Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Cross Can Be a Beautiful Thing

Ever since my third oldest son was knee-high to that old grasshopper, he has always wanted to know, whenever I showed a movie to the family, "Who is the hero?" It did my heart good when he asked that question, because I knew that a child with a thirst for heroes was heading in the right direction. And my son did not disappoint me. He has stayed with Walter Scott and P. C. Wren as he entered his teens.

Unfortunately the modern world is very much against heroes in general and against the particular heroes of my son. Why? Because my son's heroes are all knights of Christendom. Some might wear cowboy boots and a white hat instead of armor, but they are all heirs of King Arthur.

When conservatives talk about how we are turning the corner and winning the battle for the hearts of our young, I usually have to fight back the urge to vomit. American popular theater is the movies, and the type of movie hero that our young people pay money to see is not a Christian hero. This does not bode well for our already sick-beyond-belief nation, because only a hero can save us. But if we have lost our appetite for, and our belief in, genuine heroes, then it is quite probable if a true hero did emerge he would be rejected like the one who stands as the ultimate hero of Western culture. As Andrew Lytle tells us, "The hero's most perfect image is, of course, Christ, the man-God."

There are two types of heroes who appear in the modern movie, and neither is a Christian hero. The first type is the sensitive, politically correct man that emerged in the 1960s. He saves whales, fights racism and sexism, goes to sensitivity seminars, and has had a vasectomy. But the new liberal hero is a very dull bird. For the sake of the box office, he has been modified.

The second type of hero is the pagan-liberal. Liberals will allow Joe Sixpack to watch white men do some heroic punching, shooting, and derring-do under one or all of the following conditions:
1) The white hero must be fighting against politically incorrect bad guys such as Nazis (always popular), Klansmen, Southern sheriffs, sexists, Indian fighters, or fundamentalist Christians. Harrison Ford's character in Raiders of the Lost Ark is an example of a hero from that genre.
2) The white hero must have a black best friend who accompanies him and shares in the heroic deed-doing. Chuck Norris' Texas Ranger T.V. series and the older Magnum P.I. series are examples.
3) The white hero must have a female partner who is not feminine and who equals if not surpasses the male hero in every aspect of heroism. Fill in whatever movie you want in this category for they are legion.

The movies with white male heroes are few enough. And when the few ones that do have white male heroes depict them as defenders of liberaldom, the result is not good for the individual viewer or for society as a whole. Contrary to what the "We-are-turning-the-corner" conservatives say, you cannot have a public theater that glorifies only liberal heroes and expect conservative Christian principles to prevail.

I hold to the view that Christendom officially ended after the reign of Charles of Austria of the House of Hapsburg; Christendom had been declining for some time, but it officially ended then. However, remnants of a Christian worldview still survived in Europe and in this country until the 1960s.

Our own popular theater offers proof of the survival of some Christian instincts after the demise of Christendom and before 1965. Looking specifically at the Christian hero, one can see that Hollywood was not so dominated by liberal themes back then as it is now. Consider some of the movies that were once mainstream, popular movies: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Shane (1953), High Noon (1952), Ivanhoe (1952), The Quiet Man (1952), Stagecoach (1939), The Garden of Evil (1954), Gunga Din (1939), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Beau Geste (1939), The Fighting O'Flynn (1949), and the list goes on and on. What is distinctive in all of the movies listed, and hundreds of others from 1930 through 1965, is that the hero either implicitly or explicitly supports a Christian world view. True, Shane doesn't sermonize, but it is clear when he is advising Bob to grow up clean and straight, he is not advising him to grow up and become a Tibetan monk or a psychologist.

And in some of the movies, the hero makes it explicit. I must call your attention to a remarkable movie that features the actor who most often played a Christian knight – Gary Cooper. The movie I refer to is The Garden of Evil. Gary Cooper plays a former sheriff who finds himself in a bar in a no-where town in Central America. Enter a damsel in distress. Her husband is trapped in a mine shaft somewhere, surrounded by hostile Indians. She will pay a lot of money (it's a gold mine) to any man willing to help her rescue her husband. An assortment of no-goods and half-goods accompany her. We gradually find out that one, Gary Cooper, has not gone along for the money. We find out his real reasons for going, when late in the picture the wife, now a widow, looks for some reason why her husband was placed on a cross to be tortured to death by the Indians. I'm skipping much of the plot, but suffice it to say that Gary Cooper, without growing a halo and without excessive sentimentality, tells her, "A cross isn't always an ugly thing; it can be a beautiful thing. We all have one."

A simple 1950s pot-boiler? I don't think so. In the movie, Gary Cooper's character rose to heroic heights to which no modern movie hero could every come close. The heroes that inspire us, the stories we tell, are the real test of how our society stands. And our society doesn't stand; it wallows. Until we have heroes that once again see beauty on a cross, we will continue to wallow.

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