Acton Institute Powerblog

Anti-Christ Superman: The Superhero and the Suffering Servant

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

A host of Christian and secular commentators have trumpeted the similarities between Superman and Jesus Christ in light of the forthcoming movie, Superman Returns.

Many Christians embraced the Superman hero when a trailer for the new movie was released using the words of Superman’s father Jor-El, voiced by Marlon Brando: “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 sent them you… my only son.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I point instead to the fundamental differences between the two. I am concerned that Christians are being unwittingly exploited by Hollywood spin doctors: “Christians risk undermining our own influence when we simply latch on to the pop icon of the moment in undiscerning and uncritical ways.”

In an interview with CT Movies this week, Superman Returns director Bryan Singer acknowledges the intentionality of the spiritual allegories for Superman, “Christ being a natural one, because Superman’s a savior. And even more so in my film, because he’s gone for a period of time, and then he returns. For me to say that those messianic images don’t exist in the movie would be absurd.”

Read the full commentary here (cross-posted to

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Bruce Edward Walker

    Well done, Jordan! You’re contrast of Jesus and Superman is superb. The worship of the superior powers of Superman cannot be transposed on the Son of Man, as evidenced by Herod’s song in Jesus Christ Superstar, in which he exhorts: “Prove to me that you’re no fool/and walk across my swimming pool.” It is Jesus’ balance of human and divine that provides mankind with its salvation as it is only through His very human death and divine resurrection that we could find life.

    In the current Brian Singer version, Superman fathers a child but does not act as a father would or should by abandoning Lois Lane after (wittingly or no) impregnating her (apparently, the scriptwriters have chosen to ignore the impossibility of the physics of a sexual act between a Superman and a human woman as enumerated by Larry Niven in the essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”). As the Washington Post or NYT critic noted, it is as if Dan Brown collaborated on the script.

  • Truth Seeker

    What a thought provoking article! Thank you. I for one am sick of the hype that "christians" drum up for movies and the immoral ways of this world. Yes, we are to engage the culture but that does nto mean taking the things they give us and using it for our own sorid ways.

    I have heard many non-christians say that they were sick of "christians" always coming up with a gimmick and that is what guys like Mark Driscoll are doing, they are using gimmicks. Nothing compares to the real thing! Why cant we present Jesus as Jesus, and not Superman or that lame guy from 24, Jack or whoever. Jesus has no comparison and to compare him to a wimpy cartoon character that is nothing like Christ is an insult and mockery to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

    I for one will not use the gimmicks of Hollywood to lure people into the Christian faith. If Paul and the other apostles can win people to Christ by telling the full truth of the gospel with no superman analogies than I will too.

    Thank you for a great article!

  • Martin Cothran


    I have a response to this piece on "Quiddity" ( Thanks for posting this article.


  • Mark L. Chance

    People with no familiarity regarding material they are criticizing ought not criticize. There is no real similarity between the character of Superman and Nietzche’s Ubermensch. Superman may not be a proper "Christ figure," but he hardly embodies a Nietzchean will to power.

  • Thomas Sundaram

    Excellent article. I particularly enjoyed the particular perspective of Superman as embodying the Nietschean will to power. I understand such concepts inspired the original writer of the comic. It’s funny how in the comic, Superman always sought to be more like a normal man, while at the same time using his gifts in a proper manner. Perhaps the author was exploring the practical problems of being the Superman, in the Nietschean sense? I wonder.

  • tom

    Not sure if you could say the creators of Superman had any religion or philosophy in mind when creating their character. Superman was created by some teenagers in the 1930’s. For crying out loud Superman said, "Papa spank!" in one story so the writing was pretty corny as well. They were also Jewish so I’m not sure they’d model their character after Jesus.

    However, the current comics are a little different. In the recent 52 series there is a cult that worships Superman. in the DC One Million story a Superman emerges from the Sun after thousands of years and in one panel is compared to a god.

    Most people would consider him to be more like Hercules and there have been a lot of comparisons to many characters in the DC universe to Greek mythology. Some of the Greek gods are even characters in the DC comics stories. You can actually read some info on the mythology of the DC universe that relates to religion and the supernatural here:

  • tom

    Also, I want to point out that Superman had sex with Lois in Superman 2 after his powers were taken away.

  • Michael Holmes

    Wow. I see what point you’re trying to make and I think we should never put anyone else saint, superhero or otherwise in Jesus’ shoes, but this is really poorly framed. Whoever wrote this has obviously not read the comic books or seen the movie, is taking the "parallel making" way out of context and didn’t think through the points they were making very well at all.

