What is the "Sources" section all about?

The "Religion and Ethics: Analyzed in Primary Sources" section is a collection of pages that analyze content relevant to religion and ethics from the perspective of individual primary sources.

This section is an outgrowth from (but in some ways an inversion of) the central research question of this site, which is: What is the religious affiliation of individual characters? Many sources are consulted in answering this question, including reference works, news and journal articles, interviews with creators, and the opinions of scholars and fans. But the most definitive way to answer this question is always the primary sources: The fictional comic books, films, television episodes and other sources in which these characters are portrayed.

So, in order to better delve into the religious affiliation of various characters, we have consulted countless primary sources. Typically, we have simply added particular "high value" excerpts from these sources and included these excerpts on pages about individual characters. But in analyzing individual primary sources, we sometimes generate detailed notes and analysis about religious topics touched upon in the work (be it an individual comic, an individual TV episode, a feature film, a novel, etc.)

Many primary sources have one or a few central themes of interest in the realm of ethics and religion. Multiple characters may be players in a drama that is used to explore these themes. So, by analyzing a primary source as a whole (rather than individual characters), the themes of the source may be better understood. The interconnections between various scenes, even when they involve different characters, may be better appreciated.

Also, by analyzing primary sources as a whole, we can include on our website excerpts and scenes that illuminate aspects of an individual character's religious affiliation or ethical behavior without having to include all such excerpts on the principal page devoted to an individual character. We found that the more we excerpted material from primary sources and included it on the primary article pages devoted to individual characters, the larger those character pages became. These pages became unwieldly and far larger than is optimal for a single article or web page. With this section, we can instead link to and refer to these primary sources, without having to include all relevant excerpts. If we have 50 excerpts illustrating Nightcrawler's Catholicism, for example, we can include links from a main Nightcrawler page to relevant excerpts discussed in context, rather than pile all of these onto a single page.

Similarly, we have dozens of scenes from the Lois & Clark television series that portray Perry White as an Elvis Presley devotee. We can link to primary source pages where they can be studied in detail, without having to include all of the material we collect on the primary Perry White page.

What is NOT here?

Although the pages in this section feature detailed analysis of individual primary sources, the anaylsis is done only for the purpose of illuminating religious/ethical content, particularly as it relates to individual characters. These pages sometimes feature very little discussion about sources, if there is little to discuss, and sometimes feature a great amount. But these pages are never meant to provide complete transcripts of the source material analyzed. Also, these pages are NOT intended to provide a complete plot synopsis. Often there will be no indication at all of a source's plot. Only specific scenes may be highlighted.

We enjoy reading or viewing these primary sources, but trying to provide a plot synopsis or other unrelated details would simply distract from our primary research interest: the religious affiliation of the characters. Many other sources are available which provide plot descriptions, complete character lists, detailed creator/performer credits, chronology notes, publication details, etc.

Religion vs. Ethics?

This section is titled "Religion and Ethics" for a reason: We have no interest in debates about what constitutes "religion", what constitutes "ethics", and whether a certain character's action illustrates one or the other of these. The title of this section uses both words because the subject matter covered here is somewhat broad, but all related as far as we are concerned. What we're really interested in is highlighting scenes that demonstrate a character's religious affiliation, religious practice, beliefs, philosophy, core values, deepest motivations, etc., and how the character's personal ethics and behavior ties into all of this. We leave questions of semantics and classification to others.

Superman postponed sexual intimacy until he was married to Lois Lane in multiple portrayals of the character: the Lois & Clark TV series, the Superboy TV series, and the "official cannon" stories published by DC Comics. He did not wait until marriage in the Smallville TV series or in the feature films starring Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh. Moreover, Batman of the comics clearly did not exhibit the same sexual ethics as Superman, despite the fact that both characters are heroes. We find compelling evidence that Clark Kent's values, beliefs and behaviors in this regard stem from his ethically and religiously conservative upbringing in a farm home headed by loving adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. We find all of this very interesting, of interest to other readers, and worth noting in this context. We want to cite examples of Clark Kent explaining his behavior, telling what he believes, demonstrating his adherence to his own moral principles, etc. But we have no interest in debating whether these examples of Clark Kent's behavior constitute "ethical" or "religious" behaviors, or both, or something else. We are happy to find relevant examples and quotes and excerpts, and leave it to individual readers to decide how to categorize them if they feel the need to do so.

