Catholic Icons For Super Heroes?

I enjoy super heroes on a mythic level, so in principle I was open to this idea and thought it an interesting prospect. But Igor Scalisi Palminteri’s art presenting super heroes in Catholic hagiographic poses and dress highlights that it is not only the distinctively Christian imagery I like so much in normal Catholic iconography, it’s the repulsive and kitschy mixture of dourness, smugness, and  sentimental preciousness that is so off-putting about it too. And it ruins even super heroes. Who’d have known? The ethos is inseparable from the form for representing it. The Catholic conception of the superbly admirable human and the secular comic book one are quite different indeed and the dissonance between the poses and expressions on these figures with our normal expectations for these characters really makes that strikingly clear.

This art also is a dark reminder that when given hegemonic control, the Church used to essentially determine that practically all artwork about all subjects fit such confining religious molds as these. When I look at great Renaissance artwork, it is so beautiful that I can find my way to seeing and appreciating the humanism and celebration (and even deification) of actual human relationships being implicitly coded into the religious images. I get that. But I still can’t completely forgive all the markings of Church authority over mind and aesthetic and artist that come with the literal forms and depicted situations of the paintings.

Compared to the falseness and ethical deficiencies of the major religions, their poor aesthetic taste is a relatively minor problem. But it is yet another thing I find so suffocating. Of course there are still come interesting cultural uses for Christian (and other religious) myths. They are not entirely exhausted of their potential to illumine. But I am tired of people who simply assume that even if they are not taken literally nonetheless Christian myths deserve special honor anyway as especially ennobling and especially profound, and that that somehow justifies their continued professions of allegiance to Christianity or their refusal to counteract its falsehoods and crappy ethics with any gusto. There is too much more interesting art and too many more interesting subjects for it. Like, for example, the super heroes when not portrayed like this:

via CollabCubed

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Stevarious

    Oh, no.

    No, no, no…

    That’s terrible.

    He’s not doing ‘Supeheroes as Catholic characters’. He’s doing ‘Catholic characters are also superheros’. It’s exactly wrong.


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