  • M. MorrisRDMS

    I saw the movie. Superman is not human, but looks human. He fathered a child that has super power. Superman got his power from the morning star. Superman had knowledge not from this world, and it was stolen. Superman is a monster, and the world loved him for it. I can only think of one title for Superman, and that is the antichrist himself. Just like in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the son of man. Enoch tells of powerful fallen angels who had offspring that were half human, half fallen angel.

  • me

    There are plenty of other stories that have had Christ like parallels to them that nobody made such a big deal about until this movie came out. Aslan from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cucloo’s Nest are some examples. Oh yeah, and none of them can be an Anti-Christ because they’re kind of like fictional characters, people :D

  • Mike Purnell

    I think this article lacks some depth both in regard to its analysis of Nietzche and of Christ. The former’s view on ‘will to power’ are more complex than suggested. The latter’s use of power completely ignored, particularly with regard to the anticipated (by Christians) second coming, where a kind of absolute power compels every knee to bow, and every tongue to confess that Christ is Lord. True, it is more than power that biblically speaking elicits the confession, but read the typical evangelical fare about this second advent and you’ll see that Christians love the notion of a powerful Christ figure as well as any Superman fan.

  • Michael

    This article was hardly well-considered, making a couple of vague points and leaving them to stand on their own according to a reader’s interpretation. The writer suggests without ever declaring his own stand, for better or for worse.

    As for Superman, I think he is no different to any hero in any setting. Oh, he’s bigger/stronger/faster, possessed of powers beyond those of mortal man; so are myriad other characters. So are highly-trained athletes, soldiers, statesmen. Are we making comparisons there? Are we to thoroughly eschew heroes because for any man to be great automatically detracts from God?

    Yeah, sure; limit your kids to bad episodes of Bible Man and pray they get better writers…

    The problem lies NOT with heroes, whether fictional or factual, but with people who make the mistake of hero WORSHIP. Is Superman the Anti-Christ because some writers chose to try to lend lines that made a potentially misleading comparison to a religious figure? Was it accidental, or intentional? Was there actually even a comparison to be made? Was the comparison meant in the opposite direction?

    Further, WHY are some of you people worried about a comic book and a movie adaptation doing your parenting for you? Get off your lazy duffs and explain the difference to your children!

    No, what I, personally, have always gleaned from Superman was that same lesson stated for Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. Superman’s lesson isn’t in his great power, but in how his love for his adopted people weakens him, gives him, if I may be so bold, a cross to bear.

    THAT is the substance of your emulation, not the side of the character that is all-powerful and inhuman. When Superman is wounded through the use of kryptonite, what is important isn’t the fact that he stays "super" enough to win the battle; what’s important is that despite fantastic odds against him, he struggles on. Anyone who points at that and screams "Blaspheme!" would do the same for a soldier who struggled on despite wounds, for a fireman who fought against the flames, etc.

    Some of you will jump on that and scream that he did it by himself, declaring that somehow anti-religious, or spiritually misleading, because Superman didn’t call on God. Well, folks, it wasn’t a religious film, despite certain similarities. To those who would scream, I say again: Explain the difference, don’t leave your kids to make their own interpretation, ya lazy bums!

  • Mike Purnell

    I wish I had checked grammar before submitting previous comments. I wanted to suggest a link to those who want to read further:

    I believe this is good counterpoint to the article and some of the comments.

  • John

    == Risen Christ is Antichrist ==

    The Risen Chirst is the Antichirst, the first beast that had the fatal wound that had been healed.

    Paul of Tarsus was his false prophet, the second beast who was servent to the first beast and extended its authority everywhere, making the world and all its people worship the first beast.

    If you don’t believe me, read the Bible and no! you will not die if you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods.


  • me

    i agree with M. MorrisRDMS – and has anyone noticed that the ‘S’ on his chest has changed ALOT? it now has SCALES & looks ALOT more like a snake, than an ‘S’

    christ, wearing a red snake symbol – i dont think so.

  • Sketch

    Ok, first of all you guy shave to realize several things.

    1. Superman is not "magical" in anyway. its scientific. the fact that he came form a planet that had like 10,000 times the gravity then that of earth makes him super strong. and thats a fact that would apply in real life. if we on earth was to go to a planet filled with people that had 100x less gravity then earth, we would be SUPER. we could lift 100x heavier things then they could.

