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Manhood Matters: Society’s Need for ‘Heroes’

heroes

There is no society or culture in the history of the world that has existed without heroes and heroic epics. For many of those civilizations, the heroic epic was fundamental to that civilizations culture — be it as an origin account of the civilization (e.g. mythologies) or as an example of values to which the civilization should ascribe. Those stories were and are necessary for cultivation of virtue and the flourishing of civilization. Heroes were and are needed to inspire and exemplify what is good, right, beautiful, and true. That need has not changed in our current civilization. Today, our society needs heroes.

what does it mean to be a hero?

In ages past, a hero embodied traits that all people should aspire to. A hero did the right thing for the sake of someone else. A hero was courageous enough to step into conflict and seek to restore truth and goodness. However, in our late modernist world, these concepts of heroism and courage have been deconstructed and emptied of their meaning. This deconstruction flows directly out of the philosophical movements that have sought to place the subjective experience of the world as the arbiter of right and wrong; truth and falsehood. The concepts of good and evil, for which most of human history defined heroic actions, have become relativized to an individual’s preference. With that loss of objective good and evil and objective truth and falsehood, heroism and courage become relativized.

What was once thought of as heroic (e.g. “doing the right thing”) comes under scrutiny because of the simple questions: What is the right thing? Why is it the right thing? Many villains in contemporary heroic stories represent exactly those questions (e.g. the Joker from “The Dark Knight” or “Joker” and Thanos from “Avengers: Infinity War”). The growing concern is that these villains might actually be justified; might actually be right. If not completely justified in their actions, the villains at least point out that heroes’ choices have no justification either. The villains reveal that there is no objective goodness, truth, and beauty – those qualities are simply subjective values based on preference. Heroes, thus, by definition cannot exemplify or seek what is good, right, true, and beautiful because those values are arbitrary. There is no objective, transcendent qualities of “good, right, true, and beautiful.”

If confusion over, at best, or neglect of, at worst, what is good, right, beautiful, and true ensues, then chaos, uncertainty, and suffering will result. I suppose, from the same subjectivity that pervades our modern world, that one could make the argument that chaos, uncertainty, and suffering are good. But most people, most who have an inkling of the law of God written upon their heart, recognize those are not good. In fact, those things should be opposed and fought against. Those battles must be taken up by heroes. Thus, our society needs heroes. Men need to be heroes.

Again, as with Society’s Need for ‘Poets’, this does not preclude women. In fact, only women can be heroic as wives and mothers. Men cannot fulfill that role. Women must be heroic for their children: first by birthing them; second by nurturing and caring for them in a way that men cannot. Moreover, because of their connection with their children, women have more influence on teaching them what is good, right, beautiful, and true. However, this article calls for men to step up to that role of being a hero.

Becoming A Hero

Men must become heroes: a hero that inspires his family and his community; a hero that pursues what is good, right, beautiful, and true amidst the world of subjectivity; a hero that is grounded in the story of the Hero, Jesus Christ.

All heroes have some sort of origin story – some set of circumstances that have led them to take up this mantle as hero. This motif is not only true of fictional heroes, but real life heroes as well —just ask a Soldier why he or she joined the Army. For Christians, our origin story is new birth/life in Christ. The origin story is the Gospel, that has called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light – that Jesus Christ has purchased and won you from all sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy precious blood. That is the origin story – no matter at what point in life you believed it – for you to become a hero. 

By being called into this role as Christian, what is good, right, beautiful, and true then is no longer preference, but what God Himself has established in His Creation. That means, to be heroic as a Christian is to pursue and promote what God has revealed as good, right, beautiful, and true. As men, we must do this. This pursuit is our hero’s journey.

The Hero’s Journey

On a hero’s journey, he will both fail and triumph. That is the daily life of a Christian. The enemies of God (Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh) rebel against God’s rule and reign. You, dear Christian, are in the midst of that rebellion. On a daily basis, you must strive against those evil forces. You will strive against those until the day that Lord calls you to be with Him in heaven. Yet, it is your daily reliance on His grace, His mercy, His love, His forgiveness – it is your daily return to His Word, His promises – that will aide you in those attacks. As St. Paul says in Romans, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8).

That means our journey as heroes does not have to be earth-shattering or extreme. In fact, for most of us, it won’t be. It will simply be pursuing and promoting what is good, right, beautiful, and true in our areas of influence – our families, our congregations, our communities. Yet, that is exactly what we as men need to be doing right now. We need to engage with our wives, our children, and our peers to proclaim and demonstrate what is good, right, beautiful, and true according to God’s Word. We must be those to whom all can look and desire to emulate – not because of status or wealth or power, but because of faithfulness. Heroes still are examples. Men must be examples.

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Living as Heroes

So what can we do to live as heroes? The answer is pretty simple: live the story of the Hero, Jesus Christ. Of course, living that story – living as one who belongs to Christ and His kingdom – is much more complicated. The very foundation of living in Christ’s story is the recognition of what Christ has called you to be as His follower. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die (The Cost of Discipleship). These are an echo of Jesus own words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). To live as a hero is to be ready to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel.

Sacrificing for the sake of the Gospel means your time, your talents, your reputation, your ambitions – your whole life – is to be given for the sake of Christ. That is not an aimless sacrifice, but is directed toward your neighbors: those whom God has given to you in your life. That begins in the home, extends to the congregation, overflows into the community, wherever you are located. Heroes are ready to use their strength for the sake of what is good, right, beautiful and true – they are ready to give of themselves to preserve that for others.

Lastly, living as a hero requires a cultivation and promotion of virtue. Again, our modern times seek to dismiss any concepts of transcendent, lasting virtue – instead relegating virtue to satisfaction of desires. The most celebrated virtue of our time is “acceptance” – acceptance of anything and everything that is right in our own eyes. A hero, however, must deny himself and train himself in accordance with a higher goal, a higher authority. For Christians, this goal, this authority is once again, the Hero, Jesus Christ. St. Paul puts is this way: 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV

A hero pursues and promotes what is good, right, beautiful, and true; a hero seeks these for the sake of others; a hero cultivates virtue to accomplish this. We as husbands, fathers, and men need to take up this mantle for the sake of our families and communities. We need to be heroes. 

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