Samson or Spider-Man?
This morning I was reading America's newspaper of choice and it informed me that Wal-Mart will soon be selling religious action figures. For a mere $7 your child (or yourself for that matter) can soon be reenacting Daniel not getting eaten in the lion's den. Or for $20 you can purchase a 14 inch Goliath or Samson action figure in case your child wants to exercise his or her latent He-Man or Power Rangers muscles.
I find myself bothered by this on many levels. As a whole there is a lot of American Christianity that is fairly shallow to begin with and this just drains a few more inches out of the pool. This is troubling enough. But when David Socha, CEO of One2believe, stated that the purpose of these biblical action figures is to provide a faith-based alternative to the likes of Spider-Man, they crossed the line.
The article states that they want to offer options for parents who would rather have their children play with a Samson figure than Spider-Man because "parents want to give kids wholesomeness." I will pause for a moment and let that sink in. If nothing in that statement bothers you, then perhaps you are not familiar with the Samson story.
Let's compare Samson and Spider-Man for a moment. Spider-Man is driven by a profound sense of moral responsibility; Samson is driven primarily by the need for revenge against anyone who has slighted him. Spider-Man's motto is that "with great power comes great responsibility"; Samson's motto essentially is "I did to them what they did to me" (Judges 15:11). Samson violently slaughtered over a thousand people, often with no more justification than that they ticked him off. Even at the end, Samson's prayer to God to help him kill all the Philistines is mainly a prayer for God to grant him revenge for his eyes. Spider-Man by contrast has always refused to kill anyone -- no matter what the cost to himself. Samson was a notorious womanizer known to dally with prostitutes, while Spider-Man, throughout his comic-book marriage to Mary Jane, has remained faithful to her through thick and thin. Is the model that Samson provides really the one we want our children to emulate?
So what is really going on here when people argue that a Samson action figure is preferable to a Spider-Man one? I suggest that it derives from a naive assumption that anything biblical, merely because it is biblical, is preferable to anything that is not. The fact is that Samson is certainly a more biblical figure than Spider-Man, but Spider-Man is easily the more moral figure. Spider-Man embodies certain biblical values; Samson is just mentioned in the Bible.
The other problem I have is that I see all this as a distortion of the Samson story. By turning Samson into an action figure on par with GI Joe and Superman (and by the way Superman was initially modeled on Samson and Hercules), it puts the focus on Samson. It attempts to turn Samson into a hero worthy of emulation. The point of the biblical story of Judges, however, is not to hold Samson up as a model of virtue and faithfulness. The point is that God faithfully works his will through the people he has chosen, regardless of their character or moral failings. God is the hero of this story, not Samson. Of course, this idea might not be popular with the religious action figure crowd as an action figure of God might seem a bit inappropriate -- although it wouldn't surprise me. They already have talking Jesus dolls available for $15.
Of course, seeing as today is my son's birthday and I bought him a Ghost Rider action figure, maybe I am not the best person to judge.