He and his men are outnumbered by tens of thousands of heavily armoured uruk’hai who seek to annihilate the race of men. A suicide bomber breaches the walls of their fortress and the men draw back, retreating further and further inside. As the uruk’hai begin to break through the door, the King understands what is coming. The women and children hiding in the caves below the fortress have no chance of escape.
In a daze, he watches his men defend the final door. King Theoden says, “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?”
This is not a rhetorical question for dramatic effect. The good men have a mandate to fight because the line between good and evil is so clear.
Of course, this story is fictional, and drawing close parallels risks dehumanizing the enemy and rendering us the very inhumane actors once criticized. But the United States is watching a remarkably black and white scene of violence in the Middle East.
Groups like ISIS, al Qaeda, and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis have not acted merely out of intolerance or bigotry or misunderstanding, but something far more evil. They gain land, resources, and followers through acts of terror. Not only is this aggression difficult to contain because they do not abide by general rules of human decency, but their hatred itself spreads like an influenza.
In a beautiful example of humanity’s natural ability to discern good from evil, most civilized nations have condemned these groups. No one disputes that their actions are – at the very core – evil. Yet they continue to spread. As Charles Krauthammer says, “We love life, they love death. And that is their advantage over us.”
This could be another case of unsolicited Western involvement in the affairs of the world. But I don’t think so. We cannot hide forever under the illusion that the United States will remain untouched. A fatal day in September awoke us to that reality over a decade ago. The murders of western journalists remind us of that now.
Indeed, what can men do against such reckless hate?
The West is not “holier than thou” within our own borders. Our tolerance of evils in the name of “differences in opinion” or in an appeal to “privacy,” should lead us to resist evil acts with the humility of fellow sinners.
But humility does not preclude righteous action.
In terms of national defense, the Department of Defense and the Department of State have a duty to protect the good people of our country and of the world. Those who can fight evil physically ought to do so. Those who cannot must combat the spread of hatred – with every breath of our short lives – for it rots hearts and minds and reason.
Even putting humanitarian concerns aside in the interest of good foreign policy, allowing the militants to grow only brings them closer to acquiring catastrophic weapons. Unlike a rational state actor, the terrorists will not find non-violent ways to work through grievances. They have no intention of stopping and are not satisfied by small gains in land or power. The militants need time, space, and resources to properly execute large-scale attacks. At the very least, we can keep them from having that.
One need not be a warmonger to recognize evil. As Christians and Americans, we are called to justice. Our country has been richly blessed and we cannot stand silent while good lands fall into terror and persecution. Who are we to think we would be spared?
Righteous anger, guided by a well-formed conscience, can be an impetus for righteous action. Chesterton describes Christ as “an extraordinary being with lips of thunder and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils, passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like an angry god – and always like a god…The diction used about Christ has been, and perhaps wisely, sweet and submissive. But the diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea… Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other.” (Orthodoxy, 138-139).
As Christians and Americans we know these “two opposite passions” well. We are called to love our enemies and to seek justice. The righteous anger we feel in the face of such injustice is no sin. Christians can at once turn over tables with ferocity while kissing the sinner’s feet. The beauty of Christianity is that the lion and the lamb lie together. Yet the lion does not become a lamb and the lamb does not become a lion.
The United States is being given an opportunity – once again – to show that it truly is committed to life and freedom.
Like King Theoden, we must acknowledge truth and fight evil. He does not stand helpless, but answers the question, “What can men do against such reckless hate,” as he rides out to meet his enemies. He goes with hope because he fights to protect all that is good and innocent in the world. This lion, whose heart is full of gentleness, rides in defense of the lambs, who courageously wait in the caves below.
These opposite passions blaze together – and they are righteous.
The beauty of a story like The Lord of the Rings is the clear demarcation between good and evil. In the real world, we cannot stand in judgment of human souls, but we can certainly fight evil actions.
Above all, we must resist despair. The trajectory of these events spells doom if such irrational extremists were to gain access to catastrophic weapons. But every arc of history is seemingly predestined until good men and women change the course of events. Indeed, reality is stranger than fiction.
Let this be the hour of watchfulness and diligence. Let this be the hour when we sacrifice for life and freedom. In every way we know how, we must work in hope, toward peace, and for justice.
Reprinted with permission from The Irish Rover.