Superman vs. Jesus (who would win?)

So, you've all seen Man of Steel now? If not, reading this post could ruin the movie for you...

So, I liked it, sort of. Anyway I'm not really here to talk about that movie. I'm actually here because I have a confession to make. And to be honest, I haven't hidden it well.

I have a bit of a thing for 'Superman'.

As a child I grew up watching 'Lois & Clark' on TV, and as a teenager I watched 'Smallville'. I have a giant 'S' poster above my bed. I have shoes with Superman himself emblazoned upon them. I have a Superman t-shirt. I have a beautiful Superman mug. I have a calendar with Superman on it. I have a eclectic set of Superman fridge magnets. I once made Superman hammer beads.

I don't ever dress up as Superman though. I'm not that keen!

As you may also know, I'm a Christian. So if Jesus can have fans, I guess I'm a pretty big fan of his as well.

And now, there's this new movie out, its made $500 million already, people are very excited and they're saying this thing that often gets said: that Superman is really quite a bit like Jesus. Some reckon the parallels are so clear that they say churches have actually significantly boosted the Man of Steel audience. The connection's been made before. And hey, maybe there's something in it. Let's explore.

Like Jesus, Superman was sent from another world by his Father to save Earth, a world desperately in need.

Superman's real name is 'Kal-El', since he comes from the House of 'El'. By no coincidence I'm sure, in the Hebrew Bible 'El' is one of the common names for 'God' (Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were Jewish). So Supes comes from the House of God, If you will. And hey, being the Son of God, so does Jesus.

Like Superman, Jesus grew up in a small unassuming town, fostered by parents of a humble background, who raised him as their own.

Like Jesus, Superman eventually emerges from this small town to make his name known in the big city: Metropolis. For Jesus, it was Jerusalem. Here their destinies await. Both have/begin their public careers at age 33.

Both work miraculous wonders that amaze those around them, and they use their powers not for their own gain but to serve others.

As seen in Man of Steel, both are regarded with fear and suspicion by the authorities of this world. Both submit to arrest by the powers that be.

As seen in Superman Returns, both give their lives to save the Earth from a threat that only they can destroy. Neither of them stay dead for long.

Like Superman, Jesus can fly. (Don't argue with me, 'The Ascension' definitely counts as flying!)

Like Superman, Jesus is incredibly powerful, and vulnerable only to Kryptonite, and Magic.

Okay, maybe not the last one. I honestly can't say whether Jesus was vulnerable to Kryptonite. Can't rule it out. But you see where the parallels fall down. Jesus didn't wear glasses or a red cape, and Superman is a mild mannered reporter by day, not a Jewish Rabbi.

So, what? I guess what I'm trying to say is that Jesus is a bit like Superman, but he's also alot not like Superman. How? Well maybe it's because in Man of Steel our titular hero, this man of impeccable moral standards stops the evil villain Zod by BREAKING HIS NECK. I'm just not sure if that's a good role model there...

"Now kids, be good, be polite, and be more like Superman - or else HE'LL BREAK YOUR NECK!"

Flip, even Batman doesn't kill! But then I read some more, and it turned out Superman had killed before. And I understand Superman kind of had no other choice (though I think he really did); but I realized maybe I didn't know Superman so well after all. Despite all the Christ-allusions in Superman mythology, Superman it seems is still a very limited, fallible guy, who can and does make mistakes.

Jesus was incredibly human that's for sure; he walked and talked alongside normal folk, he drank with them, he ate breakfast with them, he went fishing with them, he mourned with them. But we're also told he never did a thing wrong. He lived the perfect life. And he didn't break the necks of his enemies. Rather, he 'turned the other cheek'; he submitted to their violence until it killed him.

What's more, while Superman was the last survivor of a destroyed world and a dead race, Jesus was not. Jesus came from heaven; a world not dead but fully alive, the way things should be, free of death and violence and tragedy. A world of loving relationship between the Father, his Son, and the Holy Spirit. But he didn't even come to take us to that world. Jesus came to 'bring heaven to earth'. Which is...exciting.

