The Man of God is not the Man of Steel

Love is the non-violent apprehension of the other as other
Stanley Hauerwas

There was a child of promise delivered into the hands of unsuspecting human couple, a pair who knew there was something special about their bundle of joy. They knew he came from the heavens above and was endowed with great gifts.

However these gifts, the drives within him became a burden which ostracised him from the human world of relationships he had been raised to love and protect. He is a lone ranger, a crusader for justice and peace in a dark and uncaring world.

So begins the Gospel According to Superman, or under its movie title: Man of Steel.

When cosmic forces threaten planet earth there is but one man who can save them: Superman!

With all the precision, subtlety and tact of an enthusiastic teenaged Evangelical, Zack Snyder fills two and a half hours with enough Messianic metaphors to give desperate preachers the world over enough pseudo-content to entertain congregations for the rest of the summer.

These preachers would have us believe that the Man of Steel can be to us the image of the Man of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

A 33 year old man is transfigured into the gloriously robed Saviour of the world in his epic, cosmic struggle against a being designed and destined only for the destruction of earth. Only by embracing his true father’s path can he hope to overcome this onslaught of evil.

The movie preaches itself!

Yet Superman is not the Messiah (though he’s not a naughty boy, either).

The hollywood hero narrative would have us believe that in a fist-fight of good vs evil, good will triumph. Clearly, it will never win in the first round but eventually there will be some boon to the hero’s cause (true love, loss of a family member, belief from a crowd of admirers) or the exposure of a fatal flaw in the villain (A dark secret, the shattering of his wicked spell, redemption of the villain’s closest lieutenant) which turns the tide.

For this plot to work, the viewer must believe in the goodness of the hero’s cause and the inherent wickedness of the villain. It is the only way to justify the ultra-violence between the two sides. Man of Steel attempts to give us such a justification by giving us a glimpse of the despairing ‘utopia’ of Krypton. We are supposed to feel repulsed enough by this potential reality to justify the epic destruction and accompanying loss of life wrought by Superman’s crusade.

We are supposed to feel that the alien’s way of life is enough of a threat to what we implicitly believe to be True Goodness, that it must be eradicated by any means necessary. Indeed, it is smote out of existence by the Man of God Steel.

This is the divinity in which Superman participates. It is the pretence of the justification of Truth, Justice and the American Way in the face of the Other.

It is the Messianic dream of America which hopes to become the glorious warrior for Goodness on the face of this earth.

Yet my faith would not allow me to accept this myth wholesale. I could not, with any integrity, champion the vicarious violence of Superman in his quest to defend the people of earth. Firstly, because I didn’t believe in the inherent right of one supposed goodness to triumph over the supposed evil of the Other; and secondly because violence in itself loses its validity in the realm of Christ’s kingdom.

A kingdom, I remember, which gains its place in the world not through violent means but through the refusal of Jesus to respond to the violence of the Nation-state.

No matter the cost.

War is hell

The narrative presented to us is that of Ultimate Goodness against Ultimate Evil. What this becomes, in truth, is the moral justification of one people group’s violence against another people-group who do not share their vision of Goodness.

To call Zod evil completely invalidates any argument he might have for a fresh start, for a continuation of life as he and his followers envision it.

The violent end of his life (by the way: spoiler alert!) puts to death any dissenting argument to “Truth, Justice and the American Way”.

Yet Jesus, the one who Superman so desperately wants to be, is far closer to Zod in this regard: The future he imagines and makes possible is regarded as evil by the cultural gatekeepers of his contemporary world.

“Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God”
John 16:2

Superman is the Man of God at the service of the Nation-state. It is incomprehensible to me how anyone, especially Christians, can participate in the myth of the moral virtue of the Nation-state after a decade of brutal violence waged as “the war on terror”; which has become the violent intrusion of one Self on the Other with a wicked robotic hand.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956


Add yours →

  1. This is a good link
    Twelve Ways Superman is not like Jesus


    • I think 9 was my favourite:

      9. Jesus doesn’t treat wrongdoers as their sins deserve (Ps 103:10). He doesn’t combat sin with violence but grace. He doesn’t fill prisons, he empties them. He turns enemies into friends, haters into lovers, critics into converts. How cool is that?

      Brilliant link.


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