I finally got a chance to watch The Boys on Amazon Prime. I was excited to use my VidAngel account to bleep out the f-bombs, God curses, and sex. It works very well. I thought I could protect myself from the shock of the show, but one red flag popped up.
The theology of The Boys.
Episode 5 of the show goes like this. Vought Industries runs the largest supes conglomerate. Heroes are expected to be trending celebrities that fight crime and shine in the spotlight. But underneath it all, the faux "Justice League" (The Seven) are depraved monsters that wear hero masks in front of the public.
Enter episode five, Good for the Soul. Vought is headlining a Christian conference called Believe Expo. The main pastor at the conference is Ezekiel, a super that can stretch his limbs. Ezekiel is your satirical dude pastor. He says things like "don't think, just believe," and "stop asking questions and just follow." He runs a ministry called Pray Out the Gay. Did I mention, he has orgies in a secret hedonistic night club? What a great role model.
The crowd is a satire of the clueless church. They sing ridiculous worship songs that make no sense (but sound like a hit worship song). I laughed when the worship singer had wings that sprouted out of her back. The crowd cheers at blind nationalism and threats of violence to "terrorists." Are you starting to get a picture of how The Boys sees the church?
Enter Homelander and Starlight. Homelander is a company super man. He bleeds red, white, and blue and buys into the idea that following God is actually following America. He is also a coward and a psychopathic bully. When he speaks to the young Christian expo, he talks up punishing terrorists for Jesus. Starlight is a young adult who thought she wanted the super life. Through each episode, she sees the hypocrisy and immoral acts behind it. She is expected to talk up the crowd and tell them to follow Jesus and be pure.
She has a change of heart.
Starlight admits that she believes in God, but she is living a lie. The Bible can't be trusted literally and people need to start following their own path. It ends with her redemptively breaking the chain of the archaic views of the church and adopting modernism, which embraces feelings and facts over faith.
You might want to start sharpening your pitchforks and knocking on the door of Anne Cofell Saunders (writer of the episode), but this is not a new message. The modern and intellectual culture has always played with the idea that Christianity is just a construct of old beliefs that don't work anymore coupled with false nationalism. We are the weirdos who take weird and wrong things too seriously.
The audience is expected to leave this episode thinking that the bully church of blind Jesus followers is defeated by the conscience of Starlight. In the end, we are all just sinners who have no right to tell anyone to correct their behavior. There is one scene where Starlight has to run a Teen Talk and a teenager asks why she has to make her Hindu friend believe in Jesus. Starlight is about to tell her that Jesus says love your neighbor, but the pastor butts in and exclaims that the Hindu friend is going to Hell to suffer and that is why she needs Jesus. How close-minded of the church.
A lot of this is the same old song and dance, but with a fresh coat of sarcasm and superheroes. Garth is an echo chamber of a quick write off of faith. It could be just a funny fictional world, but the sarcasm and driving message is very potent.
Here is what I think Saunders is trying to say and how I think she misses the point:
Note: I think the writers were careful to aim their commentary at America's perception of Christianity. This guide is meant to dispell any lazy rumor about true faith being shallow and meaningless in today's society. I agree with a lot of points and criticisms this episode is making about how America sometimes turns Christianity into a way to feel good about being an American, but I do not believe this is the driving factor behind this belief. No one should walk away from The Boys believing that this is all Christianity is.
Christianity and nationalism are the same things: this is more of a criticism of how the American church confuses the goals of government with the goals of Jesus. Don't get me wrong, when the government feeds the poor, protects the powerless, and helps the undervalued it gets a thumbs up from Jesus. But Jesus does not subscribe to the wealth and power of the American government as an end goal. There will be no American Fastpass line in Heaven. To think that Christianity is just a nationalistic cheer squad is a mistake. The church is global. Every race, tongue, and nation has a chance to gain hope and love in Jesus Christ. Jesus is not an ad for nationalism, but a beacon for a hurting world. When the marginalized are overwhelmed by the flood of sin and corruption, they get a second chance through the power and sovereignty of Jesus. It's not a crutch or a bait-and-switch, but a real-life preserver.
