Monday, May 16, 2016

Conversation with Eric Peterson about Batman and Theology

I recently had the privilege of talking with Eric Peterson, (pastor of Colbert Presbyterian Church) about Batman and Theology. Check out our conversation below:

EP: So I gather you grew up enjoying comics?

SV: I think I read the comic books later. I first watched Batman on TV, the Adam West 1960’s Batman, then I watched the cartoons. Then for a while there was a series of pretty bad Batman films in the 90’s, which I watched, but I lost interest in the character. Then in 2005, this new director Christopher Nolan made Batman Begins which was just really great. Good story, great writing, entertaining. And that’s when I really got interested in the character again. And then of course The Dark Knight which was the sequel which had huge cultural impact and became sort of an iconic version. And I think it was really after that one that I thought about Batman and theology. I thought, wow there’s all this great stuff in here, I want other people to see this too.

EP: So that’s when you thought about writing the book?

SV: Yeah, and I actually had a conversation with a friend about the films who didn’t see any strong parallel or buy the connection, so that also prompted me to want to write something in a persuasive, coherent, way that was as compelling as possible. And I got to do that while I was at Gordon-Conwell. 

EP: So, you wrote this while you were a student at Gordon-Conwell as a thesis?

SP: It was for an independent theology research course, which I did under Patrick Smith. He was kind enough to take it, oversee it, and give me the liberty to do what I wanted while also giving direction and guidance. 

EP: Did you complete the whole thing while you were at Gordon-Conwell then, or did you have to do a lot of work after?

SV: Pretty much. I didn’t do too much work on it, other than figuring out logistical details. 

EP: And you're not the first person to make this connection right?

SV: I'm not, other people have made observations here and there, but I think I'm the first person to flesh it out in the way I have.

EP: I watched the cartoon Batman as well with the “POW!” “BANG!” So you like those?

SV: Yeah, as a kid I enjoyed them, the show was fun, and I think I got an understanding of Batman as this good guy who was against crime. So it was good in that sense. The character originally created by Bob Kane was pretty dark; he was doing some dark things in the early comics, and I think they decided to give him a wider audience. So, they made him nicer and kid friendly in the 1960’s Batman.

EP: Do you talk about Robin in the book?

SV: I don’t, no. I really wanted to just make the case for the uniqueness of Batman, and make a direct correlation. 

EP: It would be interesting to see how some of these other characters might fit in…but it’s really a Christological connection you’re making then?

SV: Yeah. 

EP: I’ve seen one with Jack Nicholson. What did you think of that one?

SV: Yeah, Tim Burton directed that one. I’m not crazy about it…it had some weird casting. That’s one of the great things that Christopher Nolan did with his films is that he treated the character as real as possible, he didn’t want to treat it like a comic book character or just make a kids movie. He wanted to give the character as much validity as possible. 

EP: So why Batman and Theology, and not Batman and Jesus?

SV: I probably put less thought into the title than I should have…I think because I wrote it as an academic essay originally, and so it’s fairly theologically oriented. I focus on the doctrine of atonement throughout the book. I wanted other theologians and pastors to consider it a theological project. And also because there’s a book entitled, Batman and Philosophy so I thought this title would be a good supplement. 

EP: But Batman doesn’t die…

SV: Yeah…that’s true…but he does undergo immense physical suffering and loss on a daily/nightly basis to achieve a certain good. 
EP: Yeah, I never made a connection before, but I can see how it makes sense. Bruce Wayne, he comes from a place of privilege, humbles himself…

SV: Right, exactly.

EP: Well now that it’s out, are you happy with it? 

SV: Yeah. I still feel torn about the style in which I wrote it. Sometimes I wish I had written it less like an academic paper, and more for a popular audience. But overall I'm glad it's done and out there, and I hope people who watch the Batman films can use this as a helpful guide. 

You can order your copy of Batman and Theology here.
Faith Colloquium : A Blog about Theology, Philosophy, Church, and Culture

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