    2. The "sin" of superman, or of anything of that matter, is that people worship superman then they do god. thats bad. but its also choice that applies to all things. doesnt mean these things themselves are bad and need to be outcasted. for example theres nothing wrong with pokemon, its the watcher that has a responcibility. columbine shooters walked thru hallways yelling "i call on you PIKACHU!" and shooting kids. in no way is pokemon to blame. the blame is the fact that the kids were just straight evil.

    Now yes a fictional story can lead people away from god…..but the bible is the most "fantasy" related story on earth. not saying its true or not, that irrelavent.
    Do you think GOD hates superman? a story to give people hope in dark times. a man that saves people, thats why you guys outcast him. if a man comes to earth and can SAVE people, hes automaticly an anti-chrsit. not true. look at USA army. they save many, with the POWER of weaponry. this is a MUST to keep america away from outer evils. so is it wrong? NOPE.

    Stop comparing Christ to Superman. EVERYONE already knows abou tthe bible and the coming of an anti-christ……and everyone knows about superman. so that means everyone knows superman isnt near an anti-christ.

    God gave us an imagination. to tell stories thru created characters. use it. superman himself did not have a choice with his "powers". being on this earth, he was automaticly strong and could fly. harry potter has a choice, to use magic. which is a no no in the bible. but does the bible specify evil magic and good magic? if it does, does it specify that most that use good magic "think" they are doing the right thing? cuzz not every good magic user thinks that.
    For example, if you choose to lable it "magic", look at psychics. not the ones on tv telling you to call them for your future, thats a sin. but those real ones that have no choice in seeing what they see. they close there eyes and get images of a kid getting hit by car at exact time and place. they dont wish to see these things, but would you say it would be a sin fro them to educate parents/autorities of this coming event to prevent it? it would be a sin not to. so are they damned? no. not only do they use there "powers" for good, they dont have a choice. if you believe that people have these abilites that is. and even if you do have a choice, it isnt always wrong or a sin.

    Jesus Christ is the messiah of the world, he will save us in a way no one else can. superman doesnt attempt these things. he merely saves us from the everyday trials we have to go thru. does jesus do this? yes, but in a different way. life is life, what happens here is just the way it happens. if someone had a gun to your head, and is about to pull the trigger, yes jesus could save you….but i doubt he will. its just the way life went for you. you can pray all you want, and he MAY save you. but i would rather take my chances with superman busting in and saving me. weak faith? i think not. not only is god/jesus magical and beyond this world, but like i said, the world is as is. babies get murdered….god could have stoped it, but he has laws he must follow as well. life will create bad things, some of which wont be touched by god, some will.

    So superman isnt the same kind of "messiah" as jesus. superman is the one that will stop that bullet from hitting you, or the one to push a meteor away from earth. jesus is just our way into heaven. in a sence.
    Jesus was not able to lift anything into the sky. or stop a bullet. that wasnt his reason for being here. supermans reason is different.

    So untill i see a figure coming to earth and claiming hes jesus, like the bible said the true anti-christ would do, (correct?) i will not outcast a fantasy figure that has not done anything related to jesus in anyway. doesnt matter what intentions the creator had, its the message we get.

    i was in a book store and they had a superman lunch box for sell, me being a superman fan looked at buying it. some guy in the corner said "yah if you wanna go to hell".
    Well ladies and gents, what he just said could get you into hell quicker. saying it as, if you like superman or buy his lunchbox, you are condemed.
    this is where he should have asked me about SM and my religious preferences. you would only "go to hell" not if you have superman items, only if you worship SM more then god himself. thats why i said it applies to everything. drugs, superman, other religions, movies, music, idols, BARBIE.

    So if what all you say is true, the only way to garuntee yourself heaven is to move to the woods away fro all of society. just dont worship the trees that give you air!

    Like i said earlier, compare superman to other things like the army or police oficers. a judge in a courtroom rules over you in the world, to be honest. but he is a requirement. its his status that makes him powerfull enough to tell you to do something and you have to do it. its when he abuses that power that it now becomes a sin.
    did superman ever claim he was righteous? nope.

    So lets say i was a real life superman, i would help the earth with my abilities. its up to the individule persons that like me to choose to worship me or just understand the reality that i am just a police man, of the world. that is what superman is. nothing more. and everyone knows it. they just like stiring up contriversy.

    Enjoy stories and collect there toys, just dont pay more attention to them then you do god. this again, applies to everything.
    you can actually worship the bible itself more than god. think about it.



  • Boffor

    Superman is like gas pains in a closet… dark and thick to breathe