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"Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?"

Lee-Alan-Frodo-Gandalf.jpgGandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

I remember reading this line in a cabin in the mountains of Oregon and sitting bolt up in my chair. This, I realized, hit right at a basic ethical issue about life and death. Tolkien, while clearly not a pacifist, was always circumspect about the uses of violence.

I remember thinking about this quote, in particular, on September 11, 2001. I could hear a very clear voice of rage within me calling for vengeance. But there was also this very calm and stern voice within me, reminding me of this simple wisdom. They didn't deserve to die. Their lives are not mine to give back. Some people out there don't deserve to live. And their lives are not mine either.

In context, it is even more powerful, for Gandalf and Frodo are discussing the fate of the betrayer Gollum...

"It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance."

"Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many."

"I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened."

"So do all who live to face such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

40 for 40, #14


I just found this and was actually having a discussion with someone regarding the contradictions Christians have when it comes to killing - believing capital punishment is okay while condemning abortion is not. It's too bad that some people refuse to abide by all of the 10 Commandments.

That's not a contradiction my friend. The phrase "thou shalt not kill" in the original language that the Old testament was written (ancient Hebrew) is more accurately translated as "Thou Shalt Not Murder." If it was simply killing, then all the wars and battles that God endorced would be "wrong" or David's slaying Goliath. Abortion is typically seen by non-contradicting Christians as murder of innocence, whereas Capital Punishment is seen as the legal Governed process of punishment for certain criminals. There can be Christians who believe in it or not and still be Biblically sound as long as it is part of the governed society/state...etc to which they belong.

There's kind of a set of contradictions within contradictions here that I haven't yet seen a coherent explanation from the religious right on.

1. Abortion is bad because everyone has a right to life.

2. But capital punishment is okay because if you do something bad, you give up your right to life.

3. But sending people off to do battle and die in it is okay because they've made a choice to put their lives in mortal danger, therefore its okay to effectively kill them or risk doing so by sending them away.

Two failures here. Euthanasia and military conscription. The above set of reasoning fails in both cases, and I don't know what morally coherent answer can answer either of them.

General point I'm trying to make: it's never a simple call.

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