When Hilaire Belloc wrote The Great Heresies there wasn't a great name for the modern materialist dogmatic theology, he referred to the culmination of enlightenment ideas that constitute the current heresy the "Modern Attack".

I've seen everything Marvel's got to offer in the last 15 years, except the heavy Netflix stuff, what I'm picking up on is that it believes that the all the miracles in the universe, all the things that cause seemingly supernatural stuff to happen have deeper natural causes. (i.e. studying Thor in physics class, cosmic background radiation, channeling energy from other universes).

So, even as entertaining as it is, is it an artistic expression of the non-miraculous athiestic reductionist philosophy (the kind that says the feeding of 5000 was just people sharing their lunch)? Or, to put it as a concrete question, does the system of belief that seemingly undergirds the MCU (Mack from Agents of Shield and Captain America notwithstanding) qualify it as something that the Catholic's would reject as heretical?

  • 1
    To my bumfuzzlement, I am not even sure this is a philosophically on topic question? Besides how can one back it up with referenced sources. By the way, +1 for the uniqueness of the question.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 3, 2021 at 17:18
  • @KenGraham I think a question like this would fly for Harry Potter or Narnia, but something that is possibly more insidious is lurking in the MCU and I'm just trying to get to the bottom of it. Is the conception of a universe where all miracles are explained by deeper science, not deeper magic a tactic of materialist atheism and if so, is it the same heresy of modernism or something worse? I'd prefer a theological answer to a philosophical one.
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 3, 2021 at 17:47
  • Must Catholics believe that miracles are not in accord with science? Mar 3, 2021 at 20:58
  • @MattGutting I think Catholics must believe miracles have supernatural explanations and supernatural explanations are not, by definition, in accord with science.
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:09
  • I believe that miracles have supernatural involvement (that's the point of a miracle) but I also believe that nothing can happen that is not in accord with the laws of physics, for example. (Keeping in mind that we will almost certainly never know what exactly the laws of physics are.) I don't believe this position is heretical. But perhaps this is best left to chat. Mar 3, 2021 at 21:47

2 Answers 2


Whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe should be rejected by Catholics as Modernist and/or Materialist?

The short answer is possibly, but seeing that MCU is based on fantasy, I would venture to say that the Church has not made any pronouncements concerning the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

First of all what is modernism?

Etymologically, modernism means an exaggerated love of what is modern, an infatuation for modern ideas, "the abuse of what is modern", as the Abbé Gaudaud explains (La Foi catholique, I, 1908, p. 248). The modern ideas of which we speak are not as old as the period called "modern times". -Modernism (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

Secondly what is materialism?

As the word itself signifies, Materialism is a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in the world, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the conditions and activity of matter, and which thus denies the existence of God and the soul. It is diametrically opposed to Spiritualism and Idealism, which, in so far as they are one-sided and exclusive, declare that everything in the world is spiritual, and that the world and even matter itself are mere conceptions or ideas in the thinking subject. Materialism is older than Spiritualism, if we regard the development of philosophy as beginning in Greece. The ancient Indian philosophy, however, is idealistic; according to it there is only one real being, Brahma; everything else is appearance, Maja. In Greece the first attempts at philosophy were more or less materialistic; they assumed the existence of a single primordial matter — water, earth, fire, air — or of the four elements from which the world was held to have developed. Materialism was methodically developed by the Atomists. The first and also the most important systematic Materialist was Democritus, the "laughing philosopher". He taught that out of nothing comes nothing; that everything is the result of combination and division of parts (atoms); that these atoms, separated by empty spaces, are infinitely numerous and varied. Even to man he extended his cosmological Materialism, and was thus the founder of Materialism in the narrow sense, that is the denial of the soul. The soul is a complex of very fine, smooth, round, and fiery atoms: these are highly mobile and penetrate the whole body, to which they impart life. Empedocles was not a thorough-going Materialist, although be regarded the four elements with love and hatred as the formative principles of the universe, and refused to recognize a spiritual Creator of the world. Aristotle reproaches the Ionian philosophers in general with attempting to explain the evolution of the world without the Nous (intelligence); he regarded Protagoras, who first introduced a spiritual principle, as a sober man among the inebriated.- Materialism (Catholic Encyclopedia)

It is all based on a shared universe with a whole list of superheroes (human or otherwise).

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an American media franchise and shared universe centered on a series of superhero films, independently produced by Marvel Studios and based on characters that appear in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The franchise includes comic books, short films, television series, and digital series. The shared universe, much like the original Marvel Universe in comic books, was established by crossing over common plot elements, settings, cast, and characters. - Marvel Cinematic Universe (Wikipedia)

Is the MCU materialistic? The Church would probably think so. With modern answers to hope coming in large part from the use of meta-material known as Vibranium in the Marvel comics and Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There is very little real science involved in the meta-material known as Vibranium in the Marvel comics and Marvel Cinematic Universe. If such a material existed with these properties, it’s value would be without measure. With that said, we will discuss the capacities of the material in conjunction with its depictions in Marvel franchise materials.

