The other night, I came home from speaking in the middle of Times Square for the Luis Palau evangelistic outreach. The experience was exhilarating and gave me great hope for New York City. But when I got home, I went from exhilaration to depression.
Before hitting the hay, I decided to curl up with the Yale alumni magazine to see what was going on at my alma mater. What’s going on grieved me in ways I find difficult to explain. The magazine was reporting, rather blithely I might add, that the Yale class of 1975 had created a bobble-head doll of Nathan Hale, a soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Now in case you don’t know the story, Hale was captured by the British while on an intelligence mission to report on British troop movements in New York. Hale’s statue—with feet tied together and arms bound behind his back in the moment of his execution—stands outside Connecticut Hall at Yale, where he graduated in 1773. In the moment that this noble young patriot faced death, he uttered one of the noblest things any American has ever said: “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.”
It is a sacred moment in our nation’s history, that a 21-year-old would die for his country and make such a selfless statement. Even the British were moved by Hale’s noble bearing, before and during his moment of death.
I find it nearly incomprehensible, even horrifying, that the Yale Alumni Magazine would so blithely report on this insensitive and tasteless desecration of Hale’s memory—a young man who was a martyr to the cause of freedom.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against bobble-heads at the ballpark or in a kid’s bedroom. But when you attempt to turn a noble or revered figure into a bobble-head doll, at best it’s inappropriate—at worst, sacrilegious. You just don’t do that!
I wonder if the Yale alumni magazine would advertise a Trayvon Martin bobble-head doll. I hope not. Or perhaps a Matthew Shepard bobble-head doll, or how about a Martin Luther King, Jr., bobble-head doll? Imagine Daniel Pearl as a bobble-head doll—God forbid—or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Imagine Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a bobble-head doll. You can’t. And you shouldn’t.
I’ve publicly urged the Class of 1975 and the Yale administration to reconsider this action, please, and take steps to place Nathan Hale’s life and death in a light more befitting his heroic sacrifice.
My sadness at this desecration goes far beyond patriotism. It’s really about the death of heroism. This incident reveals a deep sickness in elite American culture—a sickness that’s trickling down to the rest of society. Ours is a decidedly unheroic age.
Think about it: Who are the heroes in American culture these days? Those who give their lives in the service of a noble cause for the benefit of others? Quick, can you name a single Congressional Medal of Honor winner who served in Afghanistan or Iraq? Or the Christian missionary doctor saving lives in the middle of a civil war in Sudan? No? But I’ll bet you can name the male Olympic athlete who underwent a sex change and received ESPN’s courage award last week.
As my friend Roberto Rivera likes to say, “Here’s the cultural moment we’re living in.” We idolize the outrageous and mock true heroes, turning them into bobble-heads.
Let’s promote heroes again. Please come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary. We’ll have more info on Nathan Hale and on my book, “Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness.” I’ll also share with you John Stonestreet’s wonderful commentary on “unbroken” World War II hero Louis Zamperini.
Heroism, after all, is not dead; but our ability to recognize it is sorely wounded.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: July 24, 2015