Lex Luthor vs. Maximus the Confessor: An Apophatic Response to Atheism


Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman

Warning: This Post Contains Spoilers

As nerds around the world fume over, what many agree is “a crime against comic book fans” and “the worst superhero film of all time“, one aspect of Zack Snyder’s controversial new film, Batman vs. Superman, has yet to be analyzed. I am, of course, referring to: (SPOILER ALERT) Lex Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

Moments before the film’s climatic battle between two of the worlds most beloved heroes, the insidious Lex Luthor–portrayed in this film as a sort of morbid cross between Mark Zuckerberg, Victor Frankenstein, and Jim Carrey–delivers a good-ole-fashion super-villain monologue. One that explains his motivation for seeking to destroy Superman (a seemingly all powerful, godlike, being who writes the sports section at a local newspaper) and reveals the movie’s true meaning. That’s right folks, Batman vs. Superman is not merely a superhero flick; it’s an allegory.

Lex Luthor is the personification of New Atheist Post-Enlightenment ideology: a zealous scientist hellbent on proving to the world that God (i.e., Superman) is neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent and, thus, a sham. Batman represents man’s struggle (unwittingly spurred on by Luthor’s ideology) to overcome and ultimately defeat the God delusion; a delusion that many claim is harmless–and even beneficial–yet has the potential to destroy humanity. In short, Luthor’s speech reveals that the true conflict in this film is not between Batman and Superman; but, between man and God . . . or, at least, a particular conception of God.

As a philosopher, I found this subversive underlying theme intriguing. Not the least of which, because it affords me the shameless opportunity to use pop-culture as a platform for having a serious philosophical discussion. Also, because it affords me the chance to correct several common misconceptions.

Stated succinctly, Lex Luthor’s idea of God is so far removed from traditional Classical Theism (CT) it’s laughable. To demonstrate this, I will contrast Luthor’s conception of divinity with that of one of the greatest ancient exponents of CT: St. Maximus the Confessor. Then I will show how St. Maximus’ apophatic approach to theology provides a powerful response to Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

We shall begin by examining Luthor’s conception of the divine, and his argument, a little more closely.

God as Man Writ Large

Lex Luthor holds a grossly anthropomorphic view of the Divine Essence. His picture of ‘God’ is simply ‘man writ large’.  In other words, he imagines God is something like a human being; only with unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

These are all attributes Superman appears to possess: he is virtually an unstoppable and indestructible being, he can listen to any conversation, or radio transmission, or TV broadcast, around the world, and has unlimited access to a Kryptonian super computer–containing virtually all the knowledge in the known universe–and seems completely unimpeachable.

Luthor’s conception of God–which I’m going to call the omniGod thesis–entails the Divine attributes are essential properties of the Divine Essence.  In other words, for Luthor, what it is to be God is to have: unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

Copy of Lex Luthor's God2It is precisely this conception of the divinity (or something like it) that many contemporary arguments for the nonexistence of God are aimed at. One popular line of reasoning goes like this: If we identify something from general experience that conflicts with the notion that a single being possessing one or more of the divine attributes actually exists, then we can show that God (who, just is, a single being possessing all of the divine attributes listed) does not exist.

Atheists, utilizing this type of argument, typically point to the fact of gratuitous evil to demonstrate that no omnipotent and omnibenevolent being actually exits. According to them, if such a being actually existed, it would, necessarily, ensure there was no gratuitous evil. In other words, if the omniGod thesis where true there would be no gratuitous evil. Since, however, we do experience evil, we can only conclude that God–conceived of as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being–does not exist.

Lex Luthor's God

The argument above is what philosophers call the problem of evil. Interestingly, Lex Luthor utilizes a similar line of reasoning in his climatic rooftop monologue. In this speech, it becomes crystal clear that his stupid-elaborate plan to wrangle Batman and Superman into a gladiator style battle is motivated by his determination to prove the Man of Steel does not posses the essential properties needed to be divine.

