Misreading Tolkien and Misreading Scripture: Responding to O’Keefe and Reno

I am reading John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision for the independent study on hermeneutics and theological method I am doing this summer. I have found the book fairly helpful overall, and think the authors are right to commend the church Fathers as models for Biblical interpretation in many ways. The authors do good (albeit somewhat tendentious) work arguing for whole-Bible/“intensive reading” strategies and the validity of typology as part of theological method. When they come to allegory, though, their argument almost immediately goes off the rails with a deeply misguided interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. I offer a critique in two (brief) parts:

 

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Soma and the Silencing of Evangelicalism After Trump

In his novel Silence Japanese writer Shusaku Endo tells the story of two Portuguese missionaries in 17th century Japan. After initial pioneering work by Francis Xavier in the 16th century, a small native Japanese church had begun to flourish in the mid-to-late 16th century, possibly growing as large as 100,000 people. Then the government took a hard anti-Christian turn, closed the island to foreigners, and began a harsh regime of persecution against the Japanese Christians.

At the center of this persecution were small icons called fumi-e, pictured above. During the torture, the government officials told the Christians that all they needed to do to end it is agree to trample on the fumi-e, which was understood to be a way of renouncing the faith. To make sure it took, it was common practice in much of Japan to require former Christians to step on a fumi-e once a year. (Silence spoilers below the jump.) Continue reading

The Worldly Poetry of the Puritans

I’m pleased to have Stephen Wolfe back with us again today for this piece on Puritan poetry.

The common understanding of the Puritans, in both popular and academic circles, is that they were hostile to all art, despisers of human desire, and saw nothing redeemable or good in creation. According to this view, their religious fervor was more than world-denying; it was earth-denying; it was desire-denying; it was sense-denying; and it was beauty-denying.

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Blame Jacques Derrida for Donald Trump.

I’m pleased to run this guest piece by S.D. Kelly, particularly given the direction the Trump campaign has gone in the past week.

A dozen years after his death, the ideas promoted by the historian and philosopher Jacques Derrida still wield a powerful influence. This holds true even for people who have never heard of Derrida. In fact, it might even be especially true for people who have never heard of Derrida. During his superstar academic career, Derrida wrote thousands of pages and lectured to thousands of students, dismantling the constructs of a very logocentric world through the philosophical and critical approach of deconstructionism. Continue reading

Tolkien’s Holy Fools

At one point in The Lord of the Rings Gandalf, the great wizard-hero of the story, is asked by another character what hope there is that Frodo and Sam would fulfill their quest and destroy Sauron’s ring of power. “There never was much hope,” he replies. “Only a fool’s hope.” But this, as it turns out, is precisely the point.

It’s a striking thing that Tolkien’s Silmarillion is singularly focused on the deeds of great men and elves in the first age of the world. Then the high elves and the earliest men, still in many ways kin to the elves in those days, waged war against Morgoth, the first dark lord of Tolkien’s legendarium. Set that story next to The Lord of the Rings and you begin to notice a pattern. Continue reading

Walt Whitman on Neighbors and Strangers

It is good to remember, especially in light of these presidential primaries, that no era is without its share of baffling endorsements. Andrew Carnegie, whose imperious steel mills did more than perhaps anyone to antagonize the neo-transcendentalist folklore of Leaves of Grass, called Walt Whitman the greatest poet America has produced.

Out of the many poems Whitman wrote on the effects of industrial change, perhaps none is as poignant as “To A Stranger.” Continue reading

Who says memorialism isn’t “sacramental”?

In the latest iteration of that interminable meme beloved by traditionalist conservatives everywhere, “Everything is terrible because of Protestantism” Peter Leithart has argued that Protestants cannot write because of our impoverished theology of the sacraments. His argument, particularly in part two, actually does become more complex than his “gleefully reductionistic” title would suggest, but the primary argument Leithart is making is that a memorialist view of the sacraments necessarily creates an impoverished imagination incapable of producing great art. Continue reading

Detective Fiction and the Fun of Orthodoxy

We’re a little late for Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday, which was last Tuesday, but all the same I’m delighted to share this fun piece from Matthew Mellema, a new guest writer for us at Mere Orthodoxy. Matt is a lawyer specializing in religious institutions. He’s also a writer who explores evangelicalism and quitting cynicism at mattmellema.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Matt_Mellema. 

“It is the dogma that is the drama.”

Dorothy Sayers wrote the line against the watery theology of her time. But it has implications beyond theology. It could also apply to another one of Sayers’ passions: detective writing.

To love detective fiction is to love rules. Continue reading

Twitter Is Like Elizabeth Bennet’s Meryton

I’m quite pleased to feature this piece from Mere Fidelity contributor Alastair Roberts today. You can follow him on Twitter here or read his personal blog here

‘A Truth Universally Acknowledged…’

In a 1997 article on communal judgment in Pride and Prejudice, William Deresiewicz observed that Pride and Prejudice is, at first glance, an apparent exception to Austen’s practice of opening her novels by introducing a central character.(1) Indeed, Elizabeth Bennet’s character doesn’t truly come to the foreground until around the sixth chapter. Closer examination, however, reveals that there is a central character introduced at the beginning of the novel: the community, with its values, expectations, conventions, and practices. The opening sentence of the book—‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’—is a ‘mock aphorism’, which is swiftly exposed to be nothing but a judgment that is ‘well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families’ of the neighbourhood. The earlier episodes of the story focus upon the neighbourhood of Meryton and its collective consciousness, which emerges as Mr Bingley and his friends move to Netherfield and become known to the community of the local gentry, most particularly in the opening ball. Deresiewicz remarks: ‘Elizabeth cannot appear until well into this initial story because it is that story—the story of how a community thinks, talks, exerts influence—that produces her plot, that produces her’ (504). Continue reading

On GK Chesterton and Chicken Vindaloo

An introduction to Chesterton is old hat for Mere O readers. But I’m posting this because this is the draft of a talk I plan to give as an intro to GKC when I lead a reading group at my church through Orthodoxy later this year. The typical group member likely has not read Chesterton themselves and may not even have heard of him prior to the group. So this is meant to be a way of getting people ready to read Chesterton so that they’re prepared for some of the difficulty (his style as well as cultural references) while also being made aware of the delights of reading him. If you have thoughts on how this can be improved, please share them in the comments.

Imagine you’re a kid from small-town Iowa visiting a family member in the city. In your small town you had three restaurants—a Pizza Ranch, a locally owned diner, and a McDonalds. Now your aunt and uncle are telling your family about where they want to go eat dinner: It’s an Indian restaurant. You’ve never had Indian food. You’ve eaten meat and potatoes your whole life at home with pizza and midwestern staples like pancakes, chicken fried steaks, and cheeseburgers when you’ve gone out to eat. The most exotic sauce you’ve ever tried is the alfredo your mom sometimes service with pasta and roasted chicken. You’ve never had anything like Indian food.

You get there and the first thing you try is the Mulligatawny, a soup made with lentil beans and plenty of spices you’ve probably never had before. But it’s actually not that strange–it’s just a bean soup. You’ve had that before, even if it was never quite like this. Then someone brings out a plate of garlic naan and you realize it’s just garlic bread. The dipping sauce with it is something new, but it’s a sweet white sauce so it’s still somewhat familiar.

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