A purposeful parody of the Passion story, utilizing and upending Biblical imagery to argue for an antitheist theology
Originally published at The Hub City Review
You’re a fool if you think you could ever live up to the expectation of the all-goddamn-mighty. He made us, right? He made us in His own image. Fucked up.”
-Cain, The Goddamned #4
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that, back in my days of preaching from the pulpit, my parishioners had affectionately nicknamed me “Brimstone.” Cain’s first sentence above shared much of the same tone and theology of those old sermons of mine, many modeled after the most famous homily in American history, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Sure, I’d always bring my message around to the good news of the Gospel eventually, but only after hammering home the full severity of sin. Since leaving the cloth behind, my own religious and philosophical convictions have changed drastically, but I know, had Jason Aaron’s The Goddamned existed at the time, I’d have loved it as an illustration of the full fallenness of Man and the divine wrath such rightly merited. While I wouldn’t have agreed back then with the actual message Aaron is making, his highly imaginative interpretation of the antediluvian age would have provided the image I was trying to instill in my audience about mankind’s current condition, spiritually speaking.
Of course, I’d have taken issue with how Cain continued his statement, as would any theologians worth their salt (admittedly, not many). The doctrine of theImago Dei (Man being made in the image of God) has always been one of the most misinterpreted in all of Christianity’s corpus doctrinae (body of beliefs). Whenever an individual blames their personal failings on the fact that “that’s how God made me,” or worse, suggests such shortcomings makes them special specifically because they share in the Image of God, such always fails to account for the equally important belief in Original Sin and its completely corrupting effect on everything in existence. Or, as Cain puts it, “Fucked up.”
Though to be fair, Cain is not merely claiming that the fallen creation is “fucked up,” but that the Creator is “fucked up” as well. In this sense he is every bit the misotheist as Eisenburg’s Lex Luthor in Dawn of Justice. Likewise, though the narrative does not cast Noah as a Christ-figure, he claims the role of savior for himself, saying to Cain, “You are the sinner who cursed the world. And I am the chosen one who will redeem it.” They share the same dichotomy as Luthor and Superman, albeit with the roles of protagonist and antagonist inversed. This is because, unlike Dawn of Justice, The Goddamned is not a theodicy; it does not seek to reconcile the problem of pain and the existence of evil with the alleged goodness of God, but to question His benevolence and cast the blame upon Him. In that way, the narrative can acknowledge an original sin on Adam’s part but still have Cain be in the right in the context of this story for concluding that mankind is “fucked up” because their maker was “fucked up” first.
In fact, issue #4 is the most direct challenge to Christianity in the series thus far, specifically appropriating imagery not merely from the Old Testament but the New as well. Whereas previous issues could be read as hostile to hypocritical expressions of Christianity, the critique here is more direct. Cain is referred to as “Son of Adam.” It is literally the case, but also intended to echo in the reader Christ’s self-selected nickname “Son of Man” (the name Adam being Hebrew for “Man”) as well as St. Paul terming Jesus the “Second Adam.” Moreover, Cain is subjected to an inversion of the Passion story, wherein after being crucified – for nine days – he’s then taken off the cross and whipped – far more times than forty lashed minus one, at that. Later, after being crucified yet again, he takes himself down from the cross, a reversal of Christ’s own refusal to do so despite the temptation and taunts that “He saved others, but cannot save himself.”
(Immediately after, Cain takes one of the nails still piercing his palms and shoves it through the back of the skull of one of his enemies. That’s neither here nor there as far as allusion or symbolism. It was just really fucking cool.)
The issue ends in an inversion of where the Good Friday account begins. In Gethsemane, Jesus had prayed to God, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Essentially, in the Gospel story, it was Christ’s desire not to suffer death, but sacrificed himself all the same to save humanity. For Cain in The Goddamned, his desire for four issues straight had been nothing short of his own demise. Yet he come to put his personal desires aside, albeit towards an opposite end:
‘Kill him.’ I’ve longed to hear those words for so very long. And yet now that they’re ringing in my ears, suddenly all I can think is… I don’t want to die. For the first time in my life… I’ve found something worth killing for.”
The Goddamned #4 is a purposeful parody of the Passion story. It’s utilization and upending of Biblical imagery to argue for an antitheist theology marks it among the most unusual retellings of the Gospel story, presenting such not as the Good News but the Bad News. Whether Aaron is successful at the story’s end in pulling off a reverse-Milton by invalidating the ways of God to men is still to be seen. But regardless, The Goddamned remains, whether in spite or because of its sheer audaciousness, quite simply amazing.