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"Many That Live Deserve Death" - But The Fellowship Suggests Taking Courage Instead of Tak

The legendary story of The Lord of the Rings begins with The Fellowship of the Ring, in which all of Hobbiton is preparing to celebrate the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins' 111st birthday. But after Bilbo disappears using the ring he acquired from Gollum in the novel The Hobbit and leaves it to Frodo, it becomes clear that there is something much more evil at work. After a few years, the wizard Gandalf returns to Bag End to examine the ring. He tells Frodo the story of its making and path through history, explaining that it was created by the Dark Lord Sauron, and provides a source of almost unlimited power to any who chooses to wield it; and finally, he also explains how it can be destroyed once and for all.

One of the greatest arguments against of the death penalty can be found in Gandalf's story of Gollum, and discussion with Frodo at Bag End. Upon hearing the story of Gollum's past and the death he caused to many (including his own family), Frodo states that he has no pity for Gollum and cannot understand why his uncle Bilbo spared him during the events of The Hobbit. Gandalf responds with one of the greatest summaries of the consistent life ethic to be found in The Fellowship of the Ring, if not any literature in human history: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.”

Of course, it turns out in the end that Gollum does not turn from his evil ways. But this does not mean that he should have been killed by Bilbo when they first met, or by Frodo or Sam, because if he hadn't been spared, then Frodo and Sam may have not been able to get into Mordor to destroy the One Ring. We never know if one who has committed great crimes will one day turn from them but in the meantime we should always give them the benefit of the doubt and respect their right to live as a human being. This also can be applied to post-abortive women because despite committing a heinous act many have come to realize the horror of abortion, and now dedicate all of their strength and efforts to ending the legalized injustice they once accepted.

Confronted with the potential task of taking the One Ring to the Cracks of Doom to destroy it once and for all, Frodo feels a passion to see the One Ring destroyed, but a reluctance to make the journey, and wishes the Ring had never come to him. To this, Gandalf answers: “You may be sure it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” Often when we are confronted with injustice in our world, we feel a powerlessness to do anything even though we have a strong passion to help. But as Gandalf says, what we have to offer is enough. Even a tiny hobbit with no combat experience can stand up against the ultimate evil and win. We may feel like we are not powerful enough to stop the injustices of abortion, unjust war, and all other legalized violence. But we will stand against it with “such strength and heart and wit” as we have. And we will not back down even in the face of great evil with all the power and influence in the world. Just as Frodo sets off with Sam, Merry, and Pippin on the first steps of his journey, so we begin with others; we are not alone either. We all have the power to take a stand together.

The second half of The Fellowship of the Ring begins with Frodo waking in Rivendell, and transitions from the quest of the hobbits simply getting the One Ring away from the Shire to their decision to take a stand against the evil of Sauron and participate in having the One Ring destroyed. The decisions of the hobbits (and other characters) frequently demonstrate courage, perseverance, and selflessness when they have to choose between doing what is right and what is easy. Thus, like us, the ordinary hobbits are called to move from a simple understanding of "right" to an active choice to defend it, from the more passive quest of fleeing with the Ring to decisive task of putting their will and lives into destroying it, whatever the personal cost.

When Glóin the Dwarf explains that messengers of Sauron have been threatening the dwarves and demanding information concerning Bilbo (and thereby, the One Ring, as Sauron believes Bilbo still possesses it), he shows the courage of the dwarves as they have refused to sell out Bilbo. “There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it. But you do not stand alone.” The dwarves are well aware that Sauron is an evil, unjust destroyer of life, and they have stood firm in refusing to betray their friend. Often when people take a stand against injustice it can seem very hopeless. But that does not mean we should give up on standing for what’s right. Forty-two years ago, Roe v. Wade was passed, striking down all restrictions on the willful taking of human life through the act of abortion. But today, because so many pro-lifers have made a stand and used their voices, most babies in the United States are protected from abortion at least in the third trimester of pregnancy. Many are also protected in the second trimester. Though there is still a long way to go, we also have come a long way. Similar to the Hobbits who travelled a long way just to get to Rivendell, we have travelled far, bringing us closer and closer to protecting the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings. It may have seemed hopeless before, but the courage of those who refused to give up on fighting injustice has brought about change.

Perhaps one of the most significant demonstrations of courage in the entirety of The Lord of the Rings is when Frodo volunteers himself to destroy the One Ring. The members of the Council are silent, knowing that someone has to fulfill the task at hand—until Frodo speaks up: “I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.”

By all accounts, Frodo is far from the best-suited for the task: he is small, not strong, nor well-travelled—he does not know the lands between Rivendell and Mordor. But he sees a need and rises to the task. I think most people have a point in their lives when they are aware there is some injustice going on, but feel they are helpless. It’s easy to think we need a great leader like Martin Luther King Jr. or Sophie Scholl or William Wilberforce to end injustice. But every great leader was a normal human being who, like Frodo, saw something that needed to be fought, and took a stand—they did not always know how they could end injustice, but like Frodo, they were willing to do whatever it took. The buildup of the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring demonstrates just how lighthearted the hobbits were, just how easy their lives were, only to turn them out into the world – they leave all of that behind willingly, knowing the danger and not knowing it, and step out of themselves. Everyone who stands against injustice starts somewhere, and he or she starts with a choice, not knowing the outcome.

One important sub-theme within the Fellowship is the unity of the races. They all have different cultures and lifestyles, yet they are able to come together for a common cause. The friendship of Gimli and Legolas is particularly significant as the elves and dwarves have been enemies for around six thousand years at this point. In Lothlórien, the elves again extend friendship towards Gimli, despite the millennia of odds between their races. “May it be a sign that though the world is now dark better days are at hand, and that friendship shall be renewed between our people,” Celeborn—the Lord of Lothlórien and husband of Galadriel— tells Gimli. The unity of the Fellowship demonstrates that when there is an injustice that needs to be fought, we need to be united with, and not divided from, those who are different. Whether it’s different political views, religions, skin colors, habits, personal choices, or a whole other range of things, justice can’t wait. We can’t stand aside while the lives and liberties of others are threatened just because someone looks or thinks differently than us. Unity is vital to the cause of justice.

If there is one thing to take away from the protagonists in the Fellowship, it is their enduring courage. They are continually given a choice between what they know is right, and what looks easy, and they choose to do what is right. Taking a stand to defend the right to life is often difficult and intimidating at times, but if we don’t take a stand, who will? It doesn’t take someone with great strength or great public speaking skills to change the world. Justice needs everyone; people of every color, faith, sexual orientation, and political view to say “No more.” Not moving forward for the Fellowship did not mean staying put. It meant going backward. Sauron was coming for the Ring. In the same way, life cannot wait. If we are not standing up actively, we are allowing the Culture of Death to advance. We must say, “No more.” “I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.”


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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