So that world is coming here, right now, as we live and breathe; hope is coming. In Man of Steel Superman tells us that the symbol on his chest is a symbol for 'hope'. Which is brilliant. But can he bring that hope in a lasting, powerful way? Can Superman save everyone? I'm not sure he could.

But that's okay, because Jesus isn't really Superman. In some beautiful ways, he is. And hey, I still love Superman. But actually they've got different stories to tell. Superman might save you from a burning building, but Jesus doesn't just save us from something, but for something; something huge. For the world where everything wrong is undone. And for Himself. For love.

How about that?

I'm holding on to all my Superman memorabilia though. Its a symbol for 'hope' remember!


  1. Wonderful article, thanks Joe. I'm reminded of something Rowan Williams said in a 2005 interview: '...some of the best Superman fantasies are all about the choices he faces, he can't opt for more than one of these at once; if he does, he or his powers are weakened in particular ways and particular circumstances. There's lots of theology in Superman - not very good theology, but the questions are there'.

    I wonder whether Superman gets us into some trouble, by positing a kind of parent-figure image of God. A God that is forced to make moral choices within a certain limited system, and thus effectively becomes accountable and blameworthy for all the things he didn't do, and things he didn't intervene to stop. It strikes me that, if we are going to reject that sort of caricature of God, we might perhaps see a character like Superman as a fairly negative or apophatic approach to theologising, i.e. this is what God is NOT like. Thoughts?

    1. Thanks Taylor! Great thoughts from Rowan there, nice to know i'm only 8 years late to the conversation! He says it well.

      I think you're on to something there, yep. It's certainly the natural inclination to say 'hey, Superman sounds alot like Jesus!', but if we care to be a bit more nuanced then hopefully, like you say, we can see how radically different God and Superman are. I suppose you can either take the apophatic approach, or just try and affirm some of what is Jesus-like in Superman; since some of the similarities are useful analogies for a culture that is increasingly less aware of who Jesus actually was and what he did.(But then maybe that makes Superman references even more dangerous?)

      If not the parent figure/Superman, what do you think is a better analogy of what God is like? On the question of God's moral accountability, that's an interesting one. I think you're right but I can imagine some might say that if God is all-powerful all-knowing etc. then he's even more accountable because he literally had the power to stop all evil, whereas Superman-Jesus doesn't have that freedom. Thoughts?

  2. Agreed with regards finding reflections of Jesus in Superman. It relies on theologically-sound attentive Superman fans - surely a vocation that needs promoting in today's church...

    I suppose I raise the parent analogy in a negative way because it's particularly vulnerable to a kind of caricature, which tends to get us off on the wrong foot thinking about God's relationship with Creation; namely, that God sits at a distance from the universe and decides when to intervene. Given the prevalence of tragedy in the world, this would seem to indicate a kind of negligent parent; one who didn't venture to risk their own life by pushing their child out of the way of an oncoming truck, etc.

    Of course, orthodox Christian belief has always seen a God so deeply involved in the universe that this 'Superman' entry simply doesn't make sense. 'The world is charged with the grandeur of God' as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. So God is involved at the level of life-giving coherence in all Creation; yet perhaps precisely because of that total involvement, the freedom bestowed upon Creation enables the possibility of tragedy. Worth mentioning here that tragedy only happens because we use language about it...

    The kind of resource we seem to have then, is a God who makes Himself available at the very centre of things. Within a tragedy, the love which compels people to act unselfishly, for example. St Augustine seems to me to be saying that Creation, by dent of not being God, is not perfect, and unfolds with its own logic, often to tragedy. But Creation is so thoroughly saturated with the involvement of God that His presence is a constant resource, even if not in ways we often would conveniently - desperately - want to be made available.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts