Monday, February 25, 2008

Lex Luthor was a good person

Every time a public figure says something that causes a stir, he will claim to have been misquoted. The trouble is, in many cases he'll be right.

One of the silliest instances of this has to be the recent flap over Will Smith's "Hitler" remark. For those who haven't been following the story, here is the quote: "Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'Let me do the most evil thing I can do today.' I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good.'" The headline to the article falsely claimed Smith had said that "Hitler was a good person." Just this week, Smith won damages and an apology for this idiotic mistake.

But I get the strange feeling Smith's comment would have passed unnoticed if he had replaced "Hitler" with "Bin Laden." For some reason, people tend to think of Hitler as a psychopath but Bin Laden as a true believer. I'm not sure either assumption is correct.

Everyone knows Bin Laden is an Islamic extremist, but many people are confused about what Hitler believed. I saw a debate between Bill O'Reilly and Richard Dawkins over the existence of God. In the course of the debate, O'Reilly claimed that Hitler was a "confirmed atheist," while Dawkins insisted that Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Both were wrong. Hitler rejected the Catholicism of his childhood (despite public pronouncements to the contrary) but continued to say he was doing the will of God.

In any case, his religious beliefs were almost irrelevant. The Nazis had Protestants, Catholics, and atheists in their ranks. Nazi ideology was a hodgepodge of Christian anti-Semitism, Enlightenment racism, neo-pagan Nordic mythology, Darwinism, and Nietzscheism.

The only two things consistent about Hitler were his desire to rule the world, and his abiding hatred of Jews. Did he really "believe" Jews were that terrible, or did he simply concoct a giant excuse for his murderous tendencies? I wouldn't claim to know the answer.

Comic-book villains, unlike real-life ones, always wear their motives on their sleeves. Lex Luthor knows he's evil and is proud of it. He has no delusional belief system. Indeed, he seems like a clearer thinker than Superman.

You could search the world over before finding someone that transparently evil. Most bad guys in our world espouse an ideology that casts them as the good guys and us as the villains. Whether they believe in it themselves is less important than the fact that they're able to persuade others to believe.

It's scary to admit that people can have such warped perceptions, because it means there's no universal agreement on what's right and wrong. Maybe that's why children like comic books. There's a certain comfort in believing that the world is only threatened by self-aware baddies.

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