Christianity and Middle-Earth

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Morgul Vale

In defence of Terri Schiavo, I will treat my readers to some excerpts from Henry Friedlander’s The Origins of Nazi Genocide (Chapel Hill, 1995).

By way of laying the groundwork, however, let us start with a few paragraphs from The Two Towers.

Led by the treacherous Gollum, Frodo and Sam are seeking the hidden way into Mordor, the pass of Cirith Ungol:

Frodo’s head was bowed; his burden was dragging him down again. As soon as the great Crossroads had been passed, the weight of it, almost forgotten in Ithilien, had begun to grow once more. Now, feeling the way become steep before his feet, he looked wearily up; and then he saw it, even as Gollum had said that he would: the city of the Ringwraiths. He cowered against the stony bank.

A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley’s arms, high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing. In the walls and tower windows showed, like countless black holes looking inward into emptiness; but the topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, first one way and then another, a huge ghostly head leering into the night. For a moment the three companions stood there, shrinking, staring up with unwilling eyes…

So they came slowly to the white bridge. Here the road, gleaming faintly, passed over the stream in the midst of the valley, and went on, winding deviously up towards the city’s gate: a black mouth opening in the outer circle of the northward walls. Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers. Luminous these were too, beautiful and yet horrible of shape, like the demented forms in an uneasy dream; and they gave forth a faint sickening charnel-smell; an odour of rottenness filled the air. From mead to mead the bridge sprang. Figures stood there at its head, carven with cunning in forms human and bestial, but all corrupt and loathsome. The water flowing beneath was silent, and it steamed, but the vapour that rose from it, curling and twisting about the bridge, was deadly cold.

Now, it is a no-no in better blogging circles to refer to one’s opponents as Nazis, for the simple reason – among others – that facile Hitler comparisons bleed dry the proper expression and understanding of what the Third Reich was actually like. If you bung accusations of Nazi-hood liberally about in careless spitefulness, then what words will you find to describe the deepest, darkest evils, the nightmare Mordor-lands that burn every life that strays into them (whether of perpetrator or victim) to bitter ash?

So I do not call the Euthenasia-pushers Nazis. But I do not speak carelessly when I say that they have set up housekeeping in a perilous Morgul-vale, where even the night-blooming blossoms cast poison upon the air—for the ideology that animates Terri Schiavo’s killers-to-be is rooted in the same soil that nurtured and eventually gave birth to the genocidal philosophies of the Third Reich.

Origins, chapter one, page 1:

The growing importance of the biological sciences in the nineteenth century, following the discoveries of Charles Darwin, led most scientists to advance theories of human inequality as matters of scientific fact.
Pages 6-7:

Viewed from our vantage point, eugenic research during the first half of the twentieth century was seriously flawed…It is not correct, however, to label the scientific research of eugenicists as pseudoscientific…By the scientific standards of the time, eugenic research was on the cutting edge of science. Its practitioners were respected scholars from various scientific disciplines who occupied important positions in major universities and published their results in major scholarly journals. Their research tools were the most advanced available at the time, and the prided themselves on applying them meticulously…In their time, the results obtained by eugenicists were generally accepted by the scientific community, and only the discovery of DNA after World War II provided the tools to prove that their research conclusions had been faulty. Even the eugenic research conducted in Germany—as well as other places—which violated all ethical standards in its use of unprincipled methods, did not violate the canon of science.
In other words, Eugenics - and its cuddly death-mate Euthanasia - is a perfectly logical extension of “survival of the fittest.”

Pages 14-15:

...As early as 1920, two eminent scholars proposed the most radical solution to the problem posed by institutionalized handicapped patients in Germany. In that year, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche published a polemical work entitled Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens [Authorization for the destruction of life unworthy of life.] Karl Binding, a widely published legal scholar who died just before the book appeared, argue that the law should permit the killing of “incurable feebleminded” individuals. Alfred Hoche, a psychiatrist and specialist in neuropathology, analyzed Binding‘s arguments from a “medical perspective.” Both men lived in Freiburg, a city that was also the center of the Nordic wing of the race hygiene movement. Hoche was a professor at Frieburg University, and Binding, who had taught at Leipzig, had retired in Freiburg. Both Binding and Hoche were right-wing nationalists who rejected individual rights and championed the rights of the national community.

