Christianity and Middle-Earth

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Lure of Pottage

You're The Pits
With your massive armies
You're The Pits
And you cause tsunamis.”

I just love Mark Steyn.


After all the accusations bunged at the Pentagon and the White House from the sinister side of the global family escutcheon over the last couple of years, the UN now has its own Abu Ghraib to go with the Oil-for-Bribery unpleasantness (a scandal that has gotten little media attention compared to the unending curses heaped onto the head of George Bush over the appalling, but not-of-his-making behavior of certain American soldiers).

The men and women of the UN’s Brave New World hierarchy are no more inherently evil than the rest of us; there but for time, chance, and the grace of God go I pretty well sums it up. But as is our human wont, they have forgotten - if they ever understood - the relentlessness of the peril that stalks those in possession of great power. How it could possibly seduce them? Are not their intentions noble, liberal, virtuous, with the perfection of mankind as the goal?

And so the Ring – even elegant, moneyed, and oh, so cosmopolitan – would make corpses of us all.


The desire to do good that animates mankind’s best deeds is always and ever in danger of fossilizing under the pressure of compromise and influence and accommodation. In the end, the shape and structure of the original intent may still be there; but as with an unearthed scrap of Upper Paleolithic jawbone, we find that after long years the original fabric has disappeared, atom by atom, to be replaced by unchangeable stone.

This is not a fate about which we who would follow Christ should be careless.

Frodo is as Christian a character as one in a pre-Biblical setting can be, and yet, despite his honorable purpose and innocence of heart, his every step across the ashes of Sauron’s paradise was another footfall toward his own Night. Slowly, inexorably, his capacity for delight in the sweet domesticity of his native land was displaced from his soul until, in the end, the Ring became a sort of blasphemous I Am, like crack to a dying addict. The deep contentment that hobbits find in sun-warmed earth, rich harvest, and the bright meadows of the kindly Shire had been scoured from him as with lye soap; not even the destruction of the Ring could repair that ill:

The Shire-light is gone and I am blind
To any Road that Middle-Earth can mend;
The bridge to home was shivered in the End,
                              Like Khazad-dûm.

In like manner we Christians, however well-meaning, are susceptible to the allurements of the Enemy, vulnerable to being swallowed alive via the gullet of our mortal aspirations, unwittingly (to torture my cross-eyed metaphor into a corkscrew) poisoning ourselves blind with the enticing liqueur of political influence.

And, yet, in what may seem a contradiction, The Lord of the Rings is also about power gained honestly and used justly.


We Christians have civil rights. Use them as did Paul his as a Roman citizen. Vote, lobby, write, speak boldly against evil. Guard your children, homeschool them, rear them to exert the peer pressure of virtue against the greater culture. But know that we can in this life neither restore the throne to Gondor nor create the New Jerusalem. There are some things that only the returning king can do.

We must remember what we are above all things to be:

“[A] chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people… strangers and pilgrims, abstain[ing] from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having [our] conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against [us] as evildoers, they may by [our] good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Lest we too be bereft:

Thus gone from me was that which was most fair,
That, step by step, unknowing, I had sold;
And, breath by labored breath, I, unaware,
Had spent my shining coin for darker gold…


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