Heroism and Morality


In the past, when I wanted something very badly, my base instinct was: “what will I have to do to get the desired results.” When I stepped back to look at the situation objectively, I was appalled at how closely I was tempted to skate at the edge of decency and good sense. It was as if everything depended on me.

Later, I realized that my emphasis was on what I would have to do. God wasn’t part of the equation.

Some months back, I wrote about two Armstrong heroes, Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon, and Lance Armstrong, the multiple (eight-time?) winner of the Tour d’France, who has since been stripped of those wins because of doping. In the eyes of his decreasing number of fans, much of the shine is gone from all the medals.

We like for our heroes to be good guys, even up close. The latest icon to crash is General David Petraeous, the hero of the Iraqi surge. Afterward, he took command of our military effort in Afghanistan but left the Afghan surge after only a year to become CIA director. His name was even bruited about as a possible presidential candidate. As of last week, he’s unemployed, for reasons evident to anyone who follows the news. The word “hero” is not readily connected with David Petraeous. His reputation and his family are badly wounded.

I am very sad for the man, and for his family. He cast restraint aside to take something which was not his to possess.

We want heroes. We need heroes. They are symbols of the qualities we’d like to possess and of all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. They help define the limits of our aspirations. They expand our sense of possibility. Heroes confront fears or embrace new experiences, allowing us to focus our lives and attain goals that might otherwise have remained merely dreams.

In both the cases of Lance Armstrong and General Petraeous, there’s the sense that we’ve been duped. The issue is that of trust. These men were not what they pretended to be, so how can we trust them? There are some (historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, for one) who would detach the concept of heroism from morality. Ms. Goodwin uses FDR as an example, claiming that our country would have been deprived of his leadership if his affair with Lucy Mercer had been exposed. To that, I would ask—exceptional man that FDR was, couldn’t there have been others from the Democratic Party or the GOP who would have done as well or better?

Setting aside whether his New Deal was a good deal for America, there can be little doubt that President Roosevelt “sold us down the river” at Yalta. He mis-read Stalin and was naive about communism, to the horrific detriment of Eastern Europe. Too often, we compromise honor, claiming that we have no other choice.

At the heart of it, how can we pay tribute to someone as a hero if we don’t trust them? Did he or she achieve the status of hero by cheating? By destroying opponents or taking unfair advantage? We want a Hank Aaron, not a Barry Bonds.

Eric Liddell, the true-life hero of Chariots of Fire, is revered because he stood on principle to honor God and not run on Sunday in the 1924 Olympics. It cost him the gold medal in the 100 meter dash, his best event. He came back later to win the 400 meter run. It’s said that before he went in the starting blocks for the 400, an American slipped a slip of paper in his hand with this quote from I Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor me I will honor.”
We always have choices. They may not be the choices we want but we have choices. It comes down to who we’re trying to honor …

 

 

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About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
This entry was posted in Finding me ... and you, The Reality of God and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Heroism and Morality

  1. Jonathan says:

    I second Billie. Lance Armstrong built a career on lies. David Petraeous cheated on his wife and family and it ruined his reputation and trust the American people placed in him. Bill Clinton recovered politically and he holds an enormous amount of clout. The only correlation I see between Armstrong and Petraeous is timing.

    • samuelehall says:

      Jonathan, interesting views. There may not be as much a correlation between Lance Armstrong and the general as I thought. To me, the tie-in was that both seemed to lose focus on anything outside themselves at the time of their moral failure. We constantly need perspective; that is one reason Christians are called “not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together.”

  2. Billie Reynolds says:

    Billie Reynolds says
    It always hurts when a true hero shows feet of clay. However, we still love David, in spite of Bathsheba and he was called a man after God’s own heart. I feel that of the two men, I am the most disappointed in Lance Armstrong, who insisted “I did not use steroids, etc.” The General was under pressure and has admitted he failed and disgraced his family. He has stepped down. I wish he had not succumbed to the pretty lady’s charms; I am much concerned for his wife.
    We need to pray for them and for our nation as honesty seems to be in short supply these days. When asked, over 65% of the students in college felt it was ok to cheat on a test. That serpent with his apples has done a job on us! Wish I could claim to be perfect, but cannot. Grace and peace.

    • samuelehall says:

      Billie, appreciate your thoughts. David was so attuned to God that he attained amazing feats against his enemies. His gradual decline came because of the sense of entitlement that he allowed to rule his thinking and attitudes.

  3. Jerry says:

    You’re right, Sam, about my post. I should have used “and/or” instead of “and.” One factor that I forgot, which could be of some importance is “opportunity.” For those who are famous, powerful, wealthy, etc., there are more opportunities to stray from the sexual mores of the general population.

    Would the trust issue eliminate many of the leaders whom we have followed or admired? How many Biblical leaders/kings had concubines but still have our trust? How many of our founding fathers wouldn’t pass our moral litmus test? Would we merely say that they had feet of clay and give them a free pass?

  4. Jerry says:

    Well said, Sam. The matter of trust is essential whether we are dealing with small or large tasks and at whatever pay grade. However, it seems that the sense of privilege, entitlement, and perhaps overconfidence rises as one gains power, influence, and wealth. I am powerful, influential, and/or wealthy; therefore, I deserve to break the societal mores that may be required of others. That may be especially true with extramarital affairs.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jerry. The only picky-picky change I’d make in your comment is that the sense of entitlement and privilege may develop as one gains power and/or influence and/or wealth. The ff. profession/positions may not be wealthy but they’ve often got power and/or influence: policemen, politicians, pastors, military NCOs & officers, specific government positions, union stewards, and entertainers. There are lots more you could add to that list.
      And certainly, most people probably won’t fall into the entitlement trap.

  5. Sam,
    It is amazing the value of trust in our relationships with one another. The cost of earning trust goes unnoticed until one tries to gain it back. We are always surprised when someone violates that trust. If we lived differently wouldn’t we be pessimists? And yet, our true trust lies really in the Lord.

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