Love, mercy, perseverance, and sacrifice

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Love, mercy, perseverance, and sacrifice

Postby Aventia » 01 May 2011 21:11

Love, mercy, perseverance, and sacrifice
or comparison between the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and Mel Gibson (editorial published on the Website april 2. 2004).

By comparing the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and Mel Gibson ("The Passion of Christ"), it becomes clear that the two recent movie experiences could not be further apart.

Not only do they say completely different things about religion; they represent two warring strands of occidental culture. For Gibson, the truth is literal and simple and there is room for true believers only. For JRRT, at least as he is reflected in "The Lord of the Rings”, truth is metaphorical and complex, and there is room in this world for people with different ethical beliefs.

"The Passion of the Christ" takes the Gospels as gospel, though critics have noted that Gibson has strayed from the Bible to downplay Jesus' Judaism and overplay the Jews' role in his death. Nevertheless, for Gibson the importance of Jesus' life is his death, and his willingness to withstand unimaginable torture to die for our sins. "The Lord of the Rings" aims for metaphorical truth.

Tolkien's trinity - Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn - exists in a pre-Christian world, albeit one that is witnessing the beginning of the age of man (an age without elves and wizards) by movie's end. Similarities exist with the trio Huan, Luthien Tinuviel, and Beren at end of the first age. It is the spirit of Jesus' life (not his death) that guides these trinities in their applications of violence, love, mercy, perseverance, and sacrifice. It is no accident, then, that "The Passion of the Christ" has been embraced by conservatives, and especially by catholic Christians, who tend to see the world in terms of absolute truths. When Jesus says "No one comes to the Father but by me," Gibson is slamming heaven's door on all who don't embrace Christ, particularly the Jews and Romans who are responsible for his torture and death. In Tolkien's trilogy, the price of glory is the willingness to recognize evil and to do battle with it.

It is reductionistic to think of "The Lord of the Rings" as strictly Christian work: Tolkien began imagining it during the horrors of World War I, and it was written in the shadow of the Nazis, and Tolkien was as concerned with that evil as with any other. Nevertheless, the world of "The Lord of the Rings" is inclusive. Hobbits, elves, men of various kinds - everyone is welcome. The same two kinds of thinking go into the larger cultural debate. If, as conservatives say, the Bible is the literal truth and it frowns on homosexuality, then homosexuality must be a sin, now and forever. Gibson continues his career-long sneer against gay men by including a queenish Herod in his film. But if religion has to keep step with modernity, as Tolkien believed, then it is foolish if not immoral to discriminate.

Conservatives would tend to agree with Gibson, that evil is as absolute as the truth. In "The Passion", the devil is real, not abstract. Ponce Pilate's moral relativism ultimately thwarts his standing up to the mob. He asks his wife "What is truth?" and it is his Hamlet-like inability to see that Christ represents the truth which gives Caiaphas, the Jewish leader, the opportunity to demand the death of Jesus. It is the same kind of moral relativism that drives conservatives crazy about liberals. Why can't liberals see, conservatives wonder, that Saddam Hussein is pure evil? It's the absolutism of people like Gibson and President G.W. Bush that drives liberals crazy.
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