1. The books and tales which have consistently been asked for over the centuries are those stories that highlight virtue.
The word classic means that which has been approved over time by a wide section of men and women. We need virtuous heroes because some deep, primordial desire wants them inside of us. No one will be watching today’s Marvel movies in 100 years, but people will still be reading Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare’s plays. Classics speak to our hearts’ most basic needs therefore we need the kinds of heroes that are found in that canon of literature.
2. Our imaginations need to be informed by virtue rather than a range from mediocrity to vice.
Though philosophy departments may deny it, and liberal Christianity ignores it, the natural sinfulness of man is a truth so universally attested to in history that those who do not believe in it are further proof of it. In short, we need no help with vice. Our imaginations need to have holy ideals set before them.
Do we have so many perfect—complete, mature—people around us that we have no need of reading about one more? Who needs a mediocre example? Am I not a sufficient example of that for myself? The law of entropy ensures that I will always be spiraling downward unless an opposite force of greater power pulls me up. An imagination is not so much like a shelf where ideas can be stored and only one good example is needed for us to continually refer back to. Rather, the imagination is a garden pestered by birds and monkeys and erratic rainfall and a painfully apathetic farmer. It stands in need of good seeds all the time because it naturally brings weeds. Let writers and speakers give us those seeds that have the greatest tendency to inspire our minds to reflect much on the beauty of Christian character.
John Bunyan does this with characters like Hopeful and Faithful in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Church history does this with colorful men like John Huss (15thcentury preacher), John Knox (16thcentury Reformer), and John Eliot (17thcentury missionary). Classic literature raises the imagination with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables or Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel or Mr. Knightley in Emma. None of these heroes is sinless, but all of these heroes lived a life characterized by the traits you would like to see in your children. Paul urges us to dwell on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
3. The character of a hero speaks to the soul differently from the propositions of a syllogism.
Souls are complex creations that do not respond merely to facts. Give us examples that attract our sympathy and so the complex heartwork of the affections moves forward. If truth was enough, why do we need to watch parents for our first 20 years? The NT assumes this because Jesus took flesh and tells us to follow Him. He did not start the disciples with a catechism, but an internship. Love “as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Husbands would not know the right way to maintain their marriage without looking at His example (Eph. 5:25). The OT is filled with examples for us so that our desires would be correctly calibrated (1 Cor. 10:6). People persuade people with an intangible influence spreading out from an attractive life. Solomon told us that God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11) which at the least means we have great spiritual capacity and desires even if we are not able to reach all our aspirations. Good heroes cast our imagination a little further in the right direction. We need no help going the wrong direction, so why would a writer not offer us a lead character that can move us nearer to God? Perhaps, the writer’s mind is not interested in drawing nigh to God. If that is the case, then why are we interested in that writer’s work? We need virtuous heroes because when a person enters our imagination he begins to exert more influence than we may have thought possible in ways that we had not anticipated. “The prudent man gives thought to his steps (Pro. 14:15).”
4. Men who are above us draw us magnetically upward.
All of these reasons are so connected to each other that they strengthen each other like branches from a similar trunk. Perhaps, they are all the same and their only differences lie in perspective. We need virtuous heroes for the same reason that a sinking man needs a life vest. Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book encourages us to read book by authors that can raise us up. Some authors, he tells us can only raise us once, and then we will be at their level making the book unnecessary for us in the future. But owing to the nature of inborn foolishness, virtuous models need to keep visiting us like friends. Why do we go to church each week? Seeing those other Christians has a vital impact on our godliness.
It may be that movie heroes are not usually enduring examples of virtue because it is a little uncomfortable to stand in the presence of a mature person. In this age of come-as-you-are relaxation, who wants to feel the pinch of a moral superior? He may make judgments that differ from mine, and isn’t that a microaggression or something? Oh, the silliness of a generation that cannot even bear the existence of a moral standard above ourselves! This is why we must not glut ourselves on heroes with no moral high ground, and thus unwittingly through the seeming innocuous means of entertainment and relaxation form an imagination that works against our best principles of personal responsibility and self-improvement.
- Why We Need Virtuous Heroes
- Two Kinds of Sin
- Objection: What About David?
- Good Presentations of Total Depravity
- Four Reasons We Need Virtuous Heroes
- A Call for Aragorn Rather Than Captain America