Bruce Wayne, Master Mahan

File under: fanboy delirium
April_2006_BatmanAny reader of comic books knows that the key to a good superhero is a secret. The secret is the source of the drama, the conflict, and the character motivation. Peter Parker, Barry Allen, Billy Batson, Tony Stark: they mean little without their secrets: Spider-Man, The Flash, Captain Marvel, Iron Man.

I believe the same is true of the great conflicts in the Gospel: secrets are powerful.

Secrets can refer to many different things, but in the context of the Church we think of two different kinds of secrets: secret knowledge from Heaven and secret knowledge about others.

The idea that God holds things secret can be shocking to newcomers to our faith, but it is a fundamental principle. The greatest secret, the mystery of Christ’s atonement, is hidden from the wise, and revealed only to those that believe as little children (See Matt. 11:25-27). The history of secret combinations, cults, and pyramid schemes are worldly twists upon the mystery of God’s love. Rather than take the difficult step of turning our hearts and opening ourselves to God’s greatest secret, we prefer Da Vinci Code-style mysteries and secrets, as if they are somehow more revelatory of real knowledge.

April_2006_CainThe story of Cain as told in the book of Moses is the ur-text for learning how the world twists God’s secret knowledge. Cain makes sacrifices to God at Satan’s command, which sacrifices the Lord does not respect. Cain, angry at his rejection, loves Satan more than God, and swears a secret oath with Satan in exchange for power over his brother Abel. Cain calls himself Master Mahan, possessor of a grand secret that gives him power in the world. Lamech, Cain’s grandson, enters into a similar oath, for getting gain, and the earth is cursed (Moses 5:29-56).

I believe it is rare for us to be presented with a clear-cut opportunity to enter into secret combinations with Satan (unless you run a large group blog). Far more likely is the scenario where we have access to the secrets of others. This is where Batman comes in.

Everyone knows that Batman is really billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Batman guards his secret closely, with only a handful of people knowing his true identity. However, Batman also belongs to the Justice League, where secrets are opened to each other in the name of teamwork and cooperation. Permit me to share with you the story of the infamous “Tower of Babel” incident, as a super-fantastic cautionary tale to all of us.

Batman has trust issues. So much so, that he keeps a secret file of his fellow Justice Leaguers, detailing their identities, strengths, and weaknesses. He does this because in superhero-land, friends can become enemies quickly, twisted, cloned, or taken over by mind-control aliens (in fact, all of these have happened — several times — to Batman’s friends over the years).

In the Tower of Babel episodes, Batman’s enemy, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson’s character in Batman Begins) breaks into the Batcave and steals Batman’s secret files. He then promptly uses Batman’s secret knowledge to defeat the rest of the Justice League.

April_2006_IMG_0905

All of Batman’s friends have their secrets used against them: kryptonite for Superman, freezing then shattering Plastic Man, etc. The trust they placed in Batman is the cause of their undoing.

April_2006_IMG_0906

And although the team manages to save the day at the end, the trust they once had in Batman is gone, and they vote to kick him out of the Justice League.

April_2006_IMG_0908

Consider for a moment the relative secrets and motivations of these two subjects, Batman and Cain. Cain seeks secret power over his hated brother, to rule and reign over his siblings despite his unrighteousness. His sacrifices rejected, Cain ignores the divine knowledge for worldly gain and profit. Batman, on the other hand, sees himself as a protector. He gathered the secrets of his friends in order to defend himself and others against attack. Ultimately, their stories take a similar turn: Cain is cursed and cast out, and Batman is hated and cast out of the Justice League by his teammates. Neither is trusted again.

Secrets are powerful, whether we discover the Divine mystery of Christ’s atonement, or the private knowledge others have entrusted to us. As members of a church community, sooner or later we’ll become privy to both types of secrets, and the temptation to misuse them is great. A bishop learns the confessions of his congregation; a ward clerk learns the tithing amounts of families; a visiting teacher discovers the private heartache of another sister. But it’s really easy to reveal these confidences, hold them over the heads of others, or just gossip for the sake of the spotlight and popularity good secrets can afford. If we do this, we are lost.

