Daredevil’s Violent Vocation: God’s Calling or the Justification of Man?

Sometimes I’m surprised I’ve not written of Daredevil before.  I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about the intersection of comic books and theology and teach theology at a Catholic Mercy school and am a lifelong Catholic.  So Matt Murdock/Daredevil feels like a character made for me.  A lawyer by day who lost his sight as a child, Matt uses the radar sense he gained, along with his extensive martial arts training, to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil.  As Marvel’s most prominent Catholic character, his faith and his relationship with God influence all areas of his life, superheroing included.  He attends Mass.  He goes to confession.  His parish priest and nuns are trusted natural supports.  But I never “got” Daredevil.  My brother David loved him but I wasn’t interested.  He felt like a bargain basement Spider-Man (when quippy) or bargain basement Batman (when dour).  Then I began reading Chip Zdarsky (writer) and Marco Checchetto (main artist on the run)’s Daredevil and OH. MY. GOSH.  I get it now!  Twenty-seven issues in and I love it!  A major story beat is Matt discerning God’s will in his life and, naturally, I was excited to explore this myself.  Is Daredevil’s vocation divinely ordained or an example of someone trying to sanctify their all-too-human violence in God’s name?

To begin, let’s define our term.  The root of vocation is the Latin word vocare, which means “to call.”  My favorite definition comes from the theologian Frederick Buechner.  Beautifully, Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1]  So, for Buechner, there are two dimensions to the vocation God calls us to – our own joy and the world’s need.  He further elaborates:

The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.  If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b).  On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.[2] 

With this in mind, is Matt’s role as Daredevil his vocation?  Is this what God’s calling him to do?  At the outset, I want to let you know, dear reader, this piece is a dialogue.  I’m examining how Zdarsky’s Daredevil presents Matt’s relationship to and understanding of his faith and interpreting it through my understanding of God.  My understanding is shaped by my own personal faith journey and twenty years spent studying and teaching this stuff.  However, my understanding of God isn’t “right.”  It’s just right for me.  God – as we traditionally understand such a term – is beyond our ability to grasp.  God is infinite.  God is transcendent.  This is why our ancestors have been developing religions for 70,000 years, going back to the Middle Paleolithic![3]  We’ve always sought a relationship to this transcendence even thought we can’t know it definitively.  We are finite, created beings with finite, created minds which have evolved the ability to understand finite, created things.  The fullness of the infinite and the transcendent will always be beyond the scope of the human mind.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Has God called Matt Murdock to be Daredevil?  Is his crusade to protect Hell’s Kitchen the will of God?  This piece will explore my answer and I invite you to consider your own as you read.  Ultimately, the answer to who/what God is and what God wants of us is something we can only discern for ourselves.

Matt’s father, Jack, was a single parent and a boxer.  He was also a devout Catholic and he raised his son the same way.  When Matt was caught breaking into a classmate’s house to steal back the baseball cards a child had conned another student out of, Jack picked Matt up from the precinct and promptly took him to church for Confession.  Expressing his adamant belief he’d done nothing wrong, Matt tells Fr. Cathal, “Who cares if I broke the law?  God would’ve wanted me to get those cards back for Davey!’  Fr. Cathal replied, “We move through two kingdoms, Matthew.  The Kingdom of God is paramount, but we have obligations here in the material world as well, rules of order to follow.”  When Matthew tries to parse what Fr. Cathal is saying, the priest clarifies, “You’re a good boy, Matthew.  And you did a good thing for your friend, righting an injustice.  But man’s laws are still man’s laws.  So you did one thing wrong as far as I can see…you got caught.”

