Be on your guard against idols. I John 5:21
It seems that people in our culture feel a burning need and a relentless drive to elevate some pretty pathetic human persons to godlike status — people maybe with a certain talent, an attractive appearance or an engaging mannerism, but who are morally and personally bankrupt as human persons. Often, they are “stars” in music, sports and film.
This is referred to as “hero worship.” It sometimes reaches “insane” proportions through stalking, obsessive fixation and hypnotic preoccupation.
I, for one, believe the revival of clericalism among a few young clergy, who grew up on a steady diet of hero worship, is just one more way to cash in on being looked up to by large numbers of people without having to earn it. I am not surprised to see why some narcissists would be attracted to ordained ministry.
The problem is, they are about 50 years too late. If we have learned anything in the last 25 years it is this: Dressing up like a hero, doesn’t make you a hero, especially in religion.
I hate pedestals. Pedestals are for statues and plants. The few times people have tried to put me on one, I have run as hard as I could in the opposite direction. I know what happens to people on pedestals — they either crash and burn or they are eventually dragged from them because no one can measure up to the unrealistic demands that go with them.
Living on a pedestal may be seductive and intoxicating at first, but eventually you become a slave to maintaining a persona that was invented to put you there in the first place. They worship you, and all they ask in return is that you be perfect at all times, living up to the impossible standard they have set for you. And when it is no longer good enough, you are cast aside.
That’s why I love it when Pope Francis repeats, “I am a sinner!”
What is hero worship about, anyway? Hero worship is really not about the “hero” being worshipped. The people who place others on pedestals are really parasites. Many people have an inherent desire to want others to be heroes for them, rather than to want to do the hard work it would take for them to be one themselves. It is simply easier to look up to heroes than be one. For whatever reason, they feel incapable of doing the hard work of self-actualization themselves, so they take the shortcut of admiring another.
Underneath all this, I suspect, is our attempt to get through life without any kind of pain. To be a hero and to walk the path of a hero, one has to be willing to embrace necessary pain, to attack demons within and without and to do one’s homework in becoming a fully alive, fully functioning human person. It is easier to believe that someone else can do that for us!
Father J. Ronald Knott