The duty is clear: we keep these secrets for others, not for ourselves. We can take the pearls God gives us and cast them before swine; We can seek power over others or wealth from personal confidences. But if we want to be trusted — by God and others — then we must keep secrets for the sake of others, not ourselves.

Comments

  1. Wow. I really feel this. I also feel that sometimes a position can be used to satisfy say, the RS Pres’s curiousity, when she makes you feel like hey, I need to know this. No, she didn’t. She knew plenty enough to know the situation and keep the Bishop informed of what was going on. But to ask for more detail of what was going on medically and psychologically with me than I thought was prudent or wanted to give . . . I gave it but I wish I had stood up for myself and not given it.

    Urk, it sounds like I am criticizing her, and I was raised to not criticize Church leaders. She’s human; everyone is curious, I suppose, although she seemed to have that gossipy nature of feeling like she was entitled to know, if you know the personality type? It’s more about her as a PERSON, that about her as RS Pres. She just happened to be in a position that placed her in care of sensitive information.

    I don’t think she’d babble it to others, besides the Bishop and whomever else the RS Pres needs to tell, but I don’t think this extra-specific information needed to be passed on to anyone. And it may not have, perhaps she was just asking out of personal concern and curiosity (although it really did come across much more as her wanting to satisfy her curiosity).

    This experience did give me reason to think on the issues of the trust that is inherently required to be given to those in these positions, and that this trust is required even after they are released; at least, for past information, as one would probably not be continuing to reveal such things after they are released (unless one is close friends with them).

    People being people, I’m sure that some do not always live up to this trust and keep all sensitive things to themselves, revealing things inappropriately to inappropriate persons and/or at inappropriate times and places. And that scares me (although most everything does, with my anxiety disorders, say Boo! and I’d probably scream! Hee!)

    But, I think most DO keep the trust. I just worry for those people for whom the trust is not kept, and the consequences and difficulties that happen in these sad and unfortunate circumstances.

    Also, I must say, since I LOVE superheroes, especially Wonder Woman, GREAT superhero post, too! Seriously, I actually also think superheroes can be a metaphor for many serious issues, as our fantasies are ways of imagining things, situations, etc., and working out these things, situations, and issues, in extreme ways and types, in sometimes emotionally and physically dangerous matters. All fiction is, to some degree or another, but superheroes present an interesting (I feel!), fun, and colorful look at ourselves from a variety of interesting perspectives.

    Anyway, thanks for the insights, and COOL superhero post!

  2. Very interesting. Thank you.

    I also think this ability is important to be trusted by the Lord. Can you keep a secret?

  3. Comiciky goodness and the gospel, Steve you da man!

  4. My post addresses the sensitive personal secrets entrusted to Church leaders, but the other kind, divine knowledge, spiritual experiences such as visions, visitations, and various degrees of revelation, can also be misused, as you mention.

    I think sometimes one can be tempted to “brag” of spiritual knowledge one has received . . . . this is unfortunate, because I would hope that persons receiving such things (angelic visitations, visions, knowledge of Gospel mysteries, etc.) would have the discretion and the seriousness of mind, heart, and spirit, to treat these matters with the sacredness and privacy that would be desirable.

    I’m not saying everyone revealing such things are breaking a “trust”, but I think some people say more than they should.

  5. Oops, one more thing, I think people can misuse their spiritual experiences, especially these “higher” level ones (I hate to put spiritual experiences on “tiers” like that, but it’s the closest thing for my point I’m trying to make, at the moment).

    What just occurred to me that I neglected to mention that I had wanted to, is it can be used to make others feel “lesser”, it can be used to prop up one’s own self-esteem or position, it can be used to put down others more specifically, it can specifically be used to make others feel unworthy of such things, or less righteous, it can be used in a holier-than-thou way (which was already implied by what I already said, lol!), it can be used to inappropriately “correct” someone on some point of doctrine or another (it may or may not be that their interpretation of their experience is correct; the thing is, the Gospel is line upon line, precept upon precept, and some things are meant to be learned privately, and not bandied about Sunday School, which can often be boastful if it is not motivated by the Spirit to reveal such experience). It can be used to rigidify one’s own sense of self-importance, and one’s own sense of being right, and not being willing to see others’ points of view and feelings.

