Tuesday 12 March 2024

Blacksmith slave to an evil Lord: a parable for here-and-now

Assume you are a blacksmith and slave to an evil Lord...

(If it helps, you might imagine yourself a Saxon under the Norman yoke.) 

The Lord is evil in the sense that he organizes his entire estate to provide-for a gang dedicated to theft, arson, rape, torture and (just plain) murder. 

(Pretty much your standard Norman, in other words.) 

As a slave you are dispensable to the Lord, and your two options in life are therefore: 

1. To do what you are told - or 

2. Be killed. 

In other words, your freedom of moral action is restricted to refusing an order and getting killed for it. 

It can further be understood that if you do not do what you are told, there will be another who shall take your place and do it instead. So your refusal to do an evil act is purely moral (i.e between you and God) - it does not have any material effect. 

And let us further assume that you have a beloved wife and children, and if you are killed then they will die of starvation. 

The above scenario is not terribly far fetched, and there must have been many millions of people throughout history who lived in a way that approximates to the above. 

Furthermore, to anticipate; I would like you to draw out the moral analogies between the above situation; and the conditions under which you and I live. 

As a blacksmith, much of what you do is of general value: you make ploughs and sickles and the like. 

Yet anything and everything you make is ultimately (even if indirectly) used to sustain the evil Lord and his purpose. Much of the food grown goes to sustain his murderous gang, and so forth. 

But let's say, you feel morally OK so long as you are making ploughs and household goods, because they have at least a dual usage - good as well as evil... 

Then the Lord instructs you to make nothing but weapons - swords, halberds, spears... These are only going to be used for intimidation and violence. 

(But they also have some kind of defensive role - keeping away the other evil Lords who would slaughter you, and your family.) 

Then the Lord says that you must make iron instruments of torture, of various types. 

(These devices have no use but to inflict pain: they are for evil and evil only.) 

Then the Lord requires you to use your expertise in metals to assist in the process of torture - you will in fact become the Lord's expert torturer. 

(Now you are personally required to take an active role in the evil Lord's evil work.) 

The question is: at what point in this escalation, if any, is it right and necessary to refuse, and to be-killed, and your family also be-killed?

And, however you answer this; the moral point of this parable I ask you to grasp; is that these are all points on a quantitative scale - because whatever you do, you are materially assisting the work of evil. 

To close the loop: in this global totalitarian world that you and I inhabit; although the situation is less extreme and clear-cut: we are all the blacksmith slave. 

And I suggest we all ought, at some level, to acknowledge the moral facts and take personal responsibility; not in order to change the world for the better - but in order that we may repent.  


Kathlene said...

This is a very good thought-provoking parable. There are perhaps some other solutions.

1. Kill the evil Lord; however this is fighting evil with evil and would guarantee one's own death and the death of one's family. And the evil Lord would have an heir to take his place.

2. Flee with your family. This is risky of course, and does not guarantee a good outcome. (You could be caught and killed, or find there is no place to run to and die of starvation.)
But since death or participation in ever-increasing evil is certain in all instances you mention, this option would be worth a try.

Laeth said...

a couple of friends (also readers of yours) and I were just discussing this very question the day before and we reached more or less similar conclusions. it is certainly a relevant question for the here and now. important parable. thank you.

Michael Baron said...

We are all imperfect to the extent we choose not to lose our life in order to find it. This extreme example, illustrating more starkly the less extreme examples of ordinary life, shows how each one of us chooses the evil we currently indulge in. It is the normal case to do that. To reject it is the abnormal (and good) case. I say this as someone who has not, in any way, overcome this. I am guilty.

One thing I think your current perspective doesn't really include is the infinite patience of God. You get too caught up in this one universe's symbols in a particular way of interpreting things. It comes from a fear of divine judgment, which many neglect (this fear is true and dreadful!!). Nevertheless, it is good to take a step back and realize that everyone's souls have always existed. Everything God has made is coeternal with Him. It can't be otherwise.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - "One thing I think your current perspective doesn't really include is the infinite patience of God."

Not an accident! - since (as you probably already know) my metaphysical assumptions do not include "the infinite", or fear of God's judgement... at least, not what is traditionally meant by judgment.

I find it misleading (and the wrong attitude) to assume that we are supposed to satisfy God the judge to be "allowed" into Heaven.

The way I look at it, is that (rather like CS Lewis's account in The Great Divorce) we ourselves choose whether or not to resurrect into Heaven.

But there is a "price" to pay (rather than a judgment) in that Heaven (to be Heaven) cannot include anything that is not motivated by love: so we must consent to all that is sinful in us (all that is unloving, all that is discordant with God's creative purposes) being removed, permanently and irrevocably left-behind, by the "process" of resurrection.

In effect: Jesus created Heaven, and we enter it by following him. Anyone can do this, in principle; no matter how depraved during mortal life - BUT I assume that those who are, or have become, mostly sinful - would not be able to bring very much of their mortal selves into Heaven; which I would imagine makes it more difficult for bad sinners to make that choice.

Michael Baron said...

Your words strike me as obvious symbolic contradictions. In your words: to choose to resurrect in Heaven; isn't that a clear synonym for God allowing you in? Is the individual will really so sundered from the Divine Will to speak of them as totally separate things? Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

"BUT I assume that those who are, or have become, mostly sinful - would not be able to bring very much of their mortal selves into Heaven; which I would imagine makes it more difficult for bad sinners to make that choice."

Isn't that clearly what is meant by losing one's life to find it? The price to pay for resurrection into God's Kingdom is the relinquishing of all that we wish for that separates us from Him. The shedding of the merely mortal self is the finding of the true Self which God has given us; the fulfillment of what we really are.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - If you don't see the difference, then I can't make you! The background can be found in my mini-book Lazarus Writes, linked in the sidebar.

Jack Jones said...

Just last night I watched Errol Flynn in "The Adventures Of Robin Hood" the plot of which involves the oppressed Saxons versus the cruel Normans. Good film hehe, though the historical inaccuracies are glaring.

Bruce Charlton said...

eth - I'm not sure what conclusions I reached! Except that the problem is unavoidable, but too many Christians seem to believe they are avoiding it.

I keep thinking back to the lesson of Numenor (which I regard as psychologically correct): even in an earthly paradise, Men would be dissatisfied.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Kathlene - That's why I excluded those possibilities from the thought experiment.

In real life there is nowhere to escape to; nowhere that does not have (more or less) the same fundamental problems.

And the evil Lord has many heirs among his brothers, sons, nephews and cousins - who are just as evil.

Kathlene said...

I figured you had deliberately left those choices out for good reason.

This thought experiment reveals to me how absolutely vital it would be to rely on God for strength in such situations. There would be no other way. For instance, consider the story of the martyred woman and her seven sons in 2 Maccabees. Who would be able to withstand such a horrible fate?

This season of Lent I've been especially drawn to ponder the deep sorrow of Mary upon Jesus' undeserved excruciating death as captured in the beauty of Michelangelo's La Pieta.