"Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." – 1 Peter 2:17 KJV
Author: The Anglophilic Anglican
I am an ordained Anglican clergyman, published writer, former op-ed columnist, and experienced outdoor and informal educator. I am also a traditionalist: religiously, philosophically, politically, and socially. I seek to do my bit to promote and restore the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in a world which has too-often lost touch with all three, and to help re-weave the connections between God, Nature, and humankind which our techno-industrial civilization has strained and broken.
“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron. But I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”
Would you better understand, not only those great authors, thinkers, and defenders of Western Christendom (note: “Old West,” here, does not mean “cowboys and Indians”), C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but also the world we live in, how we got here, and where it may lead, should we continue on our present trajectory? Then read this essay! Long, but worth it.
N.B. – There are a few, mostly minor, issues of spelling and/or proofreading in this rather lengthy essay (doubtless I have many in my own writings, as well). Most are minor, and easily forgiven (the youngest companion of Frodo, in the Fellowship of the Ring, was Pippin, not “Pippen”), but one at least is significant:
The favorite haunt of the Hobbits was “a well-farmed countryside,” not “a well-armed countryside.” They did indeed turn out to be fairly well-armed, at the last, but with hunting arms, not weapons of war. Hobbits were, as Tolkien notes, not a warlike people!
“As faith in Christianity recedes in the West, a strange thing is happening. Having shaken off belief in God, people are not becoming more rational, they’re becoming more gullible. They believe that babies in the womb aren’t really human beings, that same-sex “marriage” is the equivalent of real marriage, that there are roughly 52 varieties of gender, that boys can become girls, and vice versa. In general, they believe that wishing makes it so.
“Rejection of God does not lead to a flowering of civilization, but rather to a primitivization. Many of the ideas that are now current are pre-scientific and even anti-scientific. Science is solidly on the side of those who say that babies are babies, and that boys cannot become girls, yet when science comes into conflict with today’s magical beliefs it is rejected out of hand. For many, the ultimate source of truth is not reason, or science, or God, but feelings.
“It was belief in a rational God who created a rational and ordered universe that provided the main impetus for scientific study centuries ago. Christian and Jewish scholars thought it worthwhile to study the nature of things because the nature of things was considered to be rational and discoverable. Thus, the scientific revolution was a product of the Judeo-Christian world…”
“Tolkien calls this sudden, unexpected turn in a story the eucatastrophe. According to Tolkien, it is the highest function of all good stories. It derives from the Greek words, ‘eu’for ‘good’, and ‘katastrophe’ for destruction. It is a good catastrophe, the collision of grief and joy.”
In my previous post, I alluded to J.R.R. Tolkien’s lexical coinage and philosophical concept, eucatastrophe. So I thought it only fitting to post a link to this essay (also referenced in my preceding post) from the good folks at 1517:
“Recovery, escape, and consolation. These are the essential elements of a good fairy story, writes J.R.R. Tolkien. As air, water, and food are to humanity, so are recovery, escape, and consolation to the fairy tale.
“Tolkien’s view of recovery helps us regain a proper view of the world, to see life as it should be; through our journey in a good story, we see our own world more clearly. Escape is the longing that good stories give us; the desire to be freed from the prison of death and darkness.
“And now, at last, we come to Tolkien’s final element of a good fairy story: consolation. We see the consolation of a good story most clearly in its denouement…”
Disney’s treatment falls far short in addressing two fundamental touchstones of Tolkien’s life and work: the ancient and medieval texts of the Western literary tradition and the Catholic faith of the author.
The new Disney film cuts out some of the most important influences in his life. The movie does not once mention the great ex-atheist and Christian author C.S. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien… The movie also does not mention the Inklings, the society of writers who read each other’s works and spurred both Lewis and Tolkien on to greatness. The film focuses on the early influences of Tolkien’s life, so these cuts may be justifiable.
Worst, however, is the film’s neglect for Tolkien’s faith, which inspired his entire life. The movie also cuts out the literary works that inspired his imagination — touchstones of the Western literary tradition. In fact, the author’s literary masterpiece The Lord of the Rings is heavily influenced not just by the Western literary tradition but by Christianity and Jesus in particular.