So far our theology, as far as I’m concerned, is spot on.  Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was a theologian, philosopher, and bishop of the Christian church.  As William Placher, a postliberal theologian of church history, frames him in his A History of Christian Theology, “For the Western half of the church throughout the Middle Ages his authority stood second only to that of Scripture.”[4]   One of his most oft quoted lines is, “An unjust law is no law at all.”  While the original quote is a bit different, “”for I think a law that is not just, is not actually a law,” the meaning is the same – any law which is unjust has no merit and needn’t be followed.  While Augustine wrote this in the 300s, it is an idea anchored in the ministry and message of Jesus of Nazareth.

[Sidenote: Normally my pieces are filled with footnotes.  I like my sources to be readily available for readers, too!  But the Historical Jesus and the history of the early church have been my love/specialty/main area of study since I began undergrad in 2001.  I’ve taught it for ten years, too.  So all this is just in my mind so, outside of direct quotes, I won’t be citing anything.  But if you’d like book suggestions to explore any of this further, please feel free to comment below, email me, or message me on Twitter :D.]

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Jack brings Matt to Fr. Cathal. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Jesus is the only founder of a religious movement to be executed by capital punishment.  While Christianity normally emphasizes salvation first with the cross, it’s important to remember it also had political/historical implications.  Crucifixion was the most violent punishment Rome had and it sent a message – Don’t do what this person did.  While the Gospels usually translate those who hung beside Jesus as “thieves,” a more accurate translation of the Greek is “terrorist” or “gorilla fighter.”  This was how Rome saw Jesus.  Jesus publicly preached and enacted the Kingdom of God, a world radically transformed in the image of God.  It had no boundaries, borders, hierarchies, or divisions.  All were welcome.  All were equal.  All was shared.  No government could or would allow this message as it made them obsolete.  As a result, Rome crucified Jesus.  For three hundred years it was illegal to be Christian because they rejected and challenged the rule of Empire.

So when Fr. Cathal tells young Matt, “But you were righting an injustice” when validating his actions, it fits with the historical foundation of Jesus’ ministry and the early Christian church.  Laws which are unjust not only can but should be ignored and actively opposed.

The accident which left Matt blind was a result of him pushing a man out of the way of an oncoming truck.  The truck swerved and spilled a radioactive isotope on Matt.  He woke up in the hospital blind but found all of his other senses – as well as his agility, reflexes, and balance – heightened to a superhuman level.  Most notably, his hearing allows him to “see” better than sighted individuals.  His hearing creates a “radar sense,” hearing the shape the echoes of sound make bouncing off everything all around him, allowing him to “see” in 360°.

Naturally these powers overwhelmed nine-year-old Matt Murdock and he was the prisoner of constantly overwhelming stimuli until Stick, a martial arts master who was also blind, trained him to hone his senses and to master the martial arts himself.  While Stick helped him with his newfound powers, Fr. Cathal helped young Matt work through his anger at God.  Sitting together in the pew one morning after Mass, Fr. Cathal validates Matt’s anger and offers faith, “You saved a man’s life, and God took your sight.  Everything you feel right now is normal.  When God takes from us, it can be hard to feel what he’s given us.  The beauty of this world isn’t just one of sights.  It won’t seem like it now, but…I believe God is revealing the world to you in other ways, on the road to the man you’ll become.  You’ll experience the world like I can’t imagine.  It’s okay to be angry at God now, Matthew.  It’s understandable.  But believe me…God loves you.”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Matt Murdock goes to law school to protect those in need.  And he creates the identity of Daredevil to protect – and in some cases avenge – those who the law forgets.  This, too, is anchored in his Christian faith.  The God of Abraham (meaning the God worshiped in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), stands beside those society rejects and forgets.  If the Kingdom of God is a world where all are equal, and if this is the world God wants created, than God naturally stands by those this world rejects.  My favorite summation of this aspect of God comes from Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2.  I’ve used this quote for years in youth group meetings, classes, meditations, and it’s in my upcoming book (that’s right! I’ve written a book about theology, comics, and a bunch of Marvel characters and you can learn more about it by clicking here!).  Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006 he said:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who God is or if God exists – most will agree that if there is a God, God has a special place for the poor.  In fact, the poor is where God lives.  Check Judaism.  Check Islam.  Check pretty much anywhere.  I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill…I hope so.  He may well be with us in all manner of controversial stuff…maybe, maybe not.  But the one thing on which we can all agree, among all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and the poor.  God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house.  God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives.  God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war.  God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.[5]

