The Gospel According to Superman

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The
twentieth-century warfare/welfare order owes much to Nietzsche,
the man who first described The State as “God walking through history.”
Nietzsche was also famous for his concept of the “superman,” the
amoral self-directed entity existing Beyond
Good and Evil
as it pursues an unrelenting “will to power.”
The phrase “Aryan supermen” still reeks with memories of death camps
and incinerators.

Yet
the “superman” concept, the epitome, the exemplar, is a key to understanding
any culture. I would suggest that this is also a place to begin
thinking about appropriate means for transforming a nation that
seems bent on a suicidal death spiral.

In 1933 two 17-year-old friends, artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry
Siegal, created a pop culture icon. Inspired by the story of Moses,
they invented the original comic book super hero – wondrously
saved from certain death as an infant, then appearing from obscurity
to wield extraordinary powers and defeat evildoers … you know
the story. (Joe drew the art work on a breadboard, except for Thursdays,
when his wife kneaded the Sabbath challah!) A later industry giant,
Stanley Lieber, is better known by his trade name Stan Lee. Stan
has a picture in his home of Ben Grimm dressed in full Chassidic
regalia. Stan Lee’s “Amazing Spiderman” can be seen in two super
hero chick flicks, if you want a benign way to relax for a few hours.

Every adolescent boy dreams of being bigger and better than he is.
Behind this universal longing, however, the comic book super hero
also demonstrates the traditional Jewish messiah concept: big, brawny,
righteous. Supernatural in ability, victorious in strife, defender
of the weak, confounder of powerful evil.

Still, the Jewish people can’t monopolize the messiah market forever!
For a thought-provoking mediation on the Hindu messiah model (personified
transcendent intervention into human affairs), see M. Night Shyamalan’s
film Unbreakable.
Shyamalan’s American roots show in the movie’s feel for gritty blue-collar
Philadelphia. Unbreakable examines the super hero motif on
several levels, and ends up with a counterpoising evil avatar, who
deviates as far from the norm as the Bruce Willis protagonist, but
in the opposite direction. The Hindu godhead can’t do without Shiva,
destroyer of worlds, who “gives balance to the force.” Not an ultimately
hopeful perspective, here!

The
Gospel According to Superman
, published in 1973, made one
memorable point. Throughout the decades of his storied life, Superman
responded promptly to the urgent summons of his friends. And his
associates have remained the same. No evidence of personal growth.
No maturing, ripening, developing of character. As any person of
faith will tell you, it’s those times when our “signal watch” does
not bring the expected deliverance that we grow up. And it is “Great
Society” welfare programs, apparently modeled on the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, that reduce targeted populations to impotence.

Meanwhile,
there’s my Messiah, if you can Handel a reticent savior. Consider
the contrasting components of the mission statement Jesus received:
“Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The term “Beloved
Son,” from Psalm 110, speaks of a triumphant King. The expression
“in whom I am well pleased,” from Isaiah 42, speaks of a suffering
servant. Majesty in mufti. Power in plainclothes. The messianic
kingdom Jesus proclaimed seems to resemble the status quo ante
in place before the coronation of Saul, when God Himself was the
King, and His people could loaf for one year out of every seven.
The sabbatical years ended when Saul took office; the increased
burden of taxation supplanted those seasons of rest for man and
soil. However, our King can lead us back towards non-statist ways
of organizing our lives.

Life with a reticent Savior is profoundly interesting. We walk by
faith and not by sight. Our Lord does not issue impersonal directives
from a distant throne in Jerusalem. Rather, He sits demurely off-stage
at the right hand of power in heaven, and reigns in our hearts.
We share a regular fellowship meal with Him. We read how He handled
situations when personally on the scene, and when acting through
His agents. We gradually see the program, we get with the program,
we pour our energies into our assigned duty stations, and we expect
to be surprised. Since we are not God, 75% of our efforts might
go to waste (fall by the wayside, etc.). Since He is God, we expect
30-fold, 60-fold, and 100-fold returns on the projects that do pan
out. But we do not know ahead of time what the future holds.
Which misfires will break our hearts. Which off-the-cuff responses
will bring inconceivable blessings.

Life with a reticent Savior is purposeful, passionate, and adventurous.
Knowing that our God wants our lives to succeed gives zest to our
risk-taking and our labors. Being in on what God is up to is the
ultimate “piece of the action.” Prayer is an adventure, since every
request can reveal new plot twists in the stories of our lives.
Having omniscience at work on the other end of the “request line”
guarantees surprises.

Contrast this to the experiences of non-Christians who attempt to
manipulate reality through witchcraft, psychic powers, or contractual
agreement with some human or inhuman entity offering “three wishes.”
As valued mentor Gary North said,

While covenant breakers sometimes invoke incantations or other formulaic
appeals to the occult supernatural realm, their requests suffer
from these major defects: their own covenant-breaking status, the
implacable hostility of their wish-providing sources, their own
lack of omniscience, and the lack of omniscience of their wish-providing
sources. (Treasure
and Dominion: an economic commentary on Luke
, Ch. 21, by Gary
North)

Even
more pathetic are the miracle-working claims of those politicians
who would incarnate the divine State for us. Hence, their hostility
to “right-wing fundamentalists.” Those of us who already have a
savior are not in the market for another. The notion of limited
government sprang from Christian theology, and was applied in the
17th century very forcibly against the necks of English kings who
overreached themselves. Men who bow before their Creator are notoriously
unwilling to grovel before fellow creatures.

In conclusion: one messiah model reduces humanity by promising total
care, cradle to grave. The result is slavery at best, genocides
at worst. The other model expects more of us individually, and encourages
us to make the most of our lives. The results include risk, wealth,
liberty. Personal growth. Integrity. Responsiblity. And a life suitable
for a free man who refuses to be an infantilized subject.

October
18, 2004

Tom
Smedley [send him mail]
is a technical writer living in the Research Triangle Park area
of North Carolina with his wife and four children. Visit
his web site.

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