Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Not The Same Save

Stan: You know those religiosos who think God will save them? They got it all wrong. I have found my "savior" with a capital "S"!
Ed: I may be agnostic, but I'm pretty sure that's not the same "save"...
 - Superman 80 Page Giant #1 (May 2010), "Superman Is My Co-pilot"
by Jason Hall and Julian Lopez

Is Superman Jesus? No. Obviously not. Is he a Jesus figure? Kind of? Yes and no. Depends on how much you want him to be.

It's more likely Superman is a Moses figure. Or a Golem. We can retell the story of Superman in a way to make it reminiscent of Christ (father sends his only son to Earth to save people), but you can also tell it so it sounds like Moses (desperate parent sends a baby away in a vessel so it won't be killed.) Which way is right? Well, they both are correct.

I've written before about messianic stories and their power, particularly in graphic literature. "The Superman/Jesus analogue isn't perfectly exact. Instead, Superman assumes traits from many stories, legends, and heroes. This makes more sense than the idea that two Jewish youths created a superhero based solely on the Christian savior."

So, is Superman Jesus? No, but he certainly embodies some archetypical messianic attributes. Remember, Superman has been around for 75 years and his story has been written by a multitude of people in a multitude of media formats. Some creators choose to focus more on the messianic aspects of Kal-El. The movie Superman Returns made some overt implications that Superman was a Christ figure, such as when the disembodied voice of Jor-El tells his son that he can show the people of Earth the light.

Similarly, the recent film Man of Steel makes some connections between Christ and Superman, especially if the viewer is looking for them. The film makes a point to say that Superman is 33 (popularly assumed to be the age of Christ at his crucifixion) and displays some Christ-like imagery. Apparently Warner Bros. has tried to capitalize on the interest in Superman as a Christ analogy and sent out sermon guides about the themes in Man of Steel.

You know, someone could easily pay me to do such work. Hey Warner Bros, you never even approached me about this! What's the deal?!

While connections can be made, ultimately the Superman as Christ metaphor breaks down. Superman saves us from worldly danger, but can do nothing for our souls or final status in the afterlife. Amusingly, Superman is the messiah everyone in 1st century Judea thought was going arise. The messiah was supposed to be a great, powerful man who would lead the people to overthrow their oppressors and save them from their troubles. Instead, they got an itinerant preacher who, aside from some miracles that provided immediate healing for individuals, brought about little worldly salvation.

If Superman is the benchmark for messiahs, then Jesus comes up drastically short. Jesus is the messiah no one expects. I was going to make that sentence past tense, but Jesus continues to be the messiah no one expects, even among Christians. Superman saves people by catching them when they fall off of buildings. Jesus saves people out of his absurdly unrelenting love for you, me, and all the other unlovable people that he loves.

We can look at it another way: Superman can physically save you any number of times but you will still, in the end, die. Jesus, however, may not physically save you. You may fall off the building and plummet to your death. You may not be miraculously cured of your cancer. But with Christ, death has already been defeated (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Superman himself has died and come back to life, but that's still not the same). As Paul said in Philippians 1:21, "to die is gain." I don't believe many people say that in connection to Superman.

So no, Superman is not Jesus. But I'm sure I will still reference messianic imagery and analogies in Superman on this blog. Why? Because it's a good starting point for talking about theology and God.

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