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One of the deepest longings found in some form or another in nearly all religions is for a prophesied deliverer of extraordinary ability to arrive from on high, often through origins beyond the ordinary, or as a result of a combination of the two. In Hinduism, such a figure is known as an avatar, often of the god Vishnu such as Krishna. In Buddhism, a corresponding figure with the purposes of bringing enlightenment into the world is referred to as a Bodhistatva. In Islam, certain sects await the arrival of either the Madhi or the Last Imam to usher in that particular form of theism’s version of the end times.
This idea of the anointed one no doubt found its most complete expression in the form of the Messiah still anticipated by devout Jews but believed by Christians to have already completed His initial and most metaphysically profound work upon the earth through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who promised to soon return to culminate all of history. As to the listed criteria, Jesus could be said to have arrived from on high as Christians holding to expressions of the faith considered orthodox believe Him to be a member of the triune Godhead along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity finds justification in a number of biblical passages. In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.” The Holy Spirit is believed to be a member of this most perplexing of ontological enigmas on the basis of Matthew 28:19, from which the baptismal formula of “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” is derived. The origin or conception of Jesus could be said to be beyond the ordinary in that Isiah 7:14 foretold that a virgin would conceive, with this promise fulfilled in Luke 1:26–39, when the angel Gabriel appeared before Mary to announce that she had been selected to fulfill this holy purpose.
Likewise, the adherents of the so-called great religions are not the only ones insisting that circumstances are so dire that a messianic figure must intervene to restore the world and return it to some degree of normalcy. This is also a theme quite common throughout the annals of speculative literature such as science fiction. Some, interestingly, even share parallels with a number of biblical accounts warning of the destruction that will result when faith is placed in these figures when they are really not who they claim to be.
It could be argued that the era of costumed adventurers possessing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (to borrow the phraseology of the classic television series featuring the character) began with the debut of Superman in the pages of Action Comics in June 1938. Hailing from the planet Krypton, this character rocketed to earth, sent by his father following the destruction of his home world. In many versions of the story retold numerous times over the decades, the infant in the spaceship is found after the vehicle crashes in a Kansas field by salt-of-the-earth, all-American couple Jonathan and Martha Kent just moments after offering up a prayer for a child upon learning that they were unable to have a biological one of their own. Though appearing superficially human, because of his extraterrestrial physiology, Superman is able to absorb energy from the earth’s yellow sun to fuel a number of powers such as super strength, heat vision, imperviousness to bullets, and flight (probably the aptitude that most captures the imagination of young and old alike).
Though many Superman stories deal with typical comic book escapades, such as battling a number of bad guys (many also similarly superpowered), trying to disguise himself as Clark Kent so that he might enjoy some semblance of a normal life, and the resulting comedy in which the girl of his dreams is for the longest time in love with him as Superman but does not have the time of day beyond their workplace relationship at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, the saga continues to resonate with audiences around the world when a number of characters nearly as popular from that time, such as the Phantom or the Shadow, have for the most part been forgotten by all but the most hardcore fans. It can be assumed that something about the so-called Man of Tomorrow must therefore touch upon a number of themes or symbols deeply ingrained upon the human soul.
In The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero, Stephen Skelton makes note of a number of striking parallels between the Son of God and the Man of Steel. For example, the Kryptonian family into which Superman was born is named “El.” Skelton writes, “Superman and his father share the last name of El—the Hebrew word for God. Thus in the Superman story, when ‘El’ the father sends ‘El’ the son down to Earth, ‘God’ the father sends ‘God’ the son down to Earth (20).” If that is not enough to at least prick the ears of the discerning, Skelton further points out that Jonathan and Martha Kent were also originally intended to instead be named Mary and Joseph until publishers thought the better of it.
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The parallels between these two figures does not stop there. Taking the Hebrew linguistics to their ultimate conclusion, according to a June 4, 2013, Times of Israel story titled, “Man of Steel No Longer ‘Man of Shtell,’” Superman’s Kryptonian name Kal-El can actually be translated as “the Voice of God.” Of Christ, John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Without a doubt, the creators of Superman most likely drew upon these cultural sources in part for inspiration. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster were two Jewish youths from Cleveland with an interest in the science-fiction pulp magazines of the day. Jerry Siegel just a few years earlier had lost his father in an armed robbery of the family store, which no doubt accounted for the character being bulletproof. He would later reflect that Superman was in part inspired directly by the Old Testament account of Sampson (Skelton, 37). But in creating a champion of the downtrodden and oppressed fighting the proverbial never-ending struggle for truth, justice, and the American way, the character could not help but be construed as a sort of secular messiah.
Even if the implications of such were glossed over in the early years of the character in favor of drama and theatrics, these metaphysical implications made their way into the foreground as these works of spectacular imagination grew to become more existentially reflective. This trend was probably at its most deliberate in the 1978 film, Superman: The Movie, directed by Richard Donner with the screenplay written by Mario Puzo and Superman played by Christopher Reeve in what many fans consider the definitive portrayal. This tendency to view Superman as a bit more than just a costumed adventurer with the ability to fly is epitomized by two quotes attributed to Superman’s biological father, Jor-El, portrayed by Marlon Brando.
Jor-El says in the first quote, “You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you…all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your own eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father, the son.” In that, the Christian cannot help but have biblical phrases such as “I will be with you always even unto the ends of the earth” and “my father and I are one” come to mind. The second quote can be construed as something of a Messianic admonition on the part of Jor-El to his son. In it, the Kryptonian statesman counsels, “Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed.… 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 have sent them you…my only son.”
However, the problem with a secular messiah is that the figure is ultimately a naturalistic or de-supernaturalized messiah. All that a figure such as Superman can do is provide an example. He himself has proven to be as flawed as the rest of us, as those shocked by the scene in the sequel Superman II of this shining beacon to humanity snuggling with Lois Lane undressed under the reflective aluminum foil sheets in the Fortress of Solitude without sanction of matrimony can attest.
Within science fiction, there is indeed an influential strain that salvation will not so much consist of a forgiveness of sin and the eventual liberation from death and decay through that particular beatific route, but rather through technological enlightenment. This form of expanded consciousness is often bestowed by intelligences from beyond this world, or at least by formidable elites originating here on earth. However, just as often found within these stores are the “hermeneutics of suspicion” S. Jonathan O’Donnell mentions while attempting to pin questions of legitimacy on myself (Tom Horn) and other Christians that oppose the transhumanism deception.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is probably considered by both critics and Trekkers the greatest of the Star Trek films. Portrayed by Ricardo Montelbán, the character proved to be one of the most formidable adversaries faced by the crew of the Starship Enterprise from the original series. Seeking revenge for the loss of his wife after having been exiled by Captain Kirk on an isolated planet approximately twenty years earlier, Khan is not stopped until Spock willingly sacrifices his own life (only to have it restored in the sequel, thanks to the Genesis Device).
Yet it is the back story of Khan Noonien Singh that is even more captivating. Introduced in the episode of the original Star Trek series titled “Space Seed,” the crew finds Khan and his associates in cryonic hibernation adrift in deep space aboard what, to Captain Kirk and his colleagues, is a very old vessel named the Botany Bay. It turns out that Khan and company are genetically engineered beings of augmented ability and intellect who took control of significant portions of the world during a time referred to as the “Eugenics Wars.” Star Trek producers in the late 1960s predicted that this conflagration resulting from tinkering with the fundamental ontology of select individuals to impose a new world order would take place in the late twentieth or early twenty-first century—in other words, at about the time of this writing. The story is fleshed out in more detail in the two-part novel by Greg Cox titled The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. In the story, Khan and others like him were developed by a secretive organization known as the Chrysalis Project for the purposes of rising into prominent positions around the globe to seize eventual power.
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It has been argued that Star Trek has retained a devoted following since its debut in the 1960s largely because of the positive vision of the future the franchise offers wherein humanity, in cooperation with a number of similarly minded species, has resolved the vast majority of its internal issues to embrace a higher quality of life through dependence upon advanced technology rather than upon traditional conceptions of the supernatural. However, even the visionary futurists behind Star Trek (and not just those pesky troglodytes of The Milieu) do not believe that a technocracy as diverse and as inclusive as the United Federation of Planets would be able to get out from under the shadow of the potential threat posed by a genetic overclasss. In the episode “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” of the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it is revealed that the station’s chief medical officer Julian Bashir did not naturally possess the amount of sheer brain power necessary to master a profession as complex as interplanetary medicine. Rather, he was born mentally deficient—but his parents decided to pursue genetic treatments that led to enhancements in violation of the law in order to correct what they perceived as disabilities curtailing their son’s potential and future quality of life. The drama in the episode arises not so much from the possibility of Dr. Bashir’s parents being punished for what is considered a very serious crime, but from the prospects of Julian facing the possibility of having to forfeit everything he has worked to achieve because of the stigma attached to the genetic advantage he acquired through no fault of his own.
