03 July 2006

The Gnostic Superman Gospel

There has been widespread discussion of Superman as a Christ figure in the movie Superman Returns.

The humanity or non-humanity (i.e. divinity) of Jesus Christ was a hotly debated theological issue for hundreds of years, and is still not unanimous, with Unitarian Christians, for example, dissenting from the now orthodox view. We know a great deal more about whether Superman is, or is not, human. Superman Returns emphasizes the fact that he is not.

What does this mean? Theologically, it means that while the Superman story is a Gospel, it is a Gnostic Gospel, not an orthodox one.

Fortunately for Superman, however, most of the Christian conservatives who are praising this aspect of the movie lack the theological background to notice.

Incidentally, there would be a good case for arguing that if Spiderman is a Christ figure would be both human and non-human in a way in which the non-human part predominates, making the Gospel of Spiderman a Monophysite Gospel, and that Batman is a Christ figure, that his Gospel, as it involves someone completely human, would be a Arian, or Unitarian Gospel.


Unknown said...

Wanting a superhero to be a Christ figure says a lot about the Christianity certain people practice. They look for any reason they can to kick some ass.

Anonymous said...

in fact, Christ is the only non-Christ-like figure in the media nowadays ... ...

Anonymous said...

One can easily take Superman as a sun god (as was John the Baptist/Elijah, and many of the OT characters like Samson and Enoch).

He also parallels Baldr (the Bright) and Apollo (a sun god) in that both are beautiful, magnificent physically and morally unimpeachable; admired by basically everyone. Baldr, of course, has a fatal weakness - mistletoe, which is absolutely harmless to anyone else!

Superman shares elements of docetic Christology (Jesus merely seemed human), but I would not say Gnostic - Gnostics tended to believe our world was evil and that a secret knowledge would allow certain, special people to travel into the greater or more real heavenly realm to live with the god or gods. There is none of that in Superman; Superman is very much an eschatological realist; he looks forward to "the Kingdom of God Within You" ala Tolstoi, when people stop blowing each other up like idiots.

If you take into account Margaret Barker's 'Temple Theology', Jesus literally is a theophany or manifestation of YHWH himself, and his 'Father' is El-Elyon, the god of the 'higher heavens' from the Canaanite and Ugaritic pantheons. In this construction of theology, Jesus literally is the SAVIOUR YHWH, and this fits quite well with Superman except, once again, salvation is internal and earthly; it has been de-mythologized and immanatized - brought back to the realm of the ancient myth-cycle instead of the abstraction of Greek and Zoroastrian theosophy.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Interesting points! I think I'm going to have to go and read Baker's book.

Your point about the Superman myth being more docetic than Gnostic is also well taken.

I'm not very sold on the idea of John the Baptist/Elijah/Samson/Enoch, etc. as all being sun gods a la Baldr and Apollo, particularly given that Baldr and Apollo have Indo-European cultural roots, while Samson and Enoch have decidedly Afroasiatic origins, and because the Hellenic mythic influence on the figure of John the Baptist are attenuated at best.