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‘The Hobbit’ and Virtue by Joseph Pearce

‘The Hobbit’ and Virtue

John-Ronald-Reuel-Tolkien-10Since its initial publication almost 60 years ago, it is estimated to have registered sales in excess of 150 million copies.

In a poll organized jointly by Waterstones and BBC Channel 4 in 1996, The Lord of the Rings topped the poll in 104 of the 105 branches of the British bookstore, receiving 20% more votes than George Orwell’sNineteen Eighty-Four, its nearest rival.  Perhaps its ultimate triumph in the age of the Internet was its being voted best book of the millennium by Amazon.com customers, signaling its conquest of the final frontier of cyberspace.

In the wake of the book’s phenomenal success, Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy became one of the most successful films of all time.

Few would predict anything other than another huge success for Jackson and his team with the December 14 release of the first part of the long-awaited three-part adaptation of The Hobbit.

At its deepest level of meaning, The Hobbit is a pilgrimage of grace in which its protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, becomes grown-up in the most important sense.  Throughout the course of his adventure, the hobbit develops the habit of virtue and grows in sanctity, illustrating the priceless truth that we only become wise men (homo sapiens) when we realize that we are pilgrims on a purposeful journey through life (homo viator).

Bilbo’s journey from the homely comfort of the Shire to the uncomfortable lessons learned en route to the Lonely Mountain, in parallel with Frodo’s journey from the Shire to Mount Doom in the Rings trilogy, is a mirror of every man’s journey through life.  It is in this sense that Tolkien wrote in his celebrated and cerebral essay “On Fairy Stories” that “the fairy story . . . may be used as a mirour de l’omme” (the mirror of scorn and pity towards man).

In short, we are meant to see ourselves reflected in the character of Bilbo and our lives reflected in his journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain.

Indeed, and perhaps surprisingly, Bilbo bears a remarkable resemblance to many of us, his diminutive size and furry feet notwithstanding.  He likes tea and toast and jam and pickles; he has wardrobes full of clothes and lots of pantries full of food; he likes the view from his own window and has little desire to see the view from distant windows.  He is a creature of comfort dedicated to the creature comforts.

In Christian terms, Bilbo Baggins is dedicated to the easy life and would find the prospect of taking up his cross and following the heroic path of self-sacrifice utterly anathema.

* * *

The unexpected party at the beginning of the story, in which the hobbit’s daily habits are disrupted by the arrival of unexpected and unwelcome guests, is, therefore, a necessary disruption.  It is the intervention into his cozy life of an element of inconvenience or suffering, which serves as a wake-up call and a call to action.

In losing his bourgeois respectability — the price he must pay for becoming an adventurer — he forsakes the world and the worldly in favor of the pearl of great price.

Another key component of The Hobbit, which it shares with The Lord of the Rings, is the presence of the invisible hand of Providence or grace.  This presence, euphemistically labeled “luck” in the story, is not really “luck” at all.

“You don’t really suppose, do you,” Gandalf tells Bilbo, “that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?”

Contrary to the claims of Nietzsche, Hitler and other secular “progressives,” there is no triumph of the will without the supernatural assistance of grace.  This is the whole point of Frodo’s failure to destroy the One Ring of his own volition in The Lord of the Rings.  Human will, on its own, is never enough.  Grace is always necessary.

In The Hobbit, as in The Lord of the Rings, good “luck” is inextricably connected to good choices, and bad “luck” is inextricably connected to bad choices.  With regard to the latter, we should recall the words of Gandalf to Pippin: “Often does hatred hurt itself” — or the words of Theoden that “oft evil will shall evil mar.”

Thus, there is a supernatural dimension to the unfolding of events in Middle-earth, in which Tolkien shows the mystical balance that exists between the promptings of grace or of demonic temptation and the response of the will to such promptings and temptations.  This mystical relationship plays itself out in the form of transcendent Providence, which is much more than “luck” or chance.

For a Christian, this is life as it is.  It is realism.

* * *

A Christian believes in dragons, even if he can’t see them, and knows that they are perilous and potentially deadly.  They are certainly not to be courted, nor is it wise to toy with them.

“The more truly we can see life as a fairy tale,” said G.K.  Chesterton, “the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the dragon who is wasting fairyland.”

Grace is always available to those who seek it and ask for it, biasing “fortune” in the direction of goodness; yet, on the other hand, the fallen nature of humanity means that man’s natural tendency is towards concupiscence and its destructive consequences.  If we don’t ask for help, we are bound to fall.

It is in this choice, rooted in the gift and responsibility of free will, that the struggle with evil is won or lost.  The will must willingly cooperate with grace or, in its failure to do so, must inevitably fall into evil.  The struggle which all of us face is a dangerous adventure in a perilous realm.

