There is a life-or-death struggle going on for the soul of America.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center confirms our own impression: America is becoming increasingly secular and nihilistic. As much as one-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew polling.
Philosopher Thomas Hibbs defines nihilism as a state of spiritual impoverishment in which “there is no fundamental meaning or ultimate point in human life.” For his part, Russian Orthodox cleric Yuri Kononenko observed that moral relativism is the distinctive feature of our postmodern society. But beneath the superficial gloss and sensationalism of modern society, “detached from God” our life “has acquired a cold, grey color of inner despair.”
Popular culture — of music, movies, television, video games, and the Internet — is a transmission belt for the pathogens of “cold grey inner despair.” In music for example, common to three genres of alternative rock (gothic rock, death rock, and death metal) are their nihilism and morbid preoccupation with death and decay, as exemplified by the song titles and lyrics of the goth-industrial rock group, Velvet Acid Christ. Here are some of the songs listed on the group’s website: “Dead,” “Dead Flesh,” “Dead Tomorrow,” “Decay,” “Fun With Drugs,” “Fun With Knives,” “Futile,” “Hail to the Dead Souls,” “Hell Two,” “Hopeless,” “Masked Illusion,” “Mental Depression,” “Misery,” “Murder the World,” “Pain,” Psycho,” “Serial Killer 101,” “The Hopeless,” and “There Is No God.”
Young minds especially are vulnerable to the cultural pathogens. Indeed, 13 years ago, author Gloria DeGaetano had predicted that, given the surge in violent media content, “we would soon see more twelve-year-olds committing unspeakable crimes like mass murder.”
At the same time as these pathogens are propagated by popular media, powerful antidotes are also disseminated. The most remarkable of these antidotes are Christlike characters in wildly popular works of film and literature, such as Superman, The Terminator, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. These stories’ enormous success signifies strong popular dissent from the corrosive worldview of secularism, nihilism and moral relativism. They also point to our hunger for these narratives.
Which brings me to this picture I found while wandering around on the net:
Think about it: Why has a character that first appeared as a daily newspaper comic strip 73 years ago, remained so popular to this day?
Answer: It’s because Superman really isn’t about Clark Kent. Superman’s super secret identity is not Clark Kent, but Jesus Christ! Just look at the clues:
- Superman (Kal El) and his father (Jor El) share the last name of El, Hebrew for God.
- Just as God the Father sent Christ, Jor El sent his only son to Earth to help and save humanity.
- Superman’s earthly parents are Jonathan and Martha; Jesus’ were Joseph and Mary. In fact, Mary and Joseph were the original names given to Superman’s parents!
- Superman’s arch enemy is a villain named Lex Luthor. Try saying “Lex Luthor” quickly: Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor. Lucifer, anyone? Both are fueled by the same all-consuming hunger for power, glory, vengeance, and sheer destruction for destruction’s sake.
And so, no matter how much we try to ignore Him and even deny His existence, we just can’t escape Him.
Stephen Skelton, the author of The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero, has the best explanation for why stories like Superman are so popular and enduring. These stories speak to us because God made man in his own image. Thus, “we have an essential longing to be with him, to be comforted by what is familiar to our deepest heart.” This is why we hearken to the Christ figures in stories like Superman because Jesus Christ is the human face of the invisible God. As Skelton puts it,
“It is his figure—and by extension, his story—we will respond to most strongly. To ensure our response, when God created us in his image, he also created us with his image in us. But it is a God-shaped blank, as Pascal puts it, a vacant hole in our hearts, until he fills it with himself . . . . So from birth we have eternity in our empty hearts—an empty eternity. No wonder we feel restless . . . . In our desperate search for something to fill Forever, nothing in the temporary world will do. In fact, it will take the one thing that is the exact size and shape of eternity: God, whom we come to through Christ.“
Today is Sunday, our Lord’s day. Even if you don’t observe it by going to church, talk to Him. Tell Him about your worries, fears, hopes, and joys….
And tell Him you love Him. He loves you!
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5