Avengers Infinity War: The Greatest Catholic Film
Avengers: Infinity War is the greatest Catholic film of all time. That statement is a bit cheeky, given that: a) There is no Christ-figure in the film; and b) I’m not Catholic. But the force that drives the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to resist the archvillain Thanos is the same force that animates the Catholic Church against the culture of death: the conviction that life is inherently sacred.
As an evangelical Protestant, I used to perceive Catholicism as a works-based religion that taught its unwitting adherents to try to earn their way into heaven. While I am less certain that I understand Catholic soteriology today than I did in my twenties, one thing has become clear to me about the Catholic Church: it is the last great bulwark against the culture of death in the West. One by one, the Protestant denominations have fallen, giving up the fight against the creeping malevolence of the sexual revolution and its self-interested ideology of population control. Like second-tier Marvel superheroes, many Protestants have disappeared into thin air, but Bishop Thor and Cardinal Iron Man remain in the battle.
Thanos is the classic, militant hippie who never gave up on the, now discredited, teachings of The Population Bomb. There are too many people! The universe can’t possibly support them all! Humans (and their other world counterparts) are stripping the cosmos bare, voraciously devouring the scarce resources of every planet. Thanos’ own home world, we are led to believe, suffered such a fate. But did it? The ruins of his planet resemble the ravages of war, not the desperation of famine.
Thanos’ solution to the population bomb of the universe is to craft a gauntlet to house all six infinity stones. In the mythology of Marvel, the infinity stones are six singularities that existed before the big bang. Individually, they are immensely powerful, each with its own unique purpose. But put them together and their power becomes, well, infinite. Once Thanos possesses all six stones, he can eliminate half of the life in the cosmos with a mere snap of his fingers.
Like a faithful population control liberal, Thanos believes that his mission is righteous. He does not perceive himself as destroying life, but rather saving it. For every person that dies another person gets to live. Balance will be restored to the point of sustainability. Best of all, Thanos is benevolent, for he does not choose who lives or dies. It is random! How merciful art Thou, o wise Thanos!
But death is the solution of those who lack skill and imagination. It is the idiot’s choice. For all of his introspective sadness and giant, purple muscles, Thanos is incapable of reasoning himself to right conclusions. He may be able to travel through space in an instant, but intellectually, Thanos is stuck in the ancient world.
What the ancients feared most was scarcity. Water was scarce. Food was scarce. Shelter was scarce. Their fear, as fear always does, pushed them to kill. They killed and they conquered so that they could have more and others would have none. The fear of scarcity will drive us to commit atrocities, even though we ourselves will think them acts of courage and heroism. As it turns out, Thanos is human after all.
But the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is not the God of scarcity; he is the God of abundance. He dresses the fields in flowers and clothes the sparrows in feathers. He calls forth the sun every morning and the stars each night. He spoke the universe into being, and stretched its beauty across the heavens for no other reason but that we would look on in wonder. He nourishes us with fruit from sticks and quenches our thirst with water from rocks. There is no limit to the life that God can sustain by his powerful hand.
Life is sacred, from conception to natural death. As someone from my own tradition has written, “Wherever there is life, there is the Spirit.” (Scot McKnight, Open to the Spirit, p. 64) Life comes from God. Life is imbued with the breath of God. Wherever you see life, there you see the beauty of God’s craftmanship and the echo of his presence.
Let the people of God say “Amen!” to Father Captain America’s sermon, “We don’t trade lives.” God doesn’t trade lives; he makes alive. The sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary was not an exchange of one life for billions. It was an act of war. It was victory! And Jesus proved that he conquered Thanatos and all the forces of death when he walked out of that grave in the power of his resurrection. And now all who walk with him travel in the hope of that victory, testifying that God is the God of life and abundance.
Thanos was wrong. The Population Bomb was wrong. The six infinity stones (which serve as an apt metaphor for our own culture’s solution to overpopulation – legalized abortion) are not what we need for life to flourish. All we need we have in God. In Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we have the ever-abundant, ever-giving, ever-loving source and sustaining power of life. He who has ears, let him hear the testimony of the priests of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that life is, indeed, sacred.