— John Ronald Reuel Tolkien– The Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers (1955)
WHICH IS WORSE? Rebellion, or Blind Obedience? Or, is there another way?
In Tolkien’s story, times are dark and dire– Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark– one of the great Captains of Rohan and nephew to the King– has seemingly gone rogue, to fight the enemies of Rohan as he sees fit. That’s the merest start of the woes.
To the North-West, the dark pinnacle of Isengard stands, surrounded by armies of huge mutant orcs, evil men, giant wolves, and the darkened powers of the fallen wizard Saruman. Rohan’s neioghbour is preparing for war on that kingdom.
To the East and South, mighty land of Mordor broods under Sauron’s cruel domination, his countless forces massing for an assault on Gondor– last bastion of the West and of all free peoples– then to fill all the lands with a second darkness. Doom will soon fall.
Worst of all, the king himself, Théoden King son of Thengel, a seeming lesser son of greater rulers, sits bowed and cowed, listening to the poisoned words of Isengard and Mordor via his usurping advisor, Grima Wormtongue. All faithful folk of the Rohirrim wait, and suffer, and hope for they know not what.
What then shall we say of Captain Éomer? Faithless traitor? #NotMyKing perhaps? Seeking his uncle’s crown? Enemy of Rohan and the King and the official direction of officialdom? So says Master Wormtongue into the King’s ear.
So the U.S. is currently embroiled in what amounts to an attempted coup d’etat– the Left-wing establishment & media are seeking to effectively un-elect the new president, because he’s not one of them. He’s a bad, bad, evil man, a traitor, an icky, and anything is more “truly” loyal than observing the rule of law, or respecting results of a democratic vote by the American public. Heaven knows, those who oppose you must be enemies of all things decent and right or are you an enemy, too?
The current U.S. crisis– as driven by radicals– gives a bad name to bullshit & nonsense. Yet all this is very serious, and not to be dismissed as some kind of insane joke.
We moderns love the advice of Jim Morrison & The Doors to “break on through to the other side“, and spent centuries now– since the European Protestant Deformation and the French Devolution– imagining ourselves as virtuous and innocent rebels against The Evil Them. All are shaped and entangled in this revolution, whether we are herd-minded, or cheering the revolt directly.
What is less common is a noble political, religious, and principled position of Loyal Opposition, if the times demand it: to have a sense of abiding right and wrong, of the good and true, beyond the momentary tug of war of the present, the misrule of rulers, and to abide faithful even in difficult circumstances. How to be good when the times are evil? How do we stay faithful if the government is bad, or the king is mad, or traitorous to his people?
The weakness of Rohan has had a cost. Éomer is caught between two obediences: his loyalty and his duty. For war marches on Rohan, but no orders come from the indecisive throne; orcs raid and plunder and kill the helpless farm-folk in Rohan, yet “Indeed in this riding north I went without the king’s leave”.*
How shall duty and loyalty and truth and love and hope serve in the seeming chaos? How shall we judge and be sure of anything? Tolkien writes—
‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’
As in pre-Norman England, the battle is not between blind obedience to authority, or a chaotic popular revolution. The English sought one obedience, but defined in two ways– (a) Liberty Under Law, and (b) Freedom Under Faith. Without both parts of each, neither will be enough.
Lawless liberty cannot make a lasting society; Law without freedom is slavery. Likewise, faithless freedom tends towards chaos, for God is the greatest lawgiver, and saviour of mens souls and bodies; faith without freedom is cultish and demeans the faithful, and is not Christ’s way.
See Ya, Yahweh!
Each society, each soul, each age will fight the same battle, in different forms and garb. What is new since the Revolting Age is the attempt to live, legislate, and rule under freedom from faith, where man– or at least the ruling class and its guns & thugs and bankers– seeks to take the place of God, and dominate all things, and call it good, and true, and right in itself.*
That modern hubris and madness has also infected the Church, via the poisons of various kinds of utopianism. Man is now innately good, needing only guidance, freedom, and liberation to attain perfection. Jesus is a helper and example, and God is our ever-variable and surprising cheerleader. The Holy Spirit is constantly giving us novelties in thought, truth, worship, and everything else, leading and blessing the revolution.
Shall we submit to evil by blindly obeying power gone wrong, or become crazy rebels– or, the third way: suffering and even Martyrdom? Accused on all sides, and rejected by the spirit of the age, and the herd, and the power-mongers, and even the worldly rebels, too? St. Thomas More is an example to us all in this age of conflicting loyalties & duties.
Dissent is not automatically disloyalty, or destruction. Not all watchdogs are rabid. ~
~ Teh Binks
* As the story unfolds, faithful Éomer son of Éomund becomes a war hero for Rohan, and when Théoden King (having come to his senses) is slain in the Battle of Minas Tirith– having bravely led his armies to the rescue of Gondor against Sauron– loyal Éomer becomes king of Rohan. ~