In BATMAN #53, the book concludes the storyline of Bruce Wayne trying to convince a jury not to convict Mister Freeze. The arc proved to be attention-grabbing for two reasons. First, it was Batman who caught Freeze in the first place, making Wayne’s objection to conviction even more fascinating than usual. Second, in reply to a fellow juror’s question, Wayne admits that while he once believed in God, he doesn’t anymore. Thus, the hero admitted to being a Bat-atheist (or Batheist(TM)) in current continuity.

Does Wayne being an atheist change the character? Does it change anything? Is it meaningful or meaningless? Does being atheist close off some story avenues while opening others? Finally, how do I feel about it?

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Bruce Wayne reveals he’s an atheist to his fellow juror. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Does it Make Sense for Bruce Wayne to be an Atheist?

Of course it does.

Welp, case closed.

No?

Okay, fine. I mean it though, it can make sense.

The Factors That Might Have Led Him Atheism

First of all, anyone can be an atheist for any reason. Yes, the DCU can be a weird, wild place. However, it also is a  place one would find the same kinds of people wandering the streets as you would in the real world. That would, reasonably, include atheists. Heck, we already know a similar hero in the DCU who describes himself as an atheist, Mr. Terrific.

While there’s no single path to atheism, there are several common reasons you hear for people who had faith becoming people without belief in God. The most common, pop culture-wise at least, is the tragedy angle. If bad things can happen to good people, the universe is unjust. If the universe is unjust, there can be no just higher power. Bruce Wayne has experienced more than his fair share of crushing tragedies. Literally, the first of these motivated him to become Batman. It is just as likely to have made him an atheist.

The second is just a natural skepticism. If there can be nothing to be seen or evaluated, it cannot be verifiable. Until it can be verifiable, it cannot be. Thus, there is no divine. Batman depends on his five senses and his ability to evaluate the physical world. To consider “miracles” as explanations could, conceivably, make his work harder, not easier.

Third concerns corruption. As many sects of Christianity are hierarchical and have demonstrated internal misuse of power, Batman would tend to be disinclined to appreciate or respect them. So if the religion is unworthy of trust, can the message be believed? If Batman wouldn’t trust the Gotham Police Department until it gutted its corrupt elements, why would he trust multiple organizations that seem to never truly eliminate their ugliest, cruelest elements?

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How can he be an Atheist After all the Supernatural Stuff he’s Witnessed?

In a world where people can fly, shoot rays from their eyes, do literal magic, and so on; skepticism becomes more important, not less. I have made this point before in regards to Doctor Thirteen, but I will reiterate it quickly here. In our world where things like faith healing aren’t proven, we still see “practitioners” of it. Thus, in a world where such things could happen, it only makes sense that more frauds would exist. If you can profit from undemonstrated phenomenon in the real world, you definitely could do the same in a place where such there are witnessed and proven examples of events that — if not literal faith healings — are close enough that naming it otherwise would feel like a difference without a distinction to many.

On the other hand, some would argue Batman has witnessed those phenomena quite a bit. He might be always on the lookout for cons and criminals, but what of his allies? However, what he has witnessed could, conceivably, make him more skeptical. Nearly anything “supernatural” Batman has seen looked very similar to alternate dimensions, superpowers, and so on; things he has experienced completely divorced from a divine experience. Superman is basically a god and, yet, not. Therefore, who is to say that Zauriel isn’t just a different version of that same tune? Batman need not even think the worst of his fellow hero to believe this. He could rationalize that Zauriel came up in a world where people like him were called Angels, and he has no reason to question that. However, Zauriel’s belief in it doesn’t mean Batman needs to as well.

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Young Master Bruce, keeping the faith, years before he admitted he was an atheist. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Plus, There’s Precedent for Atheism

Batman has prayed. He’s prayed as a kid and as an adult, both in and out of costume. There have certainly been times he acknowledges the existence of God. If you’re someone who remembers these times and thus feels annoyed about this change, I can appreciate that.

On the other hand, if you look back throughout the years, Batman has also often espoused his lack of belief in God, gods, and the divine. Type “Batman Atheist” into the ol’ Google Image Search and you will find multiple panels where Batman claims to have “met gods and not believed in them,” rejects the concept of an afterlife, and refers to himself as having an “atheistic hand.”

So it’s not like this is a thing Tom King spun out of whole cloth from nowhere. He might be the latest to have Batman state it. He certainly seems like the one who’s gotten the biggest headlines doing so. However, King’s choice, even if he didn’t know it, has on-panel precedence. So, if you’re a continuity is king (no pun intended) type, the groundwork is already there.

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It read just as awkward as you might imagine when Bats inserted his being an atheist into the conversation like a college freshman. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

So Do I Like The Idea of Bruce Wayne, Atheist?

I do not. After a couple weeks of contemplation and reading the follow-up issue, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that. I’m not saying I’m right in disliking it, just admitting that I kind of do.

To be clear, I don’t think Tom King did it poorly. The arc is well-constructed, the discussion of a God (or lack thereof) is impactful but doesn’t grind the story to a halt. Plus, as stated above, it doesn’t break the mind to imagine a Bruce Wayne or, especially, a Batman who doesn’t believe in God. However, just because something makes sense and is well done doesn’t require me to like the development. I can respect the work and still admit it doesn’t work for me.

For me, there are personal reasons and story reasons why I found myself a bit deflated by the revelation. For the sake of ease, let’s start with the personal ones.

