Monday, January 08, 2007

Gandalf on the Death Penalty

Frodo to Gandalf, in the context of Gollum:
"Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."
And Gandalf the Wise's response:
"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."
In other words, be very very careful about confusing human justice and divine justice. Now, replace "Gollum" with "Saddam" and re-read...


Franklin Jennings said...

Sorry for asking off-topic questions, but I can't find an email addy for you, MM, and the comment thread I wanted to ask this on is closed:

Because the Church teaches that a man should be paid a just wage, it is unthinkable for a Catholic to fail to support government mandated wages. But it is understandable if a catholic doesn't think government should be used to impose the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life as regards abortion.

So good Catholics must make every effort to involve government in lessening the sin of unjust wages, but not necessarily in lessening the sin of murder?

I just can't wrap my head around the dichotomy and was hoping you could show me where the confusion arises.

(For the record, although it shouldn't matter to fair open-minded people, I've voted for exactly one republican in my life, and only because the other party nominated an adamantly pro-abortion catholic. If reps do it this time (Giulliani), I'll have voted for exactly one democrat, most likely Hillary. I bet I'll feel just as dirty this time as last.)

kalle anka said...

This is one of the more interesting spins in LOR, dear MM, even evil can eventually be part of the good cause, if unwillingly. When Gollum helps destroy the ring, he does so for his own very selfish reasons. But nonetheless, good comes out of it.

Unfortunately, Tolkien is not so kind to all of his evil creatures. Orks are just plain bad and are slaughtered ("Let's go, hunt some orks!" in the film version) as they come along, and Sauron seems to deserve no less punishment than death to save middle earth.

What always irritated me a bit about this twist, as beautiful as it is from a narrating point, is the determinism that shines through. Gollum comes from a good line, is corrupted by the ring, but ultimately returns to the good. And it's not for his own doing (or willing) either, it's because that's how the great narrator has it. Predetermined, no free will.

Our world is a bit more complex than a book (yes, more complex than LOR despite Tolkien's best attempts...). So the really interesting part may just be the veil of ignorance that we all face when looking into the future. We don't know what will happen, hence we should be very careful when taking actions that are irreversible. Easier said then done, but a dictum that at least calls for thinking through possible consequences of our actions. And maybe this is where the execution fails most bluntly (beyond the simple fact that taking a human's life is bad), it's not a robust strategy. Chances are that a martyr has been created in whose name much more evil will be committed.