On Treachery

The Voice of Saruman


The great betrayal as interpreted by Giotto (Source)

“I grieve that so much that was good now festers in the tower.” Such a sentiment resonates in our times as trust in institutions ranging from politics to marriage plummets. The days of the virtuous man and the noble woman seem far back in the distance, and instead we wonder how so many things that our ancestors and we ourselves once honored and treasured have become so foul and festering. Time and time again, from countless perspectives and personas, the same diagnosis is given: people are frustrated, people are angry, people feel betrayed.

The skeptic remarks that such a belief has been the prerogative of the old in every generation reflecting upon the young. It is our natural human tendency to believe that the world is in crisis, that things are not as good as they once had been, that there is tragedy in being betrayed by a person or a power in which we placed our trust. Considerations of the past can be subjected to rose-colored glasses, to not realize or remember the problems that once existed. Yet this is not to dismiss it. Just because every generation comes to embrace in some fashion such a belief does not make the belief false. As C.S. Lewis noted,

“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge until they were secure, the search would never had begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life.’ Life has never been normal.”

Life has never been normal; humans have always dwelt at the cusp of betrayal, and the intersection of hope and treachery. Whether the darkness of Sauron is near or far does not remove the deep pain of the treason of Isengard. To witness a once-faithful neighbor, a once-wise companion, a once good-hearted leader, turn away from repentance to “stay and gnaw the ends of your old plots” is to know the salt in the cuts of treachery. To have read of selflessness, to have looked for magnanimity, to have place one’s trust and hopes in promises, and to have found all wanting, is a reasonable cause for frustration, anger, and betrayal. Human nature being what it is, it is no surprise that the cycle repeats itself in every generation.

Things change; things fade. The world is not darker now than it was before; the world still wrestles with the same darkness. The faces and the tools and the contexts ripple through the river of time, but we still dwell in the same water. The treason of the Elves and the treason of Saruman; the treachery of Brutus and the treachery of Benedict; the betrayal of Adam and the betrayal of Judas. Life is never secure; life has never been normal.

We have been betrayed, and such treachery strikes a nerve because we too have betrayed. We know our weakness, and know too how our improper response to treachery can lead to far worse evils. We must not succumb to the voice of Saruman, but instead struggle valiantly against it like Théoden. We must laugh in the face of treachery like Gandalf, and then work to rectify it. We must accept betrayal, like Christ did, and then seek to sanctify it. We must search for truth even in the midst of the war of human souls, for only then can the anger and frustration of treachery be transformed for the good.

2015’s Reflection: “On Speech


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