Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lessons from Tolkien: Win by Destroying the Ring

The most fascinating thing about J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is his insight into the psychology of sin.

The Ring is sin and while it corrupts and dehumanizes the one who holds it, he nevertheless holds it tighter and tighter.  Frodo's reluctance to sacrifice the ring at the climax of the adventure is one of the most stunning moments in all of literature.

Our sins indeed become our "precious".  The devil leads us into infinite corridors of narrowness and darkness as we attempt to rationalize not only our sin but also the slow death and diminution our sin is dealing us.

The solution?  Throw the Ring into the fire.

You can't deal with sin on its own terms; you can't escape from a trap once you've bought into the way-of-being that makes up the trap.  The way of sin is to attack the very nature of our existence.  This is how we know spiritual realities exist: we see them and feel them in action.  We are bound by the shackles of sin because we become like the shackles.  We are not simply tied up, our strength is sapped and we start to love the ropes.  That's why the Ring works so well as a symbol - it is something other-than-human that uses our own humanity to drain us of our humanity.  It diverts the best thing in us - our love and loyalty - and turns it into the worst thing imaginable: a self-consuming devotion to death and a greedy desire for more of the poison that is killing us.

This is also why Jesus Christ and His Cross is needed.  Sin is a closed system.  You can't raise yourself by your own bootstraps in a world dominated by sin.  The Ring must be destroyed, not bargained with, cajoled, excused.  It takes death to sin to defeat the death that flows from sin.  It takes sacrifice.

Indeed, it takes the ultimate sacrifice, the gift of love of the Son of God - the Cross, the Eucharist, and the life that flows from it.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)

James Cuenod writes ...

Sauron will not be defeated by the use of the ring, only by its destruction. Sin will not be defeated by the use of sin. This is why we are urged time and again to “put to death” “the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and “what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). Sin cannot be wielded for good, it can only corrupt. ... So my exhortation is, “put to death whatever is earthly in you” and “clothe yourselves with compassionate hearts.”

This not only contradicts the fatuous nonsense of the consequentialists, with whom I do endless battle - those who argue that we can do evil so that good may come, those who say that we may Lie our way to Truth or Torture our way to Love.  It also opens up a great psychological insight to those who are observant.   Those of us who sin (all of us) can see its effects - it eventually turns us into Gollums, and yet it's so handy and so convenient and ... and after all ... it's so precious to us!

Life, like the Lord of the Rings, like any epic, is a great trial, a tremendous adventure.  The trial is ultimately by fire, by the searing heat and light of the love of God, but before that Final Day, the trial is every day, even every ordinary mundane day.  It is a story of a tremendous struggle in which our loyalties and our valor are tested in ways both small and big.

For even today, dear sinner, in your suburban home, in your air conditioned car, in your easy chair, in your living room - even today you are called to put on the armor of God and fight this battle.  Even today the Ring will call you and you will sing a silent love song to it and it will have you in its clutches.  Even today you will begin to lose.  You will begin to be lost.

But you are called, as are all of us sinners, not to defeat, but to victory - a victory beyond our imagining.

Fight the battle.  Begin by doing the most terrifying thing you can imagine.

Begin by destroying the Ring.


Anonymous said...

This was a very good post. You went right to the heart of the matter.

Dr. Eric

Howard said...

The sad truth is that as long as we are in this life, we must be the Ring Bearer. We must refuse to use the Ring, and we must always travel in such a way as to see that it is destroyed, but the temptation will never be fully gone. Sometimes -- especially when we spend time with Our Lady -- it may be lessened, but it is always there, and the more we use it, the more it has a hold over us.

The Lord of the Rings was not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but to the extent the analogy holds, I'd say Frodo died on Mount Doom, the period after that when he put things right, the main battle was already won, yet he suffered for his past association with the Ring was Purgatory, and of course at the end he sails from the Grey Havens for Heaven.