Monday, September 19, 2016

Gods of Metal

While piddling around on YouTube the other day, I came across a video titled Everything Great About Avengers: Age of Ultron which prompted me to rewatch the movie. As the video points out, there is lots to love about this movie—so many great moments both laugh-out-loud and stand-up-and-cheer. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the movie, though, is the titular villain—Ultron.
Since his first appearance in Avengers #54 (1968), Ultron has evolved into one of the greatest villains in the Marvel Universe. Originally created by Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man) as an artificial intelligence programmed to achieve peace and order in the world, Ultron concludes, “Humanity is inherently flawed. Observation and analysis suggest humanity is encoded with chaotic and violent tendencies that cannot be overcome” (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; Season 1, Episode 22). Thus, Ultron sets out to usher in peace and oder by ridding the world of humanity.
In the film version, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner team up to create Ultron for similar purposes. But, just as in previous incarnations, Ultron redefines his programming and seeks to remake the world in his image. Rarely have I seen a villain with such a penchant for biblical allusions.
When he comes face to face with the Avengers, Ultron greets only one of our heroes with sarcastic disdain: “Captain America-God’s righteous man.” Ultron means this as an insult, but he’s actually correct (remember Cap’s memorable line: “There’s only one God ma’am. And I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”).
In another scene, when Ultron lays claim to a chunk of precious, indestructible vibranium, he quotes Jesus, saying, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.”
Later, Ultron assures Wanda and Pietro, “The human race will have every opportunity to improve.” Doubtful, Pietro questions, “And if they don’t?” Ultron answers, “Ask Noah… When the earth starts to settle God throws a stone at it. And believe me—he’s winding up.” Ultron sees humanity as wayward, self-destructive and in need of a good cleansing. The mechanical monster seems to frame himself as a wrathful deity—a creative being who wants to work with a blank slate.
To me, this latest incarnation of Ultron (and perhaps all previous ones as well) represents the dangers of making for ourselves “gods cast of metal” (Leviticus 19:4). Wittingly or not, Tony Stark created for himself a false god—a god in whom he placed his trust. Obviously, that trust was misplaced. All too often, we make the same mistake. False gods come in many forms—money, power, fame, possessions, sex, drugs, whiskey, even the god of self. Anything that takes the place of the One True God in our hearts and lives becomes a god of our own making. And it always ends badly.
Fortunately, we have a couple resources for dethroning these lesser gods.
The first is Scripture. In Avengers #68 (1969), Ultron experiences one of his greatest defeats. When Ultron tries to pry a pivotal piece of information from Ant-Man’s mind, the hero crashes Ultron’s positronic brain by focusing his thoughts on a single phrase, repeated over and over in his mind. Ultron cries, “My mind… filling with thoughts I cannot bear! No! I was prepared to receive any scientific formula… any arcane knowledge… but not this… not this!” When his fellow Avengers ask Ant-Man what phrase caused the mechanical menace to overload, Hank Pym replies, “A simple phrase, Avengers… and an ancient one… ‘thou shalt not kill.’” That’s right! The words of Scripture (the Ten Commandment to be exact) enabled Ant-Man to vanquish this “god cast of metal.” And, like Ant-Man, we always have the Word of God at our disposal. By focusing our thoughts on Scripture, we can avoid settling for lesser gods.
Furthermore, we have the church. Early in the film, Ultron visits a church. “This church is in the exact center of the city,” he explains. “The elders decreed it so that everyone could be equally close to God.” Fittingly, it’s in this same church where the Avengers battle Ultron’s minions in the movie’s climactic conclusion. But remember, the church isn’t a place… it’s people. When Ultron asks, “How do you hope to stop me?” Iron Man nods to Captain America and replies, “Like the old man said—together!” The same is true for us. The church is the center of it all. Together—working side by side, hand in hand—we can keep each other accountable and overthrow the gods of this world.

In the Old Testament, whenever Israel repented and returned to the Lord, they would destroy all of their carved statues and metal idols and tear down all of their altars. Maybe it’s time for us to do the same. What “gods cast of metal” do you need to tear down?