Religion In Vigilantism: A Study of Matthew Murdock’s Faith in God by Prithiva Sharma

Image source: Techspot


Daredevil, Marvel’s Netflix series spanning from 2015-2018, is often helmed as one of its best works. A possible reason for this might be the intensity of the plot points in the story, and how the concerns it brings up are far beyond the scope of mere justice, righteousness or vigilantism. Daredevil is distinct from a lot of Marvel’s other creations especially since it brings up a huge question of religion, especially Catholicism. 

To begin with, Matthew “Matt” Murdock  (alter ego – Daredevil)  – was blinded as a child (by accidentally getting doused in chemicals while saving a blind man from a truck accident). Due to the effects of these chemicals, he developed a “radar sense”, which he enhanced and perfected under the training of his mentor Stick. This “sense” enables him to be able to locate people and objects, and identify physiological and hormonal reactions in people, thus giving him a “vision” of his own. This ability takes form through a heightened sense of smell, touch, mental imaging and echolocation. Murdock is a lawyer by profession, and is the vigilante Daredevil during the night.

Daredevil as a show engages with Catholicism in a deep way, beginning from the title itself. Matt Murdock is a Catholic by birth, his mother (who left him at birth) takes up the life of a nun; he was raised in a monastery after he was orphaned, and one of his biggest strengths through his life has been his Priest Father Lantom. Matt is deeply connected to God and throughout the series, his faith is presented as a prominent aspect of his personality. The beginning of the show makes this clear. The introduction of Matthew Murdock happens during a confession in the church, where he is seen confessing to his priest the words of his God-fearing grandmother:

“Be careful of the Murdock boys. They got the Devil in ‘em.”

This scene tells us that not only is God a huge motif in this story, but also that Matt recognizes the ‘Devil’ within himself. A deeper analysis here concludes with us realising that Matt sees himself to be damned. Matt’s Catholicism is always at odds with his alter ego; for Daredevil is seen to be someone who does not have any faith in God. As a vigilante, his name itself, Daredevil, or the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, stands as an opposition to God. Catholicism, in here, believes in the God of New Testament who is forgiving; not punishing. Daredevil, on the other hand, is known to be punishing and cruel, and someone who will not spare any person committing crime on his city.

However, as much as Matt Murdock’s faith seems to be at war with his own self, it is the point of reconciliation for Matthew Murdock and Daredevil. Matt takes up the mantle of the Masked Vigilante owing to his Catholic responsibility, where he wants to save people. 

“As Daredevil, I get to save the world. As a lawyer, I can fix it. I need them both. The Warrior and the Lawyer. It doesn’t work if I only have one.”[1]

Murdock’s faith sustains him, and helps him restrain the anguish he feels at the crimes he can feel and hear all around. It is his faith in God which is the reason why Daredevil does not kill; his Christian faith saves “the Devil from coming out”. Daredevil, despite his blasphemous name, is a protector and savior, not a destroyer or murderer. 

This particular instance becomes clear in Matt’s encounter with, and interrogation of Roscoe Sweeney, his father’s murderer. His companion of the time, Elektra Natchios, saw the “Devil” in him, and urged him to unleash his wrath and kill Sweeney to avenge his father; but Murdock’s loyalty to God and his principles of redemption save him from going too far, and he eventually does not kill Sweeney.

This is not to say that his faith always leads him to a resolution. Time and again, as seen in the case of Wilson Fisk, the Catholic and the Devil are continuously at war.

“I know my soul is damned if I take [Fisk’s] life, but if I stand idle, people will suffer and die.”

Matt’s internal turmoil in such cases is not only the violation of the Ten Commandments, but also his fight with his own self which says that taking a life is not his choice to be made; it is God’s decision.

Matt’s life as Daredevil leaves him in turmoil more often than not, especially when people die in the way. Matt Murdock is seen to be struggling with mental trauma, as a lot of Marvel ‘heroes’ do, but his trauma has a spiritual dimension too – he struggles with what is often termed as his ‘Catholic Guilt’. His own sense of self-damnation, and his larger empathy with the city at large often leave him tormented at the prospect of any life that he could not save. Matt Murdock’s methods of vigilantism are inherently distinct from the conventional, majorly because of the very reason that his faith is his driving force. He believes Daredevil is his calling, the path to his atonement. 

As Frank Miller, creator of the “Born Again” series of Daredevil puts it, “…only a Catholic can be a vigilante and an attorney at the same time.” This statement ties together the two ends of Matt’s existence perfectly. He is an attorney because he wants to save people from undeserved punishment, and he is Daredevil because he wants to give people the punishment they deserve when the law cannot. Matt the lawyer works within the legal structure and understands its limitations and flaws, and Daredevil the warrior works to set right what those flaws could not.

Matthew Murdock’s ability to endure pain is often called his martyrdom, which he himself quips to be the “Catholicism” in him. He endures severe physical pain, for the faith he has in God and what he believes will be his redemption. Throughout the series, Matt Murdock is often told to “come down from his cross”, with regards to his tendency to run into fights unprepared (The Man Without Fear), and time and again sacrificing his body. His sacrifice becomes literal in The Defenders (2017) when he “dies” because he refused to kill a resurrected Elektra and vehemently believes that she has a chance at redemption.

Matthew Murdock’s entire journey has been an attempt to embrace the Devil and finding a way to tie that end to his faith, and it is when Father Lantom talks to him about morality, inaction and murder that he realizes how he had limited his own faith.

“…are you struggling with the fact that you don’t want to kill this man but have to? Or that you don’t have to kill him but want to?”

It is this quote which puts things into perspective: Justice is a fickle subject, a tightrope. There is no way to be able to discern what justice actually is. For Matthew Murdock, his reconciliation with the Devil, his realization that he is not damned, and his suffering is not the course for his salvation; but the acceptance that the Devil is his own part and not a divine calling is when Matthew Murdock completes his journey as a person. 

His realization that God created the Devil, and Father Lantom’s words that nothing brings people to church faster than the Devil at their heels, makes Matt grow to accept his costumed role, and also learn that redemption is often served by the Devil himself.


SOURCES:

[1] Daredevil. Vol 5, 21.

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