Sunday, May 28, 2017

God or Superman?

He is far more powerful than any human. He wants what is best for people. He rescues people from disasters.

Am I describing God, or Superman?

I've realized that many people think of God as Superman. Rather than the omnipotent omniscient deity they would describe if you asked them to tell you about God, they seem to think of God as a powerful and benevolent but quite limited Being. He is dealing the best He can with bad situations. The disasters, even the natural disasters, are not His fault, as they must be if He is omnipotent and there is hashgacha pratis, but just kind of happen. Then, like Superman, He swoops in and tries to rescue people. He may even try to mitigate the disaster. This must be why people say things like, "Thank God, it wasn't worse."

Thank God it wasn't worse?! God caused the earthquake or the tsunami or the plane's engines to fail or allowed the terrible war to happen or guided the bomb to land here instead of there. That it was bad at all is God's fault! Except that they don't think of Him that way. The God they're thinking of isn't the theologically correct God, what someone once described to me as "The Sunday School version" of God. The God they're thanking is Superman, who came rushing over when he heard the plane's engines suddenly go quiet and managed to save one little girl before it crashed. It's sad that the other passengers died, but it isn't His fault. He managed to divert the plane away from the nearby town and save the little girl. Thank God it wasn't worse.


  1. Don't read Kal-El. Read instead Kol-El, "Every god", for he absorbs pantheons.

    This well runs deep.

    I've been thinking about the bible through the lens of comics for a while, and some of the comparisons are interesting.

  2. The bible is the original shared universe literature, with many authors revisiting the same characters. All the more so, considering commentators, and all the more so again if you consider the documentary hypothesis.

    Some of the plot moves are the same, too: this character is also that character, for example.

    Midrash is bible fan fiction, and tends to "Mary Sue" the biblical heroes.

  3. The most useful comic book concept, though, is retroactive continuity: the retcon. Characters and history are reshaped and declared to have always had their new form.

    A few of the big examples:

    The rabbis, for example retcon the God of the bible into one less zealous, less vengeful, more tri-omni. And the process continues into the medieval period. It's hard to recognize Maimonides' God in the received text.

    'Rewritten Scripture' is a form of retcon: Chronicles' modified retelling of the bible is a good example.

    And, then, there's Christianity, retconning the Hebrew bible into the Old Testament, and finding prefigurations of Jesus everywhere. As a retcon, of course, it's claimed that it was always so.

    One interesting contrast: comics tend to retcon to add complexity to characters, while midrash tends to simplify characters. Protagonists' flaws are buffed away, while antagonists become villains.
    (Whiter whites! Blacker blacks!)

  4. finch, I agree. I've thought so for a long time now.