[Warning! Spoiler Alert! This post concerns The Avengers: Age of Ultron and contains Spoilers. If you’re waiting to see the movie when it comes out on BluRay or DVD, you’re on the wrong site anyway.]
About a month ago [May 14, 2015], Steve Camp, pastor of Cross Church wrote a post on Facebook entitled: “WAKE UP CHURCH: Reverence Matters.” In that post, he wrote the following after seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron:
“Recently saw new Avenger movie. Incredible graphics, action scenes, some fun witty moments. But this one line in the movie overshadowed all other concerns. When the character “The Vision” is created he is asked, “what are you?” His answer is shocking, “I am… I AM.” He invokes the very name that God alone has ascribed to Himself (Exodus 3:14) and that the Lord Jesus ascribed to Himself (John 8:58).Words that come to mind: irreverent, blasphemous, godless, profane, unholy. Satan is the great counterfeiter. He mocks the very holy Son of God as part of his strategy. The fact that it’s put in the form of entertainment should not weaken our concern or dull our discernment.
We are in the world, but not of this world. Stand for Christ, pray for those who may even unwittingly offended the very Holy One to whom all will give an account. Live out loud!”
You see, Vision was not invoking deity. The capitalized I AM is how Steve Camp and other Christians in the sheltered fish bowl of evangelical culture are interpreting the scene. While he’s not the only one making this mistake (a good number of Christian reviews of the movie repeat this doggerel), this accusation of blasphemy is indicative of the insulated nature of modern USAmerican Christianity. The very reason many Christians take Vision’s statement as a reference to Godhood is because we’re used to seeing everything through a lens of theology and we presume that the rest of the world does so too, selectively ignoring all statistics suggesting the contrary is true where it concerns Biblical knowledge in secular culture – even though our pastors likely quoted these very statistical trends a few months ago in a sermon that had us shaking our haloed heads at the lack of Biblical literacy in USAmerica! In doing so, we’ve attached a significance to a phrase that was not intended by the context of the scene.
In that scene, the Vision was attempting to answer the question of his identity. He answered “I am…” pauses uncertainly and then shrugs “I am.” In other words, he’s saying I exist and I beyond that who knows?. Note that every other bit of Vision’s dialogue is frank and without ego; if he were invoking an “I AM” rather than “I am”, it would be completely and utterly out of character!
Steve Camp responded that “The I Am reference in the way it was used was more than I exist. It’s always Messianic. …I do think you’re being naive in your treatment. Surely the line isn’t benign but has context in a Savior motif.”
I had to point out what should have been obvious. The I AM reference is always used in the Messianic/Deity sense IN THE BIBLE. For the rest of the world, it depends on the context. It is our tendency as Christians to see that phrase only in the Messianic/Deity context, because we are trained to see the world through a Biblical lens and we are likewise trained to be very suspicious of the world and especially humanism [not without cause]. Even so, I assure you that context always determines meaning, especially in extra-canonical media.
As I pointed out to Steve Camp, his use of the word “Surely…” is indicative of an appeal to common knowledge. It means we’re judging someone’s intent in total ignorance of what that intent was simply because “we all know what he really meant” …and this is little more than gossip. This is exactly the sort of false “discernment” we need to avoid.
If I may address this point more specifically, Vision was created to destroy the Avengers, but he didn’t turn out as Ultron intended. Neither [as Vision himself admits] did he turn out how Stark intended… Vision is on the side of life, but he does not fit the Messiah motif at all. Among the key requirements of this archetype [and this is a well-established archetype amongst storytellers, be they screenwriters, graphic novelists or authors], Vision is not sacrificed for the greater good, rather he is presented as Ultron’s exact opposite and sacrifices Ultron for the greater good. Yet again, Vision’s character, revealed in his other dialogue, is frank and without ego. Using this phrase to invoke deity would be completely out of character with either Vision according to the MCU, thus far, or the comic book representation of the same character.
Let me put it another way. In the UK the term bin means trash. Here it means a storage and/or sorting container. You’re like a British fellow who thinks everyone wants him to throw away his stuff when he hears an American use the term bin… simply because that’s how he’s used to hearing it IN HIS CULTURE. Of course, with a little discernment….
The end of the matter is this. In order to use true discernment when engaging modern media, we need to not only view the material in light of the revealed truth of Scripture, but also be careful not to judge it out of context. It is hypocrisy to insist that the world read Scriptures with the intended context in mind but to ignore the intended context of secular media. It is hubris to condemn such media for what they mean to say when we don’t bother to comprehend what that actually is.