God is with us if we are with them.  Both Matt’s law practice and his superheroing are driven by his desire to protect those who find themselves on the margins of society.  So this feels vocational.  While his deep gladness can be debated at times, he does take pride in what he does and sees it as God’s calling.  And there is certainly a deep hunger in the world as all those relegated to the margins of society for their economic class, their race, their gender, their sexuality, their nationality, their religion, or their actions deemed “wrong” by society’s normative narratives, cry out for justice and inclusion.  God wants all to be included, all to be welcomed, all to be equal, and all to be loved.  So the battle for justice is anchored in the core of what Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reveal about God.

Our then question revolves around the violence Matt uses as Daredevil to accomplish this end.  We must consider: Does God ever will violence?  Is hurting or harming another, even in the pursuit of justice, ever acceptable to God?

This tension is a central feature of Zdarsky’s run as well.  I am quite impressed with how he navigates the turbulent theological waters a life as Daredevil would bring to Matt’s heart and soul.  In the confessional as an adult, Matt tells Fr. Cathal:

Matt – “Bless me Father…for I have sinned.  I’ve…I’ve sinned.  I’ve used…great violence, but for – – for the good.  To help…”

Fr. Cathal – “My son…this sounds serious…”

Matt – “Is it? [frustrated, almost manic] Didn’t…didn’t Jesus drive out the money changers…from the Temple?  With…with a whip?  Isn’t violence sometimes justified?  Can’t I be…the Hands of God…?

Fr. Cathal – “I…the mind controls the hands, son.  Is is truly God controlling yours?  Yes, Jesus drove them out of the Temple with some degree of violence…but he was the Son of God…you are just a man…and men who succumb to violence, no matter the justification, can grow to crave it.  It destroys your spirit.  It destroys lives.  I can hear it in your voice, Matthew.  You’re on a precipice.  There is a difference between a man who saves someone through the unfortunate use of violence…and someone who seeks violence like an addict.”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

At this moment, Matt leaves the confessional.  Where Matt feels conflicted – he can see no other way than the use of extreme violence to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen though he knows violence is wrong – raises two important points to consider.  The first, is the issue of Jesus’ presumed use of violence in the Temple.  The second is the reality of violence, oppression, and injustice which seem as though it can only be stopped by violence.  Looking at our violent, indifferent, unjust world, sometimes the only effective course of actions seems to be, as singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn suggests, to “kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” 

The first is easier.  The moment when Jesus drives the moneychangers from the Temple in Jerusalem is one of scripture’s more fascinating passages.  It’s dramatic.  It occurs during the last week of Jesus’ life (Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48, Matthew 21:12-17 (unless you’re using John’s timeline which has it in 2:13-16)).  And it is a moment of explosive violence from a guy who preached peace, love, nonviolence, and sharing your stuff.  It’s often used – as Matt uses it here – to justify our own use of violence because even Jesus got angry and used violence.  However, that is a misreading of the scene.  What happened at the Temple wasn’t a violent outburst so much as an organized act of civil disobedience.

First, Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God but he also enacted it.  His healings showed everyone was whole in the Kingdom.  His table fellowship showed everyone was welcome and you only didn’t have a place if you chose not to sit with, welcome, and love everyone else at the table.  When he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, it was to parody the military parade Pontius Pilate conducted every Passover to remind the Jewish people who came to Jerusalem who was in charge and where the power rested.  Second, the scene at the Temple was this sort of demonstrative action.  The money changers weren’t doing anything wrong.  They weren’t inside the Temple.  They were in the courtyard and they were changing the money of pilgrims who came from all over so those pilgrims could buy the animals they needed to sacrifice in the Temple.  The money changers were essential for the Temple to operate.  So Jesus shows up, flips some tables, cracks his whip, yells and screams, and this stops the Temple from functioning…but only for a moment.  As soon as he left the money changers would groan and put their stuff back up.  But Jesus was illustrating the Temple, which had settled into an easy alliance with Roman authority instead of opposing it, wasn’t functioning as it should.  He illustrated this break by stopping the functions of the Temple for a moment in real time to point to the rupture in its function on an ideological/spiritual level.  Third, Jesus preached in and around the Temple every day he was in Jerusalem and he didn’t do it before that day or after.  He had no problem with the money changers themselves; it was the Temple’s role in Roman society he was challenging.

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Matt speaks to Fr. Cathal at the beginning of his career as Daredevil. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Historically, what Jesus did wasn’t a violent attack on sinners or the unjust.  It was civil disobedience.  It was an action in line with a sit-in, march, boycott, or other public demonstration.  Incidentally, it was also the cause Pilate had for arresting Jesus – he had broken the peace.  It’s worth noting, Jesus refused any sort of violence to protect himself.  Jesus went to the cross willingly to illustrate how far one was to go in their service of love and nonviolence.  And for the first 300 years of Christianity, until Constantine legalizes the religion in 312 CE, you were forbidden from joining the church if you were a soldier.  No weapons, no violence, and no taking of lives was allowed.

So Matt justifies his crusade as Daredevil, in part, through a misreading of what Jesus does at the Temple.  He is not alone in this.  Christians have been doing the same for centuries.  He has parameters on his use of force, too, safeguards which allow him to do what he does without sacrificing his own ethics.  As he moves through a couple of criminals on the streets he thinks, “I’m careful.  I know just the right amount of pressure to apply to this guy’s carotid artery.  I know exactly where to kick the solar plexus to knock the wind out of this guy without damaging his liver or spleen.  I use violence but also compassion.”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Now here, there are two points I want to consider from his use of violence and compassion.  First, as we discussed above, “violence” and “Christianity” were mutually exclusive for 300 years.  Period.  That all changes once Rome legalizes it and Augustine drafts a Just War Theory (which Aquinas would refine in the Middle Ages to the form we’re more familiar with today) about when a Christian was morally permitted – even encouraged – to use force.  An empire can’t embrace any religion that doesn’t allow violence because the way of empire is the way of violence.  But this was a move necessitated by Christianity being embraced by an empire (ironically the same which executed Jesus a few centuries before) not anything Jesus or three centuries of his followers would condone.

Second, can you use violence and compassion at the same time?  Can you simultaneously be violent and compassionate?  The root of the word “compassion” means to suffer with.  Admittedly, it’s hard for me to see how Daredevil is suffering with those he fights.  He’s crafted her personal ethics in a way which validates his use of force.  He sees it as his calling, his vocation.  And he lives  his whole life – as an attorney and as Daredevil – driven to protect Hell’s Kitchen.  So I don’t know Matt is suffering with any of his foes.  Yes, he uses restraint.  Yes, he is tormented, from time to time, by his actions.  But is that suffering with his foes?  I don’t know…

A narrative cornerstone of Zdarsky’s run was Matt slipping up and, in his over confidence, accidentally killing someone.  With great pain and confusion, we see Matt try and process such an inexcusable (to him) mistake.  At first, he refuses to believe he could’ve ever made such a mistake.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Next, Matt tries to rationalize his guilt away.  He killed someone but mistakes happen, right?  That’s his to carry and his life as Daredevil is what God called him to do with the powers God gave him, right?  And he has a job to do.  How can he walk away from that?  If he doesn’t defend the Kitchen, who will?  There are innocents who depend on him.  No one else will protect them as he does.  He made one grievous mistake but he won’t do it again.  It’s ok.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