    Anyway, it can be used all sorts of ways (the “it” being such spiritual experiences as entrusted to one by the Lord.)

    Thanks for putting up with my several comments, lol!

  6. This is a fun and interesting post. I think that the obvious parallel is to the Church’s protection of certain items in its archives. General level minutes, Temple stuff, certain journals, etc. are “restricted.”

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Plus our church has its own genealogical Batcave.

  8. General level minutes, Temple stuff, certain journals, etc. are “restricted.”

    …if we want to be trusted — by God and others — then we must keep secrets for the sake of others, not ourselves.

    These are interesting ideas in light of the stories under consideration, both of which seem — in their most direct reading — to be hostile to secretiveness per se. In the Batman case, the only real solution would have been for Batman never to assemble the secrets in the first place; Batman didn’t deliberately share them, after all, and it’s hard to see how the other superheroes could have benefited from knowing that Batman had secret files but not knowing what they said. Likewise, I’m not at all sure that Cain could have conspired secretly with Satan for good purposes. The Gadianton texts in the Book of Mormon (which I think are fundamentally of a piece with the Moses version of Cain) likewise hate secrecy as such and revel in openness and the coming time when all secrets will be shouted from the rooftops.

    Steve’s ideas about good vs. bad motives for keeping secrets seem sensible to me, but they also seem fundamentally in tension with the two narratives used to develop them. And J. Stapley’s example seems to put the church archives in the camp of Cain; they keep secrets and hide things in the darkness.

    I’m personally inclined to accept Steve’s pragmatism here, but it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that such pragmatism cuts somewhat against the texts…

  9. I have to say that the combination of Batman fan knowledge and Church scholarship makes me giddy. Thank you for this post.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    RT:”they also seem fundamentally in tension with the two narratives used”

    Yes, they do. Batman could have told the others what he was up to, but it was against his nature and may have contradicted the point of the files to begin with.

    As for Cain, well, he was an evil man — tough to say whether he ever could have done anything good at all.

    I don’t think the proper attitude is to label all things secret as evil. That strikes me as impractical and unnecessary. As for secrets being shouted from the rooftops, do we really think that refers to ALL secrets? That’s a whole lotta shouting. I prefer this to be taken metaphorically :)

  11. I have complex feelings about secrets too. Mark Hoffman manipulated the Church easily because he knew they’d want to keep secrets he was putting out there. Then sometimes I feel like most of us lead secret lives away from Church to one degree or another. At Church, gospel living is simpler, easy to come by then at home we do horrible things like drink green tea or feel really depressed despite our attempts at righteousness. (My secret:I drink green tea but don’t feel depressed)I somehow wonder if we didn’t feel so obliged to be secretive how our culture would change. Superheroes are superheroes bc of their secrets right? Not just identity but secret weaknesses. Superman’s not so super if everyone knows they can zap him with kryptonite. I think we act out superhero dreams at church.
    At the same time, private things are good to remain private and it’s good to not put every heart and soul secret out for everyone to see.

    All that to say it’s always nicest if you can be the one to distribute your own secrets.

  12. Steve, “Batman could have told the others what he was up to…” Yes, but as I pointed out above, would that even have made a difference? Wouldn’t Ras Al-Gul have been able to use them just as effectively, even if the superheroes were subsequently able to guess how he came by the information? It seems that, as in the Cain story, the evil arises here not from the use of the secrets but from Batman’s mere possession of them.

    When you say, “I don’t think the proper attitude is to label all things secret as evil,” I agree with you; such an attitude is certainly impractical. Yet it’s also the most obvious reading of the Gadianton robbers and Cain/Satan texts in the LDS scriptures. We may wish to take those texts at less than face value; my guess is that nobody will sue us. But it’s still worth remembering that we’re working here with (in the words of the famous quote) the philosophies of Steve mingled with scripture (and Batman). =)

  13. An excellent post, and creative to boot. I similarly defended “secrecy” in general here, but failed to incorporate the masked crusader.

    I’m overjoyed that the most recent Batman movie virtually spits on the grave of the, ahem, others.

