Denethor the impious

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am a proponent of what I call the Gandalf Option. Such readers will also know how often I look to The Lord of the Rings for images and analogies: it is my handbook for discernment in our difficult times. 

I want to return to the very scene from which I take my understanding of the Gandalf Option, just before the passage I quote in that linked post. The moment I want to call attention to is one in which Denethor, Steward of Gondor, is snapping back at what he believes to be the unnecessary intervention of Gandalf in the affairs of Gondor: 

‘The Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.’

‘Unless the king should come again?’ said Gandalf. ‘Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for.’ 

Gandalf goes on — as I explain in that post linked above — to describe the nature of his stewardship, but in this post I want to focus on something else: “it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event.” 

Denethor’s mind is wholly occupied by what he fears and what he hates; there is no room left in it for constructive work — for conservation, preservation, restoration. Denethor is the Steward of Gondor and he isn’t stewarding anything; he merely steeps in his own resentments. He thinks hating the right things and the right people is enough. It ain’t. 

This is the theme of my recent essay in Comment, “Recovering Piety.” “Renewal of trust in institutions will not happen unless the institutions recover their integrity, and that will not happen unless the people who work within them become pious — devoted, faithful, committed not to their own personal flourishing but to the flourishing of that which they serve.” I hope you’ll read it. 

My concern there is primarily with institutions, and especially with the institution called the Church, but Denethors are everywhere these days. People who know how to fear and hate but don’t love anything, don’t care for anything, can’t be bothered to take positive care for anything good. It’s especially sad to me when I see so many “Christian conservatives” who don’t conserve one single solitary thing and never speak of Christ — indeed show no evidence that they are aware of anything that Christ has commanded of us — and evidently assume that if they hate the right people hard enough the Earthly Paradise will miraculously emerge. It won’t. 

The people who will repair the world are the truly pious. We should keep our eyes peeled for them, and encourage and strengthen them wherever we find them.