by Joanie Butman
Last Sunday, I read with interest a number of articles regarding the recently released movie, Man of Steel. Intrigued by Warner Bros.’ promotional strategy of marketing it to Christians as the story of Christ, I was coaxed into the theatre, which is exactly what they are banking on I’m sure. Well, after sitting through more explosions than I’ve seen in a lifetime, I had to laugh about how easily I succumbed to Hollywood’s bait.
Literature and the arts have been retelling the story of Christ forever. This art form is nothing new. It is a valuable tool for conveying His story to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien made their reputations doing just that. That said, Superman could hardly be considered in the same genre. Sure, there are some glaring biblical references and metaphors obviously used to appeal to a Christian audience, but Superman as an allegory to Jesus is laughable – especially in light of the massive amount of collateral damage he creates in his quest for “truth, justice and the American way.” That might be the American way, but it’s certainly not Christ’s. Why not include Popeye whose mantra, “I am what I am,” is pretty darn close to how God introduces himself to Moses, “I am who I am.”
Despite my cynicism, there are plenty of Christian themes to explore in the movie within a children’s ministry. I would have seized any opportunity to engage youngsters when I was teaching religious education to my son’s first and second grade class. Passing it off to the general public as the story of Christ, though, is ridiculous. Distributing sermon notes and providing free previews for pastors is just a marketing ploy to tap into an audience notoriously critical of the content and quality of Hollywood’s efforts.
The underlying story of Superman has always been wholesome in its message. Historically, it’s been a classic story of good vs. evil – a saga that began in the Garden of Eden and will continue until Christ comes again. In this version, however, the good vs. evil theme gets a little grey – at least to me. In most contemporary superhero sagas, the protagonist and antagonist share equally impressive powers. However, the difference between them is typically pride, which ultimately leads to the villain’s destruction. It’s a simple formula. Superheroes use their powers to benefit others. Villains use their powers to glorify themselves.
Man of Steel’s General Zod isn’t so different from Superman. He is willing to sacrifice everything to save his race and way of life. His efforts begin with his failed coup on Krypton to rescue the planet from an irresponsible government who has depleted their natural resources thereby causing instability in the planet’s core leading to its imminent destruction. (Global warming parallel?) Zod spends his life committed to the task for which he was designed – to protect his people at any cost. His motives aren’t personal gain or glory. He believes his cause of preserving his race is a noble one. It is the sole purpose for which he was created – literally. There is no free will or natural births on Krypton. Superman is doing the same thing, except humans are now his people. He is willing to sacrifice the remnant of his biological race to protect his adopted one. Wars have been fought since the beginning of time over grey areas such as these, with both sides believing their cause is greater and nobler than their opponent’s. In reality, it isn’t always easy identifying exactly who is the enemy. I suppose it depends on where you’re standing.
On a more personal level, I’d say we’ve all been given unique abilities, which can be used for the benefit of others or for selfish pursuits. Life is a journey where we are constantly discovering and developing our gifts and talents. Among the many important lessons Kevin Costner’s character imparts to his son, Clark, is this: “I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” Isn’t that true for all of us? Rick Warren has devoted his life to helping people answer that question through his Purpose Driven Life ministries.
Furthermore, determining what kind of man (or woman) you want to become is something we all need to decide, and it will be no less life-defining than Superman’s. Costner sums up this point beautifully, “One day, you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s going to change the world.” Isn’t that something we all need to consider carefully? Most of us will never be in a position to change the entire world or maybe we will. Regardless of what our role is, we all affect the lives of those we touch. It is our choice as to what kind of affect we want that to be.
The true heroes of Man of Steel are Superman’s biological and adoptive fathers. They are the ones who sacrifice their own lives for their son, and consequently, for the world. It’s not surprising, then, that Warner Bros. would schedule the release around Father’s Day. Celebrating all those dads who live out their lives in quiet anonymity building and shaping their sons and daughters to become “men and women of steely resolve” is what true heroes look like – and a more appropriate marketing strategy that appeals to everyone regardless of their religious beliefs. Little boys may run around dressed as superheroes in their youth, but good fathers are the heroes they choose to emulate in adulthood.
I will leave you with the words of a pastor that ring truer than any superhero legend. “Heroes aren’t born; they’re made — very slowly, with the help of God’s grace.” I couldn’t agree more because when you submit yourself to God’s will, your humility and God’s power enable you to do heroic things. I watch that story being played out every day as ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things in the quietest and simplest of ways.
Oh, one last thing. Unarguably, the most irrefutable biblical parallel between the story of Superman and Christ is that THE GOOD GUY WINS IN THE END!