Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
I was reading The Lord of the Rings with my six year old son when we ran across this passage from Vol 1 The Fellowship of the Ring:
Frodo looked and saw, still at some distance, a hill of many mighty trees, or a city of green towers: which it was he could not tell. Out of it, it seemed to him that the power and light came that held all of the land in sway. He longed suddenly to fly like a bird to rest in the green city. Then he looked eastward and saw all the land of Lorien running down to the pale gleam of Anduin, the Great River. He lifted his eyes across the river and all the light went out, and he was back again in the world he knew. Beyond the river the land appeared flat and empty, formless and vague, until far away it rose again like a wall, dark and drear. The sun that lay on Lothlorien had no power to enlighten the shadow of that distant height.
“There lies the fastness of Southern Mirkwood,” said Haldir. ‘It is clad in a forest of dark fir, where the trees strive one against another and their branches rot and wither. In the midst upon a stony height stands Dol Guldur, where long the hidden Enemy had his dwelling. We fear that now it is inhabited again, and with power sevenfold. A black cloud lies often over it of late. In this high place you may see the two powers that are opposed one to another; and ever they strive now in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered. Not yet.’
There are more than a few things going on in these paragraphs, and many threads from the entire epic trace their starting point to section of the first volume. Strangely enough, the first thought that I had while reading this section with my son was to recall my own childhood. I remember thinking that America was the country of light, striving against the darkness of the Soviet Union, Libya, and other evil powers. This belief in American exceptionalism was a large part of my childhood. I watched G.I. Joe and thought being a soldier for a good nation was the noblest of professions. I overheard on the news and in adults’ conversation how lucky I was to live in a free country. I heard in church that it was America’s burden to bring Christianity to the heathen nations and bring them to God. I remember watching the smart bombs falling on Baghdad and believing the US was saving the Kuwaitis from those vile Iraqis.
Over the years, my eyes have opened a bit and my ears have begun to discover lies interwoven with handpicked facts in the conversation of adults and in the stories of journalists. What continues to astound me is the belief of many churchgoers that the United States is somehow a replacement of the Israelites’ Promised Land.
Today, the US looks a lot more like Southern Mirkwood to me – the old alliances and friendships falling apart, the myths of justice, equality, and courage evaporating – like trees striving against each other, like branches withering and rotting.
My second thought about Tolkien’s paragraphs was to thank God for His city of green towers. One of the great insights of Tolkien in these words is the idea of a bulwark against the darkness, of an unshakeable city standing against the tides of hate and war. A city whose very nature cannot be perceived by the Enemy.
Tolkien, responding to a review by W.H. Auden of Return of the King in a note to himself, wrote:
In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour.
I could not agree more:
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
~ Hebrews 12:25-29