Confusing Jesus with Daredevil

April 13th, 2015

Like many comic book fans, I spent the weekend binging on "Daredevil," Marvel’s newest release. The entire first season was created for Netflix, and it dropped in its entirety on Friday. I waited until Saturday night to dig in (longer than some friends of mine), and I was hooked from the opening scene.

It's a scene that opens with Matt Murdock (lawyer-by-day alter ego of the masked vigilante Daredevil) sitting in a confessional. He begins by telling the priest about his father, a boxer who fought harder than his record could ever show. He ends the conversation by asking not for penance, but for future forgiveness. Forgiveness for what he’s about to do. “That’s not how this works,” the priest says.

Yet so much of how Murdock as Daredevil works in this latest iteration of the character is how we want it to work. Based closely on Frank Miller’s writing of the character, Daredevil proves to be someone who deals justice unflinchingly. This isn’t someone who hesitates when the situation allows for a grim, overly-firm hand. Contrast this with Batman, a character who struggles to commit severe violence even when it seems to be the only option. 

Blinded when he was a boy, Murdock both learned and inherited his fighting spirit from his father, an old-school boxer now long deceased. He tells the priest of something his grandmother used to say: “Be careful of the Murdock boys; they got the devil in 'em.” He remembers watching his father “let the devil out” in the ring. Matt carries this family rage, too, strengthened by time and his experiences. It surfaces in the show’s violent fight scenes. Using his other heightened senses, Daredevil dismantles enemies, many at a time if necessary. It’s a brand of justice done in the shadows, done mercilessly, done bloodily.

And yet, while many of us might say that such things aren’t how we’d describe justice, that’s actually how we encourage it to be done. Well, maybe we wouldn’t string a guy up and cut him until he told us where to find a kidnapped boy, but hey, if Daredevil is the one doing it, more power to him. Right? When he goes to save the boy, he could have rescued him stealthily. But that’s not Daredevil. Instead, the boy is carried out over the bodies Daredevil left broken and bloodied all along the hallway. I relished in that scene as much as anyone could. I liked watching it. And hey, who’s to say he shouldn’t have busted open the doors along that hall to 'take care of business' first? They were bad guys anyway, right?

Right? Isn’t that our reality, our current climate? We are still so close to the revelations of widespread CIA torture that it might take a few years before we can understand all that was heinously done. But what we do know is that justice was categorized as “anything goes” by one of the most powerful organizations in the U.S. for a long time. And this attitude centered around the ends justifying the means didn’t come out of thin air; it came from the people, willing to not ask questions in exchange for assurances that the justice was being done.

The huge problem with all this for Christians is that our compliance in such a model of justice is terribly removed from the teachings of Christ. It’s sinful. Jesus was certainly focused on living justly and righteously, both in terms of Jewish law and in ways deeper than the law, into what he called the fulfillment of the law. But we like to imagine Jesus as the masked crusader in the night, doling out eternal punishment that we cannot. Most of us have been comforted at one time or another by the thought, “Well, they’ll get theirs in the end.” Many Christians support this model in our civil judicial system. The death penalty is the clearest example. Our system executes, it crucifies, and there are Christians who justify this type of retributive justice. But to do so, you have to ignore some pretty key teachings of Christ.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.’” — Matthew 5:38-44, CEB

That is hard. That is so incredibly hard, we can almost not be blamed for sticking to the law of retaliation set up before Christ came along to amend it. Almost. For Christians, this 'law fulfilled' must be our guiding principle when it comes to our participation in societal justice. We cannot confuse Jesus for Daredevil. We cannot mangle and mold the teachings of Christ into a script for "Pale Rider." We must not take comfort in a divine vigilante, or in a God who smiles on brutal human justice. Instead, we have to trust in the love and mercy of Christ. We have to turn the other cheek. We have to love our enemies. It’s hard work, gritty work. It’s the work to which we are called.

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