When Matt seeks out his natural supports, he can’t accept when Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand/Iron Fist tell him mistakes happen.  Righteous anger pours forth from Matt as he leaves, proclaiming them all murderers.  For Matt, they – the superhero community – can’t be above the law.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

What’s fascinating to me is where/how he draws the line with “the law.”  As a costumed vigilante, Daredevil’s entire life is operating outside the law.  Every night, even in the service of stopping other crimes, he serves as judge, jury, and executioner, well assault-and-battery-er as the case may be.  He has no legal right to operate as Daredevil.  Yet he feels he has an ethical obligation, driven by his God-given gifts, to do so.  But everything he does as Daredevil, from the surveillance his radar sense provides to the assault and battery he performs on scores of criminals every night, is illegal.  But he doesn’t kill.  For Matt, killing is when a superhero puts themselves above the law.  It is a line he himself as created with no formal legal backing.  But that’s the line he holds to.

Ultimately, when Spider-Man shows up in his apartment one night to tell him he’s done, Matt seems relieved.  Spider-Man says, “All of us know that we can’t do this job forever.  That there’s going to come a day when we make too many missteps, when our bodies fail, when too many people get hurt and not enough get saved.  I’d hope somebody would step up and let me know when it’s my day.  Right now?  It’s your day.  It’s over.  I’m spreading the word.  If any of us see you out there, attempting this, we’ll stop you.  We have to, or it could be the end of all of us.  You need to – – stop.”  Removing his Daredevil mask, Matt says, “You’re right.  I know you’re right.  I’ve been looking for the answer, and I thought it was to push on.  Harder, more relentless…ignoring what my body – – what my heart – – is telling me.”  Then in a quiet whisper he adds, “I can’t do this anymore,” and he hands his mask to Spider-Man.

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Spider-Man leaves with Daredevil’s mask as Matt remembers Fr. Cathal’s words. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Seeking help through his trauma, Matt returns to his parish.  Sitting with Sister Elizabeth he opens up:

Matt – “I…I was confronted with past sins today, and they hit me…they hit me harder than I expected.  In my previous life when I…when I sinned…I never allowed myself the time to sit with it.  I was a man in constant motion, constant turmoil.  But now I have ghosts haunting me in the silence.  The…the violence from before seems that much more monstrous…”

Sister Elizabeth – “Matthew…have you…have you asked God for forgiveness?  Have you opened you heart to Him?  If you say these things to Him, it won’t take the full burden of your past from you, but He’ll share the weight.  He’ll – -”

Matt – “I haven’t.  I can’t…I don’t think…I don’t think I deserve God’s love…I used Him, Sister.  I used Him as my excuse.  I pretended I was doing good, but it was just…just violence with good as a side effect…”

Sister Elizabeth – “Oh, Matthew…you’re not special.”

Matt – “I…what?”

Sister Elizabeth – “You’re not special.  Your self-loathing doesn’t make you an exception to God’s love.  He’s there to forgive.  He’s laid out your trials and given you the strength to come to Him.  When I…when I find myself in a downward spiral, thinking that I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, I look to Paul the Apostle.  Paul persecuted Christians.  Paul murdered Christians.  But he eventually came to Christ and was saved.  Paul shows us all the extent of God’s forgiveness.  No matter how far you’ve fallen, God’s touch can reach you in the depths.”

Matt – “But Sister…Jesus appeared to Paul on the road as a vision.  A vision that left Paul blinded for four days.  Sometimes I think God blinded me…so I won’t be able to see the vision…”

The theology here is beautiful!  God’s boundless forgiveness.  When Jesus began forgiving people’s sins as part of his ministry, it was blasphemous.  In Judaism – which, while we can accidentally forget, Jesus was Jewish and all his first followers were Jewish – the forgiveness of sins was God’s prerogative alone.  Sin was also understood as a communicative disease.  If someone was a sinner, you became a sinner, too, by being around them.  In forgiving sins and dining with those who society rejected/saw as sinful, Jesus was restoring a sense of wholeness to those who were deemed sinful and opening the community – his community – to them as well.  In this, he made the Kingdom of God manifest.  Everyone was welcome.  Everyone was accepted and forgiven.  Everyone was whole.  Much like Matt, we’ve been struggling to understand, accept, and model this since Jesus did so 2,000 years ago.    

