Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Michael J. Kruger finds a fictional illustration of "deconversion" in Lord of the Rings:
...[O]ne of the most remarkable (and often overlooked) examples of apostasy is Saruman in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In many ways, Saruman has always been an odd part of the plot line. With a bad guy like Sauron to occupy the reader’s attention, why does the story even need a character like Saruman? Besides, as my kids always complain, his name actually sounds a lot like Sauron’s which makes everything very confusing.

My hunch, though, is that the name similarity is intentional. Tolkien’s world is more nuanced than just the good guys and the bad guys. Instead, there are actually good guys that become bad guys—which makes things very complicated. It’s a perfect picture of de-conversion. ....
1. Saruman was very much on the “inside” before de-converting. As the chief of the Wizards and head of the White Council, he was a leader among those who were opposed to Sauron. He was a trusted advisor and friend to many, including Gandalf.
Lesson: You can’t always see de-conversion coming. Before a person de-converts, they can look as solid as can be.
2. Saruman became enamored by the ways of the enemy. Saruman became an expert in the rings of power, which made him a great asset. But, it was his interest in ring lore that led to his downfall because he eventually lusted after the power that the rings could bring him.
Lesson: De-conversion is sometimes preceded by a desire for the power and prestige offered by the world.
3. Saruman mocked his old allies, insisting they were uneducated simpletons. As Saruman became more open about his new direction, he was quick to criticize the world he left behind. A fellow wizard, Radagast the Brown, takes the brunt of Saruman’s mocking: “‘Radagast the Brown!’ laughed Saruman, and he no longer concealed his scorn. ‘Radgast the Bird-Tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool!'”
Lesson: Those who de-convert often criticize (sometimes in a virulent manner) the evangelical world they left behind.
4. Saruman presented his de-conversion as a step toward enlightenment. As the head of the council, Saruman always wore a white robe. But when Gandalf confronts him at Orthanc, he notices that he has changed to a robe “woven of all colors.” This symbolized as shift away from absolute truth towards pluralism; towards what is progressive. This is evident in Saruman’s next words, “‘White!’ he sneered. ‘It serves as a beginning.'”
Lesson: Those who de-convert present their shift as one towards progress and enlightenment. In their mind, it is forward not backward.
5. Saruman tries to convince others to join him in his de-conversion. When Saruman first confronts Gandalf, he is not out to destroy him, but to “evangelize” him. He tries to convince Gandalf to join him in this new pathway. Incredibly, Saruman even tries to convince Gandalf that they can accomplish more good if they take this new direction: “Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish.”
Lesson: Those who de-convert are often evangelistic in recruiting others to join them.
In the end, Saruman functions as a remarkably accurate picture of what de-conversion is like. Tolkien was onto something. In the real world, it is not as simple as the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Sometimes things are more complicated than that.
Michael J. Kruger, "The Deconversion of Saruman," canon Fodder, Nov. 30, 2022.

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