The Intersection of Faith and Popular Culture, Part Two

The slim, muscular figure descended silently through the darkness of the warehouse, suspended on an almost invisible line. His prey was there below -- the man who had killed his uncle. His mind blazing with thoughts of revenge, he leaped to the floor. Reveling in the fear on the man's face, he exclaimed, "There's no place on earth you can hide from me!"

With the power contained within his muscles, it took little effort to knock the man into unconsciousness. His elation turned to horror, however, when he was finally able to see the man's face -- a very familiar face!

"That -- that face! It's -- Oh no. It can't be!" burst from beneath the colorful mask covering his own face. "It's the fugitive who ran past me! The one I didn't stop when I had the chance!"


To some, it's become one of the more famous fictional tales of our time: the origin of the comic book hero Spider-Man. And it ends with what some regard as one of the most legendary lines of popular fiction penned in the 20th century:

"And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power must come -- great responsibility!"

Although it's doubtful that it entered his mind when Marvel Comics' Stan Lee wrote that first Spider-Man story, his words closely parallel the words of Jesus Christ.
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required ... " (Luke 12:48 NASB)

Some might consider it a stretch to draw parallels between "funny books" and the Bible, but as I pointed out in my last post, I don't believers in Jesus can afford to ignore the vast opportunities within popular culture to discuss matters of faith. In Part One, I discussed the power that lies within stories, and comic books at their best -- whether the artwork is good or bad --- are story driven. I don't believe it's any accident that some of the most wildly popular films of the last decade have been those based on comic book characters. Such comic-to-movie examples as Batman Begins, Daredevil, Superman Returns, the X-Men movies, and (naturally) the Spider-Man movies have been big-budget films that have brought in BIG box office takes. I think this shows that not only do people in our culture love the stories about larger than life characters that are found in comic books, but that such stories fulfill a need of a spiritual nature. Filmmaker Leo Partible addresses this need in his introduction to H. Michael Brewer's Who Needs A Superhero?

"No wonder superheroes are more popular today than ever and movies based on comic books are wildly successful. In a dark and sinister world that leads us to believe we're insignificant, we need to know we were created for something greater."

To some comic books remain "funny books," written just for children and containing no deeper meaning than entertainment. If that's true, why is it that so many adults continue to idolize the superheroes of the comic books they read as children? Could it be that the stories of these brightly clad, super-powered individuals fulfill a spiritual need? I don't know that this is true in all cases, but a case can be built for it. More importantly, just as I wrote in Part One, the stories of these heroes can be stepping off points for talking about faith, God, and spirituality. In this post, we're going to talk about some of the very Biblical themes found in comic books.

Let's take as an example perhaps the archtype for all superheroes: Superman. The creation of two Jewish teenagers (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) in 1938, Superman is not only probably the most popular comic book character in history, but an American cultural icon. Even people who have perhaps never read a comic book are familiar with his story: born as Kal-El, Superman is the last survivor of the planet Krypton. Krypton exploded due to internal stresses, but not before Kal-El's father placed his infant son into a rocketship and sent him to Earth. There, Kal-El landed near the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas and was found by Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Kents adopted the child as their own, naming him Clark. Exposed to the yellow sun of our solar system, Clark's Kryptonian physiology made his body serve as a living gave him amazing powers as he grew to manhood: flight, super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, and enhanced powers of hearing and vision. As an adult, Clark took on the identity of Superman, and as Superman had a mission: to save the world.

Although some have labeled them accidental or unintentional, there are some striking parallels between Superman, the Last Son of Krypton, and the Jesus, the Son of God. The fictional Superman was sent by his father to a world that was badly in need of his help, just as God sent His own son, Jesus , to save a world that can't save itself. The arrival in this world of both children is miraculous: Superman arrives from the heavens in a rocketship, while Jesus is born into the world through the miracle of a virgin birth. Both children are raised by loving adoptive parents. The fictional Jonathan and Martha Kent raise Clark as if he were theirs; Joseph and Mary raised Jesus as their own, knowing all along that He was a gift from God meant not just for them but for the whole world. Both Clark Kent and Jesus grew up in small towns, far away from the places the world considered important. As adults, both leave the towns of their youth to fulfill their destinies in large, important cities: Clark to take up the mantle of Superman in the fictional Metropolis, Jesus to the real metropolis of ancient Jerusalem, where He will fulfill His destiny to save the world by being crucified and die for the sins of all mankind.

