Christianity and Middle-Earth

Friday, March 25, 2005


In honor of Good Friday and Easter Sunday I am reposting two essays concerning the Euthanasia-pushers and Terri Schiavo.


The Rustle of Morgul-Rags: January 9,2005

The Dutch should know better. The Dutch do know better.

Via Ecumenical Insanity comes another nasty waft of Night and Abyss as the Witch-king of Angmar gets ready to ride again.

“Doctors can help patients who ask for help to die even though they may not be ill but "suffering through living," concludes a three year inquiry commissioned by the Royal Dutch Medical Association. The report argues that no reason can be given to exclude situations of such suffering from a doctor’s area of competence.

The conclusion has reopened a fierce debate over what constitutes grounds for requesting euthanasia, as it contradicts a landmark Supreme Court decision that a patient must have a "classifiable physical or mental condition." The 2002 ruling upheld a guilty verdict on a GP for helping his 86 year old patient die, even though he was not technically ill but obsessed with his physical decline and hopeless existence (BMJ 2003;326:71).

The Dutch euthanasia law does not specifically state that a patient must have a physical or mental condition, only that a patient must be "suffering hopelessly and unbearably."

Emphasis mine.


[Y]et another weapon, swifter than hunger, the Lord of the Dark Tower had: dread and despair. The Nazgul came again, and as their Dark Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered only his will and his malice, were filled with evil and horror. Ever they circled above the city, like vultures that expect their fill of doomed men’s flesh. Out of sight and shot they flew, and yet were ever present, and their deadly voices rent the air. More unbearable they became, not less, with each new cry. At length, even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands, while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and crawling, and of death.

In the Brave New World of the Royal Dutch Utilitarian Society, social engineering is to be admired over charity, convenience over courage, and expediency over unfailing love. To concede transcendence of the vainglorious dictates of the Efficiency-mongers would be to admit to the existence of a Mind and Power beyond the understanding of men who are their own I Am. It would be to admit that we are not meant to be a hive, a precision clockwork ever clicking out the perfect seconds of a tidy machine-world; that even what may appear as needless suffering has an office of unfathomable value in the shaping of a human soul.


‘Why? Why do the fools fly?’ said Denethor. ‘Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire. And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep in death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed thither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!’

…Denethor started as one waking from a trance, and the flame died in his eyes, and he wept; and he said, ‘Do not take my son from me! He calls for me.’

‘He calls,’ said Gandalf, ‘but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas your part is to go out to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart.’

‘He will not wake again,’ said Denethor. ‘Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?’

‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,’ answered Gandalf. ‘And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair….’

…Then suddenly Denethor laughed. He stood up tall and proud again…His eyes glittered. ‘Pride and despair!’ he cried. ‘Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up the Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed.’

Thy hope is but ignorance. Better to die at our own hands than endure one more hour and then one more hour after that and another after that, because, you see, hope is taken from us, ravished, robbed and left cold as the dead under endless night.

This is the natural state of the chronically, severely depressed; they can see only the uttermost sprawl of the Void. What they cannot see is that for all the vastness of its width and length and height and depth, even the dominion of nothing, of hopelessness and unbearableness, must know its bounds.

I can say this with considerable authority because, you see, I dwelt long in that Void myself; and here on the other side, I know now that there is an end to its reach.

Circumscribing that chill, grey dying-place of despair; beyond the formless labyrinth where there is ‘no taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower’; beyond the legions that besiege the City, beyond the martial rain of horror and fire and delight in death, beyond the Orc-trenches filled with the corpses of the dispensable, beyond the dread sorties of the Winged Nazgul – in short, beyond the reach of every weapon that the Enemy can wield, there are other creatures and other places and other purposes.


Now at last [Frodo and Sam] turned their faces to the Mountain and set out, thinking no more of concealment, bending their weariness and failing wills only to the one task of going on…But as the day wore on and all too soon the dim light began to fail, Frodo stooped again, and began to stagger…At their last halt he sank down and said: ‘I’m thirsty, Sam,’ and did not speak again. Sam gave him a mouthful of water; only one more mouthful remained...

[Sam] could not sleep and he held a debate with himself. ‘Well, come now, we’ve done better than you hoped,’ he said sturdily. ‘Began well, anyway. I reckon we crossed half the distance before we stopped. One more day will do it.’ And then he paused.

‘Don’t be a fool, Sam Gamgee,’ came an answer in his own voice. ‘He won’t go another day like that, if he moves at all. And you can’t go on much longer giving him all the water and most of the food.’

‘I can go on a good way though, and I will.’

‘Where to?’

‘To the Mountain, of course.’

‘But what then, Sam Gamgee, what then? When you get there, what are you going to do? He won’t be able to do anything for himself.’

To his dismay, Sam realized that he had not got an answer to this. He had no clear idea at all. Frodo had not spoken to him much of his errand, and Sam only knew vaguely that the Ring had somehow to be put in the fire. ‘The Cracks of Doom,’ he muttered, the old name rising to his mind. “Well, if Master knows how to find them, I don’t.’

‘There you are!’ came the answer. ‘It’s all quite useless. He said so himself. You are the fool, going on hoping and toiling. You could have lain down and gone to sleep together days ago, if you hadn’t been so dogged. But you’ll die just the same, or worse. You might just as well lie down and give it up. You’ll never get to the top anyway.’

Even as the Steward of Gondor is rejecting death with honor, preferring instead his own will and his own sight and his own knowing of good and of evil, from the Golden Hall the two-who-are-not-men come in concealment astride their shared steed. On the Anduin, hidden as yet behind the ominous black sails swelling northward to the City, a great furled standard approaches, bannered destiny writ with the White Tree and the Seven Stars and the high crown of kings, and borne by the one to whom alone sovereignty belongs: he who was named Elessar. And - not least, not least, not least at all - sick with suffering, the halfling great-hearts whom Denethor would scorn as the witless fools of a witless Fool creep faithful unto death to drink of the poisoned Mordor-cup that is their lot.


Frodo groaned but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell on his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.

Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’

‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you…’

Encouraging or facilitating the death of someone who above all things needs to be carried into light and warmth and reassurance is a despicably callous act. To call it mercy is to deal in arrogance and the utter mockery of grace, the spurning of individual worth and redemption.

It is also an impertinent attempt to deafen people to the Word-who-was-made-flesh, the Man of Sorrows who would sing the patient sufferings of ephemerals into the Eternal music, thus binding forever, in the mending of the world, the lays of mortal men to the imperishable evensong of Love.


The Morgul Vale: March 12, 2005

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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