The Boys is a new Amazon Prime original series which asks the question: What if superheroes weren't the altruistic good guys we have all come to know and love? It is a show that upon first glance, a Christian might avoid. Not only is every episode teeming with violence, swearing, sexual imagery, it actively mocks Christians. However, the underlying themes and doctrine are ones Christians should embrace wholeheartedly. At its core, The Boys masterfully demonstrates that there are no good people.
In recent years, the way Christians interact with literature has I believe been negatively critiqued by society and the academy. The Melon Working Group on Religion and Literature wrote a list of seven theses in 2014. The introduction and first thesis address the common problem of religion, limiting the scope or impact of literature to a shortlist of themes and typologies. The second problem identified is the muting of literature or art that does not meet specific dogmatic criteria. These types of events occur on a spectrum; on the one hand, you may have Christians who will only watch, read, and listen to explicitly Christian media. On another the censoring of content which may include vices or swearing. Lastly, you may see things like reading the Bible into literature and quickly seeing every hero as a Christ figure. Ultimately, the point the Melon Working Group was trying to make (and one I agree with) is that religious people can end up with a shallow view of literature. Since literature helps to express and relate our experiences in and with the world around us, this limited view can also distort or even fool us into a picture of the world which isn't even remotely realistic. The question stands, how can a dark tv show which openly mocks American Christianity be any help? The answer lies in the Scriptural reality that the world we live in is, in fact, dark and twisted.
The Boys follows two groups of "heroes." The first group is superheroes (supes for short) known as The Seven, akin to the Justice League or the Avengers. The second is a handful of ordinary people who for one reason or another, hate "supes" loosely referred to as "the boys." The Seven and the supes, in general, are a new class of public superstars. They receive all the glory and fame of actors, athletes, and self-sacrificing civil servants. In their hidden lives away from television cameras and public acts of heroism, The Seven are the embodiment of carnal sin. Their lives are overflowing with sex, drugs, public manipulation, and even their supposed crime-fighting is filled with unjust murder and innocent casualties swept under the rug by non-disclosure papers. These heroes aren't super-villains, but they also aren't the altruistic good guys that the public worships them as. The real heroes of the story are "the boys," a group of misfits whose lives have become collateral damage at the hands of supes and seek a bittersweet mix of justice and vengeance. The boys stumble along a warpath of "righteous anger" literally and figuratively blowing up the lives of the supes. Their cause is compelling, and their often violent action is at first justified, but quickly that justification becomes clouded. The boys lie to family and friends, cause a handful of non-supe casualties themselves, and even admit to a euphoric release from ruining the lives of supes. So even the real "heroes" demonstrate there are no good guys, only better guys. And with this realization, The Boys makes its first theological proposition; the human creature is sinful in thought, word and deed (Book of Common Prayer), there are no righteous men. (Psalm14:1-3, Romans 3:10)
While hyperbolic The Boys brings its viewers to the harsh world of reality and the daily struggle of sin. It begs the question, how can I do anything right when the whole world is wrong? It demonstrates that even when our actions are good and just, our hearts and minds are bent toward sin. This echoes Luther in thesis three of the Heidelberg Disputation, "Even though the works of Man always seem to be beautiful and good, they are nevertheless demonstrably deadly sins." (Theology of the Cross, 13.) While The Boys distinctively lacks the Gospel, the gory and deadly law is something Christians and society, in general, need to hear. It dissuades the delusion that if we all just worked a little bit harder, the world would get a little bit better. In fact, The Boys rightfully mocks pop-Christianity as being one of the largest perpetrators of this lie, thus unknowingly condemning semi-Pelagianism. Most importantly, the devastation of sin and the law makes some of the boys and indeed the viewer starving for some redemption and forgiveness. This starvation is where the imaginative help of The Boys ends and where nothing but the truth of Christ can stand.
Nothing but the blood of Christ can answer for the depths of our corruption. Though we contribute nothing but our sinful hearts, Christ comes to us nailed to a cross by our own iniquity and declares us forgiven that is free from the debt and burden of our sins. WhileThe Boys and other flawed hero stories lack the good news of Christ; they can contribute to its reception in their function as an illustrative law. The law even when being drawn by unknowing pagans is devastating, not arbitrary, but as purposed by the Father. The law received from even the most unlikely preacher teaches that there is no hope for redemption in our own hands (Romans 3:20). Some people have postured that dark and sin-filled shows like The Boys are a sign of societal decline and are a new whipping boy for a revived Christain ethic. I wholeheartedly disagree with this assessment. Alternatively, I see an increased awareness of how hopeless humanity is when left to our own devices. I see this type of literature as crafting of the mind's eye to the realistic depth of sin. The full reality of sin is a proclamation which Christians can confidently affirm and answer because we are not left to our imaginations but rest in Christ. We have a joyous gift to answer the pain of sin and death. So then, let us rest in and preach the cross of Christ to those for whom sin is not just a literary exercise but a daily struggle.