Superhero/ Super savior?

Religious imagery plentiful; local leaders worry about Superman's morals

Published: Saturday, July 8 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a . . . Christ-like figure?

All you have to do is look up at the silver screen at your local movie theater this summer to see the Man of Steel in "Superman Returns" portrayed in plenty of Christian terms.

There are enough Christian images in the new movie "for a cathedral full of stained-glass windows," as Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News so eloquently wrote last week.

Indeed, this fifth Superman movie in 28 years is as heavy-handed with religious imagery as the original "Superman the Movie" was back in 1978.

The 1978 movie and "Superman Returns" both contain this same basic dialogue from the Jor-El, father of Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name):

"Even though you've been raised as a human being you're not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. 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."

These comments are reminiscent of portions of the Book of John, so much so that CNN referred to "Superman Returns" as a fifth gospel in one of their reviews of the movie.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son . . . For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17).

Is it blasphemy, or inappropriate, to present a comic book hero as a Christ-like figure?

"I picked up on that," said the Rev. Mike Gray of Salt Lake City's Southeast Baptist Church. "That bothered me some."

However, he said through all of Superman's history there have always been Christ-like references, so seeing them again was not unexpected.

"It's a movie, but it's not an ungodly movie," the Rev. Gray said.

He was more uncomfortable with the fact that the movie shows Lois Lane living with a man outside marriage — especially when many young people will see the film.

"We've lost sight of tradition," the Rev. Gray said, noting that "the American way" reference was also absent in "Superman Returns."

He was intrigued by the theme in the movie that "the world doesn't need a savior" and plans to incorporate that into a future sermon.

Terry Long, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel of Salt Lake, said the images of Superman as a messiah did not offend him.

"It was there. You could see it," he said. "It's still one of the better movies out there."

The Rev. Long even noticed a scene where Superman was falling in a position similar to Christ's as he hung on the cross.

However, he was very upset at Superman's declining moral character.

"He's a messiah, but he has a lack of integrity. . . . I want Superman to have a little integrity, as a role model for children."

Fathering a child out of marriage and Lois Lane living with a man were the biggest moral issues for the Rev. Long.

Superman fares far better morally in the comic books. For example, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are married there.

The worst thing Superman has done in the comics was to act as judge, jury and executioner for three Kryptonian criminals in a parallel universe after the three killed all 5 billion residents of the Earth there. That act of desperation gave him a split personality and caused him to temporarily abandon Earth to find peace.

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