I Can’t Get No

Just jotting down thoughts here for lack of a better place to put them.  Recently there was a bit of a kerfuffle in certain Protestant circles when Hank Hanegraaff (I’d never heard of him, but he is or was a major player in American Protestantism, apparently) converted to my own faith, Eastern Orthodoxy.  The general response of Protestants was that he had “left Christianity,” and there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about incense and idolatry and whatnot.

Most of this is tiresome and impossible to resolve because of Protestants’ and Orthodox Christians’ radically different beliefs concerning the ultimate source of “authority” for Christians.  I’m not going to go into the sola this-and-that rabbit hole.  However, the concept of “penal substitution” did get brought up, and that seems worth discussion.

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Tolkien’s Crusaders

When J.R.R. Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings in the mid fifties, it was broadly assumed–at least by some–that his fantasy trilogy, much of which was written during World War II, was meant as an allegory for the war itself.  Here Gondor stands for Britain, Rohan for the U.S., Mordor and company for the axis powers, etc.  It makes sense, from a certain point of view, but the speculation irritated Tolkien intensely, to the point that, in an introduction added to later editions, he explicitly debunked it, explaining, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its forms,” and noting that, if it were properly an allegory, Sauron would be enslaved, not destroyed, and Isengard would wind up creating its own ring, setting off a lengthy period of hostilities with Gondor.  Or some such.

I’m willing to take Professor Tolkien’s word that no conscious allegory was intended.  Still, there are intriguing historical parallels, which I think are worth examining.  One of the critical errors made by the “allegorizers” (for lack of a more graceful term) was to seek out links to modern history, when the author was a medievalist, and his magnum opus takes place in a world which is not just technologically, but spiritually, medieval. Continue reading