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A Conflicted Hero: Netflix's "Daredevil" & Catholicism

Examining what makes Matt Murdock so complex...


Religion isn't a topic I'm normally inclined to write about, for any number of reasons. Mostly, this is because while I do have my own deeply-held beliefs about the questions of what happens when we die and who's really running this grand shitshow we call life, I've come to believe that most people also have their own opinions on the matter . . . and who am I to challenge anyone's religious viewpoints? You can believe your thing, I'll believe mine, and let's just both focus on being the best people we can be. That being said, after recently finishing up season three of Marvel's "Daredevil" series on Netflix, followed by the news of the show's untimely cancellation, I was reminded yet again of what makes this character just so compelling to me.

For those not as steeped in Marvel lore as myself, here's some brief background on the character of Daredevil. Matthew Murdock, a.k.a. "Daredevil," is a blind New York lawyer who also happens to be an expertly trained ninja of sorts, and he uses these skills to combat crime in the courtroom by day and in the streets of Hell's Kitchen by night. He's basically Marvel's equivalent of Batman, but with less of everything: money, resources, even eyesight. Okay that was a low blow. But who cares? He wouldn't be able to read this anyway.

By now, Charlie Cox has portrayed the character beautifully in four seasons of Netflix-Marvel television: three on his own show, with one season of the (mostly mediocre) crossover series "Defenders" between seasons two and three.

There's a lot to love about Netflix's incarnation of "The Man Without Fear," and yes, I'm aware the series creators are drawing on half a century of comics history that I remain, mostly . . . blissfully unaware of. Nonetheless, I love how much thought has been put into exploring the many facets of Daredevil's character. How Matt Murdock managed to become such a skilled fighter, while simultaneously overcoming his disability, is explored. Lots of showtime is devoted to examining the duality between Matthew Murdock, Attorney-at-Law, and the darker, more brutal moniker he dons each night. But by far, the most interesting and relatable aspect of Daredevil is his Catholic faith.

As a lifelong Catholic, I've come to accept the fact that we're usually the butt of jokes. And really, it's all good. Just know that we're silently judging you as we pretend to laugh along ;) Haha but seriously, you're all going to hell.

But what still bugs me now and then is how Catholicism tends to be portrayed in Hollywood. More often than not, any depiction of Catholicism that you'll find in movies and TV ranges from "laughably backwards and ignorant" to "downright cult-like, close-minded, menace to modern society." Or anywhere in between.

And what's so disheartening about these portrayals is how wildly inaccurate they are from the vast majority of Catholic believers. Sure, there are some more ignorant, holier-than-thou types among us, but they're very few and far between. Regardless, this disconnect between "Hollywood Catholicism" and everyday faith is why I was so glad to see Matt Murdock embody such a realistic, nuanced take on what Catholicism looks like in Netflix's "Daredevil."

Daredevil is full of breathtaking religious imagery, like this shot, drenched in red

One of the most relatable things about Matt Murdock that I think every Catholic can identify with is the guilt he carries around with him daily. Yes, "Catholic Guilt" is a very real thing, that unshakable feeling of having done wrong that we Catholics tend to feel. And hey, can you blame us? Catholic scripture holds its followers to standards for a good life that are, admittedly impossible to attain, and then holds you accountable for your shortcomings. Hell, every Mass begins with an admission of guilt - the Mea Culpa, or "admission of wrongdoing:"

"I confess . . . that I have greatly sinned . . . through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault . . ."

So yeah, if you ever notice the Catholic in your life seeming a little down, just know that they've probably got the weight of the world on their shoulders. Like, all the time.

And Matt Murdock reflects this guilt perfectly. By choice, he bears the burden of safety for literally all of Hell's Kitchen, because in his eyes, his abilities mean that burden falls on his head. And when he fails to meet this impossibly high standard, he really takes it to heart.

That's not even mentioning the guilt Matt feels for just being Daredevil, and for engaging in vigilante justice. He does objectively bad, illegal things - namely beating up thugs in dimly lit alleyways - in the name of morality, but throughout the show he freely admits that a part of him enjoys the violence. Matt Murdock is a living, breathing contradiction.

And that brings me to the ultimate moral struggle of Daredevil, specifically, his outright refusal to take the life of another. While other superheroes like Batman claim to respect the dignity of human life, all the while blowing up random goons in cars, Matthew Murdock will not kill. Even though it would be far more effective of him to do so, and he's given numerous chances to eliminate dangerous, evil people like Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. "Kingpin, played by Vincent D'onofrio), he always chooses to spare human life.

What brings him to do this? Firstly, as a lawyer, Daredevil believes in the power of the legal system to hold criminals accountable for their transgressions. But more importantly, as a Catholic, he knows murder is a line he cannot cross, even when it's the easy thing to do. Matthew Murdock is "Catholic Guilt" dialed up to an 11, and that makes him incredibly relatable to me.

But Catholicism isn't all doom and gloom. The showrunners of "Daredevil" recognize that Catholic faith can be an incredible force for good in one's life, and Matt Murdock reflects this. Faith is Daredevil's anchor, it's what makes him different from the scum he beats up on with astonishing precision. Even when Matt begins to doubt his faith, which he is given plenty of reason to do, he always comes around.

The first three episodes of this latest (and unfortunately, final) season give us a broken Matt Murdock, taking refuge in the basement of the church that was his orphan home. Here, he claims to have lost faith in God and denounces the religious code he's so strictly adhered to. Frankly, it's all a little much, and these first three episodes are a slog. (The rest of the season makes up for it, though.) But the point is, even when the world's gone dark and Matt appears to have lost all hope, his Catholic faith gives him a light to follow. And that's pretty cool.

Cox and McRobbie as Matt Murdock and Father Lantom

Lastly, Netflix's "Daredevil"does a stellar job of correcting some of the misconceptions I see about Catholics in media. And here, I'd like to shout out . . . hang on, lemme do a quick IMDb search . . . Peter McRobbie. McRobbie plays Father Lantom, Matthew's priest and confidant, on the show, and he does so beautifully. As opposed to the stereotypical Hollywood priest, who's little more than a close-minded, idealistic zealot, Father Lantom is a kindhearted, caring individual who uses his wisdom and knowledge of Christ to enhance the lives of those around him and guide Matt towards doing the right thing. Is he perfect? No, and season three has some pretty startling revelations about Father Lantom's character that make Matt question his mentor. But nobody's perfect, and Lantom is presented as a good man trying his best.

Furthermore, I have to give the show credit for accurately presenting what a Catholic is like in daily life. In addition to kicking both literal and metaphorical ass as a superhero and a lawyer, Matt is far from some celibate monk who lives a perfect Catholic life. He's a normal guy - he drinks, he goes out, he swears - and in a world where my non-Catholic friends love to give me shit for being too "pure" or "naive," Matt Murdock is the Catholic we need.

So, to sum things all up, being Catholic isn't easy. It's a challenge, and the creators of "Daredevil"have done a great job of creating a character who's relatable in his imperfection, his contradictory nature, and his inner conflict. And that's pretty frickin' awesome. It's just a shame the show had to be cancelled after only three seasons. RIP Netflix Daredevil, always in our hearts.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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