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The First Thing

I am so so close to being done with The Lord of the Rings. I swear, if I could clear my schedule I would be done with it by noon. It is so so tempting, but tragically, I can’t just blow up my morning, and so, like Sam, I am handing over the book and doing school. The thing that I’ve liked over the last few chapters, strangely enough, is the way Tolkien has worked out the proportions of good and evil. On the one hand, evil is, to say something shocking, So Bad. It is so dark, so terrible, so horrifying, so unendurable. And, on the other hand, Sam and Frodo do manage to keep going to do the thing they’ve agreed to do. And, strangely enough, it is their frailty that is in their favor. Their hobbetness limits them proportionally, suitably even, so that they are not actually swept away in the flood. It’s a really nice picture of grace that I think must be very useful for someone like me who always expects the worst. That is the right thing to do–to expect the worse, to not fool oneself by thinking things will be wonderful, to rather say, ‘this is going to be more awful even than I know.’ But the greater, the more important, the almost always overlooked task is not to think too highly of oneself and one’s abilities. To say, “I won’t be able to do it” isn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to be the little engine that could, trudging up to Mount Doom on your own pathetic steam. Rather, it is better to just keep looking outward to the sure and certain beauty beyond. Their own frailty and the alien Elven help are the best remedies against overwhelming darkness. The invitation of this age to look inward and thereby overestimate one’s own abilities, ensures failure, essentially, because no one is ultimately any kind of “engine that could.” Also, I think Tolkien hated engines, so that should be a lesson to us all.

The Second Thing

Matt has spent all week vouchsafing to me regular and unsought updates about the mysterious death of Gabby Petito. If you haven’t heard about it, basically what happened was that an Instagramming-van-dwelling-influencing couple who seemed to have it all–if “all” is a small van and a lot of followers on the socials, which are the greatest riches of our time–are no longer, to put it underwhelmingly, a “couple.” As in, she is no more. But how did she come to go down with her young perfectly blond head in sorrow to Sheol? The two had been posting regularly on their trip through some big national park (I’m having trouble keeping track of the details because I have lunch on the stove) and then suddenly their account fell silent, then there was bodycam footage of police trying to sort out who was hitting who–Gabby claimed it was her and the police believed her, which turned out to be a really unfortunate occurrence–and then suddenly the guy–can’t remember his name–turned up at his parents in Florida, then her family filed a missing person’s report, and then her body was found. They are looking for the guy, obviously. 

But this is 2021 so the “real” story–if by real you mean something manufactured by someone on some news show–is not that Gabby Petito died and people are curious about what happened because it is exactly the stuff of a murder story and literally why news exists in the first place. The “real” story is that no one cares about the murders of “black and brown” girls and that it is of course because Gabby was white and literally all of America is racist. This, as you might expect, is what I’m calling the new “charming” view of reality whereby the only acceptable explanation for anything at all is race, and nothing else ever can be considered. Like, for example, the weird voyeuristic Instagram culture. Or the being able to look at something after the fact with more knowledge and discover that what might have looked innocent at first is in fact super sinister. Or the truth that of course the murder of all people, no matter their color, is terrible but that it is actually better for the people who lost a person to grieve over those people rather than making everything into a horrible public spectacle, which is literally the problem with Instagram and the news cycle in the first place, and that no one should really wish to have the world’s whole attention at such a time as this.

The Third Thing. 

I was awake in the middle of the night and so did read that thing by Russell Moore in CT entitled “We’re All Baptists Now” in which Moore likens the legion divisions in this country to people in Baptist churches who constantly divide from each other over the color of the carpet and such like. A lot of Twitter’s 3 am comments amounted to “speak for yourself.” And also, “I’m actually not Baptist so.”

I like Baptists so I don’t mind the analogy. I feel like I’m always saying stuff like that myself. I think Moore’s piece is more telling than even he intended, though. It is the fact that he thinks the political and religious divisions being endured by our culture at this moment are akin to the color of the carpet, to personal animosity rather than deep theological or doctrinal disagreements. Of course, to one degree or another, every human division is “personal” in that we all get our feelings hurt first before anything else. That makes it then impossible to discuss anything neutrally. Just look at the mess about those French Submarines. It’s not just that Australia wanted to get them from the US because it would be more convenient or something, it’s that the Australians were maligning the very honor of the French Soul. At least, that’s what I gathered from watching French News. “C’est Brutal!” cried some important French Minister. 

But I disagree strongly with Moore. I think the nation is divided because there are two incompatible visions about the human person and how society should be organized. This isn’t about the carpet color, it’s about people being allowed to speak, even the people who are the wrong color and who are wrong about everything, and whether or not they–those wrong and bad people–should be allowed to say what they want and live in society. Unhappily, Moore actually contributes to the division in this piece. Insisting that people who are being disagreeable–as in, they are disagreeing–do not have anything important enough to persist in their disagreement deepens the aforementioned division. 

Well, now I have to go check on lunch. It’s going to be like me literally walking up to Mordor–and I mean Literally.

Photo by Tomasz Abramowicz on Unsplash

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