I was watching The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last night. I found one scene especially interesting.
The dwarves, the men, the elves, and the orcs are all gathered for battle. The elf Tauriel wants to go help the dwarves, and one reason is that she feels affection for one of the dwarves, Kili, who loves her. The elf-king, Thranduil, however, is baffled that Tauriel wants to help the dwarves. Thranduil says that, even if she rescues the dwarves, the dwarves will live for a hundred more years, or so, and will die. Thranduil wondered what the point was of rescuing the dwarves, if they would soon die, anyway. The dwarves are not immortal like the elves, after all!
Tauriel is outraged by Thranduil’s remarks. She accuses Thranduil of thinking that his life is of more value than the lives of others, including the dwarves. She also asks what the value is of living for a long time if that life lacks love. As far as she can see, Thranduil lacks love. She resolves to go to the dwarves to help them, and the elf Legolas volunteers to accompany her. Legolas himself loves Tauriel, and he does not care for Kili’s affection for her. Still, out of love for Tauriel, Legolas goes with her to rescue the dwarves, Kili included.
We see later in the movie that Thranduil is not entirely cold or bereft of love. After Kili is killed, Tauriel weeps over his dead body, and she wonders what the point of love is if it is so painful. Thranduil offers her words of comfort and assures her that love is worthwhile, whatever pain it may bring. Thranduil later tells Legolas about the love that Legolas’ mother had for Legolas, and he tells Legolas about Strider, who will be a significant character in the Lord of the Rings. Thranduil regards Strider as a man of goodness and integrity. This indicates that even Thranduil values goodness and integrity in the brief lives that mortals live. Ultimately, for Thranduil, it is not longevity that matters, but the quality and content of a life.
The interaction between Thranduil and Tauriel when Tauriel was about to help the dwarves stood out to me, since I have sometimes had similar thoughts to those of Thranduil. Why should I give to charities that prolong people’s lives, when everyone will die sooner or later, anyway? I one time read an account of an evangelical Christian who became an agnostic, and, for a time, he felt the same way: why do all this charity work when none of it matters in the end? Everyone will die, anyway!
Many theists will argue that this is precisely why we need God as a foundation for morality: God values human beings, our character matters because it will be eternal, and God will reward our good deeds in the afterlife. Our good deeds in this life matter within a theistic worldview, in short. Yet, one can also take the eternity of life in another direction and end up devaluing this life, on some level. That was my impression of the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is. Krishna told Arjuna that he should feel free to kill in battle, since those whom he kills will live forever, anyway. The Bhagavad Gita, As It Is encouraged charity, on some level, albeit not as much as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do. But it preferred causes that spread Krishna-consciousness to causes that help the poor, for the former relate to eternity, not just this brief time on earth.
What Tauriel said to Thranduil is thought-provoking. Her point was that it’s not enough simply to live, but the life needs to be a life of quality, one that contains love. She loves Kili and will act on that love, even though Kili’s lifespan is significantly shorter than her own. Why should I give to charities that prolong human lives, when people will die anyway? Because I want my life here on earth to be characterized by love, not contempt, hate, or passive indifference towards others. Plus, Tauriel’s question of whether Thranduil thinks his life is more valuable is relevant to my motivation: I am no more important than another human being, and, if I were hungry, I hope that someone would help me. Why should I not do the same for another human being? My love for recipients of charity is not as fervent as Tauriel’s love for Kili, but this is where theism enters the picture, for me: recipients of charity are loved by God, and so God cares whether I help them or not. Theism also teaches me that my character in this life has eternal consequences, and that is why I should prefer to cultivate a loving, giving character.
Legolas’ act stands out to me because it is an act of selfless love. Legolas will go with Tauriel to rescue the dwarves, even though he is upset that Tauriel loves one of them, and even though Legolas may get killed in the process. Legolas is doing this because he loves Tauriel, period, and so what matters to Tauriel matters to him. I will admit that I admire this picture of love, but I fall short dramatically from it. Detachment can lessen pain, which is what Tauriel thinks after Kili dies. I have no plans to give up detachment altogether, for it helps me a great deal when people reject me! Yet, I should try to make Legolas’ approach a greater part of my life: to love others because I love them, not on account of anything they can do for me in return.