Matt Murdock tries.  He tries to take Sister Elizabeth at her word.  He seeks God’s forgiveness.  He leaves Daredevil behind and he tries to give up his violent past.  In one of my favorite scenes in Zdarsky’s Daredevil thus far (which is saying a lot), we see what “sitting out” means for Matt.  Just because he’s given up being Daredevil, it doesn’t mean he can walk away from his powers.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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I sat with this page a long time the first time I read this issue. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As a result, every waking moment of Matt Murdock’s life becomes an onslaught of cries for help he can no longer answer.  Not in the way he used to, at least.  He calls 911 for each one.  But how many people are hurt, how many people lose their homes or shops or livelihoods, how many people lose their lives because he doesn’t act?  As penance for the man’s life he took, Matt stopped being Daredevil.  As confused as he may be about his vocation at this moment, he is certain God doesn’t want him to kill.

Could you do that?  I don’t know what I would do if I were in his place.  This is one of the things I adore about Zdarsky’s Daredevil!  It raises these sorts of questions for the reader to consider.  As I’m sure this piece has made clear, for me – in my own personal theological framework – violence of any kind is antithetical with following Jesus.  I can’t be violent or support violence, especially killing, in any capacity and follow Jesus.  Nor do I believe God ever calls us to violence (which we’ll explore more below).  But what would I do, what could I do, if I heard those cries all the time and knew I could do something?  If I had Daredevil’s abilities and I could “kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” could I live with myself if I didn’t?

Matt returns to the church to talk with Sister Elizabeth again.  He tells her of his struggles and how he is praying to God for a sign.  He says, “I can help people but to do so would be to…commit acts against God, against peace.  I thought I could live a peaceful life, but the world isn’t…the world isn’t a peaceful one, and I…I need some sort of sign.  Elizabeth…how do I know when God sends a sign?”  As Sister Elizabeth counsels Matt, a distraught Sister Caitlin comes into the sanctuary with another sister and a priest.  When Matt asks what’s wrong, Elizabeth explains Caitlin’s worried about a teenage boy who’s run away from home and fallen in with a dangerous crowd.  His father has been combing the streets looking for him to no avail.  Matt understands this as the sign he needs.

Deciding “Daredevil” is the problem – the image has been corrupted by his accidentally killing someone – Matt adopts a generic (and very Netflix-y) mask over his street clothes and goes to find the boy. 

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Matt goes to rescue Leelo without his Daredevil identity. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As you would expect, pulling Leelo out of the hands of the gang he’s running with – and making sure they never come looking for him again – requires violence and Matt does what he feels he has to do.  Is this a new identity?  Is “Matt Murdock” just a vigilante now?  He doesn’t know but he knows he couldn’t leave a child missing.  That’s not who he is.  It is a masterful stroke that Zdarsky uses this as the act which leads Matt back to the violent vigilante life.  Thinking of all Matt hears, I don’t know how, even in the name of modelling the peace of God, I could allow an abusive partner to batter their significant other or a neighborhood store to be robbed or someone to be raped when I could hear it and stop it.  But I know I couldn’t leave a child in danger when I could prevent it.  My imagination’s wandering as I wrote those last two sentences left me anxious.

In many ways, it’s easy for me to “evaluate” the religious nature of Daredevil’s activities because I don’t have those powers.  But if I did?  I can’t imagine ever believing that God has called me to or condones such violence.  But I don’t think I could – rather, I know I couldn’t – leave a child in danger when I could save them, when I could bring them home.  Nor could I let abuse or robbery or rape or all manner of other crimes go when I could stop them.  I don’t know how I would rectify that with God but I know I couldn’t rectify inaction with my own heart.