  14. BTW, BCC rocks! Yep, I have a vested interest, but Ras Al-Gul, mateys! Great post Stephen.

  15. RT,

    If you are in search of narratives where secrets are good, those are available.

    1. We are to fast in secret
    2. and do alms in secret.
    3. Mormon got the plates from a secret place
    4. and gave them to his son who hid them up for centuries in a secret place.
    5. God tells the Brother of Jared (and Enoch?) explicitly not to reveal things to us but to keep them secret.
    6. Alma gives his son the plates, but tells him to keep secret the wicked parts.

    Now, on the other hand, none of this is secret from God, thus I’d agree that secrets designed to be kept from God are universally bad. In the end, it seems reasonable that there will be no secrets from those who attain divinity. (Batman just had not made it there.) This asymptotoic condition, though, does not tell us much about the Church keeping records private in the 21st century.

    Steve,

    Nice post. I was never a DC guy although I collected some Batman. When was the Tower of Babel storyline?

  16. Boy that Wonder Woman is much more buxom than I remember from the television show. Perhaps she’s using invisible rope to hold up her costume.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    Frank, Tower of Babel was a Mark Waid storyline that I think started in 1998. I just bought the trade paperback instead.

  18. Thumbs up on the incorporation of Batman and gospel-related topics. :)

    Dyslexic Mystic, it’s cool you started a blog. You need to authorize anonymous comments so that people without blogger accounts can comment.

  19. annegb says:

    Superman got me through a lot of bad times as a kid. I buried myself in those comics, so it was cool to see them here.

    I don’t like secrets. I don’t like having them, and have very few, maybe uh, three. One is how much I weigh, the other is how much money I have, and the other is so secret only one other person knows it.

    I would rather use the word private. As the visiting teaching coordinater in our ward, I know a lot about a lot of people. I keep these things private. They’re my friends and I just don’t repeat them.

    Although, Frank, I like your list.

    Sara, I always feel bad when I hear these kinds of things, about people hurting others in the name of their callings.

    Although, if I were the Relief Society president, I would want to get to know you, I would feel it important to let you know me so I could be there for you when you needed me. That might seem prying, but then I would spill my guts and it might seem like you could charge me for a counseling session. :)

  20. Of course, in Dark Knight Returns Batman actually defeats Superman himself, but then fakes his own death rather than administer the death blow (Batman never kills anybody, remember?).

    You choose an apt example, though. The secrets of the superheros don’t kill them, they just make the vulnerable like normal people (secrets don’t kill people–people kill people!). The lesson of the superhero secret isn’t that secrets are powerful, but that superheros are just like you and me, only we don’t know it. What if I could keep it a secret that I’m harmed by sharp blades, shrapnel, and fire? Would that make me more powerful? Absolutely not. It would just give me an unfair advantage over people who couldn’t keep secret ttheir vulnerability to sharp blades, shrapnel, and fire.

    It’s important to note that the superheros can be harmed. There is no sense in which God has similar secrets, because if there is any extent that his power over us depends on it, god is not God–he’s just a poser with good intentions.

    When I think secrets, I think Enron. In an organizational situations or power relationships, the fewer secrets there are, the better. Transparency is the best policy.

    I gave up on leaders with secrets the first time I heard the ominous voice declare, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

  21. Steve Evans says:

    DKL, Batman also beats up Supes in Hush. It pays to have a kryptonite ring laying around.

  22. queuno says:

    Not secrets, DLK — sacred things…

  23. As someone who has been watchingthis almost every day for the past couple of weeks, I can appreciate this post.

    And the fact that I am Batman’s mom. But sometimes he lets me call him Bruce Wayne.

