Thursday, June 14, 2012

Which Superhero was Joseph Smith most like?

A friend of mine once told me about a conversation her son had with a church leader that centered on the question "was Joseph Smith more like Superman or Spiderman?"

It sounds like a pretty interesting conversation to have. I mean, we know that Joseph Smith was a prophet--but we don't know exactly what being a prophet means, or why God chooses the people he does to wear the prophetic mantle.

The Superman or Spiderman debate brings up an interesting issue. Was Joseph Smith a person with unusual potential in various areas, and chosen as a prophet because of that? Or was he more like a dorky teen who is suddenly infused with abilities beyond his natural capacity after a life-changing encounter?

There are plenty of other possibilities, of course. Some secular thinkers who have been fascinated by Joseph Smith seem to see him as most like Batman: an individual whose defining experiences gave him a strong sense of mission and whose genius enabled him to create new equipment to fulfill that mission with. Some critics of Joseph Smith talk about him a bit like Iron Man: as a charismatic, capable individual who had far more power and influence than personal responsibility.

If I had to compare Joseph Smith to a superhero, though, I think I'd choose Wolverine.

There's a strength that's been placed inside of him, but because he's only human, it can cut when it rises to the surface. And his superpower is the ability to keep moving when the pain comes, and to be healed.


  1. I can't say that I'd ever considered which superhero I thought Joseph would be, but you're right, it's an interesting question and our answers depend on the most defining of his characteristics for each of us.

    I don't see him as superman, because I don't think of him as fundamentally different from me (different race, different physical makeup) and those traits that made him "fly" seem somehow accessible to me.

    I don't really think of him as spiderman, because I don't think he had some defining experience that altered who he was - he was already a sober child and I think he was a magnet for that experience.

    I can see Batman. He chose out of a sense of caretakership to fight extraordinary evil ... largely alone. But he did so without the wealth and resources Bruce Wayne had, and there's quite a bit of confidence Batman has simply because he can create something to save himself.

    I see what you mean about Wolverine, but even though I don't ascribe to the romanticized version of Joseph, I don't find him as volatile.

    I like Green Lantern best as personifying Joseph's super power. He could put on and remove the ring, changing himself, becoming more and more the committed hero with each cycle of transition. Even though he was less trained in the prophetic business of heroing, he was possessed of a unique integrity that propelled him to go further than others, ultimately in self-sacrifice.

    Not that I particularly like the movie, you know.

    1. The Green Lantern movie is terrible, it's true.

      But one thing I like about the comparison is that the Green Lantern's power comes from being part of a corps. And Joseph Smith saw his own abilities or significance as being inexorably connected to a long time-past but spiritually-present set of prophets and other figures: a vast, eternal order of priesthood.

      As to Wolverine: Joseph Smith did have a temper, but he was certainly WAY more gregarious than Wolverine is, and yeah, less volatile. The specific part of Wolverine I liked was the notion that there's some tension between his strength and himself, and that his ability to endure pain and setbacks is a significant part of his identity.

    2. I agree with James and Bonnie that Superman is a poor comparison, but I disagree with the idea that Joseph Smith didn't have a defining, life-altering experience, because I'd say that the First Vision absolutely qualifies as such.

      Batman's life-altering event is a trauma that he spends the rest of his life trying to recover from. Spider-Man has more of a "greatness thrust upon him" type of trigger event, in that he doesn't have a choice about acquiring his powers.

      Based on that, I'd say that Spider-Man is the best analogue for Joseph Smith, since he (Joseph) didn't actively choose to become a prophet and wasn't particularly prepared for it, but had that responsibility thrust on him and basically had to figure out how to deal with it.

  2. Hahaha, great question. Thank you for sharing!



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