Heroic Losers: On Why Winning Is Not Always Winning

Heroic Losers: On Why Winning Is Not Always Winning November 10, 2018

We need more heroic losers.

While getting more heroic losers, we might aspire to shed short-term winners and miserable losers. This begins when we realize that winning is not always virtuous for humans because in a broken cosmos, winning always come with a cost. God who knows the future can judge when the game is worth the price, but we can only guess and our guesses are often wrong. Failure is not always bad for us, because failure in the short term can set us up for victory in the long term. Jesus came, He saw, He was crucified, but only so He could complete the ultimate reconciliation of God and men.

Christians must believe in heroic losers.

King Saul was a short term winner thinking first of his polls and only second of what was good. Nobody aspires to be Saul. Even in sports, winning a game is not always worth the price: ask the Green Bay Packers if they would rather lose one game or keep Aaron Rogers healthy.

Thinking about winning is different if you live in a heroic or in a transactional culture. The heroic culture puts the highest priority on nobility. How you play the game is more important than the outcome: better to lose the match like a gentleman than to win by being a boor. In a transactional culture, the outcome is more important than the means: just win, baby.

Both the heroic and the transactional culture should use virtues to avoid evil. The heroic culture recognizes the ethical danger in becoming all style no substance. The transactional culture is on guard against doing evil so good may come. The means are limited to those that are not inherently bad.

Christians value both heroic and transactional relationships. The separation points to brokenness that will be gone in Paradise: the Good God does all He does with winning style. His transactions are all successfully Heroic.

Sadly, Christians are not yet in Paradise, so we must balance the two and, not surprisingly, we have not always done well at this task. The Christian on Titanic who died like a gentleman should also have taken more care about putting enough lifeboats on ships. The Christian administrator who carefully keeps the College on a sound footing might notice that the Glory has departed.

The Song of Roland is a heroic Christian epic, the antidote to the babbitry of the prosperity gospel.

To praise Roland for heroism, heroic losing, is not to condone his society or everything he did. There is no balance in the Song: Christian are called to die for long term victory, even at the cost of short-term defeat.

Roland is out of balance, his courage needs a dose of his friend Oliver’s prudence. Yet today’s critics, especially secular Joel Osteens for whom living your best secular life is everything, miss the truth in the Song. We are all going to die and eeking out our lives at the cost of glorious, magnanimous death is stupid. Better to die like Roland in your prime with your friends while setting up your nation and Faith for victory, than to squeeze out another few years through cowardice disguised as prudence.

Roland is criticized for “losing” his army, but his men willingly die with him, because of the splendor of what they are doing. Defeat Roland? You cannot, because you create a legend if you kill him. Roland gave his life splendidly and his men gloried in the choice. They obeyed, not because they had to do so, but because if a man must die, then at least he can die in service to a cause and an ultimate victory greater than himself.

Texas was born of a Song like that of Roland at the Alamo. There brave men, some already heroes, became legend. The tyrant lost the moment he made every Texican remember the Alamo. This was the choice of Roland’s foes, the choice of the regicides who murdered King Charles and so made him a martyr.

Roland was not killed by his enemies, but by blowing a trumpet. He blew the great horn Oliphant and so brought on the return of the King and the triumph of virtue. The horn call of Roland has never ceased and exists wherever brave Christians raise the banner, a spiritual Oriflamme, and joyously shout at the Vision of God: Montjoie San Denis! 

Lose like a hero, so good may come.

Roland, like King Arthur, was willing to fail with his principles intact, his honor unsullied, his shield undimmed, not for some self-centered desire to be “legendary,” but because standing for the right always leads to victory. Browning was prophetic when he had innocence walk through decadence and know “God is in His Heaven. All is right with the world.”

Roland was confident of victory for the same reason the great hymn knew that short term defeat in a noble cause is hopeful:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and marks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to man
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to man

Remember Roland, the Alamo, and all the heroic “losers” that like Jesus gained ultimate victory through heroic defeat.


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