One of Us: Superman and the Incarnation

Spoiler alert; but the movie isn’t really worth watching, anyway

Once my husband was teaching a class on Thomas Aquinas’s proofs for God’s existence to an Introduction to Philosophy class. While he was describing God’s complete perfection and omnipotence, one of the students blurted out, “But aren’t we all created equal?”

In the recent flop Batman v Superman, Superman has the same problem as God: America has taken its democracy so much to heart that we see any kind of hierarchy as a sin. It’s not just King George who offends us, by making laws for us to live by that we don’t have a voice in. It’s the whole idea of a king. It’s God Himself, now, Who offends us not only by the things He does, but simply by Who He is. We object to the idea that Someone exists Who can make decisions about us without our say.

In the movie, Superman has fallen into disfavor for the same reason. He hasn’t done anything wrong—he hasn’t abused his power. The problem is simply that he has the power. That’s the writers’ excuse for arranging for a showdown between Superman and Batman (who as a vigilante represents an extreme version of bare democracy, unblessed by law).

Superman’s crime is that he possesses great power, but he is not one of us. This is not his world. He’s an alien. He’s just someone who came down from the heavens looking like a man—but he’s not really a man. He’s a god in a man-suit. Do you see the problem? How can the people trust him when he walks among us with super-human powers but not a human nature?

Superman has always been a Christ-figure: the perfect man who comes down from above to save us. But in Batman v Superman, the imagery gets much more specific. Superman lays down his life—in his human mother’s arms, in a scene cribbed from Christian depictions of the Pietà throughout the history of Christian art—proclaiming his true humanity. This is my world! I am truly a man! Put your hands into my wounds. See, I am one of you.

If you’re watching carefully (not that the movie is worth watching at all), you’ll see a hint that Superman, true Kryptonian and true man, will rise from the dead.

When Christ became man, He came into a society that was being oppressed by a tyrant, but not a society that insisted on the absence of any monarchy. Then, after a brief time of anarchy, came a thousand years of Christendom, in which everyone understood that human societies should be ordered to reflect the structure of the cosmos itself: God on His throne, ruling benevolently over us. Then came America, which emphasized a different aspect of creation: God’s gift to us of free will, which makes sacred our own choices. But our choices must still be ordered to the good. As a less-often sung verse of “America the Beautiful” prays, “Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law.”

Now, in a mostly post-Christian society, we deify freedom for the sake of freedom, and not as a way to unite ourselves with what is good, and we reject God because He isn’t one of us. But God responded to our complaint 2000 years before our complaint would even have made sense to the culture, by emptying Himself and taking on the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7). I don’t know whether the writers of this silly movie were consciously cribbing from Salvation History when they wrote the script, or if the image of the God-man is simply a part of their subconscious that emerges when they’re trying to be deep. I hope it’s the latter. It means some part of us hasn’t forgotten.

image: cjmacer /

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Abigail Tardiff has a background in philosophy and a love for literature, which teaches us to see the world in terms of not just fact, but also meaning. She and her husband have seven children and one grandchild, and live by the sea in the shadow of Providence (Rhode Island).

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