Wednesday, March 13, 2024

What can the Church learn from Supergirl, Woman of Tomorrow?


Supergirl, Woman of Tomorrow starts out in a very un-Superman approved way. Kara has traveled to a planet where she is powerless so that she can celebrate her birthday by getting drunk. While this might seem very out of character for either the Silver Age Supergirl or even the modern version of Superman, it actually feels just about right for the current continuity.

While this version of Supergirl might feel less wholesome than her earliest adventures, this Kara retains the core of a caring hero who would willing live and die for innocents around her. To enhance the flavor of the story, Supergirl's horse, Comet, appears along with fan-favorite, Krypto the Superdog.

The story centers around a young girl, Ruthye, seeking revenge for her father's brutal and senseless murder. Each episode ends with a startling cliff-hanger that leaves the reader to wonder, how will this possibility get fixed? We are also introduced to a uniquely hate-able villain that Kara spends the entire adventure chasing. 

Forget Darkside and Lex Luther, Krem of the Yellow Hills is the kind of villain you actually hopes dies a horrible death.

The adventure finally closes with the assertion that violence will only result in more violence. If Ruthye kills her villain, his army will come looking for her and anyone she loves and torture them before subjecting them to violent deaths. But we can't just let Krem get away with it, so how can we properly punish such a person, keep him from committing more atrocities and not encourage his friends to continue this cycle of violence? Isn't this really the question peace-loving people are always faced with?

Jesus Christ was violently murdered leaving His disciples with a similar question. How do we enact vengeance, or even justice without feeding the cycle? The cycle of violence was typical for oppressed people, like those Jesus lived among. Someone plots and executes the murder of someone you love, you get even by killing that person, whose friends then find you and kill you, so that your friends are now expected to find and kill them...You get the picture, it's a never-ending cycle

...Until Jesus.

Jesus breaks the cycle by not staying dead. His disciples have no reason to hunt down Judas or the religious leaders who paid him. Jesus is different, He is outside of the cycle. Over time, the question comes up again, as Christ's followers are martyred, but instead of seeking revenge, the survivors remember that Jesus is outside the cycle. They refuse to fight back, and Christianity flourishes and takes over the Roman empire. (Matthew 5)

But this feels really unsatisfying for those who have suffered the loss. Besides, if we don't stop the bad man, won't he just hurt more people, and then it's on us. Right? 

Supergirl seems to teach us that we can beat up the bad person, imprison the bad person, but never kill the bad person. The final scenes of this adventure pull back the curtain and reveal that everything our heroes have experienced was a teaching moment. Ruthye learns from Supergirl that constantly seeking revenge or satisfying our need to posture only hurts us and Supergirl learns she really isn't immune to the bloodlust of revenge.

Like Supergirl, Christianity is at its best when helping the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed. But Christians are not above the violent nature of our flesh and this world. It's natural to want to impose our values on everyone else - because it's for their own good, they'll thank us later. Giving in to that kind of thinking and behaving reduces the power of Christianity and undermines our faith and faith community.

I won't pretend to have solid, practical answers to the pacificist's dilemma, and I'll admit that I'm speaking from a place of insane privilege. I can't promise I would rise above those who would hurt me or my loved ones, but I do hope that I will at least pause and consider if my actions are retaliation meant to somehow soothe my hurt, or if my response is miraculously more like something Jesus would do

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