The Answer-Man’s Archives: Vibranium

Vibranium is nowhere near the hardest or strongest metal in the Marvel Universe. It is, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most inconsistent of meta-materials, having properties which reinforce and yet contradict previous depictions. And yet, we don’t care. As long as it’s doing cool stuff, we accept its properties and handwave them through.

Vibranium’s inherent strength has little to do with why it is highly prized as part of an armor package. Instead, it is the underlying properties of the meta-material which creates its fantastic value and makes it one of the most sought-after materials on Marvel’s Earth.

  • Found only in the African nation of Wakanda, the technologies pioneered through the study of Vibranium give Wakandan science an extraordinary advantage making it one of the most technologically-advanced nations on Earth.

  • Defences made with Vibranium are extremely tough, durable, and extremely stress-tolerant. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Vibranium alloys might be some of the strongest metals on Earth (so the claim does have a degree of merit in the MCU, if no place else).

Why Vibranium matters

Where most metals have only their inherent durability to offer as a defensive measure, Vibranium and alloys of the metal have an extra meta-material property not found in any metals on Earth: The harder you hit Vibranium, the stronger it gets (until it breaks)…

We know Vibranium has limits to how much energy it can absorb (at least in the comics) when Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner team up against ROXXON, (after the standard superhero conflict in, Iron Man vol 1, #121). -Is Vibranium the strongest material in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

In the universe of Marvel Comics, it is not God who saves Mankind but Superheroes and their ability to transform and use meta-elements like vibranium, adamantium, carbonadium and so on for saving mankind.

So logic would think that the MCU is both materialistic and modernist, in the viewpoint of Catholicism, but being fantasy the Church will not pronounce on it. It cool viewing material on the screen.

To most comic book fans, these roles are extremely black and white: the heroes are the good guys and the villains the bad guys. But as the Marvel Cinematic Universe grows and evolves, these definitions get a little fuzzy. Now we have to think about what makes us consider actions as "good" and "evil." (Like holding an entire New Jersey town hostage in order to escape trauma.)

In academics, this field of study is called ethics. It's just one facet of the many philosophical concepts the MCU has exhibited in the past, but it's never been explored like this.

WandaVision not only created a world without one true villain, it openly discussed the metaphysics of identity using the complex thought experiment of Theseus' ship. While philosophy has long been lurking below the surface of the MCU, this show has brought it to the surface and used it in an incredibly surprising way that could reshape the future of Marvel Studios.

“All Avengers are Good.” They're superheroes, that's their entire deal. But the reason for interpersonal conflicts between these many characters is because they each have different priorities and definitions of what makes an action "good." In the book Avengers and Philosophy, philosophy professor Mark D. White describes TONY STARK's behavior in the comics as classically Utilitarian.

Utilitarianism is the pragmatic definition of "good" in that whatever does the most amount of good for the most amount of people is the morally best choice, regardless of the initial cost. This is exhibited in Tony Stark's final sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame, where the only way to save the world is to lay down his own life. It isn't the best option for his happiness, but for the world at large. In the universe's biggest trolley problem, Tony steps onto the tracks.

Diametrically opposed to Stark in Civil War is STEVE ROGERS, who takes his title of Captain America incredibly seriously. White describes his morals as DEONTOLOGY, which is the practice of prioritizing duty above all else, regardless of consequences. Basically, deontology is doing what's "right," while utilitarianism is doing what's "good."

This is all over Captain America's dialogue even from before he became Captain America. Scrawny Steve Rogers says "There are men laying down their lives, I got no right to do any less than them." Most philosophical Captain America soundbites include the word "right." Classic deontology.

Philosophically, the term "person" is hard to define in the MCU. After all, Thor isn't technically human, but he is in fact a person. If humanoid aliens can be called a person, why can't humanoid Synthezoids? And if Vision is considered a person even created through Wanda, then surely White Vision is too.

But while that may cause tension between the two, WandaVision showed that evoking philosophical differences isn't always just a tool to create conflict. Through conversation and exploration of these big questions, characters can actually bond and come to terms with each other. It may mean less punching, but Marvel has enough of that to go around. Smart de-escalation and mediation can be its own superpower.

And with Wanda on her own study retreat for the time being, we don't know if she'll face consequences for her chokehold over the entire town of Westview or if she'll be forgiven because of the sheer amount of trauma and grief she was under at the time. How do you prosecute the world's only user of chaos magic? Maybe this isn't something that can be classified as good or bad in the eyes of the law, but in Wanda's own personal guilt.

So, Marvel fans, grab your Locke and Descartes, because not only is the MCU only going to get more and more philosophical, it's been philosophical under our noses the entire time. - 'WANDAVISION': SHIP OF THESEUS FIXES THE DUMBEST THING ABOUT MARVEL MOVIES

Nowhere in the MCU system is there a place for the supernatural, so the idea God is out of the place in this fantasy universe. Of course it is modernistic and materialistic!


Whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe should be rejected by Catholics as Modernist and/or Materialist?

Objection 1 It would seem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is composed of supernatural agents whose agency bridges into the realm of harmless fantasy. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and E. Nesbit are often held as purveyors of the same benignant fodder. The fantasy elements are clearly only used to drive the plot and the plot could unfold with or without the fantasy elements.

Objection 2 The powers that the characters draw their fantastical energy from are harnessing God's creation. And as Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego attested "All you powers, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." (Daniel 3:61 NABRE) As God is Creator of the universe, (and the multi-verse) he is most certainly Creator of the powers which, if used for good, must have their origin in God.

Furthermore, powers used for good are praiseworthy, a soldier uses his strength to save his comrades, a mother gives her strength to her children.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13

The work of superheroes is to save the universe, the universe clearly needs to be saved.

On the contrary, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is composed of stories that diverge so wildly from the traditional heroic journey to the point that they are inseparable from their atheist underpinnings. The one who Catholics proclaim as King of the Universe is reduced to an idea from "One of those planets". Myths are merely the way humanity dealt with supra-natural realities they couldn't fathom. Instead of myths being true or false in themselves, myths are all true, but none of the religion is true. Religion, being the virtue of reconnecting with God is not a virtue in the MCU, as the gods themselves manifest themselves in response to their own conflict, not their love for humanity.

I answer that the Catholic faith proclaims that all existence is God's thought and as co-creators in God's plan for eternity, our creations should reflect God's plan for salvation. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe uses deeper and deeper physics as its fundamental axioms for wiping away the mystery of religious belief (even if it doesn't directly attack Christian religions it attacks the longing for God in other religions that the Catholic Church upholds as a positive good). It stands to reason that, unless something truly inexplicable happens, a purely science based world of witches, warlocks and demigods has deprived itself of the mysterious fantastic elements of classical literature and only serves as a tool of modernist, materialist thought.

Reply to Objection 1 The supernatural agency spoken of in the MCU is not 'fantasy' in the normal sense of the word. As Chesterton puts the words in the mouth of a practical person, comparing the logic of the shop and politics to the logic of the nursery:

Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is

This is how it is in the MCU, where the magic is not magical but:

Magic is the practice of harnessing various forms of energy to manipulate one or more aspects of the infinite realities that are present within the Multiverse

Marvel fandom - Magic

This is logical, but it is not the logic of the nursery or the logic of the Church, it is the cold logic of materialism which is

a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in the world, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the conditions and activity of matter,


By its own logic, fantasy in Marvel is not fantasy but science fiction.

Peter Parker

Like Thor. Thor was a myth and now I study him in my physics class.

The discovery that energy and matter are two sides of the same equation means that materialists can sneak in their philosophy by resorting to energy as well as matter being the only realities in the universe.1

Reply to Objection 2 Nearly every movie has a plot where the hero makes a terrible mistake, usually it's pride. There's no evidence that many of the characters in the MCU have the least compunction about calling on "Dark Magic" when it behooves them. Magic wielding characters search after forbidden knowledge without a second thought and their consequences are not a contrite heart, but a further wielding of deeper and deeper magics. Every movie's main antagonist since the first Iron Man:

The one that started it all. In more ways than one. It started the unfortunate “villain just being an evil version of the hero” trend.


But if the protagonist and the antagonist both harness the same evil powers can evil ever really be driven out?

And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand?

Matthew 12:26 NABRE

As Chesterton says, Original Sin is the "the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." and Original Sin, which makes these characters relatable, makes them lamentable, when they don't fight against Sin itself both within and without, but only the evil manifestations of sin.

1. T.M. Doran's Toward the Gleam explores the same extrapolations moderns make using Darwin, Godel and Einstein.

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    This really feels like your personal thoughts and not the judgement of the Catholic Church.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 9, 2021 at 4:29
  • Your last paragraph seems like an excellent opportunity to share the gospel with fellow MCU fans. There has been, for a while, a growing predilection for "broken stories" by authors and audience in all media. Original sin (as it increasingly rejects moral absolutes and the deity they represent) is likely behind the inability and/or lack of desire to portray sharp differences between villains and heroes. .We who are mature in Christ need not fear but, rather, mind our influence. Romans 14:13 and following specifically mention food and drink but the application is wider. Mar 9, 2021 at 12:17
  • By the way, +1 for the nod to Aquinas in your answer's format! Mar 9, 2021 at 12:18
  • @curiousdannii it's an argument based on Catholic principles like every other answer on the site. But in the last objection, the juxtaposition how magic is described and how materialism is defined is uncanny, I think that alone would be a sufficient answer to my question. This stuff is important to me as a parent even if it seems trivial.
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 9, 2021 at 21:15

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