Thursday, November 21, 2013

One God in American Culture: From Captain Kirk to Captain America

The 2011 Blockbuster hit, The Avengers, caused a little controversy when Captain America says, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” This line comes when a character suggests the Captain sit out a fight between Thor and Loki, Nordic gods revealed to be powerful beings from another dimension.

In today’s America, such a statement is indeed scandalous. It is the height of arrogance, it is supposed, to assert any kind of transcendent truth claim about spiritual things, especially concerning God. Yet in Captain America’s 1940s, it was rather unremarkable for someone to make such a claim. Even near the end of the 1960s the rather progressive and somewhat liberal television show Star Trek makes a similar statement: 
Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.
—Captain Kirk, Star Trek Season 2, “Who Mourns for Adonais?”
In that story, Captain Kirk happens upon the god Apollo, revealed to be a powerful space being who visited earth thousands of years ago and was worshipped by the Greeks. When Apollo demands Kirk’s devotion, he rebuffs him with the statement above. It was likely more of a reflection of the 1960s culture than the personal convictions of the network or William Shatner.

Culture changes. The Roman Empire was largely opposed to Christianity until the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century. With the fall of Rome came new opposition in some areas where it had been embraced. Times change, but the Church should not change, at least, not where it concerns the gospel. Whether the culture loves us, hates us, or something in between, we should always be prepared to testify of the gospel of God’s grace.

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