It is as clear to me as it was to Fred a hundred and fifty years ago: the concept of divinity that the majority of humans share is incorrect and must be adjusted. He said, “God is dead,” and has caused quite a stir when people have taken that line out of the context of what you read in the previous sentence. Me, on the other hand…I think God is Clark Kent.
First, my background. From birth to the time I went to college, I went to church every Sunday with my family; I was baptized Methodist and confirmed Episcopalian. The irony of my confirmation was that it was mostly for my parents – I was pretty open about the fact that I was not a wholehearted believer and I was just speaking the words and going through the motions. Interestingly, from that point on, I was a Chalice Bearer, becoming an important part of the Sacrament each week.
The appeal of religion to me was always in its rituals and mysticism. Everything else I really only enjoyed philosophically. I liked the idea of, “This is what we do, and why,” because I saw that all cultures have rituals and most of them make very little sense to outside observers. Often, because of these different rituals, belief systems are strengthened or called into question, depending on who is judging it. Tales of how the world began are as old as oral tradition, itself; the idea of a divine virgin birth dates back thousands of years before the BC/AD changeover, where the idea of divinity even controls the way we see time.
When I was around seven years old, I asked a question to my Sunday School teacher. Essentially, what I wanted to know was, how a perfect God with a perfect plan who knows everything could give legitimate free will to anyone, since the outcome was predetermined. This is frequently explained away with, “It appears as free will to us,” but I wasn’t satisfied. I had a follow-up question. Because what really didn’t make sense to me is how a perfect God with a perfect plan who knows everything can possibly judge that creation to eternal bliss or damnation for doing exactly what it was created to do. That was the end of the game. To this day, over 20 years later, no one has provided a rational explanation to this most basic concept within the Christian faith.
But I’m over it. There is no rational explanation because it’s not rational. It’s not real. There is no personified deity watching and judging and controlling and all that. I know there are reasons we’ve chosen to invent this idea for the divine; it’s an incredible tool of power – personal strength and faith as well as systematic control and subjugation. It makes the majority of life easier for the majority of people living it. But that doesn’t mean it’s better. Because God is not Superman. God is Clark Kent.
Superman is an interesting superhero. He’s the only mainstream superhero who actually is that hero – his alter-ego is his daily self, not his Super Self. Bruce Wayne is Bruce Wayne; he has to put on his suit to become Batman. Same goes for all the rest. But Superman is Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton – to protect that identity, he must disguise himself – he wears a Clark Kent suit, so people will not recognize him, and he can exist among the mortals without them freaking out all the time because he’s Superman.
Metropolis loves Superman. He’s the man. But that’s not to say they dislike Clark Kent. The guy’s a bang-up reporter. A bit flawed, occasionally, but a good guy deep down. And, truth be told, Superman really only comes out when the shit goes down…if we were seeing Superman all the time, he’d start to be our own personal Angel of Death. It would go from, “Hooray: it’s Superman!” to “Oh shit: it’s Superman!” real quick. You know how people are with logic. It wouldn’t take long for us to start associating Superman with death rays, buildings collapsing, and every other bad thing that happens. It’s all Superman’s fault, because putting the cart in front of the horse is just how we roll.
But we must not forget, it was not Superman who chose to become Clark Kent. He was a baby, found in a cornfield. It was the Kents, themselves, who chose to give Kal-El this new identity, to protect his true identity. They showed him how to behave as not to alarm anyone. By the time he had matured, he was a master of blending in with us. Clark Kent stood as Superman’s personification of the way he saw man: flawed, timid, weak, helpless, etc. While Superman is all we wish to be, Clark Kent is all we are.
And so is God.
Like the Kents in their cornfield, long ago humans realized that there was something bigger than them. Individually or collectively, there was a striking sense that something was out there that we didn’t fully understand. Being the clever monkeys we are, we set out to explain it. The paranoid ruled the world in those days, same as they do today. The guy who got freaked out every time the grass moved was the guy who didn’t get eaten by a tiger one day after saying, “I’m sure it’s just the wind.” The paranoid guy said, “That shit is a sign, and I am outta’ here!”
And so it began. A bunch of random dead birds in a field? We’ll come up with something that means. Lightning struck a tree? This is holy ground now. Someone died unexpectedly? They must have pissed off the gods. Something good happened? Praise the Lord! Those people don’t believe in this stuff? Kill them, lest we offend God.
It’s a pretty simple evolution, and it’s hardly an original thought from me. But I’m claiming a copyright on that Clark Kent shit, because that’s all me, baby.