I had been looking forward to seeing this movie, but now I am not at all sure I want to spend the time or the money. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in light of all this, the Tolkien Estate have disavowed the film. In a statement on 23 April, the Estate said:
“The family of J R R Tolkien and the Tolkien Estate are aware of the Fox Searchlight motion picture entitled ‘Tolkien’ that is due for release in May 2019. The family and the estate wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film. They do not endorse it or its content in any way.”
“As a student at the King Edward’s School at Birmingham and later at Oxford, Tolkien was immersed in works such as The Aeneid, Le Morte d’Arthur, and Beowulf. Here are stories of the noble quest: the tragic hero who answers the righteous call on his life, acts with courage, and performs his duty — regardless of the chances of success,” Loconte said. “The triumph of multiculturalism, however, has mostly marginalized these works from the academy, along with the ideals and virtues they embody. Despite its respect for Tolkien’s intellectual life, the film’s writers seem unable or unwilling to explore it with care.”
Worse yet, Tolkien’s strong Catholic Christian faith has been sidelined or ignored entirely in the movie, as Loconte explains:
“Tolkien’s Christian faith is another great factor in his life and career, a force that animates all of his creative energies… Yet there is no hint that Tolkien possessed a faith of his own, or that it was a source of strength and comfort during the tragedy of the war.
“In fact, Tolkien was a regular churchgoer, and even attended Mass whenever he could while a soldier at the Western Front. In explaining the power of myths to grip our imagination, Tolkien spoke of the eucatastrophe — the reversal of a catastrophe through ‘a sudden and miraculous grace.’
And the ultimate eucatastrophe, as Tolkien himself pointed out, was the Crucifixion and Resurrection itself, the core of the Christian faith, and the greatest outpouring of grace the world has ever known. Loconte continues,
“Until Hollywood acknowledges this grace as a divine reality, as an authentic source of literary imagination, its treatment of Tolkien will remain small and insular, like a fretful hobbit afraid to ever leave the Shire.”
I am not a “young earth” Creationist, in the sense of one who accepts the calculations of Archbishop Ussher (an Anglican, it must be said!), who determined that the cosmos was just over six thousand years old, or who believes it essential to adopt a literalist attitude to the “six days” of the Genesis creation narrative.
Let’s remember that a) the Ancient Near East of the time used a hexadecimal system of calculation – our 360° circle, 365 day year (360 + 5 intercalculary days), 12-month year, and even 24-hour day are vestiges of this system – so six is an appropriate number of completion; and b) these literal, 24-earth-hour days make sense only for Earth itself, since every other planet in the solar system (and beyond) has a different length of day.
Also, there are plenty of indications that God – being eternal – views time quite a bit differently than we do: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4), and “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8, likely following the Psalmist), to cite but two examples.
(Note: we should not jump to the conclusion that “a divine day equals a thousand earth-years,” either: the Scriptures frequently speak symbolically and allegorically).
And evolution, in the sense of adaption / development in response to environmental stimuli, is an observable phenomenon, both in the lab and in the field. As an explanation of observed phenomenon, evolution makes sense. Anyone who denies this is either not paying attention, or is hampered by ideological blinders.
The problem comes when science spins off into “scientism,” and people try to make of evolution something it is not, or should not be – a motive force, a mechanistic, deterministic replacement for God – and “believe in” Darwinism as a replacement for religion.
The bottom line is this: I am a Christian, and a Christian cleric. As such, I believe that we are living in a Creation, and that it has a Creator: God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All the glory and grandeur we see around us, in the heavens and on earth, did not “just happen,” as a result of the intersection of random happenings and (unoriginated, self-existent) natural laws. We do not live in an accidental Cosmos.
What is interesting to me is that more and more professional scientists are beginning to adopt the same view. Intelligent Design (“ID”) is not, itself, a theological position; the Designer of ID need not necessarily, by the tenets of ID, be the God of the Bible. But it is at least a step in that direction; a concession that the Cosmos did not “just happen,” that – in the terms of the old natural theology – if you happen to come upon a watch, the logical deduction is that there is a Watchmaker.
