned elbow. Nevertheless, as a mom I find it all completely endearing. That’s not just because I’m looking “through the eyes of love”, though of course I am. My barbarian horde (as I call them) does many things that aren’t remotely endearing, but I’m charmed by their hero games, because I now appreciate that (strange as it may sound), they do represent a kind of legitimate aspiration.

Obviously I realize that they’ll never shoot webs from their hands or match Heracles’ god-like strength. Not in this lifetime, at any rate. Still, the superhero’s function is like that of the police force: to protect and serve. Hero games channel a boyish yearning to grow into a strong, honorable men who can protect the ones they love.

Naturally, I want that for them too. I try to capitalize on the fascination by correcting misbehavior (real heroes don’t attack their brothers in anger) and talking to them about what it really means to be a man of honor. Serve God. Protect the weak. Be lovers of truth and beauty. I try not to take advantage by inserting notes about how real heroes keep their rooms clean.

One of the wonderful things about Christianity is that it’s almost impossible to overshoot in our personal aspirations. To be sure, many of our personal goals need to be redirected back towards our true and proper end. Not everyone can play in the NFL or sit in the US Senate, and in fact, earthly life is full of these kinds of disappointments. We often have the agonizing feeling that our personal potential is withering or being wasted on fruitless endeavors.

In the Christian universe, the game is never truly over so long as life remains. Personal fulfillment is always still available, and even our failures can contribute to its attainment in mysterious and unexpected ways. Best of all, that deep intuition that “I was destined for greater than this” is not mere delusion. Human souls really do have a nobility that goes far beyond what we in this life can appreciate. If we are honest with ourselves, we may sometimes realize that we’ve actually wasted quite a lot of our own energy running away from this noble destiny “for fear to be a king.” The responsibilities of true greatness can be daunting, and it can be easier to take cover in more plebian goals, like trying to get a promotion.

In God’s eyes, we probably all look a bit like boys playing superhero games. Fortunately, God loves us, and like any loving parent, he can see how our personal ambitions reflect a longing for a true and glorious fulfillment. He wants us to, as Disney’s Hercules might say, “go the distance”. In the grips of an audacious Christian hope, we might catch ourselves believing that we really can.

Rachel Luteaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas and writes for Crisis Magazine and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.

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