The church is expected to be blind and unquestioning: This point was funny to me because it had Pastor Ezekial trying to act like a cool teenager bro. He addresses the crowd with "Jesus was like, bro, stop questioning and just believe." I know from the past that agnostics and atheists criticize the church for being blind followers that don't question the sources of knowledge around them. To think that is the expectation from God and the asking price for being a faithful follower is a lie. Let's look at examples in history.
- The apostle John warns us against believing every new trend and heeds us to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1)
- The Bereans were Jewish followers of Christ that did extensive fact-checking on what Paul said about Jesus (Acts 17)
- Lee Strobel was an atheist journalist who was determined to disprove the Gospel through research. He ended up becoming a follower after everything he had learned. He writes books convincing his audience to see the historical Jesus.
- Professor Christian Anfinsen* (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, biochemistry of RNA, Johns Hopkins University): “I think that only an idiot can be an atheist! We must admit that there exists an incomprehensible power or force with limitless foresight and knowledge that started the whole universe going in the first place.” https://magiscenter.com/23-famous-scientists-who-are-not-atheists/
God can be a higher power, but he cannot be known: This one is tricky and I think that is why Starlight comes to this conclusion. Why do the Christians get to tell us who God is and how he operates? She comes to the conclusion that the Bible is not a reliable history book on the basis that the people back then didn't even live that long (I guess short life ruins credibility?). Here is where this reasoning falls on its sword. You can't trust the Bible because you don't think those writers had any understanding of the truth? That is the bias that people in the past were uneducated and incapable of relaying history. Completely unfounded. Archaeologists are discovering that the Bible has a pretty accurate description of past events. In some cases, the Bible is painting a word picture to get a moral point across, but in most cases the writers wanted their audience to see miracles, revelations, and truth claims to remind themselves and prove to others that this God is living and active.
What Ennis does not understand is that Starlight is rejecting a truth claim with a truth claim of her own. Why is hers anymore reliable than mine? She is absolutely telling me that there are no absolutes. The only difference is that hers is an opinion and the Bible has gone through so much scrutiny and nitpicking. Which one is more reliable at the end of the day?
Jesus has no right to be exclusive to salvation: This is another truth claim that the writers try to villainize. The idea that a life without Jesus as a savior could lead to punishment is absurd. It's presented as a pushy bully tactic. I agree that threatening Hell over someone is a horrible bully tactic. It also doesn't work. But, I don't think to talk about Jesus as a savior that rescues us from Hell is absurd. In fact, it is a vital part of knowing what Christianity is all about.
To understand the Christian worldview and Jesus' role in it, you have to understand three words: sin, rescue, and purpose. Sin is the disease that all humanity has which makes them ineligible to stand before God with any positive outcome. It's equivalent to punching a cop in the face and then walking up to the precinct hoping that they will let this one go. Rescue is the idea that there is only one way to remove the offense of sin. Sin costs something. Breaking a PS4 at the store costs something. Who will pay for it: you or the manager? In Jesus' case, he paid it with his death on the cross. We were rescued by him. Finally, you need to understand the purpose. We were made by God to enjoy His creation and honor Him as the creator. It was Jesus' purpose to rescue us when we chose to rebel against the former plan. It is our new purpose to trust Jesus in this new life he has for us once we are rescued.
This is a truth claim. As a Christian, we are compelled to share it. We call it the good news that changes lives. It frees people from a burden they never have to face. It's easy to dish on Christianity because it is bold in its claims, but also very easy to misrepresent. Also, we are not the underdog in terms of American culture. That is why it's so important to get the real truth behind it. There is hope, love, and transformation for those who hear it. People are free to ignore and reject this truth claim. It can't be forced upon anyone.
I would give Saunders and the watchers of this show this advice. Don't rely on flimsy satire and stereotypes to get the whole truth of Christianity or you will be missing out on the whole story.