Of Heroes and Villains

“Historical ‘greatness’ itself is often a far more ambiguous and subjective concept than is usually appreciated, and that many great historical figures have made mistakes and caused great suffering without thereby becoming monsters. Men and women with great abilities often have possessed correspondingly great flaws and they have made terrible mistakes because, in the end, the great, just like the rest of us, finally are human beings.”

{Guy Rogers, “Alexander, The Ambiguity of Greatness”}

One of the weaknesses of current American society is our tendency toward extreme views of our leaders and heroes. It’s one of the contributing factors to our current culture of polarization.

If we like a person we feel the need to defend everything about them. We are quick to praise their admirable qualities while ignoring their flaws. If they are on our team we become excessively protective of them and attack anyone who questions them.

The extreme is that anyone we don’t like can do nothing right. We are quick to denounce their failures while remaining silent about their successes. Anyone who speaks well of them is categorized as equally evil.

The first leaves us vulnerable to disappointment at the sudden revelation of our hero’s humanity. It will eventually require us to defend the indefensible. The second causes us to be unduly critical of those we disagree with. It will eventually require us to denounce the commendable. Either way, we have allowed our perception to distract us from what is of infinitely more importance: Reality.

It is ultimately about truth, and followers of Christ have not only a deep commitment to speak and defend the truth, we have a responsibility to stand for truth in a world that increasingly denies its very existence.

I am aware of the principle “honor to whom honor is due.” On the other hand, I’m not denying anyone the right to question or even criticize what they believe to be fundamentally wrong. I do reject the notion that “great” men and women must be either heroes or villains. The truth usually lies somewhere in between. They are neither, and both.

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