Roger Lindsay: Christianity’s God akin to DC Comics’ Superman
By Roger Lindsay
For a period of time in the 1970s, if I had a little extra pocket money (and there wasn’t a new issue of Mad available), I’d buy superhero comic books. I couldn’t afford them all, of course, so I had to pick a few favorites. One usually had to stick with these choices, because superhero comics were basically soap operas that strung you along month to month with unresolved story arcs and cliffhangers.
For some readers, myself included, part of this selection process involved evaluating a particular publisher’s brand of superhero — that offered by Marvel versus that offered by DC Comics. Generally, Marvel superheroes seemed more youthful and socially relevant (Spider-Man, X-Men) while DC superheroes seemed stodgier, more old-school (Batman, Superman).
I chose Marvel, focusing mainly on Spider-Man, who was so popular that Marvel published multiple titles featuring him. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) was young and smart, but had trouble balancing school, dating and a part-time job with crime-fighting and looking after his Aunt May. To me, his limitations and handicaps made him interesting and his battles more challenging. He was, for a superhero, somehow slightly more plausible.
Deep down, I felt that DC’s Clark Kent (Superman), by comparison, had it pretty easy. It was problematic — from a story-telling standpoint, at least — that he was so perfect that he could pretty much solve any problem or do anything using super strength, super speed, heat vision, or maybe just blowing really hard.
Going way back in time, the ancient Israelites, early on, seem to have chosen the more Marvelesque superhero formula. They gave their god limits and constraints, kept him somewhat local, created Yahweh as, so to speak, Spider-Man. What some now call the Old Testament is suspenseful and episodic; the battles might go either way. Yahweh loses, or loses it, occasionally.
The developers of Christianity fashioned a different god, one firmly in the DC Superman mold: all-powerful and cosmic in scope. And here’s where we run into the problems which spring out of this type of storytelling. For one thing, the New Testament is mostly pretty boring (once you get past some initial drama involving Supergod’s alter-ego, the mild-mannered Jesus Kent), and its conclusion is foregone and final.
But, just as for the writers of Superman comic books, the difficulties of an all-powerful “capital G” God character are even more fundamental. That is, once you create a superhero/deity who can fix everything, you have to do a lot of theological heavy lifting to concoct a satisfactory explanation for why he doesn’t, or at least why the situation is not a great deal better than it is. Because of Superman’s super powers, his hometown of Metropolis should be an orderly and perfectly static heaven; instead, there’s bank robbers.
Resolving this seems to require plenty of fast talk and changing the subject. Seriously, why are there still criminals in Metropolis? Well, Superman can’t prevent all crime in Metropolis because something something kryptonite, or mumble mumble secret identity, or cough Hey! Lois Lane’s been kidnapped again. Come on, surely a real Superman could figure this out!
Similarly, God can’t prevent human suffering — and cannot even prevent an ongoing epidemic of sexual assault in his own church — because something something Satan, or mumble mumble free will, or cough Hey! He works in mysterious ways. Come on.
Superman’s boundless abilities don’t really explain Metropolis as it is, and, likewise, Christianity’s omnipotent God is a good reminder that (paraphrasing Karl Popper, I believe) a theory which claims to explain absolutely everything doesn’t really explain anything.
The paradoxes proliferate: An all-powerful, all-knowing entity who is the first cause and creator of everything and exists everywhere but who is not responsible for evil or suffering? An eternal, perfect, unchanging entity who listens to and actively responds to prayers, often changing his plans or, indeed, changing his mind? An entity who is the direct inspiration for, if not the author of, holy scriptures — “the word of God” — which, according to evangelists, should provide moral guidance to all cultures in all periods of history. Yet, this entity’s inerrant “word” is so flexible, so full of loopholes, so subject to various interpretations that it can be used selectively to justify any human activity, from peace to war, from altruism to the hoarding of wealth, from commune to empire?
Bible-based ethical guidance is like a guardrail made of Silly Putty. Christians first decide what they want to do and then are delighted to discover that the bible, read the right way, approves. And, having foreseen all this, their omniscient god does nothing to clarify these paradoxes but only promises eternal torture or infinite reward . . . someday. Super.
FFRF Member Roger Lindsay is a retired public librarian and lives in Minneapolis with his wife.