If Superman loses, and Batman kills him, he is not omnipotent. If Superman wins, and brings Batman’s head to Luthor, he is not omnibenevolent.  As a backup plan, Luthor also hacks into the source of Superman’s omniscience (i.e., the Kryptonian super-computer) and uses it to create an abomination that will totally obliterate the Man of Steel; thereby proving he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter what, the outcome of Luthor’s allegorical battle will prove, definitively, that: God is Dead!

St. Maximus and the Apophatic Way

In stark contrast to the omniGod thesis, Classical Theism (CT) has never pictured God as ‘man writ large’. Rather, it says God is so radically distinct, so different, so transcendent, that he is literally beyond understanding. Which is just another way of saying: we have no idea what God is! In fact, because he defies all human categories, and human thought, we can never know what God is. St. Maximus put it like this:

“God is one, unoriginate [i.e., he has no beginning or end or cause or explanation], incomprehensible . . . altogether excluding notions of when and how, inaccessible to all, and not to be known through natural image by any creature.”

When he says God is “inaccessible to all”, he is not claiming it is impossible to have a relationship with God. Remember, he is using metaphysical language. What he means is, ‘God’s Essence’ or ‘Divine Nature’–what it is to be God–is inaccessible to the human intellect. Rest assured, St. Maximus strongly emphasizes the fact that we can enter into a direct personal relationship with God in his other writings. The point, in this passage, is to establish that we have no idea what God’s essential properties are.

He goes on to explain that the Divine Essence stands in marked contrast to created being which, according to St. Maximus, can be understood and lead us to believe God exists:

“Created beings are termed intelligible because each of them has an origin that can be known rationally. But God cannot be termed intelligible, while from our apprehension of intelligible beings we can do no more than believe that He exists. On this account no intelligible being is in any way to be compared with Him. Created beings can be known rationally by means of the inner principles which are by nature intrinsic to such beings and by which they are naturally defined. But from our apprehension of these principles inherent in created beings we can do no more than believe that God exists.”

In other words, creation (which encompasses everything in existence outside of God) is fundamentally intelligible. This means it is possible for the human intellect to grasp it, to define it, and to explain it. The Creator, however, exists outside of the universe; and we simply can not grasp the nature of something outside the universe. We can, according to Maximus, know that the Creator exits; but we can’t say what he is.

Classical Theism: Radical Ontological Distinction Between Creator and Creation

classical theism

 

An Apophatic Response to Atheism

It may have occurred to you, by now, that CT is completely immune to arguments for the nonexistence of God like Lex Luthor’s. Why? Because Lex Luthor style arguments are aimed at the omniGod thesis; which assumes God’s attributes are His essential properties.

According to proponents of CT like St. Maximus, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For him, the attributes are either negative statements (with no positive content) or grounded in God’s energies (i.e., his active presence in the world). For example, to say that God is omnipotent is really just to say: God does not lack power. This is a negative–or, apophatic–statement with no positive content.

Positive statements can be made, but are made in reference to God’s energies (not to His essence). For example, when we say that God is good or just, we are not referring to His essence but to His energies. We come to believe God is good or just because he reveals Himself as good or just through His real presence and interaction, in history, with people and in the world.

All things considered, Lex Luthor is, not only, a disappointing super-villain, but a lackluster philosopher.

50 Shades of Decay: On the Scandal of Love


IMDB.com

IMDB.com

If Christian Grey were poor and ugly then 50 Shades of Grey would be about an abusive and controlling man. But since his abuse is wrapped in a nice suit, wealth, and good looks, it’s “sexy” and “erotic.” Beyond the erotic bondage that both the book and the movie celebrates, we see a man that does all he can to control another woman. Within 50 Shades the nightmare that millions of women endure on a daily basis is morphed into some romanticized version of torture.

