Heroes Are Human, Too

original Star Trek bridge crew

Original Star Trek bridge crew

I remember when, many years ago, I first found out that the cast of the original Star Trek series did not always get along and a huge part of the problem was William Shatner’s ego. Star Trek was one of my all-time favorite TV shows (and the movies and the books), and Shatner was a favorite actor when I was growing up — right up there with Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man, and later Tom Selleck of Magnum, P.I., fame. So, I was understandably disappointed to find out my “heroes” could be jealous, bitter, mean, arrogant, selfish, or… whatever. But, I had to realize that, hey, they’re human, too. So, why should I be surprised to find out that they have shortcomings? Regardless of any of that, they still put out some great shows, providing me and countless others with hours of fun and wonderful memories.

When I started to read beyond the high-school sketches of America’s Founding Fathers, I discovered that they, too, were, shall we say, less than perfect. They fought and argued, sometimes resorting to not only ad hominem attacks but libel and slander in the local newspapers. It was at least as nasty as what goes on now. Some of them insisted on keeping slavery legal; even a few of those who were anti-slavery still owned slaves (e.g., Washington & Jefferson). Some of them could be unfaithful, duplicitous, stubborn, irascible, petty, and even mean. Yeah, a “great” group of guys.

But, why should we expect them to be any more perfect than we are? Well, I suspect part of the reason that we tend to hold them up is because the biographies we read in middle- and high school are limited and the more important goal is to teach kids/teens the main events of history and give them some heroes to admire from America’s founding. Plus, once they get older, the average Joe/Jane often doesn’t read a lot of history or biography, so they are left with the impressions they got from history class.

Every so often, though, one or more books/articles come out that try to remind us that our American heroes were, perhaps, not so heroic. Now, I fully agree with the idea that we should not put our heroes up on too high a pedestal. After we get over the initial shock of realizing their imperfections, it does us good to recognize them for who and what they are: fallible men & women. Still iconic, perhaps, but certainly clay-footed idols. And, a dose of reality is usually a good thing.

But, some authors, journalists, and historians seem to take undue glee in knocking down those heroes — as if exposing the Founding Fathers, for example, undermines everything they said and wrote. If Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, etc., were less than completely noble in character (or worse), maybe our country isn’t so great, after all. Certainly not “exceptional”. The implication by extension is that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should not be held as American “holy writ” but as mere documents by immoral, hypocritical men that can be ignored, changed, or replaced whenever enough people decide they’re tired of the old ones or don’t like what they say.

Signing of the Constitution

Signing of the Constitution

I say, “Baloney!” I don’t excuse immoral behavior, but pobody’s nerfect nobody’s perfect. As an orthodox Christian, I recognize Man’s sin nature, which puts him in rebellion to God and often in conflict with his fellows, as well as “his” capacity for good. I know that humans are capable of great insight, wisdom, kindness, and selflessness, along with cruelty, perversity, and profanity. A person can believe in moral absolutes and hold to certain ideals and virtues, yet fail to uphold them all the time. (That isn’t hypocrisy, by the way; it’s inconsistency. There is a difference.) To a certain degree, that should be expected. It’s called “being human”.

Imperfect people still create things of amazing beauty, commit acts of selfless altruism and bravery, and, yes, produce works of moral and/or pragmatic clarity. Such an artist, philanthropist, or ‘enlightened’ philosopher may be a pretentious jerk at times and have a problem with anger management. He may even have a couple “dark” secrets. But, we can still appreciate his works for what they are, despite the shortcomings of the creator.

When it comes to America’s founding documents, most people — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, etc. — agree that they are some of the best, most sublime pieces of writing in human history. The men that discussed, debated, wrote, and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were far from perfect, yes. But, they were able to agree on some key principles and facts (e.g., human equality and inalienable, God-given rights), hammer out some revolutionary [sorry] ideas, and their collective wisdom produced the philosophical & practical foundations for the best example of the greatest form of government known to man — a representative democracy with limited governmental authority and a separation of powers. And, of course, they left room for adjustment/refinement with the amendment process.

As for the idea that something more “modern” or “progressive” should be developed and used instead, here is what a former U.S. President had to say:

Declaration of Independence + flag“It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.”

— Calvin Coolidge (July 5, 1926)

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