Superman Jesus: Religion & Folklore

I am not the first or only person to recognize the parallels between Superman aka Kal-El and Jesus Christ. I noticed it when I was a teenager. There are tons of articles about it and it’s not hard to recognize but it is not something that people really talk about. Originally Superman was created by two Jewish guys, ( Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster) as a symbol of truth, justice, and the American way. Like, basically every other comic book here it is an early form of propaganda designed in this case to be a beacon of hope to rally newly American immigrants around common ideals.

It became a symbol for Jewish immigrants of the 1930s as a role model  but more recent depictions of Superman have painted him as a more Christ-like. His father sent him to a humble Earth family by extraordinary means (immaculate conception), he performs incredible feats,(some might say miracles). His father also only appears as a spirit on Earth (Holy Trinity), and in the Christopher Nolan Man Of Steel, Kal-El is 33 years old, (Same age as Christ when he was crucified). It’s all there.

That isn’t necessarily the most interesting part of the situation. A Christ-Image is a literary technique that the writers use to draw allusions from their main character to Jesus Christ. The same could be said of Neo in The Matrix (Keanu Reaves), or even Leeloo in  The Fifth Element,(Mila Jovovich). The parallels are different but they are still pretty clear when you investigate.  The Bible at large has been directly and indirectly sourced for content since, well forever.

The interesting thing is how these religious themes move through culture, outside of their religious context to communicate the same ideals but within different frameworks. If Superman was a fictional symbol used to unite people under common ideas, and Jesus is a religious figure whose story is believed by Christians and unites them through out the world. Why is folklore accepted and religion is not?

The Superman movies were among the most popular and well received across all the world, but is it because the origin of Superman’s tale isn’t commonly spoken of? We must also ask ourselves if the message is more or less powerful as a religious or secular tale. On the one side we have the story of Jesus who sacrificed his life for the people of the world. If you belief it, then you love Jesus and recognize him as your savior. If you don’t then the story is meaningless to you. But, if we are presented with a similar tale of sacrifice, compassion, and miracles as a feat of fiction then millions more accept it, and the values it seeks to instill.

If the goal of religion is to lead its followers to the path of enlightenment in a particular way and the message is not received when presented in a specific context, is it the responsibility of religious leaders to prepare the context that will best allow receipt of the message. Some say that this preparation is manipulative and is again, propaganda. In the case of Superman, the goal of propaganda was not to lead people to the church but unite them under a flag, and so it was accepted.

It comes down to what we think is more important. If the real goal is to get people to carry a particular perspective and behave a certain way, then it may not matter how they come to do so. But if it is less about people’s actions and perspective, and more about their allegiance to Christ, that brings a different set of techniques to deliver that result. It also begs the question of whether we need to consider motive when deciding what media to consume or simply whether or not it entertains us.