I think it's the personal character of Clark Kent/Superman that provides the most interesting point for conversation. Why -- with the power at his command -- does Superman choose to serve humanity rather than ruling over it? For that matter, why did Jesus -- who had the power to command the weather, to turn water into wine, to heal all manner of illness and injury, and even to raise the dead -- not use his power to save himself from a horrible death? Consider H. Michael Brewer's answer to those questions:

"If Krypton had never exploded and Superman had remained on the planet of his birth, he could have lived an idyllic existence in a techno-utopia. But in doing so he never would have made a difference in our world. Only in coming to earth is Superman able to accomplish his saving work among mortals. He cannot save us from a distance.

Possibly God could have found a less costly means of saving us. He might have rescued us from on high, aloof and untouched by the mud and blood of human existence, but in fact God chose to accomplish our salvation down here. Christ stepped down from the heavens and joined us in our earthbound humanity."


While Superman had no choice in being sent to Earth, he does make the choice of using the power granted by his Kryptonian origin to serve humanity. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus himself chose to come to earth, and in doing so give up much of His power in order to serve humanity.
"who,although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:6-8 NASB

The idea of servanthood is perhaps the most fascinating parallel of all between the Last Son of Krypton and the Son of God, considering Jesus' own words on the nature of service.

"whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28

And indeed Superman imitates Christ in this as well, for in a 1993 storyline Superman not only dies to save his adopted people from a destructive monster called Doomsday, but in a rather interesting parallel is subsequently resurrected. Perhaps Superman has become such an American icon because of parallels such as these. Perhaps the appeal of the character is that he points us toward the reality that Christ came to serve humanity by suffering and dying for our sin, and then rose from the dead? It is certainly a launchpad for discussing deeper issues regarding God and the afterlife.


This post is becoming overlong, so I think that I will continue next week in Part Three, where I'll discuss a comic book hero that may be less familiar but no less a part of popular culture, and what spiritual truths he points us towards.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I ask people about jesus they usually start with his ridiculous birth. He was born from a virgin. Right there you need to stop.

Your not an idiot. You had the talk about the birds and the bees and a stork didnt bring you. This argument works so well because its presented to you when you are but a child and cant reason about the subject yet and are too embarrassed to question it.

Nonetheless... Other species can have virgin births. So lets pretend Mary had some lizard genes or what have you and spontaneously had a kid. (It should be a girl and cloned copy of her... but screw science right... this is jesus!) So she has a boy. Its possible.

Then this guy grows up... the whole account of him growing up is detailed in the book of thomas which of course you havent read because the bible has been editted for mass consumption. (Constantine et al.) So we dont know much about him growing up except he probably learned to talk very early, didnt wet his pants or pee on his mom. (LOL) He was a perfect baby and a paragon of virtue.

So lets say so far you've accepted all this. We can assume your either crazy or retarded or a strange combination of the two I like to call religious. (Bad joke... hehe just kidding jesus people)

Ok so later he does all the crap like turning water to wine and you know its just bull ****. Have you ever seen anyone turn water to wine? For F***s sake people used to think zeus hurled lightning bolts down from on high and now you know their out of their mind, but this jesus guy... he could do it.

Now we get to the crux of the situation. (Another bad joke... lol) But the dude dies... and they bury him. Now he comes back to life. no cpr... just days later poof hes back alive. So either david blane has a great great great granddad or you fell for a trick no one ever saw but some guy who claims he knew jesus saw it with his own eyes.

Guys people like stories. I know. Dragonlance is awesome. But this Accept jesus or dont goto heaven crap is for the gullible, low iq, ignorant masses. Wake the censored up.

Really the book is about mass murder, genocide and bouts of incest started with adam and eve who populated the earth, again with noahs family who dude... no cars or planes and this guy walks the planet and gets all the animals 2 by 2... you believe that too?

Its not even fit to read to children. I remember a preacher giving a sermon on the sabbath and how your supposed to take that time to rest and thank god for all you have. So some peeps caught this guy gathering sticks and the village stoned him to death. The kids were all like WTF. And you can even see them turn to their parents for guidance and the parents just blindly look on nodding.

