One of the advantages to working for Dartmouth College for a couple years was that I could attend one course free per quarter. I did not avail myself enough of that benefit, but I did take one class that reviewed motion picture portrayals of Native Americans. As you can probably imagine, much of the curriculum's focus was on negative depictions of America's indigenous population including "white savior" plot lines. If you are unfamiliar with the term "white savior," have you seen "Dances With Wolves"? Kevin Costner (as John Dunbar) is a white savior. How about "Avatar"? Sure, that movie isn't a western and the Na'vi aren't Native Americans, but Sam Worthington (as Jake Sully) is a white savior. Regardless of whether some of these films are positive in that they represent indigenous people as having more wisdom (or greater spirituality or better character) than the evil racist white man ("Dances With Wolves") or the nefarious greedy corporation ("Avatar"), a pale-skinned male of European descent ends up saving the day.
The reason this comes to mind is because today my son Mikey, his friend Chris, and I attended "The Green Lantern." If you aren't familiar with that comic book hero, one important tidbit is that the Lantern's ring chooses the wearer, not visa versa. After some initial "introduction to key characters" scenes, the three of us saw how the imminent death of another alien Green Lantern led to Ryan Reynolds (as ace pilot Hal Jordan) being selected for the honor…and responsibility…of bearing the ring. The soul-seeing piece of jewelry detected something in Jordan that even Jordan didn't know he had.
I don't think it'll be too much of a spoiler to say that Hal Jordan saves the universe, thus fitting the standard white savior paradigm. Perhaps more interesting was that at the film's closing that savior designation was basically extended to all humankind. I wasn't taking notes, so I can't share the exact words. However, Mikey also remembered the narrator saying that although the Green Lantern Corps thought mankind's youth would be a weakness, it turned out to be our strength.
Of course, this is far from the first "humankind savior" movie…just think Star Trek.
Just how special are we earthlings? Does our importance match our comic book and cinematic imaginations? When we peer into the deep space that a glowing green Hal Jordan flew through, do we ruminate like David?:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas (Psalm 8:3-8, English Standard Version).
Add that to Genesis 1:26 telling us we were made in the image and likeness of God (and Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:3 stating we'll even be judging angels) and we can get pretty big heads.
Are we special? Is there something in the way we were created…something in our make-up…that makes us deserve the unique attention our Lord unarguably has given us? Do other inhabitants of the universe look up to us?
Or are we like Al Franklin (in his Saturday Night Live persona of Stewart Smalley) staring into a mirror and assuring ourselves, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me"?
As Calvinists will especially remind you (with their doctrine of total depravity), the more you read about the human race within the pages of Scripture, the clearer it becomes that man has nothing to commend him before God…or any of God's other creatures (angels or otherwise). For instance, returning to the inspired words of David:
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord? (Psalm 14:2-4)
Think that's too harsh? Don't believe the Bible holds any special insight about our temperaments and characters? People frequently like pointing to history to show the sins of (and condemn) religion (Christianity specifically). Use their same litmus test with movements that have trusted the wisdom and goodness of earthlings and then ask yourself a question like…
Would you rather travel back in time and live through the American Revolution or the French one?
As imperfect as the former was, the choice shouldn't be hard if you prefer to keep your head attached to your shoulders. The more we humans think we are saviors…even if only for our own species…the more we prove Psalm 14 right. It is far better to fall into the hands of God than any human…because…
We are not saviors—white, green, or otherwise.
Instead, we need the Savior.