In considering the fall of Numenor, there are some musings that we can toy with, that we began to discuss in class, and about which we were left in confusion and indecision when class ended. I would like to present another perspective on these musings, these “what if?” questions, specifically the questions of 1) What if the human sacrifices had been directed toward Iluvatar, instead of toward Morgoth? Would this have made a difference as to whether they were sinful/evil? And 2) What if the Numenoreans had committed the sacrifices and yet not sailed West? Were the sacrifices evidence that they were beyond the point of no return?
In responding to the first question, I would like to consider the question of, as Dorothy Sayers describes it, what it means to be evil. We discussed how, with the creation of being, for example, there is also the creation of non-being. Evil, however, would be the marring of being, or, in essence, anti-being. So, if we consider “worship to Iluvatar” to be something that was created with the forming of the world, how does this affect our perspective?
When I consider this question, the thing that comes to my mind is that worship, according to its Biblical descriptions, involves both the orientation of the heart and the acted out works of the body. The Bible calls believers, in expressing their love toward God, to “trust and obey” him. Clearly, when the Numenoreans committed human sacrifice for the benefit of Morgoth (in addition to their actions leading up to that event as well), we could safely say that they were neither trusting in Iluvatar nor obeying his intentions in creating being. They were committing acts of “anti-being” in killing other humans, and their acts were oriented in a direction other than toward Iluvatar. If they were to commit these actions toward Iluvatar, would that make the situation any better? Although there is definitely an argument for why it could be less serious, less repulsive, my consideration is this: Evil is oriented toward marring the good. Worship toward Iluvatar is something that would be considered to be very good (regardless of whether it was an expressed requirement or not). But, to worship Iluvatar by destroying his beings does not seem like worship it all. In fact, to do so would not only show a distrust of Iluvatar, to conceive of Iluvatar as being filled of darkness as opposed to light. It displays Iluvatar as a Creator who delights in evil committed toward his creation. By committing human sacrifice in Iluvatar’s direction, the Numenoreans would be accusing Iluvatar of (or “praising” him for) having evil intentions toward his creation. Regardless of whether this is actually “worse” than sacrificing toward Morgoth, I don’t see how being seen as evil by one’s beloved creation could be “better” than being ignored altogether. Frankly, such a situation would be very sad.
Then, we consider what relation the human sacrifice had with the decision to sail West, and whether the first was a true sign of “sin” toward Iluvatar or whether they could have been redeemed if they had not decided to sail West. There was clearly an escalation of their misguided actions, as Sauron penetrated more and more deeply into their society, and as he led them astray increasingly throughout the course of the story. However, this brings to mind the story of the Fall in Genesis. In that story, the serpent comes and speaks to Adam and Eve, leading them astray and turning them against God. And, in that story, they were commanded not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but as the command was given to Adam, some have argued that the Fall didn’t actually happen until Adam himself ate from the tree, and questions have come up as to whether redemption could have happened if Eve had eaten from the tree and Adam hadn’t. However, despite all of our desires to speculate, this is a case where, frankly, what happened is what happened. Was human sacrifice a sign of whether the people had gone past the point of no return? We cannot be sure, and things happened the way that they happened for a reason. Did these actions need to be paired? I don’t know, but they were, and punishment followed.
Like the ban from eating from the tree in Genesis, the ban from sailing west was made for the benefit of those banned—it kept them from the Undying Lands so as to allow them to retain their gift of death, such that they would be able to go to a wonderful place in due time. The committing of human sacrifice was probably a horrible and wretched thing, but it happened in the context of a world where those who were in it would eventually die anyway—it is very different from a scenario where, for example, elves were being sacrificed. However, if they were to be turned away from following Iluvatar, and if they were then to live in the Undying Lands, that would be the worst of both situations—living forever without being able to achieve things fully, as the elves are able to. As we discussed, this is something that the Numenoreans would have understood before Sauron came into their midst and brought fear into their hearts. But they forgot this gift when Sauron came, and this was why they chose to overstep the boundaries of this gift, and why the other gifts that they had been given were taken away.