If the interplay of Providence and free will is the means by which the dynamism of virtue and its consequences drive the narrative forward, the overarching moral of The Hobbit would appear to be a cautionary meditation on Matthew 6:21 (“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”).

The story begins with Bilbo’s desire for comfort and his unwillingness to sacrifice himself for others.  His heart is essentially self-centered, surrounding itself with the treasures of his own home.  His position at the outset of the story is an ironic and symbolic prefiguring of the dragon’s surrounding himself with treasure in his “home” in the Lonely Mountain.

Bilbo is, therefore, afflicted with the dragon sickness.  His pilgrimage to the Lonely Mountain is the means by which he will be cured of this materialist malady.  It is a via dolorosa, a path of suffering, the following of which will heal him of his self-centeredness and teach him to give himself self-sacrificially to others.

The paradoxical consequence of the dragon sickness is that the things possessed possess the possessor.  Thus Bilbo is a slave to his possessions at the beginning of The Hobbit and is liberated from them, or from his addiction to them, by its end.

When Gandalf proclaims at the story’s end that Bilbo is no longer the hobbit that he was, we know that he is changed for the better.  He no longer places his heart at the service of his worldly possessions, but seeks instead those treasures of the heart to be found in wisdom and virtue.  He is healed, and he is whole — or, as Tolkien the Catholic might say, he is whole because he is holy.  The hobbit had attained the habit of virtue, and, as befits the hero of any good fairy story, he now knows what is necessary to live happily ever after.

Faith and Freedom: Why Liberty Requires Christianity by Joseph Pearce

Faith and Freedom: Why Liberty Requires Christianity

by Joseph Pearce

29-Good-Samaritan-Langetti-620x320

In an age that seems to believe that Christianity is an obstacle to liberty it will prove provocative to insist, contrary to such belief, that Christian faith is essential to liberty’s very existence. Yet, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to disciples of the progressivist zeitgeist, it must be insisted that faith enshrines freedom. Without the shrine that faith erects to freedom, the liberties that we take for granted will be eroded and ultimately destroyed. Faith preserves freedom. It protects it. It insists upon it. Where there is faith there is freedom. Where faith falters, so does freedom. This truth, so uncomfortably perplexing for so many of our contemporaries, was encapsulated by G. K. Chesterton when he asserted that “the modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital.  It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom.”[1]

One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God, it doesn’t matter if people are black or white, healthy or sick, able-bodied or handicapped, or whether babies are inside the womb or out of it. It doesn’t matter that people are different, in terms of race, age or innate abilities; they are all equal in the eyes of God, and therefore, of necessity, in the eyes of Man also. This is the priceless inheritance of Christendom with which our freedoms are established and maintained. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God and Man, everyone must also be equal in the eyes of the law.

If, however, the equality of man is denied, freedom is imperiled. The belief of Nietzsche, adopted by the Nazis, that humanity consists of übermenschen and untermenschen, the “over-men” and the “under-men,” led to people being treated as subhuman, worthy of extermination and victims of genocide. The progressivist belief of Hegel, adopted by Marx and his legion of disciples, that a rationalist dialectic, mechanistically determined, governs the progress of humanity, led to the deterministic inhumanity of communism and the slaughter of those deemed to be enemies of “progress.” The French Revolution, an earlier incarnation of atheistic progressivism and the progenitor of communism, had led to the invention of the guillotine as the efficient and effective instrument of the Great Terror and its rivers of blood. The gas chamber, the Gulag and the guillotine are the direct consequence of the failure to uphold the Christian concept of human equality and the freedom it enshrines. In our own time, the same failure to accept and uphold human equality has led to babies in the womb being declared subhuman, or untermenschen, without any protection in law from their being killed at the whim of their mothers. Continue reading

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The Courage to be Christian by Joseph Pearce

Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The Courage to be Christian

  
March 21, 2013
 
In these dark days in which the power of secular fundamentalism appears to be on the rise and in which religious freedom seems to be imperiled, it is easy for Christians to become despondent. The clouds of radical relativism seem to obscure the light of objective truth and it can be difficult to discern any silver lining to help us illumine the future with hope.

In such gloomy times the example of the martyrs can be encouraging. Those who laid down their lives for Christ and His Church in worse times than ours are beacons of light, dispelling the darkness with their baptism of blood. “Upon such sacrifices,” King Lear tells his soon to be martyred daughter Cordelia, “The gods themselves throw incense.”

It is said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church and, if this is so, more bloody seed has been sown in the past century than in any of the bloody centuries that preceded it. Tens of millions have been slaughtered on the blood-soaked altars of national and international socialism in Europe, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. Today, in many parts of the world, millions upon millions are being slaughtered in the womb in the name of “reproductive rights.”

In such a meretricious age the giant figure of Alexander Solzhenitsyn emerges as a colossus of courage. Born in Russia in 1918, only months after the secular fundamentalists had swept to power in the Bolshevik Revolution, Solzhenitsyn was brainwashed by a state education system which taught him that socialism was just and that religion was the enemy of the people. Like most of his school friends, he enslaved himself to the zeitgeist, became an atheist and joined the communist party.

