If you look hard enough, you’ll find support for all your positions in every bit of pop culture that comes around. Such is the case with the latest issue of “Batman,” in which, the internet tells us, we discover that Batman is an atheist.
Perusing various articles under permutations of the headline “DC Confirms Batman’s An Atheist,” we find the same arguments, all of which hinge on one line early in the issue and a healthy dose of projection. Batman is about science and rational thought, you see. Plus, when he’s asked if he believes in God, he replies, “I used to.”
Case closed, and we didn’t even have to read past page two! Given that Batman was most likely Episcopalian prior to leaving the faith, that’s fitting. As the joke goes, you know an Episcopalian is serious when he gets out the Bible. That is why I, an Episcopalian in good standing, didn’t get out my Bible, but did actually read the issue. (It’s much shorter than the Bible, for starters, so it didn’t interfere too much with my Sunday.)
In it, we find that Batman—that is, Bruce Wayne—definitely doesn’t subscribe to any faith tradition, although he did spend time wandering around, vaguely looking for transcendence and flirting with Buddhism. Instead of faith, he found the bat, which became his faith.
That’s a little more interdenominational than the Episcopal Church normally is, but it probably fits in the small-c catholic tradition. Also, he doesn’t go to church. In other words, whatever he wants to claim, Batman is still an Episcopalian.
The Case for Batman Being an Episcopalian
He’s affluent, he’s influential, and he isn’t averse to tippling when he’s not on duty. (You know what they say, whenever you find four Episcopalians, you’ll find a fifth.) Granted, the whole fighting crime thing, which involves both “fighting” and “crime,” isn’t super cool and most parishes would probably turn him away if they knew the truth of his identity. On the other hand, with membership at many parishes declining, a parishioner with especially deep pockets would probably get some leeway. He’d need to be cool on discussing his particular views about justice, though.
On the other, other hand, there is the passage from the Bible about being as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove, so maybe Batman fits right in. That’s pretty deep in, however. One has to read all the way into the New Testament—the book of Matthew, to be precise—so it can be forgiven if the other parishioners weren’t aware of that particular admonition.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If Batman is about to become the C.S. Lewis of crime-fighting due to the crisis of faith evinced, that plotline isn’t evident in Issue 53. What is evident, however, is that while that crisis is central to the issue, reducing it to “Batman’s an atheist” is a superheroically simplistic reading.
Instead, we see that Wayne has stopped believing in Batman, in himself. He’s lost touch with his roots, the ones planted when he chose a life of fighting crime. Batman went too far in apprehending Freeze and found his way onto Freeze’s jury—as Bruce Wayne, of course—to ensure Freeze would be found not guilty. He didn’t do so because Freeze was innocent, but because Freeze still deserved justice, which Batman had not afforded him.
The Sins of Pride, Idols, and Probably More
Batman had not just abandoned his parents’ religion, but begun behaving as though he were God. Of himself, he said, “If you define God as the infallible, the responsible … the one who determines life and death. Then yes, that is my argument. I thought he was God.” I suppose that is one form of atheism, although it’s not the traditionally accepted definition.
That was Wayne’s crisis of faith. He exalted himself before all others; he even prayed to himself. Then, suddenly, he was no longer there. The spirit abandoned the son, leaving him to wander Gotham as before, but without the belief.
“He does not provide solace from pain. He cannot give you hope for the eternal,” Wayne continues, in his attempt to convince the other jurors. “He cannot comfort you for the love you lost. God blesses your soul with grace. Batman punches people in the face.” (So maybe that C.S. Lewis-style conversion and crossover is possible still.)
Except that’s not how it ends, either. To suggest so would be a projection not based on the text too heavy a lift for even an Episcopalian. No, Wayne isn’t getting ready to get up on Sunday morning and head to his local parish, any more than the issue “confirms” that he’s an atheist. His crisis is in himself.
The Power of Positive, Batman-Style Thinking
After the jury finds Freeze not guilty, Wayne tells Alfred to fetch his original suit. “Alfred, I’m lost. I need to remember who I am.” The issue closes with a passage from the Bible’s book of Job, one Wayne referenced during jury deliberations, which also doesn’t paint a picture of a man about to return to the flock.
“Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Omitted is the line that follows those: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Given Job had dared to question God, it was crucial to Job’s conversion. Omitting it may be stylistic or a nod to the humanity Wayne expressed while talking to his fellow jurors. He realized he was not a god, definitely not God, and that he was all too fallible and prone to sin, even if it was in his own name.
So Batman’s an atheist? Sure, why not? As a friend wryly noted, that wouldn’t be much of a change from his previous faith anyway. Since there aren’t any signs that he’s about to forego the symbols from that previous faith—particularly for funerals, which he does attend—we can probably just keep counting him when counting the broader membership numbers.
Even if he’s a nonbeliever and doesn’t attend, he does still believe in the laws of man and, presumably, historic preservation, as good Episcopalians do. He just needs to remember the power of a forgotten icon, and he’ll be back to himself in no time.
Until then, some number of us will be there most Sundays, waiting. We’re the denomination he deserves, if not the one he needs right now.