“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 6: 13-14)
Suddenly Boromir came and sat beside him. ‘Are you sure that you do not suffer needlessly?’ he said. ‘I wish to help you. You need counsel in your hard choice. Will you not take mine?’
‘I think I know already what counsel you would give, Boromir,’ said Frodo. ‘And it would seem like wisdom but for the warning of my heart.’
‘Warning? Warning against what?’ said Boromir sharply.
‘Against delay. Against the way that seems easier. Against refusal of the burden that is laid on me. Against – well, if it must be said, against trust in the strength and truth of Men.’ (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 388)
The Christian way of life doesn’t offer worldly consolation and comfort. Those who approach it looking for that will either be repelled or will just water it down into a few bland sentiments. Instead the Christian is, like Frodo, given a seemingly impossible task to accomplish, and set on a long and treacherous road.
And the task itself can seem like so desperate and painful a gambit that it gives rise to the question of whether things need to be this way, whether there are easier alternatives.
The sort of atheism which I can respect is the tragic kind exemplified by people like Albert Camus and Walter Kaufmann. They took the reality of evil and death seriously, and felt that, if there was no supernatural help, the progress of us weak and feeble mortals was certainly not going to bail us out in the end. But there was also that more pagan notion of going down fighting: if there is ultimately no way out, it is still better to go down fighting for what is right and true, even if it means sacrificing whatever temporary comforts and solace might be found in a more banal life.
Then there is the Rousseauean seculariist who believes in the natural goodness and ultimate perfectibility of man. Here I find a bit of him in Boromir. Of course, Boromir being a Middle-Earth dude, there is a bit of that, “at least we’ll go down gloriously in battle” mentality. But he is naive in thinking that the fight against evil is merely one of overpowering it with the right tools. The way in which evil radically permeates the world and can compromise anyone regardless of intentions escapes him, and so he allows himself to become compromised.
Frodo is rightly more skeptical and knows not to trust in men. It is his more sober realism that makes him willing to put his lot in with a far more difficult and to other eyes seemingly foolhardy solution. The easier ways will inevitably lead to death but this one might not.
Now, Frodo actually does turn out to be too weak to accomplish his task, which underlines Tolkien’s point that the power of evil is too strong to be naturally met. But those of us in the Church know that our own weakness need not stop us from reaching the goal, because the task is ultimately not in our hands, and we do have help from above. If we fail, we have what we need to get back up again.
This is all just more rambling than anything else, but one final thought: whether or not Christianity is true, the situation is so dire that only something like the solution proposed by Christianity could be sufficient. If the Christian is being duped, he is at least not being mastered by the cheaper illusions on offer.
(Why yes I have been rereading LOTR)