I just had the joy of watching Man of Steel. As films go, this was a spectacle and I would relish a chance to view it again. I am more of a drama fan, you should know I am more likely to watch films like Capote, The Squid and the Whale or a steamy erotic piece like The Dreamers by Bertolucci or Swimming Pool by Ozon.
I do make some exceptions for superhero flicks. I am not a Fast and Furious kind of guy and I loathe shoot em ups. Superheroes are interesting to me because they tell stories rife with philosophy and even theology–if you pay attention.
Did you catch the similarities between Jesus and Superman in this film?
1. His father sent him to a strange new world knowing that his son’s life would be difficult and he would be misunderstood.
2. He has two fathers. He lives on earth with Jonathan Kent and comes of age, realizes he has a greater purpose. Jesus, at age 12 tells Mary and Joseph “didn’t you know I must be about my (real) Father’s business?” Jonathan Kent tells Clark that he has “another father who gave him a different name.” Christians must be tingling when they watch this scene…especially John Elderedge fans. Elderedge is the author of such books as Wild at Heart and Epic. In the latter, Elderedge entices his young male readership with very fanciful analogies in the attempt to imbibe their lives with purpose and meaning. He explains that the young Christian has a real name, and a real father in Heaven. Young Christian men are kind of like the awkward hero in any true hero’s journey. Think of young Frodo Baggins or hell, even Shaggy and Scooby. The jist is, you can do it! Even you, dammit!
3. Clark Kent tells Lois in the end of the film that he is 33. He then attempts to save the day but not before she reminds him he could die. Obviously, he is 33 and (to the best of his knowledge) giving his life for the good of the world. Just like the 33 year old Jesus. Why 33? Why not 32? Why not 34? Why not 29? Hmmm. We may always wonder.
4. Jesus and Clark Kent have a very tender sentiment for their earthly mother even though neither woman gave birth to them.
Some might argue that these similarities are not super, rather simply superficial. Maybe they are coincidences. They could be correct.
Still, hundreds of church groups are co-opting the release of this film for the purposes of converting teens to Christianity. Facebook banners, even on my page, pose the question “Was Jesus a Superman?”
I would say from a philosophical standpoint that Jesus and Superman are very different in major ways. While they are both fictional characters with great hair, I notice some grave differences.
1. Superman is not indifferent to suffering of any kind. Superman watches with empathy and grief for those less fortunate and he always tries to save the day in ways that correspond to actual states of being. He tries to do good in commonsense and relatable ways we can understand. Superman isn’t able to save everyone all the time, but he does his best. Can you imagine this incarnation of the film Superman standing by and letting a guy die and not trying to help? No. Superman would cease to be Superman if he did that. Suppose Superman let a bunch of people die and said, “I work in mysterious ways.” What if Superman stared blankly on as Lois plummets to her death. “It was her time.”
We love Superman because he represents an ideal of good we can comprehend. Suppose Superman approaches a school bus of children and commands them to worship him or suffer at his hands for eternity. Is Superman this insecure? NO! Superman is content to be mild mannered Clark Kent and work a 9-5 job. Clark Kent is secure in who he is. He is not jealous and angry that perhaps Aquaman shares the limelight once in a while.
The figure of Christ in the New Testament is a compelling one but as a fundamentalist Christian would point out, is still God. Jesus is not chronologically exempt from the moral monstrosities of the Old Testament. He is not God 2.0. He is not God The Animated Series.
Superman would never tell someone to kill children or elderly. If Christians really want a Biblical parallel in this awesome film, they needn’t look any further than the disturbed villain of the film, the power hungry General Zod.
General Zod (spoiler alert) tells Superman in the end of the film that his prime directive is to look after the needs of the Kryptonian people, whose extinction has already come to pass. His single minded dedication to Krypton leads him to attempt a takeover of all earth and even change the planets gravity and environmental characteristics.
His obsession with his own people and their prosperity reminds me of a certain war loving God of the Old Testament named Yahweh. Yahweh’s moral injunctions such as a prohibition on murder and stealing goes out the window when he commands his own people to murder the surrounding peoples of the Middle East as they pursue a future in the Promised Land. The Jews were allegedly slaves of Egypt for 400 years. They suffered, kind of like the Kryptonians suffered through hardships. Moses, much like Zod, sought to deliver them into a new era of unprecedented success. This entailed a sense of entitlement to the Promised Land, currently inhabited by the Caananites. The solution was a barbaric one. The creative God who made bread (manna) fall from the sky, who made the Red Sea part for pedestrian use, who made miracle after miracle occur with great predictability was out of ideas for how best to take the Promised Land. The end game was ultimately to simply kill everyone and take their shit.
You may recall that coveting was also a sin in the Ten Commandments. Entitlement allows for an alternate understanding. The Jews were not coveting the land, if it was truly promised to them, right? It wasn’t murder, per se, it was more like taking out the trash and only because God commanded it.
General Zod is not moved when Superman tells him that his plans include genocide. Zod replies, “everything I did, every act of cruelty and violence was for the greater good.” Yeah, greater good for Krypton. Not earth. Everything God does in the Old Testament is for the good of his people. Who cares if we kill everyone on the way to the Promised Land? You cannot have an omelet without breaking some eggs!
Superman is, and always was intended to be a picture of humanism devoid of selfishness. Superman tries to promote peace and justice and the very secular American way. He is tolerant and he is kind, he is patient and slow to anger. He is what the Bible purports God to be. The differences are what I am thankful for. Superman is a utilitarian moral agent. His motivation is to eliminate suffering and comfort people. He wants to inspire the world, not just Americans or white people or Kryptonians. He is universal in his appeal. If you don’t believe me, wait til the overseas box office receipts are counted. And watch Superman. It was awesome.