You cant even interrupt the guy to ask a question and the seats are horrible. Its propaganda at its absolute best. I mean people eat this **** up and then come knock on my door and ask me if I want to be saved. They truly believe or atleast put on a good act.

Anyone who stops and thinks about this stuff will first deny, then disbelieve, then cry and then finally laugh. Disgust comes later with being duped for years.

I am seriously saddened and disappointed with people in general. When your kid asks, Dad where did we all come from?

Do you answer with... well first god created man and woman and they had sex and had kids. Then all the kids grew up as brothers and sisters and had sex with each other until there was a ton of people. Unfortunately God hated them ALL except for Noah and his family so he killed them all. He made it rain for 40 days and 40 nights and even 4 years olds and infants drowned because god only liked noahs family. You remember noah sweety? He got all the animals in the world. The penguins in antartica and the polar bears on the north pole. He missed the unicorns though. After that Noahs family repopulated the whole earth.

Oh I see dad just like Lot and his daughters who got him drunk in the cave after the fire hit Sodom and Gommorrah?

Right sweety, except those girls were mistaken. God only hated EVERY person in Sodom and Gommorah and not the whole earth this time. Those girls didnt have to sleep with their dad.

Ohhhhh.... So people lived after Sodom and Gommorah.

Yep.

But dad why did gods send angels to Lot in the first place if god is all knowing? Wouldnt he already know they would find anyone worth saving?

Well honey... thats because the bible is a complete set of contridictory BS which serves little purpose but to teach people hatred and intolerance of those not of their religion. Its completely useless and largely historically accurate. The whole concept that a god could even exist is so flawwed and immplausible you'd have to be a blathering idiot to believe this stuff.

I know dad... just making sure your not an idiot. Good night.

Anonymous said...

For the blogger mixing incredulity with personal anger and a passion for exposing fraud, I pray he finds faith and peace in his life, and, moreover, that he finds the LORD to be a God not afraid of hard questions when one is genuinely seeking the truth. God bless you, anonymous.
To the issue of comparisons between story lines of pop culture (Spiderman), I thought the point was well made. It occurs to me that if the apostle Paul could draw comparisons between the truth of Jesus and the poets and writers familiar to the Mars Hill philosophers of that day, and if Jesus spoke of sowers, and kings considering battle and rich men contemplating building yet more barns while denying the higher purpose for such excess, why not we Christians of today?
Shalom.
RHB

Anonymous said...

Its not anger its disappointment.

It's not possible to rise from the dead after days of being buried. None of Jesus's miracles are possible nor have every been duplicated.

To believe these things is to take the word of a man who wrote a book 2000 years ago.

The bible puts the earth at between 6k and 10k of age. Easily disproven with Carbon dating.

The loving god kills every kid, mother and child on the planet during the flood except for Noah's family. A: Where did the corpses go? B: Now go grab your bible and read: Genesis 6:9-22. The ark is simply not big enough and to walk the entire earth to gather all the species is simply not possible to do in one lifetime. An ark like that couldn't even hold the food required for ALL THE LIVING creatures that walk or fly. C: Archeology has unearthed no evidence that indicates a worldwide flood in the last 10k+ years.

So look, I'm not angry. Simply Disappointed that people believe this stuff and teach it to their children. I have met christians and others who pray for nuclear war because they want armegeddon to come.

The bible tells some horrible stories, stories I would not read to my children until they are at least 17 and can handle such inhumanity.

We're only in Genesis and he's killing the planet.

As a side note since we're in Genesis Im curious about something unrelated to this. In Genesis 3:20 said eve will be the mother of all. Then she has Cain and Abel. Cain Kills abel and god gets upset and Cain leaves with his wife. Eve has Seth to replace Abel but who was Cains wife and where did she come from?

Chad said...

Dear Anonymous,

Despite a tone that not only implies but falls only one step short of saying that you think Christians are idiots, I will choose to assume that you are not one yourself. I'm not going to go into great length in this reply because, quite frankly, I don't think it will matter much if I do. So, I will deal with what I see as three basic topics you've ranted about in your comments. Feel free to respond, but if the level of your response is the childish euphemisms for curse words you've displayed so far, don't expect me to pay it much attention.

