Thursday, March 17, 2011

Paved With Good Intentions

A lot of the things so familiar by overuse can be seen in other ways. Sometimes this gives an important meaning that is truer than the ordinary. One of these is that if the Lord looks on the heart and not the outward appearance, then it's the path to heaven, not hell, that is paved with good intentions.

Of course we can't just sit around only "intending" to do good. The point here is that we will usually fail in our attempts, but if we try and our heart is right, then it doesn't matter that we fail or how wrong we are.

This idea was fortified by a re-reading of T.H. White's The Once and Future King last summer, including the final book that was not included in most editions, The Book of Merlyn. Arthur failed miserably yet he remains one of the greatest figures in all of mythology (in another posting I'll tell you what I know and saw of the real history when I was in Britain last summer). And not only Arthur, but Lancelot and Guinevere also failed worse than miserably. And that goes for the rest of the Round Table, especially the tragic family of Arthur's nephews, Gawain, Agravaine, Gareth, and Gaheris. And that even leaves out Mordred the son and nephew of the King. But maybe that's where the good intentions fall apart even if Arthur recognized the tragedy as he exercised the mercy.

Here's the essence of what I am talking about. The context is a break in the nightlong philosophical deliberations on "why man makes war" with Merlyn's numerous animal friends and the aged King before the last battle. The King sits on the top of a hill with the lowly hedgehog as he looks out over his kingdom:
England was at the old man's feet, like a sleeping man-child. When it was awake it would stump about, grabbing things and breaking them, killing butterflies, pulling the cat's tail, nourishing its ego with amoral and relentless mastery. But in sleep its masculine force was abdicated. The man-child sprawled undefended now, vulnerable, a baby trusting the world to let it sleep in peace.
All the beauty of his humans came upon him, instead of their horribleness. He saw the vast army of martyrs who were his witnesses: young men who had gone out even in the first joy of marriage, to be killed on dirty battle-fields like Bedegraine for other men's beliefs: but who had gone out voluntarily: but had gone because they thought it was right: but who had gone although they hated it. They had been ignorant young men perhaps, and the things which they had died for had been useless. But their ignorance had been innocent. They had done something horribly difficult in their ignorant innocence, which was not for themselves.
He saw suddenly all the people who had accepted sacrifice: learned men who had starved for truth, poets who had refused to compound in order to achieve success, parents who had swallowed their own love in order to let their children live, doctors and holy men who had died to help, millions of crusaders, generally stupid, who had been butchered for their stupidity -- but they had meant well.
That was it, to mean well! He caught a glimpse of that extraordinary faculty in man, that strange, altruistic, rare and obstinate decency which will make writers or scientists maintain their truths at the risk of death. Eppur si muove, Galileo was to say; it moves all the same. They were to be in a position to burn him if he would go on with it, with his preposterous nonsense about the earth moving around the sun, but he was to continue with the sublime assertion because there was something which he valued more than himself. The Truth. To recognise and to acknowledge What Is. That was the thing which man could do, which his English could do, his beloved, his sleeping, his now defenceless English. They might be stupid, ferocious, unpolitical, almost hopeless. But here and there, oh so seldom, oh so rare, oh so glorious, there were those all the same who would face the rack, the executioner, and even utter extinction, in the cause of something greater than themselves. Truth, that strange thing, the jest of Pilate's. Many stupid young men thought they were dying for it, and many would continue to die for it, perhaps for a thousand years. They did not have to be right about their truth, as Galileo was to be. It was enough that they, the few and martyred, should establish a greatness, a thing above the sum of all they ignorantly had.
The Book of Merlyn, T.H. White (Shaftesbuty Publishing Co., 1977) Chap. 18, pp. 110-12.

It kind of reminds me too of the scripture about the Lord's church of which He is pleased "speaking of the church collectively and not individually. For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." We're better together than we are individually - E Pluribus Unum in a religious sense. See, the doctrine is that if we keep trying with real intent, once we have true Faith in Christ and willingly turn over all our sins (Repent) to know him, his Atonement is powerful and merciful enough to unite all of us with Him in His Kingdom.

Maybe I'm getting close to why I actually like Utah as much as I don't understand it. As wrong as they can be sometimes (see, Utah Tea-party Legislature) like King Arthur, I still love my people. And I see the good in them in spite of all the ways they are sometimes wrong. I hope it works for me too.
Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, England

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!