If Superman were real, he might love us, but he probably wouldn't save our lives.
A thought flashed into my head listening to a radio broadcast today about the recent Tsunami disaster in Japan and other Pacific Ocean locales. An image came to me of a caped, god-like super human, chest thrust commandingly outward, poised heroically above the impending devastation seeking, with his unfathomably keen vision, any and all innocent human lives to snatch from the jaws of certain death. Then began my inevitable analytical deconstruction: If this Superman were somehow real, his being would categorically transcend the being of us humans.
Our way of being in the world is dictated, in no small degree, by our mortal limitations-we are physically weak and we will die. We are assaulted seemingly by an endless march of events like, car crashes, break-ups, waking up in the morning, tsunami's, etc. As such, we are every moment choosing how to be in the face of the this ongoing tumult. When I wake up in the morning, I can choose excitement for what lies ahead that day-or I can choose despair in the face of the crap I have to do. When a tsunami strikes my relationships, I can choose compassion for the humanity of my friend or partner, or I can choose callous intolerance for his or her 'countless irresponsibilities.'
Each of these choices will in turn lead to an experience associated with that choice. If I've chosen compassion for a friend or lover, my experience will likely be positive-maybe I'll actually feel closer to that person. If I've chosen to be incompassionate or intolerant, I will likely experience the sadness of greater distance from someone I love. We must ultimately accept this reality of choice, in fact, to live authentically fulfilled human lives. Indeed, it is only out of this basic acceptance of what is so, and taking responsibility for the choices we've made that created this "so-ness," that we are then present to our uniquely human creative powers moving forward.
That's being human....
The being of Superman, however, is not prescribed by the reality of his human-ness. Superman doesn't feel physical pain or the natural instinctive fear of mortal loss and death that makes humans, human. Superman has limitless physical capabilities and he most certainly won't die a mortal death (comic nerds, please don't try to argue this last point-of course I've heard of kryptonite). So, Superman's reality is fundamentally alien to ours. He does not choose a way of being in the face of the reality of physical loss or fear of death.
The question then remains: What would Superman's relationship to humanity be? Would Superman even bother with us? I mean, if you had god-like powers and could do anything and were not bound even to a life on Earth, would you spend your time flustering about saving the pitiable humans from their collective mortal weaknesses, all the while commiserating with your long-deceased holographic father about the self-evident morality of it all?*
My answer: Superman may choose live on Earth among us. He would likely fly around, exhilirated by his own godliness, waving to us as he performed-for his own pleasure and satisfaction-incredible feats of physical impossibilities. Sure, maybe for a few years part of that self-satisfaction would include saving the occasional person from an untimely death, but that would wear off quickly enough. Eventually, he'd just settle down with a few friends and loved ones and participate in a world that is at once terrible in it's beauty, exhilirating in it's destruction, and sublime in it's horror.
I believe that Superman, much like our popular image of God, would let us live in the reality of the choices we've made and, in turn, make choices of his own. The only difference would be that, having lived so long as an immortal, his notions of loss and death would be that of the wise Zen Master having transcended his egoic attachment to dualistic moralizing. He would fall in love, over and over again, for much the same reason we do, because it's so exhiliratingly horrific. He would watch the yellow sun rise and set with similar awe, and he would choose to be present to our mortality- he would willingly watch us die, with endless compassion....
*Since writing this blog years ago I've seen Watchmen. Doctor Manhattan deals with almost exactly the hypothetical I suggest here. Interestingly- and as a testament to the unique writing of that book- he undergoes a transition from detachment to compassion. Check out the book and/or movie, both are rad in their own ways.