Carnival of the Vanities #84

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For the first time, I've submitted something for the Carnival of the Vanities, my What Is Race? post.

Two other posts of interest:

1. Not to undermine the stuff about his true heroism and that his sacrifice is at least financially and popularity-wise more courageous than most others', this recent Pat Tillman emphasis has bothered me, and I'm not the only one. It's easy to let it overshadow all the ordinary, mundane sacrifices that we don't hear about directly and see as major headlines simply because the people aren't football players. I wonder, therefore, why we should have a deeper emotional response to his death than to anyone else's. I think something has gone wrong here.

2. Don't microwave your peanut butter jar.


What is this fascination with "heros"? I do not mean to degrade the concept whereby someone like Pat Tillman makes a sacrifice: Walking away from the lure of money for the love of his country, and making the ultimate sacrifice with his blood. I mean in the sense that the 14-year-old boy who saved the neighborhood puppy is called a hero, or that the hostages who returned home safely (think Jessica Lynch, who, contrary to rumors, did not engage in a fight to the death until her ammo ran out, but was simply taken prisoner) are heros. For that matter, consider the fact that the Poles still celebrate Victory Day in memory of the fact that they almost got wiped out by the Mongols more than a thousand years ago. In fact, the withdrawal of Mongols had nothing to do with the Poles at all; they merely withdrew to go home and pay last respects to their leader Ogadai, who died of drunkenness. In all these cases there is an unhealthy inflation of "heroism". What about 9/11 casualties? Just because "We are all Americans now" (as a tribute from a Frenchman had put it shortly after the tragedy), are we then all heros now?

I think there's something to what you're saying, but Christians at least need to have some recognition of heroes as people to imitate, since Paul himself tells the recipients of his letters to imitate him as he imitates Christ, and the author of Hebrews (in ch.11) holds out for us a whole line of people whose faith is worth imitating partly because they knew far less than we do about God and God's plan, and yet still they admirably trusted him (whatever other unworthy things some of them may have done). Still, I think there's something right about what you're saying (or I wouldn't have posted what I did in the first place!); after all, why do we call it hero worship?

True, there is a degree of what you call "hero worship". But I think the key word is "worship", or attribution of worth to an object or a person. If an object or a person has a high degree of worth, then it is right to attribute that worth to that object or person. It won't be false worship, because the degree of praise and degree of worth in this case will match. However, problem arises when we over-attribute worth to a thing or person (see examples I gave earlier). We must have truly run out of things to ascribe worth to, much like the prisoner in "Count of Monte Cristo" who had not only counted his tiles many times, but had named them as well. This is the nadir and the bankrupcy of a value system, when we call everything sacred and thereby declare (implicitly) that nothing is sacred.

Or, alternatively, perhaps it's just that we don't ascribe enough worth to what's truly valuable and beautiful, and therefore we end up seeking to raise the value of things that aren't quite worth the value we've attached to them.

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