  24. jothegrill says:

    Sorry if my thoughts are scattered, I’ve never really posted on a blog before, but this one made me think about a lot of things. Thank you for all of your comments. It was interesting and enjoyable to read them.
    I think there is something good about helping others keep their secrets. I agree that secrets meant to be kept from God are evil, (and not effective.) But I believe that many people who keep secrets have good reasons. I have never read an expose’ that has made me feel closer to God and more loving toward my fellow man. There are a lot of things I just don’t want to know.
    On the other hand we should look out for each other, and sometimes secrets get in the way of that. That’s what Visiting Teaching and Home Teaching are supposed to be about. It is important to build trust in those relationships. There is a hymn that says “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” When someone reaches out a loving hand, we need to be able to put away our superhero masks and let them help us. It takes a strong person to let others see their weaknesses. As we do try to look out for one another, and in our assignments to get to know people we must be motivated by sincerity and love so that we don’t abuse their secrets or force them to wear their superhero masks to protect them from us.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    jothegrill, thanks for posting that comment. Welcome to blogging!

  26. Frank #15; I wasn’t claiming that there are no narratives in existence in which secrets are good, only that the two Steve used were ones in which secrets are seen as unambiguously bad…

  27. Steve Evans says:

    RT you contrarian. I don’t think that Batman’s secrets were unambiguously bad — on the contrary, he saw them as absolutely vital for his own protection and for the protection of the planet.

    Cain’s a tougher point. It’s hard to see the bright side to the first secret satanic combination. This being BCC, however, I’m sure we will give it a shot. Hmmm. Well, Cain got to cling to the side of the Ark, didn’t he? That sounds kinda cool.

  28. Elisabeth says:

    First-time blogger jothegrill is absolutely right. In the process of become close to someone to call them a friend, there is a breaking down of walls, of the boundaries that we draw to protect ourselves from the callous observations of strangers. The violation of that trust is devastating. And the gossip that inevitably results from the disclosure of juicy secrets tears people’s lives apart. Granted, some secrets should not be secrets (abuse, etc.), but gossip is unfortunately extremely pervasive in the LDS Church community. I think this post is a good reminder for us of the consequences of violating trust and spreading gossip – whether the secrets are in fact true or untrue.

  29. Jimbob (#16),

    She uses a Wonder Bra, of course. (I thought everyone knew that . . .)

  30. Very interesting and thought-provoking post, Steve. The part that resonated most with me was the discussion of others’ secrets — perhaps because that’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a little, lately.

    I’m not the world’s best secret keeper. Not that I’m constantly trumpeting everything I know on street corners. On the other hand, I sometimes inadvertently let something slip, and then kick myself afterwards and think “why did I say that?” And so I work on doing better, and improving.

    I absolutely agree that it is a major betrayal when a friend spreads information that was shared in confidence. It hurts. It has happened to me in the past, and it is not any fun. It’s something I hope not to do to my friends. And on the flipside, I’ve got my share of problems and issues, some of which are known to some close friends — and I would hate for those secrets to be spread. So on the broad issue, we’re in complete agreement. I agree with the commenters who have focused on this point, as well.

    However, I’m not sure it’s always so black and white.

    Complicating factor number one: It’s not always clear when a secret is a secret. If Nate tells me “I am really the bloggernacle snarker; don’t tell anyone” — well, it’s clear that the content of the statement (Nate is snarker) is secret. But what about the act of the statement? Is that secret too? Can I say “I spoke with Nate on the topic of the bloggernacle snarker” without violating a confidence? Reasonable minds may differ.

    Complicating factor number two: It’s not always clear where the duty lies. Do I have a responsibility to keep a secret that I hear secondhand? To whom does the duty lie? That is, suppose Nate tells me, “Matt told me not to tell anyone, but I’m telling you — Matt is the snarker.” At that point, do I have a duty to Nate, not to tell anyone (including Matt)? A duty to Matt, to let him know that there is a leak? If Nate tells me “I don’t care if you tell anyone else” — does this disclaimer allow me to tell others? Or do I have a separate duty to Matt, not to tell (even if I’ve never spoken to Matt about the topic)?

    Complicating factor number three: Sometimes a secret seems to be leaked, when it isn’t. Nate tells me that he’s the snarker, and swears me to secrecy. But the fact is, everyone is speculating on snarker identity anyway. Nate hears Matt wondering if he’s the snarker, and Nate may assume that I’ve blown the secret, even if I haven’t. (This kind of chain of events is a Hollywood staple; see, e.g., St. Elmo’s Fire when Ally Sheedy busts Judd Nelson for cheating on her, and he wrongly assumes it’s because Andrew McCarthy told).

