Response to “Why We Need Flawed Characters”

I read this article posted by Relevant Magazine early today entitled “Why We Need Flawed Characters”… and it triggered some thoughts of my own. This post is not meant to demean the writer of this article, and it is not meant as an argument against anyone who agrees with this article. These are just my personal thoughts on the subject, which I realized deserved a blog post as I tried unsuccessfully to limit my words for an acceptably long Facebook response.

To start, I will state that I do think there are some excellent points in this article. It’s important to have characters we can relate to. Often, characters who come across as overly perfect and self righteous are unbearably annoying to me – especially when they are poorly written and seem to have no flaws.  However, I overall disagree with the primary arguments of this article – because while I do believe that relatable characters are important, I also believe that heroes should be virtuous.

When I read and watch fiction, the characters that truly inspire me are the ones who are good, noble, selfless, and just. Of course these characters still make mistakes, but their virtuous natures inspire me and make me want to be like them. Honestly, I care a lot more about Captain America and Superman than I do about Deadpool, Wolverine, Star Lord, Arrow, or Batman. Superman’s optimism and selflessness inspire me, because I value those traits and strive after those traits in my own life. While the others may have noble intentions, and while it’s true that I can relate to them at times, I never want to be like them. Yes, they are interesting characters – but they are not true heroes to me.

From what I have seen of Marvel’s Daredevil, I do very much like the protagonist, and I do view him as a hero. But it’s not his flaws that make him admirable or inspiring to me. I love his pursuit of justice, his selflessness, his love for people – and I love him for his resilience. Yes, he stumbles and he makes mistakes, but every time he gets back up again and strives to do better. If Daredevil did what this article suggests we do – simply embrace our messed up natures – I would not admire him in the same way.

“The heroes adored by modern society are not beacons of moral self-righteousness who stand on unattainable peaks of principles and practices.”

I think the article is on point here. But I think that this says more about modern society than it says about the types of characters we should see as heroes. I do not believe that the values and principles of characters like Superman should be seen as unattainable. I believe that we should be striving to emulate an even higher standard of righteousness – that of Jesus. It’s true that we will never achieve that perfection on our own – and yet, He does instruct us to be like Him.
“Superman was a beacon of light. He represented a world in which right and wrong were simple, straightforward concepts. There were no gray areas.”

As Christians, isn’t this exactly what we believe? That right and wrong are simple, straightforward concepts and that there are no gray areas? God has told us in his Word what is right and what is wrong. It’s clearcut. This does not mean it is easy to choose right over wrong, but it does mean that “gray areas” have nothing to do with our failure to follow Him. When we sin, it is because we have made the choice to do so. When we choose to reject Christ, it is because we have decided that it is, as C. S. Lewis puts it, “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (The Great Divorce). We know the difference between right and wrong, and we know the consequences of rejecting Christ.

“We continue to focus on keeping the rules, despite the fact that Jesus stood against ritualistic rule-keeping. We see the same trends throughout the history. Priests set themselves apart through rituals and practices too complex and time-consuming to be kept by anyone else. We make up similar rules today.”

I understand what the author is trying to say here, and I agree to an extent. Jesus focused on relationship, not on rules. And yet, He has given us rules and commandments, which He expects us to follow. He has every right and authority to give us those rules – and we have every reason to obey the One who is wholly good and sacrificed everything for us. Jesus emphasized the importance of relationships over rules, but he also says that we are supposed to be in the world and not of the world. We are meant to be holy (set apart) as He is holy – and while I do agree with the author that this primarily means loving people (the first commandment), it does also mean following God’s other commandments. Which means that we do have to acknowledge that “worldly behavior” is not okay – even if this alienates us from the world and makes us unpopular. Jesus had no trouble proclaiming good as good and evil as evil – no matter how unpopular that made Him – and neither should we.

“We don’t want leaders to order us around. We want leaders we can relate to.”

Again, this is true to an extant. A good leader does not merely give orders and expect people to follow him. A good leader serves, sacrifices for, and loves those he leads. But a good leader also has the responsibility to be an example to his followers – and this does mean living according to higher standards. I don’t look to flawed leaders who are like me to be my guides. I look to leaders I admire, respect, and want to be like – even if I am not yet.

The ending of the article is my favorite part:

“We don’t have to put on the mask anymore. We don’t have to pretend to be perfect, like we don’t have problems, like things don’t hurt us, like we always know the right answer. We aren’t Superman. We aren’t bulletproof or sin-proof.”

This is all true. We are not Superman. We are not perfect, but Jesus is – and when I choose my heroes, I do so by recognizing Jesus in them. I am sinful, I am flawed, and I have problems – but I desperately want to be more like Christ. And so it is His ideals – goodness, truth, and righteousness – that make me see someone as a leader and a hero.

We should constantly be striving to be pure, noble, honest, selfless, and good. We cannot be any of those things on our own – but we can through Jesus Christ. Jesus is all of those things, and perfectly so. He is my ultimate role-model, my ultimate leader, and my ultimate hero. And while other people and fictional characters I look up to are of course nowhere near Him in terms of perfection, it is ultimately because I see His goodness, love, and purity in them that I admire them and want to be like them in the first place.

We are all flawed. But it’s not a hero’s flaws that make me admire and respect him and want to be like him – rather, it’s the reflection of Christ’s goodness in him. As Christians, we have Christ living within us – and it is only because of this that we can be servant leaders and ordinary heroes in Him. Perhaps our modern society only embraces heroes who are flawed, broken, troubled, and tortured – but in all honesty, I still see purity, truth, selflessness, and righteousness as the qualities of a true hero. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned.


One thought on “Response to “Why We Need Flawed Characters”

  1. Hi, Addison! I found your blog through the OYAN blog. 🙂
    I just wanted to let you know how much I agree with this post. One of the things I am deeply frustrated by in modern fiction, including CHRISTIAN fiction, is heroes who really shouldn’t be emulated. Sure, I think Christian fiction has struggled in the past with goody-two-shoes heroes who are completely unrelatable. But there’s something very important about heroes who stand up for the right things. Our heroes should make us want to be better; they should inspire us to strive for excellence.
    I’m so glad you referenced Philippians 4:8, too. I often think that we’ve lost sight of that verse in what we watch, read, and write. People aren’t perfect, it’s true. Our heroes can’t be perfect, either. But they should also be a reflection of something better than ourselves. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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