Monday, November 8

Heroism in Modern Times

What and who are our heroes today? In past ages, young and old could point immediately to their heroes be they Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, Alexander, Socrates, or even Diogenes. In more recent times, our medieval forebears could claim Roland & Oliver, Charlemagne, Simon de Montefort, Joan of Arc, or Henry V as heroes for some (villains for others perhaps?). Just a few generations ago, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Hamilton, Lincoln, and Madison, to name a few, were all heroes of our nation. Now if you stop someone on the street and ask them to name a hero, you get taught (bad) responses such as, My Dad, My Mom, a 9/11 fireman, or some Hollywood icon.

This is not a good thing. We need our heroes, people to revere, look up to, aspire to, and emulate. A hero is not someone who performs a momentary act of bravery. Heroism, properly understood, requires greatness and sacrifice. Greatness of heart, spirit and ability coupled with the sacrifice of the ordinary. One fictional genre that celebrates heroism, the comic book, denies much of the sacrifice required with the invention of the "secret identity". Heroes in comic book lore put on their spandex and step into their larger than life persona in the limelight of their heroic conflict. Then, when the lights dim and the music is quiet, they slither away to catch a little downtime hiding in the ordinary. This convention, while it admits the personal sacrifice asked of the hero, gives the comic book hero an out. A way of buying back his personal life without losing the exceptional. Is it in some way admitting that the heroic life is too much to ask for the soul of our modern man? Our modern media shines a spotlight on many of our exceptional individuals, searching for his or her feet of clay. Is this a good thing? Perhaps we should step back and allow them to be human. After all only one of us was without flaw.

Speaking of which, I would recommend highly a book on this topic by Mr Hook and Mr Reno, Heroism and the Christian Life: Reclaiming Excellence. This book examines in some detail what is required of the hero, Christian or classical. The Christian hero is less well celebrated, and for that reason perhaps deserves a second look.