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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Greatest Philosophy and Theology Always Merge with Myth

The greatest philosopher of all Plato, knew this quite well, which is why he gave us so many myths: Atlantis, the ship of state, the cave and the light, the republic itself, the ring of invisibility -- you did know Gollum was right out of Plato, didn't you? -- the spherical beings who split into "soul mates," the myth of the afterlife at the end of Phaedo, and more.

J.R.R. Tolkien, who is not usually recognized as a brilliant theologian, was one, I think, so brilliant that he can only set down his insights as myths... which is just why he is not recognized as a brilliant theologian.

And my "presentism," as some have called my noting that the past and future only exist in a subsidiary fashion to the present, must ultimately be explained mythologically as well, which is why, when pushed about what I am really trying to say, I respond, "Go read the 'Music of the Ainur.'" (And for those of you who have "no time" for that -- it is only one chapter in The Silmarillion! -- well, you can read the Wikipedia summary, I guess.)

8 comments:

  1. Ah, here is the answer to my question. I even read the Silmarillion, but this was at least 11 years ago, and at that time I really didn't try to find any theological implications in the LOTR world.

    I guess I need to read the summary on Wiki, because I sold my collection of "The Silmarillion and other stories from middle-earth" about 2 months ago...

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    1. "and at that time I really didn't try to find any theological implications in the LOTR world."

      Try to find implications? The whole thing is primarily a religio-mythical construct. Did you realize the elves are angels?

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    2. Sorry for the late reply.

      Reading the wiki article now makes that very clear. Though at that time I read it I didn't realize elves are angels, I just thought that the Silmarillion is just so boring and depressing... ;)

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    3. Sorry for the late reply. After reading the wiki article it is very clear now.

      Though at that time I read it first I really didn't think about this. I rather thought this was kind of boring and quite depressing…

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  2. Really? The elves are angels? I thought the Ainur/Valar/Maiar etc. were angels...

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    1. Scott, the way I read it, the Valar / Maiar are higher order angels, while the elves are the ordinary (just angel) angels. The key phrase is Tolkien describing elves and men as "the firstborn" and "the followers," which I have been told is a traditional way of viewing angels and humans.

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    2. Hmmm... That's an interesting take. Unfortunately I don't really know that much traditional Christianity. I'm mostly limited to what I've read of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald. And I suppose a little bit of Hilaire Belloc, too.

      I heard a 'Tolkien scholar' talk once at my university, and he said that Tolkien was creating a sort of hierarchy of being that paralleled the earthly hierarchy according to Catholic doctrine (of which I also plead ignorance.) But he said you shouldn't take anything too literally or directly symbolically (i.e. directly allegorically), just that the thing was 'ordered' in a manner like the one in 'real creation.' There isn't any Jesus in that world, or anything direct like that, just the same themes expressed in different ways. And some things actually are different, or otherwise added completely extraneously/made up.

      I took the elves and men and hobbits to all be parallels of humans, but in a sort of varying hierarchy (for which we have no parallels on earth, because there is only one kind of human here), just as there are 'greater' and 'lesser' men in hierarchies (like nobility and all of that in the Middle Ages, and also among angels, as with archangels and seraphim). So there are greater and lesser elves, greater and lesser men, and elves are greater than men, but there might be some overlap in cases like Aragorn, etc. It was pretty easy to see that the Ainur were angels, though.

      If the elves were angels, I suppose they must have been fallen, then? As with the whole Oath of Feanor thing?

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    3. Yes, Scott, I agree, he disliked allegory. As far as being fallen, Tolkien has the distinction between light elves and dark elves.

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