Superman Isn’t Jesus

MAN OF STEELMan of Steel” is tops at the box office, and a few of the $125 million it brought in during its opening weekend came from churchgoers. Warner Bros. is marketing its Superman flick as Christian allegory. (A few spoilers follow. You’ve been warned.)

The Christianity is sort of in there, at least insofar as “Man of Steel” follows the familiar template of an outsider who is the only hope for some group’s salvation. In this case, the outsider comes from Krypton, and the group is all of humanity. The same hero story appears in countless forms throughout history, literature and cinema.

Yet this is no “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” that bludgeons the viewer with its Christianity. One must squint to see the Jesus between all of the explosions.

The Christian myth is especially hard to find toward the end of “Man of Steel.” If Jesus had followed the same path as this Superman, he would have come down from the cross, fought a miraculously violent battle with the Romans, and left hundreds or thousands of unlucky Jews dead in the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem. Then, reflecting the film’s biggest misunderstanding of the Superman character, he would snap Pontius Pilate’s neck with his bare hands.

Director Zack Snyder was not particularly subtle with his other preachy messages.

Krypton explodes because Kryptonians depleted their natural environment in an endless search for energy. Global warming, anyone?

Superman is an alien, but he grew up in America. When a general questions where the big guy’s loyalties are, Superman explains, “I grew up in Kansas, general, about as American as it gets.” Immigration commentary?

There is even a libertarian theme about the freedom to choose one’s own destiny.

Warner Bros. hired Grace Hill Media, a public relations firm that specializes in Christian marketing, to make sure people find a sacred story, too. A “Man of Steel Ministry Resource Site” offers special screenings for pastors, videos, images and even sermon outlines with titles like “Jesus – The Original Superhero.”

One sermon aims to help pastors reach kids. “In the movie, Superman first offers himself to save the earth. Superman loses, earth wins. But then he realizes he must fight to save the earth and stay to keep saving the earth. Christ didn’t just give himself over to reverse the judgment against us, he did that then rose victorious – and continues to fight for us,” it explains.

Many pastors took the bait and promoted the film from the pulpit. Sunday matinees filled with people coming straight from the pews.

The most striking thing is not that a superhero story would resemble the Bible, but that even believers are so gullible. “Man of Steel” is not Christian polemic, religious outreach or a covert attempt to convert summer moviegoers. Marketers are framing a summer blockbuster to appeal to a certain audience, just as they frame it other ways to appeal to other people with other tastes.

The message does not matter, only selling tickets does. This is not about Christianity; it is about the dollars in Christians’ wallets.

It’s one thing to release overtly Christian propaganda and ask the faithful to show up. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Passion of the Christ” were Christian films. “Man of Steel” is a summer blockbuster onto which marketers want to shoehorn a Christian message.

Warner Bros. has made religious appeals before. It did so with “The Book of Eli,” “The Blind Side,” and even the “Harry Potter” series, which was about as pagan as it gets, what with all the witches and warlocks.

Some Christians and other religious thinkers have gotten wise, pointing out how they are being played and just how overblown the Superman-Jesus comparison really is.

The pastors who fell for it appear as only desperate to look cool and in tune with what the young people are watching. Well, that or as dupes who convinced their trusting flocks to give millions to Warner Bros.

Rather than worry about whether “Man of Steel” matches your faith, go see it because you like loud summer extravaganzas featuring superheroes. It’s a moderately fun ride for two-plus hours that is best experienced, not subjected to theological scrutiny.

Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.  

Image Source: Warner Bros. Studios.

  • Tom Paine

    You are right of course, Superman isn’t Jesus. And there is tremendous difference between the two story lines (even beyond the fact that one is real and the other fictional). But I must disagree that we are being played if we mention this movie (or any movie) from the pulpit. Instead, we have an opportunity to make use of a multimillion dollar production and help it to spread the message. If a good number of one’s congregation is familiar with any film, it is a great opportunity to make parallels, maybe especially contrasts, and tie in themes with actual events in our lives. Unfortunately, I can’t do this with this film. Most of my congregation won’t venture out to see “Man of Steel.” But if they did, I surely would have referenced it as I preached as I have with films I know they have seen.

  • Joanne Bamberger
  • Lisa Solod

    Not a great movie. Like one critic (at least) has said: two different movies, one a back story with interesting characters, the second a violent orgy with little sense of the impact of that violence. One Christ image that stuck out for me was that moment when he hangs in the air like Jesus on the cross. But other than that…..

  • Alysa Salzberg

    Interesting. My boyfriend and I saw this movie a few weeks ago, and I laughed at how there were so many overt parallels (at least to me) between Jesus and Superman. Especially un-subtle was when Superman goes to church to do some soul-searching and we see him against a background of a stained glass window depicting, If I remember correctly, a scene from Christ’s life. And of course the flying and holding his arms out in a pose that echoes Christ on the cross. I think they did that in the last Superman reboot, too. It all seems sort of silly. But I guess at least they don’t do it with other superheros, too – it would be even weirder to see Wolverine slicing into fish and having them mysteriously multiply!

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