Serving in the Soviet army on the Eastern Front during the Second World War he witnessed cold blooded murder and the raping of women and children as the Red Army took its “revenge” on the Germans. Disillusioned, he committed the indiscretion of criticizing the Soviet leader Josef Stalin and was imprisoned for eight years as a political dissident.

While in prison, he resolved to expose the horrors of the Soviet system. Shortly after his release, during a period of compulsory exile in Kazakhstan, he was diagnosed with a malignant cancer in its advanced stages and was not expected to live. In the face of what appeared to be impending death, he converted to Christianity and was astonished by what he considered to be a miraculous recovery. Continue reading

Faith and Freedom by Joseph Pearce

Faith and Freedom

February 26, 2013
 
by Joseph Pearce
 
Liberty itself must be limited in order to be possessed.– Edmund Burke
 
Anarchy, Freedom’s own Judas, the vile prodigal License who steals the gold of liberty– Oscar Wilde
 

In an age that seems to believe that Christianity is an obstacle to liberty, it will prove provocative to insist, contrary to such belief, that Christian faith is essential to liberty’s very existence. Yet, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to disciples of the progressivist zeitgeist, it must be insisted that faith enshrines freedom. Without the shrine that faith erects to freedom the liberties that we take for granted will be eroded and ultimately destroyed. Faith preserves freedom. It protects it. It insists upon it. Where there is faith there is freedom. Where faith falters, so does freedom. This truth, so uncomfortably perplexing for so many of our contemporaries, was encapsulated by G. K. Chesterton when he asserted that “the modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital.  It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom.”[1]

One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God, it doesn’t matter if people are black or white, healthy or sick, able-bodied or handicapped, or whether babies are inside the womb or out of it. It doesn’t matter that people are different, in terms of race, age or innate abilities; they are all equal in the eyes of God and, therefore, of necessity, in the eyes of Man also. This is the priceless inheritance of Christendom with which our freedoms are established and maintained. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God and Man, everyone must also be equal in the eyes of the law.

If, however, the equality of man is denied, freedom is imperiled. The belief of Nietzsche, adopted by the Nazis, that humanity consists of übermenschen and untermenschen, the “over-men” and the “under-men”, led to people being treated as subhuman, worthy of extermination and victims of genocide. The progressivist belief of Hegel, adopted by Marx and his legion of disciples, that a rationalist dialectic, mechanistically determined, governs the progress of humanity, led to the deterministic inhumanity of communism and the slaughter of those deemed to be enemies of “progress”. The French Revolution, an earlier incarnation of atheistic progressivism and the progenitor of communism, had led to the invention of the guillotine as the efficient and effective instrument of the Great Terror and its rivers of blood. The gas chamber, the Gulag and the guillotine are the direct consequence of the failure to uphold the Christian concept of human equality and the freedom it enshrines. In our own time, the same failure to accept and uphold human equality has led to babies in the womb being declared subhuman, or untermenschen, without any protection in law from their being killed at the whim of their mothers.

Apart from the connection between freedom and equality, the other aspect of freedom enshrined by Christianity is the freedom of the will and the consequences attached to it. If we are free to act and are not merely slaves to instinct as the materialists claim, we have to accept that we are responsible for our choices and for their consequences.Before proceeding to the paradoxical relationship between freedom and responsibility, let’s return to the philosophical ramifications of materialism, which is to say the removal of God from the picture of reality. Materialists are forced, if they are honest enough to follow the logic of their own first principles, to believe that none of us are free but that we are all slaves to our biologically determined instincts. Continue reading

‘The Hobbit’ and Virtue by Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce

Since its initial publication almost 60 years ago, it is estimated to have registered sales in excess of 150 million copies.

In a poll organized jointly by Waterstones and BBC Channel 4 in 1996, The Lord of the Rings topped the poll in 104 of the 105 branches of the British bookstore, receiving 20% more votes than George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, its nearest rival.  Perhaps its ultimate triumph in the age of the Internet was its being voted best book of the millennium by Amazon.com customers, signaling its conquest of the final frontier of cyberspace.

In the wake of the book’s phenomenal success, Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy became one of the most successful films of all time.

Few would predict anything other than another huge success for Jackson and his team with the December 14 release of the first part of the long-awaited three-part adaptation of The Hobbit.

At its deepest level of meaning, The Hobbit is a pilgrimage of grace in which its protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, becomes grown-up in the most important sense.  Throughout the course of his adventure, the hobbit develops the habit of virtue and grows in sanctity, illustrating the priceless truth that we only become wise men (homo sapiens) when we realize that we are pilgrims on a purposeful journey through life (homo viator). Continue reading

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