Why did we invent God to exist like Clark Kent? In our primitivity, we took something so obviously not a being or creature, and personified it into something so human that it loses all its divine appeal, being written off with simple clichés like, “God works in mysterious ways.” If we go back to our early inventions of God – old school Yahweh stuff – we can see that God is psychotic. He lays down misery on man for the entire Torah. God was a genocidal baby-killer before the end of Genesis. Job’s not even in the Torah; I won’t even get into that ego-driven bullshit between God and the Devil. Seriously…how does anyone take this seriously?
I guess they didn’t, at least as time went on; no idea can last for too long before it has to adapt. Man read the Jewish Bible and said, “What God needs is a child. Guys always mellow out after they have a kid,” and it was so. And Man saw its new God, and it was good. Or, at least better than a divinity who lays to waste the entire population of the planet just to make a point about his personal moral code. Apparently beyond Yahweh being petty, mean, and insecure…he’s also a hypocrite. I seriously don’t think I even need to continue this argument. But I will.
Sure enough, as humans get smarter, stop fucking their camels, and begin to understand math and science, it becomes clear that the Old Ways weren’t going to hold up so well. The Jewish faith has survived due to its continual redefinition of itself, and it can be argued that Christianity is just an offshoot of that continual Jewish history of reinterpretation (as is Islam). Most religions aren’t that good. Most come up with a new idea radical enough to split from the mainstream and then attempt to gain enough support to destroy whatever they came from. The European Middle Ages are a great example of this, with Christian Crusades and later with the schisms of Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Catholicism…which just so happened to come about when the Renaissance was happening, and people began to understand more about math and science…but I’m sure all this is just coincidental!
So, we’re left today with countless sects of ancient faiths all attempting to interpret the divine in a way that it’s applicable to modern society. Anyone who doesn’t do this is labeled a fundamentalist, with their existence often being trapped in a time-warp, shunning away anything that doesn’t adhere to their antediluvian idea of the nature of the divine. Likewise, anyone too progressive will be seen as heretical; Galileo was in Hell up until the 1900s until the Pope finally let him out, for telling everyone the planet was not the center of the universe. Europe had burned everything from Greece and Rome, so they were operating on the model created by Ptolemy back around 150AD – there had not been any European advances in almost anything since around that time. The Middle East, however, experienced a major Renaissance during the period of the European Dark Ages. Why? Because after embracing Islam, they went on to invent things like algebra. This whole “math and science” thing seems to be an interesting pattern, in terms of the advancement of humanity, doesn’t it?
There are more patterns than just that. Every thousand-or-so-years, we have a major reevaluation in the way we think about things. God is representative of what we don’t know – God is the ultimate agnostic driver – God is merely our collective “X Factor” that we have striven to understand for over ten thousand years since we realized how much we don’t know. God is the part of existence we don’t understand, and as such: we fear…and therefore respect and admire, even to the point of worship. But without a reinvention of these ideas every 500-1000 years, bad things start to happen.
It took Christianity 300 years to go from a cult to the dominant religion in the region; from there, it took less than 500 years to descend into the darkest time in European history, which lasted almost 1000 years after that. 100 years ago, nobody was wearing hijab, let alone burka; Islam was the most advanced society in the world, since its inception, right up until last century when fundamentalists started taking over. Instead of going forward, they went backward, and then went stagnant – the Christian Clark Kent sucks, but the Muslim Clark Kent is the one doing the real damage to the world, right now. He’s so scared and weak, fearing change, sensing death at his doorstep, forgetting it’s happened so many times before, and everything turned out alright.
And so it shall, again. We’ve been redefining the Christian Clark Kent for the last 200 years or so, because we had to adjust the nature of the divine to fit the new industrial/informational age we are in. Other Clark Kents didn’t adjust so well – Muslim Clark Kent freaked out and, instead of adjusting, locked himself away in the Fortress of Solitude, claiming the world was evil. But, just like the comic book, we have our Bizarro World. There are plenty of Christians who still favor Bizarro Christian Clark Kent, who is strangely like Muslim Clark Kent; on the flip-side, Bizarro Muslim Clark Kent is a lot like Christian Clark Kent. So, while I’m not entirely clear on the direction our future Clark Kents are going to take, the fact that the two major religions are continually two sides of the same coin, based off the original Jewish Clark Kent (the only Clark Kent who is always able to adapt and adjust in the world, leading the planet to really hate the people representing him) means that there must be something to this idea of mine. I feel I am on the verge of understanding it, but it’s like approaching light speed…the closer I get…the harder it is to get there…
So, I’m not here with answers. Just ideas. Roll them around your noodle and see what you might come up with. Maybe we can put a new face on our Clark Kent. God’s not dead, because God was never alive – he’s Frankenstein’s Monster, continually reinvented by us, lest he destroy us all – God is Clark Kent.
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