by Benn Ray
Superman died for somebody's sins, but not mine.
Well... not really, but Christian revisionists would have us believe that Superman's willingness to sacrifice himself for humanity makes him just another version of Jesus - whom they seem to be under the faulty impression was the "Original Superhero."
In fact, in conjunction with the release of the new Warner Bros. Superman movie Man Of Steel, there's a whole mess of Christian resources being made available to churches to encourage this Christ/Superman conflation.
According to CNN, Man Of Steel is being marketed to Christians as a Christian movie.
Warner Bros. Studios is aggressively marketing "Man of Steel" to Christian pastors, inviting them to early screenings, creating Father’s Day discussion guides and producing special film trailers that focus on the faith-friendly angles of the movie.
The movie studio even asked a theologian to provide sermon notes for pastors who want to preach about Superman on Sunday. Titled “Jesus: The Original Superhero,” the notes run nine pages.
“How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again?” the sermon notes ask.
“When I sat and listened to the movie I actually saw it was the story of Christ, and the love of God was weaved into the story," said the pastor [Quentin Scott of Baltimore].
"It was something I was very excited about that with the consultation of our senior pastor, we could use in our congregation.”
Check out the Man Of Steel Sermon Notes here [.pdf].
I thought something smelled a little off when a local church had got itself excited about superheroes right before Man Of Steel opened and was offering a series of sermons conflating superheroes with Christianity. They were passing out these snappy brochures:
"Oh, no, no, no," I thought. "The only thing the Bible and superhero comics have in common is that they are both works of fiction requiring an immense amount of suspension of disbelief to succeed."
I briefly entertained the thought of attending these Jesus/superhero sermons and pointing out any superhero-related leaps or inaccuracies, but honestly, I'm not the "getting up early on Sunday mornings to force my intolerant beliefs upon others" sort of guy.
Superman is not Jesus, regardless of what Zack Snyder's new movie (or its marketing) is trying to assert. Jesus was not a superhero, regardless of what preachers desperate to connect their message to an increasingly disinterested mainstream via a momentary/popular trend or fad might have you believe.
Superheroes, by and large, are products of science (or, more specifically, science-fiction - not fantasy/magic). Superman is an alien from another planet - the sort of lifeform, that if he did exist, would shake the tenets of Christianity (which has a significant portion of its followers still wrestling with the existence of dinosaurs) to their foundation.
Batman is a man. With gadgets. The sorts of gadgets that are created by science (and a whole lotta money).
Iron Man? The same thing.
Spider-Man? A radioactive spider bite causes a genetic mutation. Again, science.
And the Avengers - well, they do have Thor, and he is a god, but he's a Norse god, not a Christian one. Captain America is a product of science - the Super Soldier Serum, The Hulk is a product of science - gamma rays, actually (similar to that ones that turned a group of scientists into the Fantastic Four).
Interestingly, the church promotional card above makes no mention of the X-Men or Wolverine. They are, after all, mutants. You know, evolution. Also science.
This is not to say there aren't superheroes that are magical in their origins, but I somehow don't see a church giving a sermon on Dr. Strange, Dr. Fate, Sandman, or John Constantine. Most of the magic-based superheroes tend to be more occult-oriented than Judeo-Christian.
Science is the antithesis of religion. Both compete for ownership of same territory - to explain that which we don't understand. The former uses a method of observation and testing relying on empirical, measurable, reproducible, verifiable data and the latter relies on magic and authoritative proclamations and a strong insistence that questioning is a character flaw.
But to claim superheroes to be gods - or to try to conflate them with some form of Christian mythology is to not only misunderstand (or even try to claim ownership of) the concept of a hero, but to attempt to culturally usurp and historically revise beloved characters for a narrow agenda (which, if we're being totally honest is just the sort of thing Christianity excels at).
"...[the trend of trying to conflate gods with superheroes] is contrived, because they're not at all the same. Superheroes are the copyrighted property of big corporations. They are purely commercial entities; they are purely about making a buck. That's not to say there haven't been some wonderful creations in the course of the history of the superhero comic, but to compare them with gods is fairly pointless." - Alan Moore (The Believer #99)
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were both children of Jewish immigrants and created Superman while in high school in the 1930s. Originally called "The Superman," there is an unavoidable connection between Superman and Nietzsche's Ubermensch - an idea that Hitler found particularly inspiring. Except that Siegel and Shuster put a spin on it.
Kal-El fled the holocaust of Krypton for America much in the same way Jews fled the holocaust in Germany for America. Kal-El is an immigrant, like all non-Native Americans. Like many immigrants, his name was changed/localized. He became Clark Kent, and he was raised on a farm in the heartland, later leaving it for work in the big city, and making good as a journalist - a truth seeker (this migration from rural areas to urban areas was similar to what many Dust Bowl/Depression/Industrial Era Americans had been doing). Like so many soldiers in World War II, Superman (clad in a costume of predominately red, yellow and blue - primary colors suggesting the American flag with white being replaced with yellow for printing/artistic reasons) fought against evil tyrants intent upon global domination and was willing to sacrifice himself for truth, justice and the American way.
That is to say, if Superman is a symbol of anything, he is a symbol of America itself. He is not, as some are insisting, a symbol of the Christ.
"Christliness has always been an element of the Superman myth. But this film's near literal insistence upon it becomes absurd since director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer don't dramatize the analogy, they presume it. ... The movie is so serious about comparing Clark to the Messiah that it starts to feel like church. ... Man of Steel is actually more interested in trying to conflate religiosity and topicality."
So Warner Bros. is using Grace Hill Media, a Christian marketing firm to sell Man of Steel as a Christian movie. Is it?
Is this what director Zack Snyder intended?
Is this what writers David Goyer and Christopher Nolan intended?
Should more interviewers be asking them these sorts of questions?
Is it appropriate for Christian leaders to attempt to reappropriate the mythology of Superman as a Christian parable?
But, more importantly, is it really what the creators of Superman intended?