Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Elves and Orcs

The following is another reflection from David Roquemore from his reading of Book II of Confessions. Here he discusses the ways vice imitates virtue.

Book II, Chapter VI, 13 and 14 bring another point to mind. He begins, “for so doth pride imitate exaltedness” and goes on to make several other similar comparisons. Ambition seeks honor and glory. Curiosity prompts a desire for knowledge. Luxury would fain be called plenty and abundance. Prodigality presents a show of liberality. Envy contends that its aim is for excellence. In all of these, a human passion presents itself as a spiritual virtue. Evil pretends to be good. Evil imitates good. I immediately thought of Tolkein. Somewhere in the Lord of the Rings the comment is made that the mishapen, foul orcs are evil’s attempt at imitating elves. The power of evil tries to imitate what is good, but its efforts produce only these ruined beasts.
Evil seeks to be like the Good, but where Good is attractive for its own sake, evil must constantly reinvent itself, ever presenting new and fresh temptations. Thus the need for constant novelty. This is very true of our culture, isn’t it? In a benign way, we see this in popular music - there must always be another, new, song. We immerse ourselves in stories - on television and in movies - that amuse without edifying us. These things are not necessarily evil. But the same dynamic is seen in less wholesome things. The endless stream of pornography comes in part because it is boring, a sad imitation of real beauty or eros. And so there must be a new image every month. Evil seeks to constantly stimulate us with simulacra so that we can avoid what is real.
Augustine begins section 14 saying “Thus the soul commits fornication when she is turned from thee, and seeks apart from thee what she cannot find pure and untainted until she returns to thee. All things thus imitate thee--but pervertedly -- when they separate themselves far from thee and raise themselves up against thee.” Here perhaps we see these threads tied together: all of his seeking God in the wrong place is fornication, whether literal or not. All the attempts of evil to be attractive are simply substitutes for the need we have for God. Even this “perverse imitation,” he says, is an acknowledgement of God’s goodness and power.
What do you think of this depiction of Good and Evil? Is this how you understand Augustine? Does this explanation hold any appeal to you? What's useful? What's problematic?

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