WARNING: Major spoilers for X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation!
What are your beliefs based upon? Where does your religion come from? And, more importantly, what happens to your faith when your personal experiences force you to question your religious doctrines?
With exactly these questions, I began my series of essays covering Way of X with a prelude analyzing X-Men #7. In that issue, Nightcrawler struggles with the difficult religious and moral questions which the new mutant status quo on Krakoa asks of him. Most of his musings center on the nature of the soul and the meaning of life and death, leading Kurt to an interesting conclusion: “I think I need to start a mutant religion.”
As an evangelical Christian, I was very interested to see how writer Si Spurrier would handle Nightcrawler’s intentions in Way of X, and specifically, what a mutant religion might look like. Although there were ups and downs along the way, a mutant faith seems to emerge in X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, which is actually the last issue in the Way of X series. Unfortunately, what Nightcrawler calls “The Spark” left me a little disappointed, especially when I compared it to my own Christian beliefs.
(Not a) mutant religion
First off, the Spark is not supposed to be a religion at all. Spurrier emphasized in an interview with our own Dave Brooke that Way of X was not a story about religion, but that it was to be more. He even had Nightcrawler sheepishly denounce his plan to start a religion in issue #1. And in X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, it is emphasized twice that the Spark is not a religion or a cult.
Instead it is supposed to be a “way of living.” But, as I mentioned in my analysis of Way of X #1, that’s exactly the original intention of every religion; what every belief system is supposed to be. In the Bible, many prophets of the Old Testament criticized the religious rituals of the people and called for them instead to live righteous lives of justice (see Amos 5:21-24 and Isaiah 1:11-17). In the same vein, Jesus harshly criticized the practices of the religious leaders of his Jewish culture, calling them, “hypocrites” and “a brood of vipers” (see Matthew 23:13-36). Instead, as written in Matthew 16:24, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,’” i.e. live as he lived. Even today, many believers criticize the religion of Christianity and call for a return to the original message of Jesus. So, ironically, by attempting to be a way of living rather than a religion, the Spark starts out just like most major belief systems.
I wonder if Spurrier recognized this from the beginning and knowingly included these denials of the Spark’s religiosity. But, nothing in the comics hints at the kind of sarcasm or dramatic irony which would suggest that Spurrier meant these denials in any other way than they were stated. Instead it feels like Spurrier seriously wants to present the Spark not as a religion, but as something more and better. So, either Spurrier knows much too well that all religions earnestly start out as, “ways of living,” and has thusly committed Nightcrawler to seriously, without any irony, deny the Spark’s religious nature; or Spurrier truly believes the Spark is something other than a religion. I can’t really tell.
Be that as it may, the Spark has all of the trimmings of a religion. For example, throughout Way of X, we read excerpts from Nightcrawler’s religious writings, “The Book of the Spark.” Also, at the end of the series, Legion and Nightcrawler have founded a place for the followers of the Spark to congregate, learn, and otherwise live out their new worldview together, which they give the religious name, The Altar. Even the final teaser reveals that Nightcrawler has apparently organized a team devoted to keeping mutants from straying too far from the Spark’s doctrines; not a particularly good idea, considering the Christian church’s history of Crusades, Inquisitions, and witch trials — not to mention the harshly punished blasphemy-laws of other world religions.
What is the Spark?
If you asked me what the central message of the Spark is, I’m not sure I could tell you.
As a religion, it appears to tend toward pluralism — that is, a mixture and acceptance of moral and spiritual statements stemming from various religions. Nightcrawler even writes that you can follow the Spark without giving up your old beliefs. Many of the various statements are very good on their own, for example, that love is the product of risk, or that humility can conquer evil. But, I’m still not sure how the Spark unifies these principles.
During the climax of X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, Nightcrawler says that the Spark is mostly about “always daring something new.” On its own, I wholeheartedly support this way of life. I was blessed to have wonderful parents as well as a very good fourth grade teacher who strongly encouraged me to be different and think outside the box. And now as a teacher myself, I love to see my own students doing the same. For example, while I obviously want my students to give correct answers, I absolutely love it when they ask questions that push the lesson beyond what I had originally planned. Furthermore, I always try to support students who hold opinions or enjoy hobbies that are initially considered weird, out-there or unpopular.
But the Spark places this principle on the highest pedestal, deifying the act of doing the unexpected. Ironically, even as this idea is supposed to unify the diverse mutant society on Krakoa, it is actually an individualistic and Western ideal, making personal choice the highest virtue.
It fits very well with the theme of “I rule me,” originally from Spurrier’s X-Men: Legacy (a series about Legion), which the author now makes central to the Spark in the form of “We rule us.” I understand the good tenets of self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and personal responsibility within this statement. But, from my Christian perspective, it comes off as the hallmark of individualistic arrogance. I must honestly admit, I know how horribly self-centered I become when I rule me.
As mentioned before, Jesus’ call to his disciples was to deny themselves to the point of figuratively dying to themselves and to follow him, i.e. let Jesus lead the way (see Matthew 16:24). Ideally, a Christian would say, “Jesus, you rule me.” If the Bible is correct about the fallen nature of humankind when it says in Romans 3:12 (quoting Ecclesiastes 7:20), “there is no one who does good, not even one,” then ruling oneself will not lead to good, but inevitably to evil. Instead, we need Jesus, who according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, “had no sin,” to guide us in pure righteousness.
Empty and meaningless?
Moving on to another interesting comparison, in X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, Nightcrawler describes the Spark with words that the Bible uses to describe God, “creative, patient, bright and beautiful.” But, the Spark is not a god. In fact, Nightcrawler admits, “In truth, the spark is barely real at all. The spark is just an idea.”
This begs the question, “Whose idea?” Apparently, it’s Kurt’s idea. Unfortunately, this would make the new mutant religion that which I referred to in my essay on X-Men #7 as a Bottom-Up Religion; not truth revealed by a deity, but a myth made up to answer difficult philosophical, ethical and spiritual questions.
And since the Spark is an idea, it cannot be a person like the God of the Bible. The Bible describes God as a person who, among other things, “does no wrong,” (Zephaniah 3:5) and that “there is no wickedness in him” (Psalm 92:15). In other words, God is not a morally good idea, but rather the one from whom morality and righteousness, good and evil, are defined. Also, you can have a loving relationship with a person, but not with an idea. As the Bible puts it, God is love, who loves us, whom we can love and from whom all love comes (see 1 John 4:7-21).
In comparison, at least as I believe it, the Spark feels empty, almost meaningless. Which is ironic, since its purpose is to bring back meaning to life in a culture where resurrection has dethroned death.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Spark really brings back the meaning in life or even answers the other complex religious questions that originally set up this series. In Spurrier’s defense, these complex questions probably have no definitive answer. But, handling these difficult religious, philosophical and moral quandaries was supposed to be the purpose of Way of X. If the concluding idea, the Spark, doesn’t adequately address these issues, then what exactly does it bring to the series?
Again I’d like to restate that I actually find most, but not all, of the principles associated with the Spark quite good. I try to live my life according to most of them. But, as presented in X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, the Spark just seems to lack the authority of a God or some universal Truth which would give these good principles a unifying foundation. It feels more like a call to dare something new for the sake of daring something new, without any greater purpose behind it. Maybe that’s not really necessary and the Spark can still give life meaning. But in my opinion, it leaves the Spark without any underlining import. Maybe that’s just what happens when these good principles are divorced from faith in God. After all, the Spark is not supposed to be a religion.
Note: All biblical quotes are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV.
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