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My Personal Reasons

As I stated a few months back, I related strongly to aspects of Daredevil that — consciously and unconsciously — led me to make him my favorite comic book character. Amongst them were certainly him being Irish Catholic, just like my mom’s side of the family.

However, for my dad’s side of the family, Batman is the closer example. Bruce is a mainline Protestant — or was anyway — blue blood. He likely came from a family who attended church now and then, almost never discussed religion, and generally identified their values as being more political and humanistic than religious. That description fits the Stevenses very well. Except we lost everything in the Great Depression, while the Waynes seemed to have made a killing.

While you might know my religious views from my writing, where I can’t seem to stop talking about it, I generally don’t discuss being Christian in public. I’m the type who washes the mark off his forehead immediately after Ash Wednesday service. Batman probably doesn’t have time for church, but I always imagined the Waynes were those types of Christians.

Evangelical Christians, far less numerous than mainline Protestants, nonetheless dominant our popular conception of Christianity. As part of the majority that doesn’t subscribe to believing every word in the Bible one hundred percent, doesn’t hide behind faith to justify hate, and is able to appreciate other religions beyond my own, it always hurts to lose another pop culture example of that same kind of Christian.

Batheist: Grave Cross
I’m not sure this indicates that he’s an atheist, per se, but boy does Batman seem angry at that cross. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

My Story Reasons

Being an atheist because bad stuff happened to you is boring, narratively. If you’re an atheist because bad stuff happened to you, that’s not boring. That’s real and important. However, for fictional characters? “My parents are dead, now I don’t believe in God,” is a clichéd story device.

My friend Mathan Erhardt made this same point about Mr. Terrific years ago. Here you have this incredible athlete, this brilliant mind, and — as Erhardt pointed out — this black man; and the best reason you’ve got for his lack of faith is his dead wife? What about, as a scientist, he only believes in what he can prove? What about, as a black man, he refuses to associate with an institution that was used to subjugate black men, women, and children forced to work as slaves? Now, I love Mr. Terrific, but I have to admit Mathan has a point.

The story of Bruce growing to be an atheist should be as interesting as the story of him becoming Batman. Alas, as described in BATMAN #53, the journey isn’t. In place of a true exploration of losing faith, we have a short monologue that offers no surprise, no intrigue, no depth. If I told you Batman was now an atheist and asked you to guess why, you would get it right on the first try. I just want more from it.

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Is Being an Atheist a Settled Deal?

Of course not. This is comics. Jason Aaron made Wolverine an atheist and had him rediscover faith in the span of about three issues, which was after Grant Morrison asserted he was someone of faith during his NEW X-MEN run. Matt Fraction wrote Iron Man as an atheist and then seemingly converted him during FEAR ITSELF.

Bruce Wayne is an atheist as long as someone wants him to be one, and not a moment more. Hell, maybe Tom King is building to his religious revival right this moment. Which introduces the other side of the coin. This might not be a settled deal. Perhaps King has more to tell, more to explore here. Maybe the first step was BATMAN #53, but Wayne’s narrative will gain shape and depth over the next several issues.

In other words, just because I think the reasoning feels facile now doesn’t mean King cannot continue to play with these themes and tease them out. Where #53 started off might, in time, become the more complex tale of becoming an atheist that I crave. Or perhaps not.

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Batman makes prayers hands just five issues before he admits he’s an atheist. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Either way, time will tell. Time will deepen it or erase it. For now though, I’m okay with being disappointed but interested in where the story of Bruce Wayne, newly out atheist is going.

3 Comments

  1. Gray.

    January 26, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    The reason the author of this article has a hard time accepting Batman’s spiritual perspective is because like most, he’s more thoroughly invested into the character more than he admits. Because we prefer increasing realism however, they must be allowed to evolve without keeping them in the objective box of when we ‘knew’ them best. Batman’s being an atheist may be boring from a storytelling perspective, while undoubtedly making perfect sense to more than most. Point being, the undertone most subconsciously subscribe to is that heroes can be as individualistic as they like—as long as they believe in God. If not, because of how most are brought up to believe in spirituality, it creates a moral dilemma that forces them to choose to further accept or reject them anymore. Most instead, will apply the “software restore” feature to their heroes—only acknowledging what they represent in certain times and eras, holding that time-warp view of them in their minds and emotions as the definitive example, and dismissing more modern and accurate iterations—maybe the reason for the author’s dissension in this case but it would certainly explain a lot. A person with Batman’s background and resources, with the self-imposed belief of being substantially more than what he is, isn’t exactly going to have a positive mindset in the traditional sense, let alone room for belief in a deity.

    Religion for all its representation and intent, has its ways of limiting human potential in ways free will absent of its influence simply does not. It’s why we gravitate towards and flirt with the notion of spiritual independence without consequence so often. No one inherently likes the idea of being direct or indirectly subject to any authority, no matter how benevolent and well-meaning they are. We prefer knowing something higher is out there but not necessarily having to answer to it—we cannot however, afford to indulge that belief for very long for many reasons. Heroes with ideologies that bluntly and defiantly conflict with that, give us emotional and ethical problems after so much time and involvement. There’s no mystery here. Batman’s atheism is a natural progression of the character. Men who have everything have no need for an external god when they are already their own.

    Reply

  2. Jack Brooks

    September 13, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Batman as a rational man wouldn’t believe in infinite regress or something from nothing. Because he’s rational, he would not be an atheist.

    Reply

  3. Jimmie

    September 11, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    Batman is very smart and rational, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t an atheist.

    Reply

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