Not only do words matter...

Your word matters.

Tolkien is a never-ending source of inspiration.


About 8 months ago, I wrote a post concerning the use of his Lord of the Rings in a graphic from New Yorkers for Life. And I just saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and something occurred to me as I was peering through the 3D glasses--the regularity with which the idea of giving one's word occurs in The Hobbit and the Ring trilogy.


It used to be a common expression: "You have my word." Gandalf puts it in question form: "Do I have your word?" Which while it might be answered somewhat grudgingly in the affirmative is not a question whose answer would be thought of or taken lightly.


At least at one time.


One friend said that he hadn't heard anyone use that expression--to give one's word--in a very long time.  Another said that in the past his family would settle business dealings on the strength of a handshake, the physical manifestation of giving one's word--but that those days were gone.


And that's a big problem. Because if my word is meaningless, why would anyone trust me?


Trustworthiness seems to be one of those virtues that has lost its lustre at best, or largely disappeared at worst. One need only look at the political realm to see that this is so. People continue to vote for politicians who claim to have principles but whose word is worthless and who demonstrate again and again that they simply cannot be trusted. No matter--they get re-elected again and again.


But while the political class's unethical and immoral behavior is clearly an issue, it's a broader societal problem. Wouldn't it be refreshing if regular people would, for instance, be principled and say what they mean and mean what they say?


As an example, in a book entitled The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism, author Jeffrey Bell helps dispel

…a long-held myth, typically perpetuated by self-described liberals in the mainstream media but also by self-described libertarians, that whenever the moral issues are prominent in elections, conservatives lose...

But, as Bell wrote

…Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964. The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix -- I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections.

So contrary to what friends on our own side would have us believe, 

…if conservatives simply shut up about issues like abortion and marriage and focus on things like debt and fiscal responsibility, there's no guarantee when it comes to election time.

This is often not simply a matter of a difference of opinion--it's a conscious tactical decision on the part of those who are supposedly on our side. They want us to believe, in this and in other matters and despite all their protestations to the contrary, that there's only one way to skin a cat--their way. For the most part and speaking only for myself, it's a tactic that's worked.  I've been naive and actually quite gullible.  No more.


Now other friends might see this conclusion as being overly critical and harsh--too judgmental.  But there's nothing wrong with judging people. In fact there's nothing wrong with--gasp!--discriminating.  It's considered a plus to have discriminating taste or a discriminating palate.  And speaking as someone who grew up in NYC constantly being admonished to be "situationally aware," if you can't discriminate between a situation that's safe and one that isn't, you won't survive very long.


Chrissy the Hyphenated has a interesting post on the question of judging--and I maintain that "lefties" are not the only ones who use this technique:

Lefties are big on throwing, “Judge not” at Christians in a way that really means, “Shut the hell up...”

...Jesus also said specifically that we are supposed to judge … not that Lefties know or quote that one. It’s John 7:24.

  • Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly. [NABRE]
  • Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. [NIV]
  • Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. [NLT]
  • Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. [KJB]

His words here are based on God’s law as given to Moses:

Leviticus 19:15 – You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly. [NABRE]...

In the political world especially, not holding to principles, not keeping one's word, betraying a trust, are often excused in the name of "prudence."  It's possible and definitely laudable for people to forgive others, especially friends, for exercising this sort of faux prudence. But those friends should not be surprised to find that they are not entirely trusted again. That's just prudent behavior on the part of the betrayed. It's an inconvenient and poignant truth that forgiveness and trusting again are not the same things.

And do read the rest of Chrissy's post here

So it is not only OK but absolutely essential for our survival as a country to use our God-given faculties to discern what's REALLY going on--even with people we count as friends or consider to be allies--and draw conclusions appropriately. The conclusions may not always be flattering and may run contrary to what the other members of our own tribe believe to be true.

But it's critical as we start a new year facing what appear to be insurmountable challenges that we engage in this kind of discrimination and not simply accept what we're told to think, sometimes by those we like to count as friends.

Tom Shippey, author of JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century, wrote of the vile orcs:

"…Orcs…have a clear idea of what is admirable and what is contemptible behavior, which is exactly the same as ours. They cannot revoke what [CS]Lewis calls 'the Moral Law' and create a counter-morality based on evil, any more than they can revoke biology and live on poison.  They are moral beings, who talk freely and repeatedly of what is 'good', meaning by that more or less what we do.  The puzzle is that this has no effect at all on their actual behavior, and they seem…to have no self-awareness or capacity for self-criticism. But these are human qualities too… (p.133)

No kidding.

A New Year's resolution? Perhaps to keep the channels of communications open, where possible.  But to also realize that it may just be the case that [Luke 12:52-53] :

…52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 "They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

From The Hobbit…Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire":