I recently read a fascinating piece by Nathaniel Givens on Times and Seasons entitled, “Are Prophets Superheroes?”. I was thinking about what was said within, in conjunction with a piece on Rational Faiths, about questions for the resurrection and felt like I should weigh in.
I agree with most of the central bits to Givens’ piece, which essentially boils down to the idea that we have a cultural expectation for prophets to be like superheroes, fundamentally different than the rest of us, with some superior connection to revelation. Givens posits that this is false and that prophets struggle to receive revelation just like the rest of us. I agree and think that anything that elevates prophets to a superhero or god-like standard brings with it dangerous assumptions and complications when those ideas are questioned by further historical inquiry.
However, I think rather than dismissing the idea of a connection to superheroes, we may be able to expand it to encompass all of us. Sure prophets are superheroes, but so is everyone else. I touched on this a bit in an older post about the tensions between the pragmatic and supernatural. I also watched an enormous amount of superhero cartoons as a child in the ‘90s (X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, The Tick, etc.) and that may color my desire to view the world with the possibility for the super to be reality.
So, why are we all superheroes? Well, the mutant comparison I think is most apt, except that everyone is a mutant, there is no divide between humans and mutants. There may be mutants that do not recognize their own powers yet or reject those that have more obvious powers showing. (You could make an interesting parallel drawing from Joseph Smith’s teachings about baptism literally changing blood to make it of the house of Israel, with that bringing some sort of ‘superpowers’.)
Everyone has the Light of Christ (Moroni 7:15-19), which gives some access to the divine. This becomes stronger and more honed as the Gift of the Holy Ghost is received, and each individual strives to follow it. This access to revelation and the divine is our superpower. We all have it. We can all be superheroes, but the choice is ours.
As one superhero knows too well, “With great power comes great responsibility.” He learned the hard way that using superpowers for gain results in personal pain and then devoted his life to using his gifts to help others. Admittedly, this choice seems to result in pain as well, but it brings a sense of fulfillment. For us, we should use the Spirit, our superpower, to help others- to know who is in need and what we can do for them.
With this model, the Church can be like the X-Men, with the prophet as Professor X, an experienced superhero that generally knows what is good, but occasionally makes well-intentioned mistakes that can cause hurt and pain for others. (AKA in the films, locking up Jean’s conscious, so that she never learned to control it, until it was unleashed as the Dark Phoenix and then led loads of deaths and destruction). Everyone has a part to play and a voice to add.
We can each experience the Spirit, our power, differently. Perhaps some it’s through service, others entertainment and still others in more traditional ways. Whatever it is, we can feel it and can use our gifts, our powers, to help others. Everyone’s flawed (Wolverine’s stubborn and a loner, Cyclops is prideful, Rogue is afraid of her powers and herself, etc.) but together we can do great good.