Superman may have originally been envisioned as a telepathic bald villain bent on world destruction, but he was quickly transformed into a beloved hero of Depression-era America, with his all-American, Christian values of never doing wrong while always looking out for humanity. Christopher Nolan and Zack Synder’s recent remix of the classic tale, Man of Steel, keeps much of the religious imagery intact, though in an odd twist, confuses modern takes on what being religious means.
The man who became known as Clark Kent was originally Kal-El, which is similar to the Hebrew rendering of the ‘voice of God.’ Like in the Jewish myth cycles, Kal was sent away by his parents in a vessel to an alien culture, much like the story of Moses. As has been noted, the last name ‘Kent’ was an Americanization of ‘Cohen’ in the early 20th century.
It is pretty apparent that the mythology of Superman was modeled on Genesis; with Man of Steel being an origin story, scenes of ecclesiastical iconography make sense. When Kent doubts whether or not to turn himself in to American authorities so that General Zod can question him, he consults a local priest in Kansas, who inevitably consoles him with an expectable cliché. Later on when Superman is rediscovering his strength to fight Zod’s army, he holds out his arms in the shape of a cross before march—er, flying—to victory.
Man of Steel was specifically marketed to Christian pastors, who were invited for early screenings and given a nine-page sermon entitled ‘Jesus: The Original Superhero,’ in attempts of drawing a correlation between the DC Comics superhero and the superhero of a much older work of fantasy. Kent’s relentless pursuit of charity and justice certainly ring true with Christian principles.
As Melissa Browning noted in the Huffington Post, it might seem odd that such a violent and graphic movie was promoted to religious leaders, though if we consider how well Mel Gibson’s take on the prophet did it might not be so shocking. Violence is spread heavily throughout biblical tales, and is engrained in a large percentage of the most religiously minded. The term ‘war’ is waged against anything not considered righteous.
What I find most interesting is not that Superman is faithful, but how he achieves greatness: through meditation. When he rips off Zod’s facemask and the general is forced to acclimate to Earth’s atmosphere, he begins to ‘see’ humanity's suffering. Zod takes in every nuance simultaneously; the sheer weight of existence is too heavy a burden. That’s when Superman reveals how he himself adapted: by single-pointed focus, or what is called ekagrata in yoga philosophy.
I found this interesting, especially given Virginian Republican candidate for lieutenant governor E.W. Jackson’s recently revealed passage from his 2008 book that went viral:
When one hears the word meditation, it conjures an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.
Jackson is obviously confused about what a mantra means, or how it is used. The usage of mantras in meditation is to create a single-pointed focus on one thing, which in this case is the feeling and resonance of specific syllables. The ‘emptying’ of oneself has nothing to do with creating a hollow shell that supposed demons can then enter. There is a theory of letting go of dangerous constructs of reality that make you too rigid—something Jackson demonstrates with his ignorant passage—but more importantly, this practice can be beneficial in a manic world filled with a consistent barrage of information that we live in. It can also help out if you’re from Krypton adapting to oxygen.
Jackson has since recanted his opinion, even admitting one of his ministers teaches yoga. Perhaps unknowingly, Nolan and Synder exploited a long-standing rift in how we understand spirituality. While one can argue that it was Superman’s faith that led him to greatness, the reality is that it was his discipline—the actions he took to become who he was—that really saved himself, and us, in the end.