Tuesday 25 April 2017

Heroes and Heaven

I am currently re-reading Colin Wilson's 1959 book The Age of Defeat (aka The Stature of Man) in which he analyses the decline of the hero from his origin in the Romantic movement.

The context established by Wilson's previous books - The Outsider, and Religion and the Rebel) is that all lives are ultimately unsuccessful - so the problem of depicting a convincing hero is almost an impossibility... or superficially so.

Wilson is correct that all lives are necessarily unsuccessful in the profound sense that they are terminated by death (and even if death was somehow indefinitely postponed, the unsatisfactoriness of each human and of the world means that the problem remains).

But a life may potentially be regarded as successful when regarded in the context of immortality, eternity and divinity.

In a nutshell, a true hero requires the context of Heaven. And the modern problem of depicting a convincing and appealing hero is a consequence of the modern inability to conceptualise a convincing and appealing Heaven.

Because it is very hard to be both convincing and appealing together in a depiction. Few have achieved it - and probably nobody has achieved it universally; but those who have achieved it even in a form which only works for some people have rendered great service, and deserve gratitude.

An example is the poet William Blake - who is at his best able to make some of us believe in a Heaven which we would wish to inhabit. This is probably the ultimate secret of Blake's appeal and influence.

Another is the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith - who depicted a Heaven which is so real and satisfying that it has shaped the lives of millions, created a deep optimism and taken the sting from death with an effectiveness that is astonishing in a modern Western context.

(This is convincingly documented by Professor Douglas J Davies - a sociologist of religion and not a Mormon - in his The Mormon Culture of Salvation, 2000.)

Another example is CS Lewis in the final Narnian book The Last Battle; when he combines elements of abstract-spiritual Platonism with more concrete and 'physical' elements - such as retained sex and personality, landscape, family and friends - to produce a Heaven which is both attractive and believable.

Another example is William Arkle - especially in his Letter from a Father (1977) -


My point is that the hero must succeed in an ultimate sense; and ultimate success requires immortality, eternity and divinity; which requires that we must believe in Heaven. The modern phenomenon of no-more-heroes and the Outsider perception that all lives are failures are correct but only when mortal life is assumed to be everything - or when what follows mortal life is unconvincing or unappealing.

One who really believes in Heaven and wants Heaven and expects to get there can be a hero, can recognise heroism in others, and could potentially (if he had the creative talent) also depict Heroes in a Heavenly context.

No comments: