“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” G.K. Chesterton
In the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers, Aragorn and Théoden find themselves at the doorstep of defeat within Helm’s Deep. The black hordes of disfigured orcs have broken through their walls and gates and have pressed the few remaining men, women, and children back into the caves. Giant wooden doors, the last bulwark against the oncoming enemy, are giving way. Hope is failing.
At this moment, the dialogue reaches a climactic peak between Aragorn and Théoden. Aragorn embodies hope and courage, pulling Théoden back as he walks the cliff’s edge overlooking the abyss of doom.
Théoden: So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?
Aragorn: Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.
Théoden: For death and glory.
Aragorn: For Rohan. For your people.
This is the crucial moment. Théoden is focused on death. He is blackened by despair. He has resigned himself to slaughter at the orcs’ blades. The fight has left him. He forecasts the doom of his people, the wives and daughters and sons who will be helplessly exposed absent brave men. His dejection spreads like a virus into his commanders’ faces.
In the depth of this desolate moment, Aragorn stiffens his spine with manly courage. If we are to die, he reasons, let us do so as men. Go down fighting. This is what truly great leadership is about. He is a king from the heart. His words and actions inspire Théoden and the other fighting men. They will sound the horn of Helm Hammerhand one more time as they charge into the fray.
Perhaps he understood that, as Churchill once said, “Nations that went down fighting rose again, but those who surrendered tamely were finished.”
It is at this moment that a second crucial turning point comes. Théoden wants to charge “for death and glory.” His gaze has shifted from the reckless hate of the enemy—which led to resigned apathy—to a selfish fixation with his own demise and memory. He has careened from one ditch to another, from fatalistic retreatism to a sort of nihilistic selfishness.
Embodying the Solomonic wisdom of Kings, Aragorn corrects him. It is not for “death and glory” that they make their last stand, but “for Rohan,” for the people. The true king is motivated by his love for his people and the culture they create, not his own glory. If the Righteous King dies, it is because he chooses to lay his life down for his flock. This is why the Spartans could say that a man without a city (place, people) was no man at all.
Aragorn will make another such stand at the Black Gates when, facing down the Eye of Sauron, he instead turns back to his people and says, “For Frodo.”
This is, at heart, what Chesterton meant: We have to be motivated by the defense of what we love, not ultimately by what we hate.
Drinking Liberal Tears
The true soldier isn’t mainly focused on “drinking liberal tears.” He is not primarily motivated by his hatred for purple haired man haters and Drag Queen hour at the public library, though a righteous man must certainly hate such things.
If he is mainly motivated by his hatred of, say, the Woke Left, he will end up like modern conservatives, bashing trans swimmers who stand head and shoulders above the female competition while at the same time praising Dave Rubin, his sodomy & gay mirage relationship, and two stolen children from hired “surrogate” wombs. It’s all death and judgment and unregenerate emptiness and inheriting the curse of covenant breakers.
More to the point, that moral cesspool is hardly worth fighting for. Perhaps that is why, deep down, so many Americans don’t believe in borders, because they know what constitutes “Western Democracy” today is hardly worth defending.
As Doug Wilson has said, you can’t fight a culture war without a culture. And that—your people, your culture—is what motivates the true culture warrior and man of God. At heart, he is fighting to protect what’s behind him. What he loves. He is fighting for something before he is ever fighting against something.
Jesus said his disciples will be known by their love for each other (John 13:35), not first and foremost by their hatred of the enemy. There’s a profound difference between the two.
Culture is King
And so it seems that the first task for the true soldier of Christendom is to do whatever he must to find, cultivate, and participate in a culture that is worth fighting for.
Culture organically grows out of worship (from the Latin, cultus). And this worship is the fundamental cultivating work of gathered and dispersed households, which further advance and shape culture by practicing hospitality, educating children, establishing productive economies, composing music, making art, and singing Psalms. They care for the poor, heal the sick, and feed the hungry.
It’s the stuff of beautifully prepared meals, lavishly fruitful bedrooms, and the deafening praise of infants at mother’s breasts. Friendship, brotherhoods, and local communities knit together with tapestries of love and care. Gathered on Sunday, dispersed throughout the week, but always men on a meaningful mission to build the new Christendom.
Something Worth Fighting For
When you think about what you’d really fight and die for, what would really motivate you to make a last stand like Aragorn’s at Helm’s Deep, it’s not about the orcs in front of you—it’s about the culture behind you.
And not culture in the abstract, but this local place and people. Psalm singing, feasting, starting wood working businesses and podcasts and the full embrace of the Missio Dei. It’s about Daphne’s golden locks, Abner’s down-the-stairs face plants, Benjamin pushing toddlers on the swings, Baron’s toy trucks, Amelia’s cheesecake and tea, Lexy’s homemade bread, Ben’s lame jokes, Dan and Brian and Kevin shoulder to shoulder as we make one last charge out of the Deep, for Ogden. For our people.
They are worth fighting for.
It’s about our brothers in arms. The love a man has for his brother, bloodied in the trench, that excels the love of women.
It’s about our lovely wives, whose capacity for nurturing our children and beautifying our homes and decorating our plates with creational glory is like the fresh blossom of spring or the sun rising over the mountains. They are the cherry blossoms that never cease to inspire. Modestly yet wonderfully adorned, gentle, joyfully submissive. They set continual feasts before us and bring eternal souls into our midst. And they also peel potatoes. They are the crowns for our head, divine gifts from a lavish Father.
And it’s our golden haired daughters, all dimples and sweetness and dresses, adorning our culture like corner pillars, stately in their array. They are the daughters of kings. It’s our sons and future men, who are bravely being shaped into lords and sages and husbandmen, too. They are finding their courage and honor. It’s their wooden swords and pistols, their piggy back rides and playful mischief-making. It’s our young men starting businesses, and our old men providing counsel and financial support. It’s our students, reciting Greek and meditating on Plato and singing Psalms raucously in chapel at St. Brendan’s.
It is not death and glory that motivates us for the fight. It is Rohan. It is our people. Yes, when we look behind us at our women and children and men, we think, “Now that is worth fighting and dying for.” Our only regret is that we have but one life to give for them.
You want to be a valiant solider in the culture war? You want to bring the axe to Donar’s Rainbow Colored Oak? Excellent. Then start by finding a culture worth fighting for. Invest. Burn the boats. Be all in. Find a tribe among whom you would be happily buried in the church graveyard. Let the world know you by your love for that culture.