Unlike other popular protagonists, Superman brings out the philosophical/religious musings of folks like this Aint It Cool News writer.
As I grow older, and the world becomes that much larger and more complicated, it’s hard not to put aside childish things and ask that your heroes are more like yourself. Superman isn’t like that. Instead of bringing our heroes down to our size, we have to strive to reach Superman’s heights. And that’s hard work. So Superman becomes trite or too simple for these complicated times, because the truth is harder to admit – that to strive to be a good person, to see things with hope instead of despair, is just too hard. Who can live to those lofty ideals? That’s a lot to ask of anyone.
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards,” Jor-El(?) narrates in the final, fantastic Man of Steel trailer.
This is a perfect example of what author and pastor Jared Moore calls “grace-mixed idolatry” in a popular story. In this case, it doesn’t really matter what the story is. People may interpret it more Biblically — e.g., Superman reminds me of Christ, and that helps me love the story more and worship God as I do — or else refuse to add to their delight in the dim reflection by tracing the Light to its Source:
If you’re going to base your life around an ideal, why not Superman? This faithless man [the writer] will gladly subscribe to that religion.
On one hand, it’s idolatrous, and unloving and burdensome to ourselves and others to look to an imaginary, idealistic hero such as Superman, and suggest we should labor all our lives to become like him. Should we really pull ourselves up by our own (presumably bright red) bootstraps and simply claw upward toward perfection. Is this even possible? Do we even know what perfection is?
On the other hand, we must see how woeful we are, compared even to an imaginary perfect standard.
It helps to have darker, more-human heroes (such as Batman or Spider-Man) who remind us, This is who we are when we try to be heroic on our own — we succeed and we fail. Yet sharing stories about a more-idealized hero such as Superman is a start to looking up to the sky (not clawing), gazing up toward perfection, only because the Lord of Perfection already meets God’s perfect standard for us.
Imaginary superheroes could not fix our true problems even if they existed. But the Hero, Jesus Christ the resurrected God-Man, has already come to Earth, taken the Hero’s Journey, and reaches down into our hearts to resurrect His people’s stone-cold souls.
Now His Spirit lives in us, and we live in the Son. In the future, He will finish that resurrection of our physical bodies.
That’s true religion.1
It’s the prime Story upon which other hero stories are based.
I can’t wait to see Man of Steel. But Superman can only work wonders onscreen or on the page and reflect the true Hero. Only the God-Man resurrects not only Himself but His people from death. And only He can share some of His superpowers.
- If you don’t mind calling it that, forsaking the stigma of false or legalistic religion. ↩