Matt goes on an incredibly layered and dynamic journey (which I’m not going to write about here as so many of the plot points deserve their own post), but ultimately the people of Hell’s Kitchen take up the mantle of Daredevil themselves.  In the absence of their Guardian Devil, they wear his mask and protect each other.  When the Battle of Hell’s Kitchen erupts (a story for another post), Matt finds a sort of redemption and a newfound call in their actions.  Holding a man who was fatally injured as he dies, Matt gives him his generic mask to hold over his wounds.  With this man in his arms, Matt thinks, “Daredevil…Daredevil was a symbol.  I tainted it, and they took it back.  It was bigger than me.  It was always bigger than me.  They carried my burden.  My sins.  But they shouldn’t have to.”

With that he takes the Daredevil mask from the man who died and puts it on.  Matt Murdock is Daredevil once more.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Bullseye roams the carnage in Hell’s Kitchen. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Dancing through the smoke, fire, and fighting of the Battle of Hell’s Kitchen as only Daredevil can, Matt thinks, “When I was a kid, God gave me a gift.  He took my sight, but he gave me the world.  Every sound, every smell, every texture – – He made me feel everything.  I dressed as the Devil and used these gifts to be a blunt instrument.  And people got hurt.  People died.  And it felt like God abandoned me.  But He was always there.  He knew that I just needed to be better.  That, yes, violence is a last resort…but when there’s no other option, when good people are being attacked, being beaten…sometimes all you can do is…lift your fists and fight.”

So we end where we began.  Is being Daredevil Matt’s vocation?  Is this what God is calling him to do?  Seeing the obvious turmoil it brings to his life and the natural guilt and conflict he feels at the violence he needs to use as Daredevil, I think it’s safe to say there is no deep gladness for Matt in being the Guardian Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.  Fulfillment?  Sense of purpose?  Peace of mind?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But I’d be hard pressed to see a deep gladness there.  When we look at the lives of those trapped in all manner of ways by the unjust systems of our society, there is certainly a deep hunger for justice.  The prophetic books of the Bible ring with God’s call to tear down Empire’s systems of oppression and build the world of justice God desires.  But does God ever condone violence in the service of this end?  Are we to fight fire with fire as it were?

This is admittedly harder to answer than examining Jesus’ model of pacifism and civil disobedience.  As I said at the beginning, God is infinite and transcendent and the moment we begin to think we “understand” the totality of God is the moment our hubris overtakes the awe we should feel in the face of God’s Absolute Otherness.  God is always revealing God’s Self to us in different ways, across time and traditions.  But while the Bible has many, many stories of violence, that wouldn’t’ve been uncommon for when it was written. 

In the ancient world, conflicts/wars were seen as contests of the gods and whichever side won it was because their god was strongest.  But the consistent trend I see in the Bible is the call to nonviolence.  In Genesis, there is no meat-eating in the Garden of Eden.  In the paradise of God, nothing dies for another to live.  Even fruits aren’t to be consumed until they fall.  However humankind can be violent and, once outside the Garden, God allows meat-eating as a compromise.  Will humanity stop killing each other if God allows them to kill animals?  But we don’t.  So we get the famous “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” verse, so often used to justify violent retaliation like Jesus’ civil disobedience at the Temple.  In the context of the passage though, it is a call to scale back our retaliation.  If someone takes your eye, God is saying, you can only take their eye back in return.  You can’t kill them, rape their wife, and burn their home to the ground.  Then, in the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  For all the cosmic craziness in the Book of Revelation, it ends in a peaceful garden.  In that light, the Bible begins and ends in a peaceful garden and the whole of human history between those two points is the story of our trying to find a way back to the peace of God. 

