Superman's religion

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a Methodist! Looks like this will be the summer of blockheadbusters -- movies that entertain as they incite sectarian conflict.

First came "The Da Vinci Code," the movie based on the novel based on one writer's belief that truth is less profitable than fiction.

The film left faithful moviegoers with troubling questions about deities: Was Jesus married? Did the Church conspire to cover up Jesus' mortality? Did Tom Hanks really need the money that badly? Then came "The Omen," a thinly veiled attempt by secular humanists in Hollywood to capitalize on the Antichrist's once-a-millennium birthday: 6-6-6.

(Not to be out-marketed by the devil, Ann Coulter's latest book, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," also was released that day.) And coming Tuesday to a popcorn-theology cathedral near you: "Superman Returns," the controversial story of the second (or is it the third?) coming of the Messiah of Metropolis.

Already the Internet is buzzing with bickering about whether Superman is -- wait for it -- Jewish or Christian.

Not even Dave Barry would make this up.

"From the very beginning, the Superman mythos reflected his creators' Jewish backgrounds," Simcha Weinstein, "the Comic Book Rabbi," wrote on his Web site, rabbisimcha.com.

"Superman and his nebbish alter ego, Clark Kent, are now recognized, in retrospect, as a complex symbol of immigrant identity and assimilation, the embodiment of the American Dream, as imagined by two second-generation Jewish kids."

Not so, counters Stephen Skelton, author of the new book "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero." Skelton acknowledges that the character, like Jesus, had Jewish roots, but he argues that the Man of Steel really is a "Christ" figure.

"The story of Superman bears some incredible parallels to the story of the Super Man, Jesus Christ," Skelton wrote.

For example, Jor-El (Superman's father on Krypton) sends his only son, Kal-El (Superman's real name), to Earth. Skelton notes that "El" is the Hebrew word for "God." "When El the father sends El the son, God the Father sends God the Son," Skelton wrote.

He also notes that the name "Clark Kent" loosely transliterates in Hebrew to "Cleric Christ." He also notes that the names of Superman's earthly parents began with the initials J and M.

The newest incarnation of Superman might be the most messianic. Maybe you've seen the trailer.

In one scene, as Superman floats over Earth, he hears his father's voice: "They can be a great people. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you -- my only son." Who happens to be Methodist.

That's right. The consensus among superhero scholars is that Superman, who fell from Krypton to Kansas, was raised in a Methodist home.

In fact, most superheroes have religious backgrounds, according to adherents.com. Batman is a lapsed Catholic or Episcopalian. Spiderman is vaguely Protestant. Rogue (of the X-Men) grew up Southern Baptist.

Even superheroes need a superhero, I guess.

I was explaining all of this to my wife, who happens to be married to a mild-mannered Methodist newspaper reporter.

As usual, she summed it up better than I could.

People need to get a grip, she said.

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