My family is a big fan of Superman. My boys love to dress in red capes, color pictures of the Man of Steel and watch episode after episode of the former TV show Smallville. My husband is perhaps the biggest fan and revels in the lore, the myth, the character of Superman and all he represents. After all this exposure to Superman since becoming a wife and a mother combined with my recent conversion to Catholicism, I’ve noticed quite a parallel between the story of Superman and Catholicism. I think, rightly considered, it could be a way to open wide the doors to Catholicism through this mythical superhero.
We went on opening day to see Man of Steel (of course), and in this movie particularly I see a running theme paralleling Catholicism in so many ways. To me, Superman is a Jesus-like figure. I don’t mean to say that he represents Jesus or IS Jesus, only that he is “Jesus-like,” and isn’t that what we all strive toward? Superman has it down better than most :).
If I can point out to my sons the good qualities embodied by Superman and show them those are the same qualities Jesus asked us to embody, I think I can expose my kids to the church’s teachings in a fun and interesting way — that all little boys can relate to! Even if we don’t make the connection to Jesus for them, but note how Superman never harms anyone if he can avoid it, that he accepted humiliation entirely, that he acts selflessly, we can encourage our kids — and all who love Superman — toward the path of righteousness.
Here are just a handful of the parallels I’ve noted between the Last Son of Krypton and Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, in both the movie and beyond:
- Superman is the “adopted” son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, as Jesus is the adopted son of “Joseph.”
- Superman must embody super-human qualities within a human world; Jesus IS “God” and must reconcile that to fit with our fallen human world.
- Superman never kills, although in Man of Steel he does. I didn’t care for that story choice. I think Superman would have found a better way.
- Superman offers himself up for the world at whatever personal risk; Jesus died for our sins and offered himself up to us in the form of the Eucharist until he comes again.
- Lex Luthor, while not in the new movie, is a bit like the devil. He is a great man with amazing technology at his fingertips, which could do so much good. In the show Smallville, Clark and Lex are friends at the beginning, but Lex is unable to conquer the evil within him and “falls,” becoming Superman’s — and ultimately man’s — greatest adversary.
- In the movie, Zod (the bad guy) when he returns notes that he’s been gone for 33 years (and he left when Superman was born, making Clark 33) — the same age as Jesus when he died.
- There is a scene when kids are ridiculing him and throwing things at him, and Clark accepts it with great internal struggle but with no outward signs. Jesus was humiliated, scorned and disrespected beyond imagining before being crucified and accepted it wholeheartedly. Though we do know that at the Garden of Gethsemane that he did struggle internally.
- Clark says the “S” on his suit stands for hope. Didn’t Jesus give us hope by coming in human form as God and giving us eternal life?
This monologue in the movie by his Superman’s father Jor-El moves me deeply. Take out Superman and insert Jesus as you read:
“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They’ll race behind you; they will stumble; they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Isn’t that one of the many things Jesus represents? An ideal to strive toward? How much we have stumbled, how much we have fallen, but we WILL join him in heaven one day if we persevere and he will help us get there.
There is a wonderful scene in the movie where Clark, when he doesn’t know what to do, goes to a priest. There is a shot framing him against the backdrop of Jesus in a stained glass window. I also noticed that his mother, Martha, wears a cross around her neck. One last Catholic connection that I made was that the destruction of Superman’s former world Krypton came in part due to artificial birth control techniques. Clark was the first born in centuries naturally. Perhaps that is a statement about the effects of contraception on our society’s morals and overall degradation.
It must be that there are some intentional references to Catholicism here. And just as The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ works can be read with an eye toward seeing Catholicism within a mythical world, so it is here. Let us use this fictional model of the embodiment of Jesus’ virtues to inspire and encourage us — and those we know — to follow Christ. Let us strive to join him in the sun!
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