Daredevil 47 (2)

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

While I’ve only used examples from the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament above, this trend towards love is far from unique to the Jewish and Christian traditions’ view of God.  If my twenty odd years in the field of religious studies has shown me anything, it’s that the Divine, across traditions and in whatever name we give it, is love.  From Hinduism to Buddhism to Taoism to Judaism to Christianity to Islam and beyond, to paraphrase the theologian John Caputo in his text On Religion, is “love” a name we have for the experience of God or is “God” a name we have for our highest experience of love?  The answer to both is “yes.”  And love never uses violence to accomplish its ends.  That’s not how love works so that can’t be how God works. 

So for me, in my heart, no.  God never condones violence in any way, shape or form.  Because God is love and God transforms the world in and through love.  The justice God seeks is not one brought by the sword…or fist…or billy club, as the case may be.  But I also grant the reality of the dark and violent nature of our world and I grant how easy it is for me to sit here, on my comfortable couch, with my What About Bob? and Doctor Who and Scrubs Funkos across from me, in my warm and safe home, in my quiet neighborhood, and say, “Give peace a chance.”  I am contemplating evil in the abstract.  It is not a daily part of my life, of my neighborhood.  Nor do I have the power and abilities Matt Murdock has.  If I did, no matter what my understanding of God is, I can’t imagine letting people suffer, letting children suffer, when I could stop it in the way Daredevil can.  I’m sure I would kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight.  It wouldn’t be what God would want but I’d lack the patience to solve the problems in other ways.  I would hear too much and I couldn’t wait to peacefully resolve one conflict when others would be hurt as I did so.

In this way, it’s a blessing I don’t have superpowers.  I don’t have to make this choice.  Instead, I can read Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto’s Daredevil and contemplate how easily my own image and understanding of God would be forsaken if I could do what Daredevil can and I can wrestle with all those implications.  Far from judging Matt Murdock in any way, I sympathize with him.  I empathize with him, too.  And I don’t envy the balance he has to try and strike with Jesus’ cross in one hand and Daredevil’s billy club in the other.

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Is Foggy right? Does someone have to be Daredevil? And what does that say about our world and our response to God’s call if the answer is “yes”? / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

[1] Frederick Buechner, “Vocation,” FrederickBuechner,com, July 18, 2017.  https://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2017/7/18/vocation

[2] Ibid.

[3] Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer, The Power of Myth. (New York: Anchor Books, 1991), 89-90.

[4] William C. Placher, A History of Western Christian Theology: an introduction. (The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1983), 108.

[5] Bono, On the Move (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2006), 16-18.

2 thoughts on “Daredevil’s Violent Vocation: God’s Calling or the Justification of Man?

  1. Do you think the when his father walks out of the church (in the panel you included) that the command from his father to confess then go home and “clean the kitchen” is a subtle nod to the “Father” calling Matt to be the devil who will clean up Hell’s Kitchen? Or am I just reading too much into it?

    Also, can God call others to be “Daredevils” or can there only be one? I am asking since I just finished the Avengers run and there be lots of Ghost Riders so why not lots of Daredevils?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. :0 …..I can’t believe I didn’t see that. OH MY GOSH! The Kitchen!!!! I’m sure that was foreshadowing!!! That’s brilliant. As if I needed another reason to buy you these collections for future birthdays and Christmases.. I’m sure you’re right, That wording can’t be coincidental.

      As to God calling other Daredevils, Zdarsky explores that in the run! Without giving too much away for when I get you these comics and/or future post material, at a point in the narrative Matt has to leave Hell’s Kitchen and the only reason he’s comfortable doing so is because Elektra stays and promises to take up the mantle. She becomes Daredevil, commits to nonlethal tactics, and protects the Kitchen in Matt’s absence. So between Matt’s chosen vocation, the people of Hell’s Kitchen rising up and taking on the mantle themselves, and Elektra becoming Daredevil, it seems Zdarsky is at least opening the door for such contemplation/discussion, even if he’s not being as directly Aaron-esque about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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