    Complicating factor number four: Competing loyalties. A friend can really hurt me by swearing me to secrecy. Keeping a secret can require me to lie to my other friends; if and when that is discovered, it can harm other friendships. What do I do when a secret requires me to lie to other friends?

    Finally, complicating factor number five: Some secrets require disclosure to save the friend. Plain and simple — if a friend tells me “I’m about to commit suicide; don’t tell anyone” — I’m going to act first to save the friend.

    Where does this leave us? Absolute agreement that secret-sharing for fun or thrill or voyeurism is bad, but also a recognition that the realities of secret-keeping are often much more complicated than just black-and-white. (Of course, the reality of complicating factors that may be present in some cases does not in any way excuse secret-sharing for fun).

    As a result, I think that I sometimes keep secrets imperfectly, though I try to do the best I can. I think I do best at keeping secrets when certain factors are present. The absolute most important two factors are whether it’s a secret that really matters (i.e., could really harm someone if disclosed), and whether it’s a secret that matters to someone close to me. Those are the biggest predictors, for me. That is, if a secret is very important to someone I care a great deal about, then I won’t be telling it. As we move away from that core, however, or as other factors are added in, I think my ability to keep a secret lessens – not because I want to disclose it for fun, but because I’m less likely to (for example) lie outright to my friends, to preserve a secret that doesn’t matter much, or that doesn’t affect someone I care about.

    All of this, subject to complicating factor number six: Spouse. I’ve generally made a practice not to keep secrets from my wife. I haven’t always followed this rule perfectly over the years, but I’ve found that the times that I have keep secrets from her, it usually ends up creating more problems. And so, at this point, my wife knows all or most of my own secrets, and she hears most of what I discuss with others. I think this is to be expected, in a marriage (though it will vary from person to person). In any case, I trust her not to disclose things that she is told in confidence. (And I expect that many (most?) people operate this way; I don’t tell secrets to others expecting them to be kept from their spouses.)

    Sheesh, this comment is a novel. . .

  31. I knew it! Nate Oman is the Bloggernacle Snarker!

  32. Damn! I gave away the big secret! (Kicks self). Um, sorry bout that, Nate.

    But hey, at least I didn’t slip up and reveal any really sensitive, like J. Stapley’s secret identity as Languatron.

  33. #16, #29

    The panel with Wonder Woman looks a bit too suspicious, seeing as how she’s unbelievably “endowed” and she speaks with great emphasis about her ASSETS being watched by others. Too much!

    Probably belongs on this site http://www.superdickery.com/siteindex.html

  34. Re: #33 I thought that was rather funny, myself.

    I’ve often thought of Languatron as being like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon special: nonsensically incomprehensible. I can just hear those sounds now.

    There are a few high councilman talks that would evoke those incomprehensible sounds, as well. Teehee!

    On the other hand, Languatron sounds like some sort of linguistic Transformer. But is he on the side of good, or evil? I’d suggest the latter, as it seems his purpose is to spread confusion and pedagoguery (sp?, meaning?) wherever he goes.

  35. It is true, I admit it. I am Nate Oman. Kaimi, all I can say is a man is only as good as his word.

  36. Stalkette,

    Impressive.

    I must admit, I had previously thought that you were only a pale (blue) imitation of the original Bloggernacle Stalker. However, now I see that you dispense fortune-cookie life advice as well. I may have to visit your little website, BS, more often.

    I must say I had assumed that with Stalker in retirement, the BS would wane. After all, Who-Givsa-Shizzle is hardly a reliable source of BS contributions.

    However, you seem of late to be keeping the BS flowing rather well yourself. And like your mentor, you’ve done a great job not just putting the Talk in Stalkernackle, but also putting the BS in Bloggernacle Stalker.

    Ciao.

  37. Seth R. says:

    So …

    What did Batman discover about Wonder Woman’s secret weakness?

    Give her a bad nose job?

    Cause that last picture don’t look quite right.

  38. Wait, you are looking at her NOSE? Hee Hee. I’d be thinking other things would be grabbing your attention, there.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,484 other followers