1) MIRACLES -- if there was a rational, scientific and reproducible answer for all the miracles that Jesus worked, then they wouldn't be miracles. You are looking for an answer from the natural world, but God doesn't fall into that category. His category is the SUPERnatural.

2) AUTHENTICITY OF THE BIBLE -- Are you by any chance a scholar of ancient documents? If not, then what are your qualifications for being able to determine if the Bible is what it purports to be? Now if you WERE a scholar of ancient documents, you would probably know that the Bible (in particular, the New Testament) is the most authenticated ancient document we possess.

Before you protest, I would recommend you do some research. I'll even recommend a couple of books that you can examine: Evidence That Demands A Verdict, by Josh McDowell and The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel. As regards the formation of the canon of the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas and numerous other works that were rejected from the canon were rejected for sound reasons, such as internal evidence that they were not actually written by the author attributed to them. As regards your inaccurate understanding that Constantine is responsible for the canon of the New Testament, try this URL:

http://www.ntcanon.org/

I'm betting you won't bother to read any of what I've recommended, but willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in thinking that you actually do care about accuracy (if you are the stickler for rational examination of evidence you're presenting yourself to be).

3) THE RESURRECTION -- Although this falls under the category of miracles, I'd again recommend you actually do a little research. I've already recommended two books that contain lots on the subject. Suffice it say that there is evidence both medical and from the testimony of eyewitnesses, as well as supporting circumstancial evidence that the Resurrection occurred exactly as recorded in the pages of the New Testament.

Anonymous said...

In chapter one of the new Testement:

Skies had opened up and God had spoken to his son.

Jesus was thrown into a wildnerness and harassed by Satan for 40 days.
When he comes back he casts out an unclean spirit, Cures peter's mother of a fever, cured many people of many diseases and casts out some demons and wraps up with curing a leper by his touch alone.

So... when we talk about historical accuracy I either have to start ignoring things or accept a large amount of outlandish claims.

A creature called god exists.
God speaks to us by opening skies and speaking.
Unclean spirits can infest our bodies like parasites.
Satan Exists.
Satan can cast people into a wildnerness and try to break their spirit.
A man named Jesus can cast out unlcean spirits at will.
A man name Jesus can cure fevers with a mere touch. (And many other diseases)
Demons exist and can inhabit our bodies like parasites.
Jesus can also cast out demons at will.

I want you to know I was raised devoutly religious. I was a catholic until age 8, then baptist until 12 and then a Jehovah's Witness until 17. As a Jehohavah's witness I went to church 3 times a week, attended a family bible study, a personal bible study and went door to door 2 days a month. (Pioneering)

Now let me explain how I feel about this first chapter.

If I were living in that time period it sounds like a great way to get a lot of attention and to wield power. I could conspire with friends to unify a central beleif system and to make my mark on the world. I could easily convince even myself that these things were true and perhaps some of them are loosely based on actual events.

The links you sent me to do are attempting to verify one copy of the bible vrs another and since we have almost no originals you are primarily comparing texts that are already copies of copies. The do not prove that Satan, Demons, Unclean Spirits or God exists. They do not prove faith healing.

We watch today faith healers who dupe many modern people that they can speak with Jesus and can cure people merely by touch or prayer.

In fact if I printed 20 million copies of a letter stating that I could pray and cure any illness and then had them distributed at every hospital I would get a certain percent of replies asking me to pray. Espcially if I asked for no money. If I then replied to each of those letters I would get another series of replies and would have already cured a few people. If I then displayed ONLY the copies of people's replies and testimonies I could convince millions of people that not only do my prayers get results but that I am a true faith healer. It doesn't prove anything more then people are gullible.

The stories these people wrote and told during that time frame were probably the most interesting stories anyone had ever heard and it offered answers to questions people wanted answers too and even served to unite some communities. That does not mean the stories were true.

Now today we know the bible is very open to interpretation and even if 100% accurately copied from copies we for the most part no longer have and could never scientifically verify without its almost a meaningless argument. The bible can be interpretted MANY different ways which is shown by how many varying religions and varying versions of the bible we have today.

Mormon's today, out of hand, dismiss the bible for the most part and instead accept the Book or Mormon's as a guide to the after-life (And in their case) the pre-life.

Religion has historically been bad for humanity. There is no disease or king or past president that has killed more people then religious belief.

