Monday, March 28, 2016

Revelation at the Intersection of the Supermans

In the same way that modernity inevitably has led to postmodernity, the original Superman has inevitably led to Zack Snyder's. Both are equally silly (even evil), just in different ways.


The original Superman tended to suppress his deep, visceral passions for the sake of the greater good, which was presumed to be the smoothly functioning machine we hoped in by calling it society. He presented as a hero offering an impossible image of justice, with no spilling of sacrificial blood of embodiments of even the worst evils. The original Superman had no awareness of the dark possibility of destruction of the whole world hidden in its theoretical and technological crafting. Batman never used guns. Global peace and harmony was achievable through training and hard work on your feet with your hands, and through hopeful tolerance at the joints where different parts of the machine fit together.

The new Superman is the result of taking exactly that upside down image of the world being turned right side up. The hoped for global machine has been achieved, and on its surface has arisen global terror (see link for discussion of terrorism and BVS) in response. The passions previously latent under the surface now appear blatantly on the screen (even in a bathtub love scene). There is no distinction between hero and terrorist. Both are the presentation of possible global destruction. After a glimpse of nuclear war was what ended as the culmination of two World Wars, fear of the loss of a smoothly operating global machine dominates over hope in its achievement.

With such passions boldly on the surface of reality, heroes readily and JUSTifiably kill to keep the damn of terror from bursting. Batman uses guns (somewhat) indiscriminately as in a dream of what might be necessary. Leaving massive, city-wide destruction in his wake, Superman readily kills a fellow alien. Such a wake only sets the stage for man's greatest fear to later be realized - the impossibility of terror's suppression. We don't even know if the emerging new terror rising from our squelching of it is in the form of the hero or of Doomsday! The final image is of the anti-hero's warning that evil forces are on their way to over-take the planet.


From where I stand as a Christian, the problem with this, the reason it can be spoken of as the presentation of more than silliness but even as evil, is that it is the turning of one idol over into another.

A good and dear friend of mine sees a general problem in a cultural pattern of images that present the destruction of traditional images of stability, images in which good always and rightly triumphs over evil. The good guy always wins. Order, justice, law, and virtue always win over chaos, destruction, and bloodlust. The good image of reality should awlays win over an image of reality in which chaos, uncertainty, and instability move to the center of the stage of what appears in our world.

Of course, this presumes in the first place that good and evil, order and chaos, can be clearly and orderly presented as separate characters and goals in a story that depicts true reality. In American Sniper, this un-real convenience is achieved quite literally by putting black hats on the bad guys and white hats on the good guys. That makes good and evil easy to distinguish, which, in turn, also makes easy the allegiance to good.

I would wholeheartedly agree with this expectation for our cultural images of reality, if only the image of "stability" were actually Jesus. I would agree that goodness, order, and virtue should and do always present as triumphing - if only that were how God presented His reality to us. I would readily agree that good should be clearly distinguished from evil, if only I knew from looking back on my life on which side I always ever stood. "Why do you call me good?" And, I don't think this is a matter of semantical nuance.

It's not just a matter of adding the word "space" just before the word "Jesus." It's in the Babylonian creation story that order is almost roundly defeated by chaos. Order wins after apparent defeat and builds the world we live in on the bloody corpse of chaos. It's in the Babylonian empire where the King annually acts out this creation story of their world to the delight and exaltation of his people.

The real Jesus, however, doesn't triumph over chaos. He submits to it.


The real Jesus wasn't a patient of Freud's. Suppression of the deep visceral wells of desire wasn't a question. There was no vacuous outer space where aliens had perfect control over every aspect of their being like organic robots. Man can't build himself to do that. Idols are crafted rather than submitted to.

The real Jesus wasn't a projection of humanity's idealized version of himself and his world. The real Jesus spilled his own blood. On top of that, his bleeding WAS his depiction of true justice. Idols hope in fantasies that can't deliver on their promises. And, when idols do deliver on their promises, the bow on the gift isn't as beautifully and completely tied as we had hoped. That's why Zack Snyder's Superman so powerfully repulses part of me. I'm an idol maker, too. Faith would be easy if my idols succeeded. But, it would be faith in my idols. Faith is hard when "the cords of Sheol entangled me."

The absence of violence wasn't a question in the real world of Jesus. Jesus took violence to be a fact of the world. Jesus' justice was to eat that violence, to take it upon himself, to carry it upon his own body. To submit to it. Jesus was the real gift, and his whole body was stained with blood. His piercing pierces through my idol that falsely hopes for perfection free of cost. The spear in Jesus' side breaks my illusion of the beauty of the original Superman. In Love, I am given to see an infinitely greater Beauty.

Jesus' achievement of justice wasn't presumed to carry the weight of the hopes and fears of the entire globe on its shoulders. Jesus' justice was the murder of an innocent Jewish carpenter rabbi in a small and distant Roman outpost that was a mere constant thorn in her side. "Jesus, King of the Jews" was meant to mock the Jews. That tiny and seemingly insignificant event within the whole known world that was called Rome, however, did just so happen to carry cosmic significance for all of humanity. The humble presumptions of the Incarnation's achievement reveal the inevitable result of man's making the whole planet into his idol.


The key word there is inevitable. As I said at the beginning of this post, the new (post-modern) Superman inevitably turned out from the original (modern one). The idol was the exact same in both cases. The two presentations of Superman are simply two different views of the same idol. And, the idol I am speaking of isn't Superman. The idol I'm speaking of is man's crafting of a planet for himself. The idol is the globe. The idol is the same as Nimrod's. Babel was left as an unfinished structure, but we never stopped trying to put it all together.

I try to readily accept, however, that the structure isn't mine to finish. The structures that we take to be our images of reality are not ours to complete, not ours to stabilize. Comic books, by the way, constitute such an effort of man as his own craftsman - into a Super(or Bat)-man.

The assumption that stable structures are ours to complete, coupled with the assumption that we begin the building of that reality in the first place, is precisely the meeting place between the two versions of Superman. Both versions of Superman have those assumptions in common. That meeting place, then, man's image of his globe, is where the two (modern and post-modern) worlds of Superman - his being a projected idol of the modern hopes of man - is seen to utterly fall apart into silly, hopeless, fantasy. And, when I say fantasy, I don't mean that Superman was originally a comic book. I am referring to the political fantasies of man that fuel both versions of Superman.

The good guys don't always win. God's values don't always defeat lawlessness. God's people and God's values aren't even necessarily depicted in the (modern) structures that we take to be stabilized images of a good world. The truth is, the bad guys won, and the murderous tyrant was freed. The truth is, God used that perfectly completed image of present reality to reveal the truth of the injustice latent at the heart of all of our idols. There is no need for despair. Don't be depressed that Batman resorted to the use of guns to thwart global terror or that Superman lost his perfectly robotic control over his passions. All of that really did happen. Zack Snyder's Superman is even more hopeful than the gospels. Lex Luthor was sent to prison while Barabbas was freed. And God still won. Not coincidentally, I saw Batman Versus Superman on Easter :)

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