In The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield gives Bilbo Baggins a beginner’s lesson on the nature of dragons, a sort of dragons for dummies, telling the unschooled hobbit that dragons “carry away people, especially maidens, to eat.”
Dragons have a preference for the virgin flesh of maidens because they are not merely hungry but wicked. They desire the defilement of the pure and undefiled, the destruction of the virgin. Their devouring is a deflowering. Parallels with human “dragons” in our own world are not difficult to discern. The war against the dragon is not, therefore, a war against a physical monster, like a dinosaur, but a battle against the wickedness we see around us in our everyday lives. We all face our daily dragons and we must all defend ourselves from them and hopefully slay them, which is only possible with the assistance of God’s grace which serves as a sort of St. George in the heart of man. The sobering reality is that we must either fight the dragons that we encounter in life or become dragons ourselves. There is no middle-path. No neutrality in this fight to the death is possible. We either fight the dragon or we become the dragon.
An additional problem is that we live in a dragon-culture, a culture of death, which pours scorn on the very concept of virtue and which has banned the very concept of “sin” from its vocabulary. Purity is equated with puritanism and is shunned. Chastity is ridiculed. And true marriage, in which the sexual union is united with the self-sacrificial desire for children, is being ripped apart. To make matters worse, Pride, the wickedest of sins, which rules the heart of every dragon, is now unfurled as an infernal banner and held aloft as a sign of the dragon’s war on Christian humility.
It will come as no surprise to those who know something about dragons to learn that a dragon-culture will devour the innocent in a feeding frenzy of salacious wickedness. We know of the unholy holocaust of abortion, which devours the innocent flesh of babies, but we sometimes overlook the harmful effect on women that the unleashed dragons inflict. This was brought home to me by a recent article in the UK’s Telegraph which highlighted the fact that suicide had become a plague among British women, reaching record levels.
In 2014, the number of young girls and women in the United Kingdom who committed suicide had risen by a third over the previous year. The figures are shocking. Of the 1,181 women who committed suicide, an all-time record, the highest rate of increase was among girls and young women. Whereas the overall increase was 33 per cent, the increase for girls and young women between the ages of ten to twenty-nine had risen by over 36 per cent. Most shocking was the increase of suicides among teenage girls between fifteen and nineteen years of age, a whopping increase of 61 per cent on the previous year. As if this were not shocking enough, the true figure is much higher because of the failure of coroner’s to record “suicide” as the cause of death. “We don’t really know the extent of the problem,” said Roseanne Pearce of the UK charity Childline, “because the coroner often won’t record it as suicide. Sometimes that’s at the family’s request, and sometimes it’s simply to protect the family’s feelings.”
A further sign of the damage that our dragon-culture is doing to its maidens was highlighted by a study conducted last year by the Girl Guides, the British equivalent of the Girl Scouts, which found that almost half of British girls have sought help for mental problems.
Part of the problem is the relentless rise of pornography. One case study from the UK says it all. Rhea (not her real name) is 17 and has attempted suicide twice. “Porn was everywhere in my school,” she says. Her boyfriend Andy became “obsessed with it.” She’d “made it clear,” she says, that she “wasn’t ready to have sex,” but one evening he sexually assaulted her in a park. The assaults became routine and Rhea felt she could do nothing to stop it. “The constant talk about porn had made me feel like what was happening was normal,” she says. She uses that word repeatedly to describe her attitude towards Andy’s assaults: normal. “I felt trapped, like everyone thought it was normal and I had to go along with it if I wanted to be accepted.” The pressure to conform to these perceived expectations was so great that, eventually, Rhea says, “I felt like there was no way out.” She tried to kill herself.
Nor is the problem restricted to Britain. The dragon-culture has become a truly global phenomenon. Towards the end of 2015 a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) contained the truly tragic statistic that suicide was now the biggest killer of teenage girls around the world, taking more lives globally than road accidents, disease or complications in pregnancy. It is also widely accepted that mental illness and suicide in young women are inextricably connected to sexual and physical abuse. In 2011, the WHO published research illustrating that experiencing or witnessing abuse was one of the most consistent factors behind suicide attempts in teenage girls. Women who are abused physically or sexually, whether as a child or as an adult, are eighteen times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not suffered such abuse.
Other research has shown that girls and young women who have been sexually or physically abused have levels of post-traumatic stress disorder higher than that suffered by soldiers returning from active service in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are also far more likely to be homeless and to end up in prison or in prostitution.
And the problem is destined to get much worse. Child sexual abuse is at shockingly high levels, an inevitable consequence of the erosion of traditional marriage. The presence of multiple strangers, the lone parent’s sexual partners, in the lives of children leaves them much more vulnerable to abuse.
None of this should surprise anyone with a modicum of intelligence. We live in an age in which chivalry among men is ridiculed and where the notion of self-sacrificial love has been abandoned in pursuit of self-gratifying desire. If life is reduced to “me” and my feelings, the “other” will be sacrificed on the altars of self-worship. Traditional marriage has always been the way in which a man and a woman give themselves fully to the other so that they may give themselves fully for the children that they hope to raise together.
In a world where virtue is shunned, vice will prevail. In a world where love is replaced with lust, the most vulnerable will be systematically abused. In a world which boasts of its Pride, it is the weakest who suffer. Such a world is destined for anarchy, which Oscar Wilde rightly called “freedom’s own Judas.” Anarchy is the morally lawless society in which the morally lawless prey upon the weak. It is a world that has unleashed the dragon. In such a world, characterized by the increase in the number of damsels in distress, we need an increase in the number of those prepared to go forth, like St. George, armed with courage and the grace of God, to rescue the maidens from the dragons of the death-culture.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.