(Spoilers Published) Does anyone else think that Cercei’s decision to rearm the Faith was actually one of her better ideas?
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read this.
Before I begin my argument, I should stress that I agree with her decision at the time. Obviously in retrospect, it didn't turn out well for her or her family.
I honestly think that this was one of her better ideas simply for the fact that it solved a lot of the problems that plagued her, the Lannisters, King's Landing and, indeed, Westeros as a whole.
If you think about it, she killed many birds with one stone.
(1) Terror and violence plagued the land in the aftermath of the War of Five Kings. The people were being tortured and killed, their property stolen or destroyed, their property stolen or destroyed, their lands pillaged and burned. Nothing was sacred. Even the Faith weren't unaffected with their septs being desecrated and septons/septas being mutilated and executed by the Brave Companions to name but one group. Cercei's decision to rearm the Faith gave Westeros the ability to fight back against the marauders. To me, the Faith Militant are somewhat akin to the Brotherhood Without Banners, in that they fight for the average person. In a world of threats, I'd certainly appreciate someone on my side holding evildoers and the elite alike accountable. It was the people themselves who were able to look after their communities, defend the common good and it gave them a renewed sense of vigour and co-operation with which they could beat back the barbarians. Plus she managed to do it for free! She didn't even have to dedicate Crown resources to the funding of such an endeavour e.g weapons, food etc. They did it all themselves! All they needed was permission. Cercei managed to begin to bring law and order to the general populous once again and what's even more convenient is that they policed themselves.
(2) Not only did they do it for free, but they paid her for the privilege! They dissolved close to 1 million golden dragons that the Crown owed the Faith for the Crown's backing of such an initiative.
At this point in the story, the Crown is in 6 million golden dragons in debt. 3 million to the Lannisters, 2 million to the Tyrells, Iron Bank & Tyroshi Trading Cartels and then 1 million to the Faith. In one fell swoop, Cercei just knocked off a sixth of the Crown's debt with just a single policy that requires practically no effort or maintenance on the part of the Crown. That's a task solely on the shoulders of the Faith. To put it into context, that's like America being offered the opportunity to wipe over 3 trillion off of their current debt in the blink of an eye. Wouldn't it at least merit consideration? Kings and queens the world over would have killed to have such a proposition offered to them and would have promised so much more to get it than mere permission to make Westeros better again. Debt obviously has negative ramifications for a country. How many businesses did Cercei save? How much economic prosperity in the form of renewed trade and bustling market towns and ports did she create? How many new contacts did people make because of all of these new goods and services came pouring into a country with significantly less debt? Cercei's contribution in this regard is incalculable, but certainly incredibly positive.
(3) Not only did she negotiate a better financial deal for the Crown, but she also managed to gain significant boon to her son, Tommen's, reign. Part of the agreement with the Faith was that they also bestow their blessing upon his rule and recognise him as the one true ruler of Westeros. This is a huge deal and a rite of passage that every king in the history of Westeros had undergone. This essentially tells every gods fearing man and woman to pledge loyalty to the Crown because the gods have recognised him. This is a useful tool for any king but especially necessary to one who's claim, I think is fair to say, is highly in question. It's not even like Cercei could count on their neutrality at best. Historically, the Faith could have always despised incest and took umbridge with the Targaryens for such a practice. It's dicey to think down the line which side the Faith could have come down on had Cercei not only gained their neutrality, but better yet, their alliance. Better her son rather than some potential usurper who, up until that point, might have had a decent claim at winning them over instead of him. Not only did she quell those potential rebellions from the Faith and usurpers, but probably quite a few others who look to them for guidance.
(4) It's not a stretch to say that most crime stats most likely went down. The average person would have been less likely to engage in whatever illegal or immoral act they would have ordinarily when there is a bunch of religious extremists patrolling. You would have had to be pretty desperate to risk committing any kind of crime with a group like the Faith Militant in your city. Guards and police inherently make crime go down. It's just a fact. For whatever reasons they were, there's no denying that the Faith Militant are an extremely puritanical and judgmental organisation. They are draconian for serious crimes and minor ones alike. Sometimes for actions that aren't or shouldn't be crimes at all. I don't know about you, but I'd think twice about going to a prostitute if it meant public flogging and embarrassment (that I hadn't paid for, of course).
(5) In typical Cercei style, there was of course a personal benefit. By unleashing the Faith Militant, she was able to guide the direction in which they went, at least in the beginning. Conveniently enough, they went for her family's biggest enemies, the Tyrells. Now we don't exactly know how all of this plays out in the books, but if it's anything like the show, the Tyrells lose more than she does from this action. Disregarding the show for a moment though, even still, if you had the potential to use a proxy army with a divine mandate and almost inarguable jurisdiction to sic onto your enemies with relatively little tangible blowback for you, wouldn't you?
I understand that the general consensus seems to be that of Cercei being a bit of an egotistical buffoon who over estimates her ability to manipulate and 'play the game', with the arming of the Faith being the pinnacle in most people's arguments for this opinion. However, I would agree with that caricature of Cercei, but despite the arming, not because of it. In my humble opinion I think this was one of the rarer examples of her 'low cunning' as Tyrion put it.
Again, you can say it all turned out badly for her in the end, but doesn't everything with everyone? Everyone's actions inevitably lead to something negative down the line, but that's not a reason not to do it. By that same logic, Robert never should have become king because it eventually resulted in his assassination. He should have stayed in Storm's End as Lord and could have lived for decades more. Or he also could have died sooner. Just like Cercei could have done nothing and dealt with all the negative consequences of all of those things I mentioned above going the opposite way and who knows how much worse her and her family would have fared. I think she was between a rock and a hard place no matter what she chose, but this way helped alleviate quite a few threats all at once. We only see this timeline and not the one where she never made this decision. If we could compare and contrast the two alternate universes, I believe she would have been vindicated.
Honestly, in the situation she was in, facing the problems she faced, accounting for allies, enemies, money, crime, legacy, security, power etc, I would have done the same thing in her position. Would you have?