Recently I’ve been reading an alternate universe Avengers comic in which Captain America is elected president of the US. It’s a very powerful fantasy that I find captivating. President Cap is the American to the bone, bleeding red white and blue. He’s the apple pie and baseball, blond hair and blue eyed super-soldier. He is America’s very own ubermensch, the ‘blond beast’ of Nietzche’s dreams and of Nazi propaganda. And it’s pretty cool. He flies around in his jet, jumps into crises with battle armor, and punches terrorists in the face.
He is fed up with the bs that is politics, and locks politicians in a room until they come to a compromise. And violence is his go-to solution for problems. He can’t stand doing the job of the president though, sitting behind a desk and talking to people. It’s time to get to work. And his advisors tell him “They didn’t elect you to be the president, but to be a symbol . They don’t want a president, they want a king.”
And as much as I enjoy it, a man wrapped in red, white, and blue, doing everything we fantasize about doing as president when we were teenagers (no wonder they don’t et kids vote), at some point I have to put down the comic and come back to the real world. Presidents aren’t superheroes and they aren’t saviors.
When Jesus came as the Messiah, lots of people had ideas about what he would do. They expected the Messiah to be a warrior King, someone who would swoop in, and punch those Romans in the face. He was supposed to be the ubermensch. If you read texts from the early Christian period, you’ll discover that Jesus is described as short, unattractive, and of a crooked face. He wasn’t the super-soldier the zealots hoped for. He was supposed to take over the world and lead Israel into greatness. And instead Jesus exalted humility, meekness, peacemaking. He said he would be found among the poor. before starting his ministry, he went into the desert and was tempted to rule all the kingdoms of the world, but he refused this temptation. He chose to die rather than to call down the legion of angels he had in the wings. He told Peter to put away the sword, and he let that terrorist and Christian-persecutor Paul become the leader of his movement. He told Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world, for if it was of this world his disciples would fight, but they do not fight.
One of my bad habits is that I still like to read these comics. They are powerful fantasies. Even though I know that fantasy and nationalism are both condemned by Orthodox Christianity, it’s a fun thing to imagine: president Cap. It’s tempting to want a president who can give us everything we want, who through their sheer force of personality can move mountains and make our nation into heaven on earth. Essentially, it is a messianic hope, that our president would be a king who inaugurates the rule of the Kingdom of God within the boundaries of our nation, who is a Messiah in every way that Jesus refused to be. But at some point I have to choose, who am I going to live like? Whom do I follow? President Cap or Jesus? “Put not your trust in princes,” the psalm reads, “in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”
An Orthodox Christian mentor of mine once told me “The Pharisees were the conservatives, and the Sadducees were the liberals, and Jesus didn’t have time for either of them.” I’m trying to keep that in mind this year as my country chooses the next person who will ‘lord power over others, the way the gentiles do.’