Is it impossible for Beast to be an atheist in the amazing world that he lives? After all, he?s surrounded by gods of every shape and form and sees incredible things everyday. Yet it is the very ?everydayness? of those events which make his atheism possible.
To speak of things beyond our understanding is to speak of that which is ?Supernatural?. Things that go beyond our ability to explain them. In our world, this is a broad spectrum, covering ghosts, religion, bigfoot and any of any array of psychic abilities. They seem to exist above our natural world and out of reach of our understanding.
At one time, thunderstorms were considered to be supernatural. Many a virgin, child, slave, goat or crop was sacrificed in order to appease the god(s) as to make the rains come, or in some cases, go away. However, today we understand weather patterns (mostly) and know that it is a process of evaporation and precipitation. It is now considered natural.
Likewise, telepathy, disembodied spirits, eye beams and beings that eat planets for breakfast are all common in the Marvel Universe. They are explainable and, by that definition, natural. They are not supernatural to Hank. We could play Whack-A-Mole with the with the different examples provided, but it comes down to the fact that these seemingly incredible things don?t exist out of the ordinary in his world and also, more importantly, don?t require belief.
Hank is saying he believes in a natural world. Though that world would be strange to us, it?s his everyday life and he sees no reason to believe in anything beyond the existence of the natural world that he knows and we love. He may rub shoulders with Thor, but he doesn?t pray to him or think that Thor will grant him gifts or favors.
Partly we are dealing with two subject that sometimes go hand in hand. Those being skepticism and atheism. While not mutually exclusive, one can inform the other. Going back to the weather example, this is much more in the realm of skepticism; seeing something as it is and giving it a proper explanation rather than just saying that something ?magical? did it. Arthur C. Clark was famous for saying (among other things) that advanced alien technology would be indistinguishable from magic. But I think that hold true for just about anything we don?t completely understand.
To just touch on the point of dualism, the initial argument was made that a spiritual world is believed to exist because a good explanation for consciousness cannot be given. While that might have been the case at one time, through the use of modern tools and research in neurology, we now have a better understanding of how the brain works and the separation between our physical brains and our thinking brains has become narrow to the point of almost non-existence. To say that one chooses to believe in dualism is itself a faith statement and it would be an example of the very thing that Hank is likely rejecting.
So what we find is that faith is the application of filling in a gap in our understanding of how our world works or functions. Not just a ?god of the gaps? but rather something by which one might inform their everyday life, their self-worth or purpose in life. To be atheist is to reject this idea. To accept that we exist in a knowable world and that nothing beyond that is controlling it or guiding it. By this measure, Hank is saying that, yes he sees incredible things and maybe some of those he is working out ways of measuring and understanding. This doesn?t mean that they can?t be measured or are unable to be understood. He isn?t applying faith in anything, god or otherwise, to do what he does or to be who he is.
So can Hank be an atheist? Yes. Is it silly for him to be one. Of course not. He is simply accepting that his world is natural and sees no reason to believe in something beyond the natural world as it exists to him.
Notes from a recovering pastor about Beast and the church
Great article Rich. I guess for me I've always seen Beast and his belief much like Tony Stark was with his before Fear Itself. I think that I've always seen Beasts character as someone that sees these "gods" and the miraculous, but rationalizes that it is just something we haven't yet come up with a scientific explanation for yet, all which is just generalizing and simplifying what you've already shared. But it was what popped in my head when I first read what had been said about Beast and how his lack of faith made no sense. I love that you touch on the "spirit" argument as well because we have quantified that these are part of the process of electrical impulses that fire in our brains as if we are giant meat computers and our "spirit" or "soul' is our operating system. Really love these kinds of talks because I think it legitimizes superhero comics to an extent. As a "fallen" Christian (I'm an agnostic) I find that Christians especially can't accept that just because there is a natural answer to something doesn't make it any less miraculous. The travesty of faith healings certainly come to mind, when while someone can go to the doctor and use the miracle of modern medicine is somehow unable to be "god in action", but praying while your friend of loved one dies was in "god's plan". Thanks for the great article and keep up the good work...and btw...I am really sorry for bad mouthing you to Dan Slott about the leak. I kinda felt ashamed and was really just acting out of anger that most comic sights kept spoiling all my books before I could read them. Thanks for showing restraint during the ASM 700 leak.
As I'd noted in the other thread: Beast is probably not an atheist since he does pray to God on page two of All New X-Men #1. All he's stated is that he doesn't believe that everyone's souls are sorted into "Hell" dimension or "Heaven" dimension after we die based off of all the actions we do in life. He's only stated that he doesn't believe in one aspect of a belief system but not much more about what he does believe in. He has already stated in Infinity Crusade after the religious superheroes or the ones who have been resurrected that he does believe in God... Granted that was written by a different author but the not-hell/heaven believer and the praying Beast are both written by Bendis.
Theology in the Marvel U is interesting. Religions seem to be the by-product of a much more complex system than any one of them would be normally willing to admit. There appear to be countless supernatural realms filled with gods and demons. In fact, Hell appears to be more of a franchise than a specific place. And these are just the realms centered around Earth. Once you get into the cosmic guys all bets are off.
So if you're a religious person in the Marvel Universe, there's a pretty good chance that your god not only exists, but has teamed up with Wolverine or Spider-Man. At the same time though, you might have to admit that your god is just one fish in a REALLY big pond.
I guess it helps a lot the fact that apparently there is no God in the Marvel Universe. Of course, we have a lot of gods... who just be another kind of sentient lifeform, like the several cosmic beings roaming the universe. And we have demons... which have been in the past identified as just a kind of interdimensional being, some very powerful, some don't. But there's nothing like DC's The Presence, giving orders to vengeful formers angels, ressurecting dead heroes and just, you known, being Almighty Lord-like. Living in the Marvel U, with Celestials creating life and very reasonable explanations to supossed manifestations of demons and such, is far easier to be an atheist tahn in the DC U, were you have to deal with Zauriel and the Spectre pointing out that, "Yeah, God exists. We just talked to him/her/it. Just ask Supergirl."