Today we finish our first series of posts exploring the connection between comic book super heroes and spirituality. For anyone who hasn’t been following along, parts one through three of our discussion can be found here, here, and here.
The past two weeks have been very exciting for me to write. As my career in arts ministry moves forward, it is my hope that I will be able to find connections between my “secular” interests and my love for God and His Church. If we can find God in the places few people bother to look, I think we will open doors for amazing conversations regarding bigger issues than fictional characters in capes. We don’t need to be only involved in “church” or “religious” activities if we can find God in all areas of life. Today’s topic, is an excellent example: Superman, Christ or Messiah?
Seventy-five years ago, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold their hero to Detective Comics, forging the beginning of the super hero genre. The Man of Steel would go on to become perhaps the best known super hero, and an important cultural icon for the West. He has always stood for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and is loved by many around the world. Yet, his story is not unique.
I am not the first to point out the Christ-like nature of Superman. A powerful being is sent to Earth from far away by his father. He is raised by his adopted parents, who are simple, rural folk. He is a paragon of virtue, and aims to help humanity to realize its capacity for good. He is both a mild-mannered regular joe with a job, and a super human entity fighting for Good. And, he defies death.
The 2013 film Man of Steel makes further connections between Superman and Christ. After coming forward to the authorities, he claims to have been on Earth peacefully for 33 years, the approximate age of Jesus in the Gospels. When told by his father that he can “Save them all (humanity),” Superman floats in a very cross-like fashion before flying to save the day. It seems hard to deny the Christlikeness of Kal-El.
Yet I have to wonder, does Superman fit closer to the Christian idea of Jesus Christ, or the 1st century Jewish concept of Messiah? Some may not think there is much of a difference, but Jesus was different enough from the common understanding of the Messiah to warrant his rejection by much of the Jewish population in his day. They envisioned a conquering hero sent by God to save Israel and bring about God’s physical Kingdom. They wanted someone who would defeat the Romans. They did not want a Galilean carpenter and teacher.
So, which does Superman more closely fit into? For the Christian side, Superman is not a normal human. While Christ was fully man, he was also fully God. The Jews were expecting someone anointed by God, but they were expecting a regular person. Superman does not fit that bill.
Superman also came to save everyone. There is no particular group that he is supposed to favour. Like Jesus, he came to teach all humanity. However, he is tied to the American Way, and tries desperately to be part of the American lifestyle. This could go either way.
Kal-El was sent by his father from far away. The relationship between father and son is more pronounced in the Christian faith, but it is visible in the Jewish Scriptures as well. The kings of Israel (other “anointed ones”) were considered Sons of God, as was the nation of Israel itself. This may lean towards Christ, but the Jewish side is not far behind.
Superman, with all of his powers, connects with the miraculous nature of Jesus Christ. However, Superman uses his powers to physically battle those who threaten the innocent. Jesus was not known for getting into brawls with local Roman soldiers. The martial prowess of Superman falls firmly into the Messianic camp.
His name, Kal-El, is fictitious, but is similar to the Hebrew words for “voice of God.” As Christ is known as the Word, Kal-El seems to be a more Christian reference than Jewish, but that may just be my bias.
In the end, I think Superman is a brilliant combination of Christ and Messiah that was never meant to be either. Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster were Jewish, but they never meant for Superman to be an analogy for Moses, or the Messiah, or Jesus. I think there is something deeply rooted within each of us that yearns for a savior, and Superman is just that. A savior. A hero. Someone to be admired and looked up to and emulated. Someone to chase after, to run with in the sun.
These are my musings on Superman, but what do you think? More importantly, who is your hero? Who do you look up to, chase after, and run with? We all need heroes and role models, so who is yours?