(It must be noted that a great deal of the challenge to the dominant scientific paradigm comes from secular, naturalistic scientists. However, as an article in The Federalist points out, the
“leading critics [of Darwinian evolution] have been intelligent design supporters, who are looked down on by naturalists.” [N.B. – in the sense of those who support solely naturalistic explanations for observed phenomena, not those who explain the natural world to families in parks and nature centers!] “But as each group adds to the scientific literature, certain critiques and findings inevitably bolster or redirect the research of the other [emphasis added].”
The originally linked essay by David Klinghoffer is an excellent introduction to the growing debate, and includes a large number of links for those who wish to follow up on it. As Klinghoffer concludes,
“Scientists, intellectuals, and ordinary thoughtful adults are giving up the old pledge of allegiance to Darwin. The evolution in thought is very gradual, admittedly, but it’s unmistakably happening.”
This blog article in Psychology Today traces the top five causes of the epidemic of depression here in the U.S. (and in fact, throughout much of the world). These include:
1. The erosion of traditional social structures and communities. “A gradual disintegration of the social fabric, which has closely paralleled industrial and technological growth, has resulted in greater isolation and loneliness… we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, and neighbors. Urbanization and the breakup of the extended family and rural community are leading causes of this social atomization.”
2. Changes in modes of communication. “Following the physical upheaval of urbanization, the world has been swept by a tidal wave of electronic innovation… [The] alarming rise in depression among U.S. youth during the period 2004–2015… coincides with the birth and rapid growth of smartphone usage during the same period. While this does not prove a cause-effect relationship, it would seem to reinforce an urgent need to closely examine the impact of smartphone usage on the communication skills and psychological well-being of young people.”
3. Changes in Diet. “Consumption of processed foods, which mostly contain a serious imbalance of omega fats, large quantities of sugar, and a lack of fermented ingredients, are radically affecting the delicate balance of our gut flora. A landmark comparison between North Africans and North Americans revealed sharp declines in bacterial diversity among the North American group, including genera containing the psychobiotic strains… Is fast food and processed food throwing our microbiome, that is, our internal environment, into chaos in the same way that pollution is destroying the macrobiome?”
[Note: the Weston A. Price Foundation has been saying this since 1999; Dr. Price himself raised the alarm regarding processed foods vs traditional dietary patterns, back in the 1930s and 40s. This is not new information! But it’s finally beginning to be recognized by the mainstream.]
4. The intense competition surrounding education among industrialized nations. “Korea, Japan, China, and to a growing degree, Western nations, are experiencing an exponential rise in youth depression… fierce competition in the academic arena, in which academic success is equated with social and economic “success” by parents, is leading to a loss of personal autonomy and acute stress. Secondary schools are now largely focused on exam-centered curricula… marked by a lack of content related to life skills, social-emotional learning, and wellbeing in general.”
5. The familiar socio-economic suspects, including war and poverty. “Nations strongly affected by conflict and extreme poverty, with an emphasis on extreme, rank relatively high on the depression scale and low in happiness and satisfaction. Nonetheless, the relationship between GDP and depression/happiness rates is by no means linear… Personal freedom and the presence of social networks, two factors inversely correlated to depression mentioned above, are highly related to scores on the Positive Experience Index of the Global Emotions Report.”
Assuming that the above is accurate, and based on my own experience and informal research, I believe it is, what is most interesting in all this to me – aside from a certain degree of grim satisfaction of the “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so” variety – is that four out of five of these factors are both endemic to, and so far as can be determined, unique to, our modern/postmodern age. Our ancestors had rough lives in many respects – rougher than ours in most – but they do not appear to have suffering from comparable levels of depression… which has spiked in recent years, as recounted in the linked article, and many others.
These contributing factors to the contemporary depression epidemic can therefore (despite the usual disclaimers about correlation not equalling causation) be pretty much laid at the feet of our abandonment of traditional approaches, thoughts, understandings, philosophies, and ways of living and being, in so many areas of life, from foodways to lifeways, from communication to education.
This mindless neophilia, this willingness (even eagerness) to cast aside the traditional, the tried and true, and to eternally chase after the supposedly “new and improved,” which is so characteristic of our present society, is going to kill us – is killing us – if we do not moderate it with a more sensitive and sympathetic appropriation and re-adoption of traditional norms and ways of life.