The world, we become aware of the world as we start to understand our individuality. The world is cruel and heartless. It is an apathetic and monstrous conglomeration of evil. And as we learn about ourselves and struggle to express ourselves, we treat the world in various ways.
Villain. A villain would plot the defeat of the world. Usually by destruction or subjugation, but enthrallment has been a popular choice as well. Defeat is what a villain seeks to impose, and often receives instead (at least in stories). Villains are inherently selfish, self-centered, to that end they have no or little qualms to bend rules or outright break them. The rebellious teenager is a villain.
Coward. A coward sees the world and runs from it. After the first fight we have with the world, and we lose, there is the thought that since we can never win it is better to run. This is also selfish, for a coward (like a villain) is after self-preservation. The end of a villain may be death, but a coward can never find a safe-haven, can never find an end. Cowards always run from problems because they never want to get hurt, and they never want to hurt others. Dreamers are cowards.
Traitor. A traitor sees the world as his master. They are traitorous because they sacrifice themselves and others in this act, but it is a selfish sacrifice. They seek a place to be, but they are too tired to fight for it or search for it. They may try to influence the world to their own ends, but in the act of service to the world they become corrupted by it. In the act of placing their hand in the flame, they become burned. As such all efforts, no matter how noble the goal, are tainted by the evil of the world. Corrupt politicians are traitors.
Christ. Christ offered another way. Turn the other cheek. Like the villain, a christian stands against the world, unlike the villain, a christian does not seek to destroy it, but to save it. Like the coward, a christian recognizes he cannot win against the world, unlike a coward, the christian does not run away for he knows God is with him. Like the traitor, a christian is called to serve and to self-sacrifice, but unlike the traitor, the master being served is pure and free of corruption who never asks us to sacrifice our purity or to sacrifice others. Only Christ can make a stand against the world heroic. Only Christ can make the coward’s fear into courageous witness. Only Christ can turn the traitor’s service into something good and pure. Christ showed us all three on the cross. He stood against the world, let the world torture and kill Him, and sacrificed himself in order to save all humankind.
Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who found Christ through cowardice and is working on that Courage thing.