Binding argued that suicide, which he labeled a “human right,” should not be unlawful. He also maintained that euthanasia, that is, assisted suicide, should not be penalized, referring to the desire for assisted suicide of many terminal cancer patients who receive from their physicians a “deadly injection of morphine” and die “without pain, perhaps also faster, but possibly only after a somewhat longer time.”

The discussion of suicide and terminal cancer patients was ancillary to Binding’s main concern. His polemic focused on the fate of individuals considered “unworthy of life [lebensunwert],” which could mean both individuals whose lives were no longer worth living because of pain and incapacity and individuals who were considered so inferior that their lives could be labeled unworthy. He used the argument that the terminally ill deserved the right to a relatively painless death to justify the murder of those considered inferior. Binding and all subsequent proponents of his argument consciously confused the discussion by pointing to the suicide rights of terminal cancer patients facing a certain and painful death when in reality they wanted to “destroy” the “unworthy life” of healthy but “degenerate” individuals.

Binding’s definition of unworthy life was not very precise, but he did make it clear that he referred to inferiors who should be killed even if they could live painlessly for many years. He added a new criteria when he asserted that whether a life was worth living was determined not only by its worth to the individual but also by its worth to society. Emphasizing in a footnote that millions had given their lives for their fatherland during the world war, Binding made the following point to underline his argument: “If one thinks of a battlefield covered with thousands of dead youth…and contrasts this with our institutions for the feebleminded [Idioteninstitute] with their solicitude for their living patients—then one would be deeply shocked by the glaring disjunction between the sacrifice of the most valuable possession of humanity on the one side and on the other the greatest care of beings who are not only worthless but even manifest negative value.” Binding’s comparison of the death of worthy individuals in the service of their nation and the survival of pampered inferiors was a staple of eugenic argumentation and, as we have seen, mirrored the argument in favor of sterilization advanced by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Describing the individuals whose lives were unworthy of life as suffering from “incurable feeblemindedness,” Binding argued that their lives were “without purpose” and imposed a “terribly difficult burden” on both relatives and society. Although they had no value, the care of such individuals, Binding argued, occupied an entire profession of healthy individuals, which was a total misappropriation of valuable le human resources. Alfred Hoche fully supported his coauthor’s argument. Hoche offered a variety of definitions of unworthy life, such as, for example, incurable mental retardation or incurable feeblemindedness, but he did not hesitate to use the popular term “Ballastexistenzen,” that is, beings who are nothing but ballast that can be jettisoned. He also advanced a utilitarian argument, bemoaning the loss of “national resources” for “nonproductive purposes,” concluding that “it is a distressing idea that entire generations of nurses shall vegetate next to such empty human shells [leeren Menschenhülsen], many of who will live to be seventy years or even older.”

For those who carry a Ring of lifelong disability, the years can exact a wearisome toll of sorrow and pain, a toll that drains our days of much of their former joy. It’s not an easy thing to be a burden, even when those who shoulder it do so in love and faithfulness.

But if the more incapacitated – the Terri Schiavos in hospitals and hospices - are required to submit to being starved of food and water unto death, then what of the rest of us? Are we too hindrances, parasites, millstones around the neck of society—leeches sucking our families and communities dry? Do we have a duty to die so that resources can go to serve lives considered of more value? Do we have a duty to demand death so that our husbands and wives and children can get on with the good times without cripples to slow them down?

We humans must each one bear our given Ring to the Fire. For some of us, that Ring is physical weakness that leaves us unable to work and play as once we did when we were young and full of life and energy and strength. Like Frodo, we find that our burden weighs hard upon us, and we know that it weighs hard upon our loved ones also.

For they, too, must bear a heavy Ring.


When you and I in our long journeys between birth and death come at last to our steep, cold Morgul-stair, seeking the way to bear our Rings through to the ordained end, will we find that the pass is guarded by the Enemy’s hidden servants, by as yet unseen demons and monsters - or will we look anxiously upon that death-lit dwelling-place of Night and find that the windows are not barren black holes looking inward upon emptiness, but rather that we see peering from them the faces of lovers and friends?


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