Specifics: More interesting that general commonalities

This doesn't mean that we are interested in noting all examples of a character's ethics. That would simply be tedious. A character's ethics and genuine beliefs are demonstrated by everything they do. We all understand that. So to point out, ad nauseum, that this hero went about trying to save people and that villain was attempting to do something evil, would be pointless.

We are more interested in more detailed, nuanced differences between characters, as often these are traits that we can personally relate to. So in Lois & Clark, we know that both title characters are protagonists, and both are essentially "heroes" (although only Clark wears a colorful costume and has super-powers). Both Lois and Clark spend part of each episode trying to right some wrong or unravel some mystery in the course or writing stories for their newspaper. We know all that. But how are Lois and Clark - despite both being "good guys" - different. The subtle differences they exhibit with regards to their spiritual beliefs, their religious behavior, their sexual ethics, their inner motivations, etc., are all of particular interest.

Suffice it to say, this section's title - "Religion and Ethics" - does not imply that we note every instance in which a character's ethics are demonstrated. We try to note the most interesting, most illuminating examples.

We are particularly interested in examples in which a character's demonstrated ethical behavior may illuminate something about their specific religious affiliation or specific religious beliefs. For example, Daily Planet gossip columnist Cat Grant is portrayed as a Catholic in the TV series Lois & Clark, but to simply include scenes in which she is identifiably Catholic would give an extremely lopsided view of the character. The character's overriding character trait in this TV series is her promiscuity. So although it may seem redundant to do so, we have included many scenes which illustrate this primary character trait. This better illustrates what the character is really about and the role she played in the stories she appeared in. To simply label her "Catholic" or leave it that is insufficient. For this character, her manifest ethical behavior is clearly in conflict with the ethical teachings and expectations of the religious group she identifies with. Both her ethical behavior and her overt religious identification are necessary for forming a complete picture of the character's "religious affiliation" or character as a whole.

Many examples of how specific scenes and specific traits can illuminate a character can be found in stories featuring Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor is a villain who happens to be an atheist (he is not a villain because he is an atheist). But to simply categorize him as "an atheist" or "a villain" and leave it at that neglects a rich vein of primary source material that delves more deeply and completely into Lex Luthor's character.

Luthor is always up to villainous deeds (more so as an older adult than as a young man in the TV series Smallville or Superboy comics). So, much of the time the "ethics" (or "unethical behavior") that Lex Luthor demonstrates vary little from that of other villains: He breaks the law, he thinks principally of himself and his desires, he wants to destroy his enemy (Superman) and he wants to conquer the world or gain power or gain wealth, etc. All this is something of a given for comic book villains. Exceptions may be worth noting. But what we find of particular interest are scenes which illustrate more distinctive, individual beliefs and ethical traits within Luthor. In many portrayls of the character, Lex Luthor is shown to have a particular fondness for German philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche. He is shown reading the works of Nietzsche, for example, or paraphrasing Nietzsche. Luthor, more than most comic book villains, has been consistently portrayed as a Nietzschean. So when Luthor specifically demonstrates Nietzschean traits or is overtly shown reading or quoting Nietzschean books, we find these scenes particularly worth noting. But we also strive to give equal consideration to scenes in which Luthor quotes or specifically appeals to other authorities or "idols" as well: Alexander the Great, Niccolo Machiavelli and Sun Tzu are other figures prominent in Luthor's personal pantheon. Moreover, it is important to note instances in which Lex Luthor's specific childhood religious upbringing is evident. The TV series Smallville and Superboy both portray a young Lex Luthor as an Episcopalian drifting from his mother's positive upbringing toward becoming a more villainous Nietzschean atheist. As an older adult, Luthor becomes a man who feels no need for any authority or morality outside of his own desires and will to power.

We are interested in noting all strong examples of evidence of a particular religious upbringing or philosophical outlook, even when these different systems of thought may conflict with each other and even when the examples do not demonstrate a singular consistent pattern.

Our purpose is never to "prove" anything about any character. It is not our goal to "claim" any character is associated with any particular church, belief, ideology, etc. We want to identify and demonstrate and illuminate the religious and ideological affiliations, beliefs, behaviors, etc. established for characters in the primary works that portray them and as understood by the general body of writers, editors, scholars, commentators, readers and fans.