If we remove the glitz and glamor, remove the good looks, remove the wealth, remove the style, then is Christian Grey still a romantic figure with a dark past who needs fixing? The story plays on the ultimate trope, which is women love jerks because they believe they can fix them. Such an approach doesn’t dignify women nor does it liberate their sexuality, rather it treats them as objects, as curing pills to a psychological diagnosis. Without all those toys, Christian Grey is no longer a fantasy character, but a person appearing on a day time talk show or the guy in the back of a police car for a domestic violence dispute. He’s a stalker, but with money and good looks he’s “romantic.”

Our culture is in many ways pornographic, and I don’t mean that in the typical sense. Porn creates a false reality and sets false expectations; what is upsetting or disturbing in real life is normal in porn. Porn, then, distorts reality in favor of a fantasy, which means porn doesn’t have to be that overtly sexual video. Fox News (or MSNBC if you prefer) is a type of porn, creating a false image of what America and the world ought to be. Reality TV is a type of porn, creating a false reality, but acting as though it is real. In the same way, 50 Shades is pornographic, not just for the explicit sexuality, but because it creates a fantasy of love without facing reality.

The books and movie creates this image of the “ultimate alpha male,” the guy that every guy wants to be like and every woman wants to be with. But such a man is a fantasy and doesn’t exist. Such an image leaves guys attempting to act like the alpha male (which is nothing more than a glorified ass) and it leaves women searching for this elusive alpha male. Of course they’ll find someone who is similar, but he’s attempting to live up to a false presentation of reality, meaning the charade will eventually collapse and the woman will end up trying to find another man, or living a life of disappointment. Society questions where all the real mean have gone; but if you pursue a fantasy and make it your ideal, don’t be shocked when you can’t find it in reality. Men and women are trained to follow roles, not to become humans; they are given a cookie-cutter image of what the ideal man looks like, or the ideal woman looks like, and we then find ourselves shocked when people can’t live up to these fake and false images.

True love, the real thing, is scary and hard to find. We live in a culture obsessed with power, where even love is treated as an old mythology and relegated to the classics. We chastise the classics as being anti-female and treating men as gods. We are too quick to condemn the classics though, for though they treated women as lesser than men, they at least acknowledge women as human. In the modern age we’ve sought liberation and equality and have only succeeded in treating women a little higher than animals and objects. No, while the ancients were wrong about a lot of things, they were at least correct in their pursuit of love. To put it another way, today we “pick up” women, whereas at one point we “wooed” women: To “pick up” applies to an object (e.g. I pick up trash, I pick up food, I am the actor imposing my will upon an object). To woo means to gain, to acknowledge that you are dealing with another free will being who is capable of thought and choice. You pick up an object, but you woo a human.

While we seek after power – being the dominant male, a woman using her sexuality to gain an advantage over a man, sharing “authority” in a relationship, refusing to give up individualism even in the face of marriage – we’ve long forgotten about love. The idea of there being rules to love, of it occurring within a marriage, of it existing solely between man and wife (at least in a sensual way) was at one point ridiculed for being “Victorian” and outdated. Now such a viewpoint is hardly considered and even its whisper elicits scandal. One can almost imagine that in a few decades the real rush for teenagers wanting to go against the flow of society’s mores will involve them refusing to have sex with each other or anyone else and waiting until marriage, and then remaining faithful thereafter. Continue reading

10 Movies Every Man Needs to See or, Really, Everyone (Men and Women) Needs to See These


IMG_0084Too often a “guy movie” has some action hero shooting stuff up, blowing stuff up, and then having his way with whatever women he happens to see. Or it’s just a collection of stupidity which is supposed to be a comedy. There are movies out there, however, that while good for everyone to see, tend to play well with the male psyche. They play well with the idea of hope, an epic struggle for fulfillment, or the battle close to every man, that of father and son relationships.

Being someone who loves to watch movies, especially good ones, I have a few movies in mind that I think play well off the male mind, though anyone and everyone ought to see these movies. This list is in no particular order, just a list of ten really good movies worth watching: Continue reading