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Discussing religion, spirituality and values. Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. You can email her at
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Holy Superheroes!

Check out today’s paper for a story about superheroes and spirituality. I thought of the idea a few weeks ago, and most people thought I was a little insane. But a few really went for it, and I’m so grateful for the amazing sources who went with me on this ride. I’m convinced religion happens in so many places outside the pews, and I’m more than happy to take it to the movie theater seats. Plus, on a personal note, I’m married to a comic book geek (hey, it has its perks, he draws me awesome pictures of Spiderman and Mary Jane and Superman and Lois Lane for Valentine’s Day).

I can never get everything I want into a story, and it’s always hard to choose what to cut. So here are a few thoughts on superheroes that didn’t make it:

1. One of the most spiritual aspects is the struggle of good vs. evil. Every source I talked to mentioned this. In the end, I left it out, because it seemed like the most obvious. I wanted to give readers something they couldn’t think of on their own. But it’s still a good point.

2. The darker side of this summer’s superheroes resonant with current times. The Hulk and Ironman both directly reference the situation in Iraq. And Greg Garrett, the author of "Holy Superheroes!" pointed out that in "The Dark Knight," one of the good guys, the district attorney, ends up becoming a bad guy in his pursuit of evil. He said that would hit viewers reeling from discoveries the United States used torture, kidnapping and denying trials in its pursuit of evil. Also, in difficult times, people seek superheroes. "Frankly, we would love for something like that to happen in our lives, for someone to wave a magic wand and say, ‘Mortgage crisis, resolved!’"

3. Superheroes bring morality to an audience that isn’t necessarily hitting the pews. Many comic fans and moviegoers aren’t showing up to worship. But they’re still struggling with issues of right and wrong. One comic book store employee I talked with said many comic book fans are young adult males, a group questioning its identity and authority. But they still want to know what is the right thing to do. Superhero stories provide a venue for working out those questions.

4. Superheroes are gritty. And so is the Bible. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that morality lessons had to be cleaned up. But check out the Old Testament sometime. David, who gets so much credit for slaying Goliath? He goes on to seduce another man’s wife. He later kills this man to cover up the affair. Who says Hancock as a flawed hero is such a new concept? The Bible is filled with such characters. Because religion is about struggling with mortality. And that’s not the prettiest picture ever. But it can be beautiful. Just like a gritty but well-filmed superhero film.

OK, and here’s a conversation starter we love over at our dinner table (but I already admitted to being married to a comic book nerd): If you could have any super power, what would it be? Feel free to answer in the comments below. Or talk about this at your dinner table. I hope it leads to some fun conversations, just like it does in our house.