The God Butcher
Have you seen the movie Thor: Love and Thunder? If you have not and do not wish to read spoilers, now is a good time to exit and come back later. I was never a huge fan of Thor, in fact, I avoided the Thor comics when I was young and the early Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies. That is until Thor: Ragnarok which I thouroughly enjoyed and that entry led to me eventually watching the previous Thor movies and I realized that the character of Thor was more complex and dealt with deep and meaningful themes. Thor struggles with his divinity and his own worthiness to be a god throughout the MCU appearances. His willingness to look upon himself and judge his own actions makes Thor a truly relational god. Thor's interpersonal relationships are complex and often very human. His motivations are influenced by his deep need for his father Odin's approval and the desire for his adopted brother Loki to love him and be a brother.
Love and Thunder introduces a "villain" known as the Gorr: The God Butcher and Jane Foster (Thor's good friend and former love interest as The Mighty Thor). The movie compresses two extended story lines from the comics as I recently learned while listening to a podcast from Homebrewed Christianity from this summer. Because of that Podcast, I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and go back and read the story arcs of the writer Jason Aaron. In the comics and the movie, Jane Foster is in the late stages of a losing battle with breast cancer. When she discovers she can wield the hammer Mjölnir. Only someone worthy can take up the hammer. In the comics and in Love and Thunder, Thor has become unworthy to wield his hammer, so Jane takes it up and becomes The Mighty Thor. Jane's story arc is long in comics and the compressed movie version may lack that same depth, but it portrays the truth of what Jane does. Because her cancer is gone when she wields Mjölnir, she has strength, but each transformation back to Jane leaves her weaker and the cancer advances. Jane must make a sacrifice in both storyline which leads to Thor coming to a better understanding of how to be a good god and thus worthy to wield Mjölnir.
Gorr the God Butcher becomes who he is through a series of events which cause him to question the existence of gods and eventually wish the death of all gods once he learns they do exist. Like Jane's story, the comic arc of Gorr lends itself to more development and character depth. Gorr is played masterfully by Christian Bale in Love and Thunder but the movie format only allows limited character development even in the splendid story. Josh Aaron can work out questions and challenges to gods and faith through the comic series of Thor: God of Thunder. In the comics we learn that Gorr's planet and race are dying (like the movie) but in the comics, the scale of sorrow and grief Gorr encounters is much greater. We see his people praying to their gods for help, food, and safety; but the gods do not answer. Gorr loses his wife and unborn child to a rack slide and we learn that because they are buried under rubble, they are damned by their religion. Gorr's son dies on a journey the tribe takes to find resources and Gorr buries his son. The tribe gangs up on Gorr for his blasphemy of burying his son. Gorr counters by voicing his doubts that the gods even exist; he tells the tribe that the gods have done nothing for them and the best path forward is to accept that their existence was all there is.
The questions and doubts Gorr experiences threaten the tribe's structure and deeply held beliefs. The tribe then attempts to stones Gorr, but the elder chief steps in and exiles Gorr for his "heresy." While wandering and wishing to die, Gorr comes upon two gods who have fallen from the sky, fighting one another. Gorr realizes gods are real and determines them unworthy to exist because of their neglect of their worshippers. Gorr chooses to take up a sword he finds with the gods and kills the god who asks him to help, thus becoming the God Butcher. The sword allows Gorr to take on powers and he begins a quest to cross the universe, killing gods. He eventually encounters Thor several times, setting up an ultimate battle with Thor and others as Gorr himself becomes a god who kills other gods. My thought in the comic arc is how would the story have been different if Gorr's tribe had listened and attempted to understand Gorr rather than destroy or exile him?
But then I realized that many potential Gorrs are in our world today. They are asking hard questions of the faith communities or structures in which they have been raised. The popular term that is being used for this process is "deconstruction." I call it a potential revival because deconstruction is a poor term for what is happening. Most of those experiencing this phenomenon are not seeking to reject God or even the idea of God, but they are trying to make sense of an explanation of God and God's character, which threatens certain theological or doctrinal systems built upon strict control. Brian Zahnd says this of many stories of deconstruction, including that of ministers; "But there’s always more to the story than 'young pastor meets skepticism-inducing podcast.'' Drastic deconstructions like this are often a reaction to some kind of fundamentalism." (Zahnd p 26) The certitude of some systems and the refusal to listen and engage with those who question those systems lead to many God Butchers. It is the realization of Nietzsche's fear that we would kill God in his story The Madman.
Tripp Fuller asks whether the God Butcher may be right and quotes Psalm 82 as a way to see Yaweh as a butcher of Gods. In that Psalm, God destroys the lesser gods who do not do justice for the oppressed or take care of their worshippers. The Psalmist portrays God in the style of a god butcher judging gods who do not care or work for justice. (Homebrewed)
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! (Psalm 82 NRSV)
We do not need to create God Butchers with our own unnecessary demonization of "deconstruction." We have the opportunity to come alongside those who have questions and doubts and possibly show another way; the Kindom of God way. Instead of demonizing and calling those who are asking questions, heretics or enemies of God, we could love them and show them a different picture of God. What if Gorr had encountered Thor who always tries hard to answer the prayers of those who call on him rather than gods fighting one another without a care for the people of Gorr's planet? He may have still become the God Butcher, but it is also as likely that he would have changed in the presence of Thor. When people express doubts about God, maybe they are doubting a false picture of God. If we listen, we may learn that the doubts are not of the God of scripture as revealed in Jesus. Instead, those doubts may be a false picture of God informed by a doctrinal emphasis which is not true. Brian Zahnd summarizes much of this thought in the final chapter of When Everything is on Fire;
How can it be otherwise? If we are truly loved by God, everything is going to be all right. If we are truly loved by God, we can afford to trust instead of fight. If we are truly loved by God, we can abandon the house of fear. If we are truly loved by God, we can live in the house of love here and now. This is what I believe. And it’s not a careless slide into easy believism but the spoils of a hard-won struggle for faith. Once faith has won the day, or at least gained a foothold, we are free to dream dreams. (Zahnd p 158)
I pray I am the difference between someone finding a deeper faith on the other side of deconstruction rather than the tipping point for a God Butcher. I pray the Church finds a way to be this as well. This will require a tremendous amount of faith and trust. It also means we must let go of controlling the faith of others with threats, fear, and mockery. This last part may be the hardest, but it is part of taking up our cross.
Zahnd, Brian. When Everything is on Fire."The Mighty Thor and the God Butcher Revival", Homebrewed Christianity Podcast, July 1, 2022