Sunday 9 June 2024

Improving people by stealth? No longer possible... (Example of The Lord of the Rings)

A feature of Mankind in these times is that we cannot be made Good unless we are aware of it, and agree to it. 

'Twas not always thus; because in the past Man's consciousness was (to an extent, albeit declining through history) much more shared and pooled (and, to us, dream-like), consciousness was less alienated from The World, less aware, much less divided and personal. 

In that situation, a great deal of our Goodness was absorbed passively from our surrounding situation - much as happens with most children even nowadays.  

In that situation, it was possible to improve people "by stealth" by appealing (in effect) to their "subconscious" mind - by contacting and influencing not-conscious mental processes, that were not subject to voluntary control. 

It was then possible (to some extent) to Make Men Good

And this was, indeed, the basis of "Christendom" - of human societies organized on the basis of Christianity - such as those of the Eastern Roman Empire ("Byzantium") or the Roman Catholic nations of Medieval Europe. 

But now, and especially in the West, Men are alienated, cut-off from that spontaneous group-consciousness. 

So there is little or no power in the world now to make people into better people (I mean better in Christian terms - spiritually better, more Good). 

Instead, people must make themselves better, and must do so by conscious choice.

As an example of the ineffectiveness to do good to people; consider The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, which I regard as an exceptionally Good book (Good in terns of its values) - as well as being widely popular. 

Since there is a Good book read by many millions of people, one might suppose that this would mean that LotR is doing Good to some (or many) people. 

But that certainly does not seem to be the case! The evidence is that those who are most engaged with Tolkien's work; whether as readers, official fans, scholar or whatever it might be - are strikingly "normal" (for here-and-now) and mainstream in their expressed sociopolitical views. 

In other words, there is nothing to suggest that reading Lord of the Rings repeatedly, in depth and with avidity; has made any significant difference to their Goodness (by Christian standards). 

Indeed, it is clear that even immersion in Tolkien, is perfectly compatible with living as a cheerful and willing servant of the totalitarian agenda of evil!   

If it was possible to do Good by stealth - then that would be happening with Lord of the Rings! 

But it is not happening - there is no sign of it. Those who benefit from the Goodness of LotR, do so by being consciously open to that Goodness and actively embracing it. 

Otherwise Good is not done. 

This applies generally. Christians cannot change sociopolitical circumstances to Do Good to people. 

However the situation is not symmetrical; and people can be (and are, on a massive scale) be corrupted to greater evil, in a passive and un-conscious way; and there is a truly colossal apparatus of media and bureaucracy that is net-dedicated to exactly this agenda. 

Therefore, as so often (and to quote Lord of the Rings) we cannot use the One Ring to fight Sauron: that is, Christians cannot use the apparatus of propaganda and influencing to pursue a Christian agenda by passive and unconscious inculcation of Good values.

Here-and-now: Men can be "made evil" (only needing passive and unconscious consent); but Men can not be made good. 

And, insofar as this appears to work, and some "Good value" is successfully implanted by stealth; then it will in fact achieve the opposite of Good overall.

Because by encouraging people to be open to and live from external values (of any kind) - to embrace values that they have absorbed passively and unconsciously - creates a mind-set that will be overwhelmed by the far greater quantity and socially compelling influx of external values in support of the Agenda of Evil. 

NOTE ADDED: An extension of this argument is that systems of training or initiation - that used unconsciously to inculcate positive values into such groups as doctors, lawyers, priests and monks - now do no positive Good whatsoever... unless, met with a positive, active, conscious will and decision; on the part of the trainee/ initiate -- such that any specific programme of training/ initiation is rendered inessential or redundant. In other words; we can no longer train people to be better people (but only worse people)... Furthermore; this extends to societies - such that even if it could happen in the West (which it couldn't); a restored "Christendom" would no longer work. 


Andrew Lomas said...

As I understand it, Tolkien included in “using the Ring to fight Sauron” the use of aircraft in WW2 ( “the aeroplane of war is the real villain”, like “Hobbits learning to ride Nazgul-birds”, Letter 100), he would very probably included use of all heavy artillery and explosives, and certainly the whole alliance with technocratic, totalitarian Stalinist Russia. But obviously if England had not “used the Ring” in these ways, WW2 would have gone in a very different direction. I am curious as to what you think about this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AL - For Tolkien, this particular example of the mismatch between pragmatic expedience and spiritual values would be just one of many manifestations of living in a "fallen" world.

Lucas said...

I think this must be part of the understanding we have of the world before we enter it. Someone could choose to enter the world at a time when it was 'easier' to be made good or to enter at a time when there is nothing to force you, with the obvious perils, heroic effort required, and the reward of having chosen good by yourself. In fact, I think this has to be part of the motivation to have been born now, born with a desire to choose good by one's own efforts, as much as one can.
There are also beings who asked to be born now so that they would have the least constraint on their evil I'm sure.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucas - I'm unsure about these matters, but can't see that any beings would be incarnated without God wanting it, without a possibility that they will learn from it and make the choice of salvation - otherwise mortal incarnation is a risk with no realistic chance of benefit.

It's an interesting question; because it would, I think, be nigh impossible for a pre-mortal spirit to know what kind of incarnate experience would be "good for it" - so that I suppose God must be the one who proposes the idea, and the beings consent to the risks, or not (and remain as never-incarnated spirits).