A significant percentage of the eschatological concern articulated by the scholars and analysts of The Milieu focuses upon the ascent of just such a figure of extraordinary ability who will at first dazzle the world, much like the Last Son of Krypton, but who will eventually plunge the world into a calamity sounding eerily similar to that of the Eugenics Wars alluded to occasionally throughout the history of Star Trek across assorted media. Christians refer to the future tyrant as the Antichrist, the Beast, or the Son of Perdition. Along with this resultant body of research, this cadre of eschatologists has also reflected deeply upon how advanced technology straddling an increasingly thin boundary between the mystical and the scientific could be used to bring about the sorts of conditions and events described in the Bible categorized by theologians as the end times.
In terms of encountering scenarios remarkably similar to those warned of by The Milieu, one does not have to look much farther than a series of loosely interconnected movies and television series commonly referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These films focusing upon the superheroes originally appearing in the pages of Marvel Comics began with the first Iron Man movie about an eccentric billionaire inventor and the advanced suit of armor that not only allows him to perform amazing feats of flight and strength, but that also in part sustains his life by preventing shrapnel embedded in his chest from damaging his heart beyond repair. Though dazzling, the Iron Man suit, in principle, is not that much different than a variety of other technologies audiences are already familiar with. Airplanes have taken to the skies since the early twentieth century, and knights took to the fields of battle wearing what they hoped were protective suits of armor centuries ago. However, by essentially combining the two and then deploying the resultant combination with his own sense of pizzazz, at the end of the film, Tony Stark is informed by the director of the secret global intelligence agency SHIELD, Nick Fury, that he has inadvertently thrown open to public view a door to a world that most had no idea existed.
From the first two films of the Captain America series, the viewer learns that there is an organized conspiracy attempting to exert a deliberate, concerted effort to control the outcome of geopolitical events. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Hydra is initially presented as a special-projects division within the Nazi hierarchy marked by a fanaticism surpassing even that of the SS. Headed by a figure known as the Red Skull, disfigured in the same sort of experiment that transgenically endowed Captain America with a variety of enhanced abilities, the goal of Hydra—echoing and expanding upon the mission of the Ahnenerbe from actual history—is to seek out the most powerful objects of Germanic mythology and to adapt these as technologies for the war effort. Eventually, Captain America foils the Red Skull’s plot, but only at considerable personal cost as the hero is plunged into a cryogenic hibernation lasting nearly seventy years.
In the second film of the series, Captain America: The Winter Solider, viewers find the patriotic Steve Rogers in a world where the eternal verities he constantly strives to embody (much like Superman at DC Comics) are not necessarily deemed all that essential for efficient governance and are often viewed by the power elite as a hindrance to their own utilitarian agenda. Captain Rogers, with his traditional-values approach to life, finds his professional life challenging enough when his perspective clashes with that of SHIELD Director Nick Fury’s own realpolitik approach to world hot spots exacerbated by an assortment of troublemakers with skills and abilities transcending those of run-of-the-mill-terrorists. However, the situation is complicated when it is revealed that Hydra was not eliminated following the defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of the Second World War. The organization continued to exist clandestinely, surreptitiously accumulating power and influence by infiltrating the highest echelons of society whose members greet one another with a hushed whisper of “Hail Hydra” in the ear in the equivalent of a Masonic handshake. As in the case of the mythological creature after which the organization is named, should any of the members happen to fall, two more stand ready to assume their comrade’s place.
Even Glenn Beck praised Captain America: The Winter Soldier for its insight throwing open the veil as to how global politics likely operates at the highest levels in the attempt to implement a state of total security that, by its nature, must eliminate all forms of dissent and nonconformity. However, it was when the events that transpired in Captain America: The Winter Solider were expanded upon in the TV series, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD that the narrative in a sense took into consideration the principalities and powers motivating the movement towards global governance beyond the mechanics of how such an attempt to seize power might take place. In a story arc set during the third and fourth seasons of the series, it is revealed that Hydra was not so much simply a branch of the Nazi Party, but rather a secret society that predated that particular totalitarian movement by centuries. Elites belonging to this society for generations pledged themselves to a mysterious god-figure who promised to one day return to lead his followers to glory. Devotion to this being was so absolute that members of the order were to demonstrate this through sacrifice of themselves or their children if so required through a ritualized selection process wherein the victim was sent through a portal to a planet in a distant star system where the entity awaited this sustaining oblation.
What the members of Hydra perceived as its god-figure ties in with the next conceptual level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the eschatological concerns raised by The Milieu.
NEXT: Substitute Extraterrestrial Deities and Doctrines of Demons