I was standing outside the convention center for Comic-Con 2014 on Saturday -- it was hot and noisy, and waiting for the traffic signal to change was even more unpleasant because of the Christian evangelicals positioned at various crosswalks.
As we waited to cross the street, they blasted our ears with their mini-speakers. All of us, they announced, were headed to H-E-double hockey sticks if we didn't accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. A fiery punishment awaits all unbelievers.
Unbelievers, at Comic-Con? I thought. Really?
There was plenty of belief on display inside and outside the venue. I didn't dress up, but tons of people did: I saw witches and scarlet witches; zombies, vampires, and angels with elaborate, feathery wings; gladiators, King Arthurs, and Game of Thrones characters; manga girls and X-boys, and, of course, your traditional superheroes, too.
It reminded me of something that Robertson Davies wrote in his essay "The Novelist and Magic" :
The people I pitied, without despising them, were [those] innumerable fellow-citizens who have no focus for their faith, but in whom the roots of faith are still alive, and who seek hungrily and foolishly for something to do with the power they feel, but do not -- even in the vaguest and most superstitious sense -- understand.
That's what I saw all around me: a hunger for something. Comic books and superheroes have always tapped into the roots of religious faith. They ask you to believe in things unseen, like time-travel portals and invisible space ships, or mysterious loners with the power to change the world.
If you saw the movie Man of Steel, you may recall that some of the dialogue describing Kal-el's purpose has a strong biblical ring to it. I can't tell you the exact lines, but there are several moments when Superman's purpose on earth is described in explicitly messianic terms ... the hero sent from the heavens who can save the world even though he's rejected and feared.
So, when those preachers said the attendees didn't believe in anything, they were wrong. The capacity for belief was everywhere, even if it was being invested in looking like Iron Man or the Hulk instead of what they were talking about.
If they'd been a little less scolding, if they'd taken a more interesting route -- like, for instance, describing Jesus as "the Bible's ultimate superhero" -- that sort of humor might have won them some listeners.
Instead, we were all just waiting for the traffic signal to change.
Wondercon and my 401(k): at Call of the Siren