Yet we can speak all day and you will never convince me that Demons, Spirits and Gods exist nor that faith healing is real. I had cancer as a kid and it was doctors that cured me and their knowledge of radation, chemotherapy and surgery. Their understanding of how the disease works and what treatments were most effective.

People think so highly of themselves and build themselves up so much that most simply can not accept that this is it. Leave this world better then your found it. Help those that can be helped and let others walk their own path. With or without religion you will have good people to good things and bad people doing bad things but it takes a blind religious conviction to get good people to do bad things. Those that will not accept or understand their history are only bound to repeat it and refuse a giant evolutional advantage for not only them but probably their kids as well.

In life a child who was abused as a child is more likely to abuse children when they grow up. Kids can be indoctrinated with GOOD and BAD ideas and because their parents or other adult figures caused the indoctrination it is often not seen as being either GOOD or BAD. In safe homes we stop the abuse cycle and teach children that having their arm broken was a bad thing and that their dad shouldnt do that. When they explain, no, I was being really bad and dad did what he had to. He said he would get those demons out of me even if it killed me. He was only trying to help. When can I go back home?

All I can say is it rends the heart. People dont stop and realize exactly what is going on and have a tendency to put the blinders on and see only the good.

Even obvious things like having planes flown into your buildings because the people who did it thought they would go to heaven and get their forty virgins or what have you. Christians will dismiss this out of hand as faulty religious beliefs and will always assume that if those people believed as they do that would never happen. They can't see the other side of the coin. The thousands of people dying even dying in their own country. The father that kills his kids for mortal sins, the husband the breaks his kids legs because "He says use the rod". The women forced in submissive almost slave roles to their husbands.

There are some good things that come from the bible. The majority by and large is bad. 90% of your american prisioners are religious and god fearing men and women.

I could really ramble on like this for hours... but I think I've gone past the point of which I should have stopped.

Chad said...

Anonymous,

The first chapter of the New Testament (which is the first chapter of the book of Matthew) says nothing about any of the incidents you refer to. Neither does the first chapter of any of the other Gospels. If you're going to cry "inaccuracy!" please begin by being accurate yourself.

You're being a bit disingenuous in your description of the website whose link I posted. The purpose of the site is to trace the development of the canon of the New Testament. As part of that, of course it contrasts the development of the texts which make up the New Testament. What you either didn't read or chose not to mention is that it also discusses in depth the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (early church leaders) who mention the Gospels and Epistles.

Thanks for telling us a little bit about your upbringing; that always helps in understanding where someone else is coming from. I have to say that it certainly sounds like you were exposed to a real mish-mosh of beliefs. I wonder something, though ... in everything you describe you speak of religion as opposed to relationship with God. There is often a wide difference between the two, and although I don't entirely disagree with your stance that religious fanatacism has caused much evil in the world, I think you stroke with too broad of a brush. In your years with the Catholic church, the Baptist church, and the Watchtower Society, what was the nature of your relationship with God, as opposed to your religious belief?

I think it's clear that you've closed your mind to even the possibility that God is real. If I am wrong about that, say the word, and we can continue to dialogue. But I really don't have the time to wade through more long, rambling posts if you've already decided that you know all the answers and that there are no conclusions but the ones you've decided in advance.

Anonymous said...

I was taught to pray personally and as a group. Pray to whom I do not know.

Prayer eventually became useful to me when I used it for a real purpose. That purpose being to organize and collect my thoughts to to communicate with a skygod.

There are many merits though to planning something and then executing it.

I was at wedding dinner last year and a preist prayed for the happiness of the couple. I toasted to the happiness of the couple. My way didn't force the varying religious groups there to accept prayer or bow their heads just to toast their glasses.

I started in Mark... Matthew mark luke john took an acts... Oh yeah... Sorry been a while since I picked up a bible and just read the first chapter of mark.

Regarding my belief in god. You are specifically asking if I believe the story of jesus and the god of the bible I would assume. Of course you could be asking if I believe in beings superior to ourselves... or it could be do I believe in someone who can hear my every thought and keeps track of my actions...

I have a complex belief system but god does not fall into the picture. I was relgious, then agnostic and now an atheist. I'm fairly certain I have always been an atheist just adults labeled me differently.

Chad said...

Anonymous,

Since you don't believe there is a God, on what basis is any sense of morality or ethics you might have founded?