Recently the Onion, the best fake-news site around, ran a satirical piece entitled “Nation Currently more Sympathetic to Demise of Planet Krypton than Plight of Syria.” It’s funny because it’s true. It’s also kind of sad.
Some people will point to things like this and condemn contemporary American values. We Americans don’t care about the world around us, and we only want to be entertained.
But I don’t think this is a particularly American phenomenon. I think it’s just a function of being human. As I read the Onion’s satire, I immediately thought of St. Augustine crying over Dido.
In the Confessions, Augustine admits that when he was younger, Dido’s death in the Aeneid made him cry. He cried over her suicide, and he cried because of her love for Aeneas. Then he upbraids his younger self because he should have been crying over his own state of self-dying to God and, I believe, by extension the world’s dying state.
Would Augustine cry over Krypton? I think so. If Augustine shed tears for Dido, then of course he would grieve for that dying world. But you might say, “The Aeneid is a classic of Western Civilization, and Man of Steel is just another superhero movie!” The two aren’t actually so far apart. Every complaint that critics have made against Man of Steel could also be directed against the Aeneid. Unoriginal source material. Check. Lacking in humor. Check. Ridiculously overblown fight scenes. Check.
I don’t think it’s wrong to grieve for fictional characters. Augustine’s problem was that he cried over the fictional world but didn’t cry for his own. If the death of a fictional planet prepares our hearts to grieve, if it provokes a knowledge that this world too is passing away, then let us enjoy the movie without shame. If the fictional world merely helps us escape from this dying world, then we’ve got a problem. When entertainment numbs the pain and makes us forget that this world is broken, we’ve begun to amuse ourselves to death.
We shouldn’t let Krypton’s destruction keep us from praying for Syria. Let Krypton’s destruction remind us that this world is passing away. Let Dido’s death remind us that apart from a savior we all lay dying before God.