Redefining Heroism in the Era of Celebrity-Worship

Who are your heroes?

In 1930 Winston Churchill asked, "Can a nation remain healthy, can all nations draw together, in a world whose brightest stars are film stars?" If that question was poignant eighty years ago, it is perhaps the most vital question we can ask ourselves, and our children, about a modern culture dominated by television, movies and sports.

There is a great athlete in the Bible, his name is Samson. But he becomes a hero only when his spiritual stature matched his strength. And there is a woman whose singing draws an entire nation into song. Her name is Miriam and her song exalts not appetite, but God.

In Greek myth, the hero is someone who dies an heroic death. In Byronic fashion, the hero must either perish in battle on a grand mission, or expire with a quip on his lips, showing that life is a grand game. Neither model embraces the everyday heroism of a mother struggling to raise good children or the aid workers that I met in my recent trip to a Christian mission in Haiti, who neglect their businesses to build schools and homes for orphans.

When the Rabbis advise us that a hero is one who can conquer himself, they are providing parents with the perfect answer to a child's worship of Kanye West, Kim Kardashian or Kobe Bryant. Self-mastery can be heroic. Fame is just, well, fame. Historian Daniel Boorstin writes: "The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself; the celebrity is created by the media. The hero was a big man; the celebrity is a big name."

Enough with the maniacal obsession with big names. To be gifted is not enough to be a hero; to be dedicated to excellence is also not enough. To bring light and life to God's world, to struggle for goodness, such things are the stuff of heroism. It may sound simple but it is difficult and noble. In a culture where flash, dazzle and lights seem to compensate for goodness and godliness, it is worth keeping in mind. In Haiti I asked a fifteen year old boy what he wanted to do with his life. He answered "I want to be a doctor." Why, I asked. "So I can be a blessing to my country." That boy understands what it is to be a hero.