Ethos Education

The Amazing Spider-Man: What is a Christian response to vigilante action against criminals?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consideration of the tension between personal conviction and authority.
  • Understand the concepts of justice and injustice.
  • Consideration of society’s obligation to protect its weaker members.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on why some situations are best left to authority figures and others best handled by individuals acting on their own.
  • Reflect on the actions of a crime-fighting character from a film.
  • Evaluate the arguments for and against vigilante action against law-breakers.
  • Reflect upon the difference between protecting innocent people and upholding law and order.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine a Christian perspective on direct vigilante action.
  • Synthesise learning by rewriting a scene from the film The Amazing Spider-Man.


Ask the students to decide who would be the right person to sort out each of the following situations (in some cases students may agree that more than one answer applies). Discuss each situation with the whole class, encouraging students to justify their answers and to challenge answers that they disagree with:

Situation 1:

Someone has been sick in the school corridor. Who should sort it out?

  • The student who was sick.
  • Other students.
  • One or more teachers.
  • The caretaker.
  • Anyone else your students can suggest.

Situation 2:

A fight is breaking out on the playground. Who should sort it out?

  • No one – just leave the fighters to finish what they’ve started.
  • The friends of the people involved in the fight.
  • Other students who don’t know the fighters.
  • One or more teachers.
  • Anyone else your students can suggest.

Situation 3:

One of your friends is upset because of problems at home. Who should sort it out?

  • Leave your friend to sort it out themselves.
  • Your friend’s parents should make things better.
  • You should talk to them and see if there’s anything you can do to make them feel better.
  • A teacher should get involved and try to resolve the family situation.
  • Anyone else your students can suggest.

Situation 4:

A murder has been committed in the school. Who should sort it out?

  • Individual students should take it on themselves to act as detectives and find out who is the killer.
  • The family of the murder victim should take matters into their own hands.
  • The head teacher should investigate and find out who is responsible.
  • The police should take charge and identify the murderer.
  • Anyone else your students can suggest.

Ask the students to look back at the different answers to the different situations. Was there a difference between some situations being best left to those in authority, while others were better sorted out by individuals? If so, what determined which situation fell into which category?

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about how Christians relate to authority.


Introduce the first clip from the film The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the film online.

Explain that Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is trying to track down the petty thief who stole his Uncle Ben’s car, killing Uncle Ben in the process. In this scene we see him targeting his latest possible culprit. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the attitude of the police towards the end of the clip.

  • Start time:       0.52.57 (beginning of chapter 8 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.56.11
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 14 seconds

The clip starts with a car reversing into a car park late at night. The first line is Spider-Man coughing to attract the car thief’s attention. The clip ends after Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) says, ‘So, 36 of New York’s finest versus one guy in a leotard. Am I correct?’

Ask the students why they think the police officer pulled a gun on Spider-Man? Was this a reasonable thing for the officer to do (encourage the students to see things from the officer’s point of view, having not necessarily seen what took place between Spider-Man and the thief beforehand). Do they think that the police would take a different view of Spider-Man’s activities if they had seen everything that had taken place?

Now introduce a second clip from The Amazing Spider-Man. In this scene Peter Parker – aka Spider-Man – is going for dinner at Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) house. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the discussion between Peter and Gwen’s dad, the police captain seen at the end of the earlier clip.

  • Start time:       1.04.37 (in chapter 9 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.06.58
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 21 seconds

The clip starts with a close up of Peter’s plate. The first line is Gwen’s Mum (Kari Coleman) saying, ‘You’re having trouble there…’ to Peter. The clip ends when Peter makes his apologies and goes outside with Gwen. The last line is Mrs Stacy saying, ‘You’re welcome’.

Ask the students to evaluate the arguments made by Peter and Captain Stacy respectively. Is Peter right to defend Spider-Man for ‘providing a public service’ and ‘doing something that the police can’t’? What are the differences between self-appointed vigilante’s like Spider-Man and the police? Which of these differences are good things, and which are not?

Remind the students that when Peter said that Spider-Man and Captain Stacy stood for the same thing (protecting innocent people from bad guys), Captain Stacy responded that he stood for law and order, and that while he wore a badge Spider-Man wore a mask. What is the difference between these two responses to criminal activity. How do students think Christians would be likely to feel about each of the responses? Refer the students to the following Bible passages as appropriate:

Isaiah 58:6-10; Amos 5:14-15; Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 13:1-2.

You might also like to point out that many Christians choose to serve in the Police force. is the website of the UK’s Christian Police Association.


As a final exercise, ask the students to rewrite the dinner table discussion between Peter Parker and Captain Stacy, where one or both characters defend their point of view from a specifically Christian perspective.


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