Batman #53, released on August 15th, 2018, was the latest entry in the controversial Tom King run on Batman. Many ensuing headlines purport that the issue features a confirmation by DC Comics that Bruce Wayne, The Batman, is an atheist, adding yet another chapter to the much-disputed run. When the initial articles first ran, I had not yet read the issue, but something about the reports struck me as something needing further investigation.
The word ‘atheist’ in never used in the issue. That in and of itself casts doubt on a supposed confirmation, but that does not entirely discount it, either. I would argue that the term is actually conspicuous in its absence.
Here we see two crucial moments. The first is that, when asked if the female juror’s religious preference was a problem, Bruce responds with “No. Never.” This statement is not to point at atheists as incapable of accepting that other people hold religious beliefs, however it does establish firmly that Bruce is not incapable of said acceptance. The second moment refers to the final two panels, in which the juror asks, “Do you believe in God?” to which Bruce responds, “I used to.” Here, because of the nature of comics, we are forced to assume God with a capital ‘G’ as reference specifically to the Judeo-Christian supreme being, rather than a lower-case god, which can refer to any number of deities and divine beings. Presuming, because we have already established that the juror is Christian, that the God in reference is the Judeo-Christian God, to this point all Bruce has done is to disavow Christianity.
The disavowal of Christianity could be read as problematic in the greater history of the DC Comics Universe, in that a number of God’s (or He is often described at The Presence) agents are at large, including The Spectre, Eclipso, The Phantom Stranger, etc. (keeping strictly to post-Flashpoint continuity). If the key word is not, in fact, God, perhaps the answer to Bruce’s views on religion lie in the notion of “belief”. To “believe in”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is to “have faith in the truth or existence of.” Unpacking further, OED defines “faith” as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Herein lies the question of Batman’s statement— can one believe in the potential existence of a God or gods/goddesses without believing in them? We are discussing a man who has spent a good deal of his career side-by-side with a Greek goddess in Wonder Woman. He does not worship Diana, but would he argue that Diana is not, in fact, a goddess? There are many other examples, from Neron through the New Gods, but the question remains the same for all—does Bruce believe them to not be of a divine nature, or does he simply not possess the faith with which one is required to have for worship?
Bruce follows this statement by briefly describing his father’s belief in a Christian God and how, after the slaying of Bruce’s parents, Bruce lost that same faith. “I… put aside believing in… a deity,” Bruce explains. To this point in Bruce’s life, he would not have met any of the divine beings he would later encounter, and his decided use of a past-tense here further complicates any sense of where he stands in regards to deities today. I would argue that even though the mode of his discussion has changed from God to deity, we are still viewing an argument against belief in a Judeo-Christian God. Putting that belief aside, Bruce moves on to describe a search “for something solid to put my faith in”—a search that yielded no results. Later in the issue, he describes having placed that faith in essentially the avatar of Batman, rather than stating that he placed that faith in himself. Following the “wedding that wasn’t”, his faith is once again shaken, casting a shadow of fallibility on Batman, causing Batman to “fall from grace”, as it were, for Bruce.
In summation, based on my reading of the issue (which is certainly only one of many possible readings), I would not conclude with any sense of certainty that Batman is a confirmed atheist. I would, however, be willing to accept that Batman has a lack of the necessary faith to worship or believe in a single deity of any sort to provide solace or comfort, leading me to conclude that Batman is more likely agnostic. Agnostic, defined by the OED as “a person who believes nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God” seems a better fit based on the search for “something solid” or tangible, something infallible to place his faith in, for one of the DCU’s premier empiricists. Perhaps as King’s run continues, there will be further evidence or reconciliation between Bruce’s views on religion versus the gods and goddesses he has personally encountered, or perhaps we are all simply reading too much into this particular issue.
Whatever happens, I can assure you… we will be watching.
Losing My Religion: Is The Batman Truly An Atheist?
User Review( votes)