Godtalk: The Hero Complex


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In Hollywood movies and popular literature, we are often shown a hero as someone who, by going it alone, saves the world. But the ancient myths, and a good number of anthropologists, philosophers and psychologists, tell us that this kind of ‘hero’ is not the mature archetype of the true warrior or prophet. The mature saviour, prophet, or warrior is not ‘the hero’, but ‘the knight’.

The difference is that the hero operates off his own agenda, whereas the knight is under someone else’s agenda. ‘Knights’ lay their sword at the foot of the King or Queen. The knight, like Jesus, ‘does nothing on his own’. John 5.30

But this isn’t easy to understand and accept. The powerful idealisation we might put on our heroes and heroines is, like love in adolescence, so powerful a drug that it is hard to see that something much fuller and more mature lays beyond it. The obsessive love that Romeo and Juliet die for is very powerful, but a mature couple, holding hands after fifty years of marriage, is the real paradigm for love. The lonely, isolated hero grips the imagination in a way that the more fully mature man or woman does not.


Pause for thought:  what if the highest good consists of interchange, communion, mutual giving and receiving, as when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as like a banquet. Matt 22.2

The heroism of gratuitous giving has no place for reciprocity. If you give me anything in return, then my gift was not totally gratuitous; and in the extreme case, I disappear with my gift and no communion between us is possible.

This unilateral heroism is self-enclosed. It touches the outermost limit of what we can attain to when moved by the sense of our own dignity. But is that what life is about? Christian faith proposes a quite different view.’

And we see this in Jesus. He comes into this world precisely as a saviour, to vanquish the powers of darkness, violence, injustice, Satan, and death. But notice how he keeps saying: ‘I do nothing on my own. I am perfectly obedient to my Father’. Jesus was never a hero, a ‘lone-ranger’ doing his own thing. He was the paradigm of the ‘knight’, who  lays his sword at the foot of the King. 

Peter Knott SJ