I loved it – Avengers: Infinity Wars, that is. It somehow manages to carry thirty Marvel heroes, has some excellent and humorous pairings of characters and has a meaningful storyline. Best of all, it also has a metaphysical angle. Thanos, the villain, clearly has a God-thing going on, the fate of the universe itself is at stake and we deal with ultimate good and evil.
Thanos the God?
Without giving away any spoilers, Thanos is on the hunt for the six infinity stones, which would give him “godlike” powers. Thanos actually translates to “immortal” from Greek, so the association with God is not subtle!
The six stones were described by The Collector in the Guardians of the Galaxy as:
“Before creation itself, there were six singularities. Then the universe exploded into existence, and the remnants of these systems were forged into concentrated ingots… Infinity Stones.”
The Six Infinity Stones
Based on the Marvel movies, each stone has the following powers:
Space Stone (blue, Tesseract). Capable of controlling space , provides holder “teleportation” powers.
Mind Stone (yellow, Vision’s head). Grants the holder powerful mental abilities, and mind-control.
Reality Stone (red, Aether) . Warps reality at will
Power Stone (purple, Orb) Increases holders physical abilities and allows it to manipulate energy (even enough to destroy a planet )
Time Stone (green, Eye of Agamotto) able to control the flow of time, can lock it in a time loop, resetting its state until the wielder stops its effect.
Soul Stone (orange, planet Vormir) believed to allow the user to control living and dead souls.
So in this cosmology, the ability to control space, minds, subjective reality, time, power and souls are attributes of total power. It would then come as no surprise that this strongly overlaps with the conception of God in religions such as Judaism. We mustn’t forget that the creators of most of these comic superheroes, like Stan Lee, were Jewish.
The Jewish God
Specifically in Judaism, God is (amongst other things):
Omnipresent – is in all places at all times, which echoes the Space stone
Omniscient – knows all things in the past, present and future, which echoes with the mind and time stones
Omnipotent – can do anything, which echoes the power and reality stones
Creator of all things – as it states in Isaiah 45:6-7 ” I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” – this echoes the soul stone.
Eternal – God transcends time. He has no beginning nor end. This echoes the time stone and the soul stone
So some of the primary attributes of God as described in the Hebrew bible clearly overlap with the six infinity stones.
What is not God
Yet, upon deeper inspection Thanos cannot be God, because the overarching nature of God is that God is One. There are no other gods, there is no multiplicity and there is nothing comparable.
In fact, according to Maimonides (or Rambam in Hebrew), the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, listing attributes as I have introduces a plurality by separating them out. It also constrains God. Instead, Maimonides prefers a negative theology (via negativa) which describes what God is not. So rather than God is all-powerful, it would be God does not lack any powers or rather than God is omniscient, it would there is nothing God doesn’t not know.
Marvel movies are meta
Thanos and the Marvel universe does clearly borrow from religions like Judaism , but they take some liberties in their notion of God (perhaps intentionally). The better analogy would be to Norse mythology, where there are competing gods and so on. This may mirror the implicit beliefs of our times, when everything is about grounding and humanising any forces and powers within the world and the ability of individuals to harness them to succeed.
So not only is Infinity Wars a great piece of movie-making, it is also a commentary on the metaphysical beliefs of our times. We could almost say it is the new “religion” of our times.
* In Judaism, God is often written without the vowel as a sign of respect (so G-d). However, some argue this applies only to the word written in Hebrew. For ease of reading I spell the full word.