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Heroism

Posted on: February 12, 2017

Category: Theology

Heroism

There have been many descriptions of the U.S. government's attempt to block travel to and from seven mostly Muslim countries. Presently, the Executive Order is judged unconstitutional and blocked in the U.S. court system. The singularly most critical description of the order is probably "daft." The President and his team signed the order basically without telling anyone, without understanding the national and international implications, and apparently without understanding the level of cooperation needed among the branches of government. The general problem with the order is its lack of clarity in relation to U.S. law, U.S. constitutional rights, and international laws to which the U.S. is a signatory. This made the order ambiguous, which caused and continues to cause chaos.

Beyond the legal ramifications of the new U.S. Federal government's policies, there is something symbolically troubling about actions being taken in isolation from the national and international community. As a thinking community, this trouble calls us to consider the difference between a true and false form of heroism.

The classical true hero has two forms. Either the hero extraordinarily suffers the challenges of fate, like Job or Hercules, or the hero rouses community courage against oppression, like the Spanish folk hero El Cid. Neither of these classical forms of heroism is historical. They are forms placed upon fictional or historic personalities with the intention of inspiring our humanity as we face the vicissitudes of our history.

What makes up a false hero is an individual or community that inverses such inspiration with two key deceptions. The first deception lies in creating ambiguity between the hero and the cause. In this case, the hero becomes the cause. As such, the hero and aficionados will not hesitate to sacrifice others for the hero's life without concerns for the common good. This makes the hero false or, to use a classical but effective word, evil. The second inversion of heroic inspiration occurs when the hero becomes arbitrary in judgment. This also occurs with the loss of community discernment. The common good of a community slips from law understood as an equal force to law understood as an ideological force. There is also a word for this, though a relatively new one, which is the word fascism.

These two words, evil and fascism, are often used dramatically and often overstated. They can be very offensive words. Sometimes they are used purely for rhetorical effect. But sometimes they are serious words that need attention. They hold their meaning in drama insofar as they voice warnings against false forms of heroism. They warn against the deceptive attraction of false heroes. They are the attributes of "anti-heroes."

Many of us can list a set of false heroes both in fiction and in history. The Bible notoriously depicts Queen Jezebel as a false hero, though historically this is truly unfair. Many opponents from a biblical writer's perspective are portrayed as false heroes. The history of northern Israel (1000 to 722 B.C.E.) is portrayed by the southern writers from Judah as a history of false heroes. But sometimes in "real" history false heroes capture the imagination of a people and rise to positions of power.

Religion has often been a force for much false heroism: negative social policy, forms of prejudice, and the general dissemination of misinformation. This is the tragedy of religion. But religion also has its glory. One of the main expressions of this glory is the understanding that true heroism is about the community, about causes greater than individuals, and about causes that involve the betterment of all humanity. Religion, when at its best, finds true heroism in the courage to name false heroism. Religion, at its best, calls upon the dawn of a new age of peace, justice, and equality. At its best, it refuses to participate in ambiguities that confuse an individual's personality with the imperatives of the common good.

What form of religion will rise over the next four years of an unpredictable presidency? Will it be true or false heroism that inspires us?

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