Browsing articles in "Culture"
Aug 20, 2012

What Tolkien wanted you to understand about yourself through Lord of the Rings

Peter J. Kreeft’s stimulating book The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings takes a look at philosophical questions raised and answered in Tolkien’s work (as well as introducing us to helpful explanations from Tolkien’s private letters). On the issue of human identity Kreft reminds us that only human beings  ‘can fail to achieve our nature’. Here’s a short extract on the theme and how Tolkien seeks to illustrate it from the lives of Frodo, Sam and Golem.

When the object we desire is God, or that which God is (truth, goodness, and beauty), the object is not possessable. And paradoxically, only then are we fulfilled, when we do not possess the object that we desire but it possesses us. But when we make anything other than God the object of our desire, when our goal is possessable, we are undone. This dark path began in Eden. Once we laid hands on the fruit we desired, the horrible effect took place immediately: it laid its hands on us. The self was ‘unselfed’ – not filled but emptied, not enhanced but devastated. The object grew into a god, and we shrank into slaves. We exchanged places: we became the objects, the its, and it because the subject, the I. We found our identity in what was less than ourselves, in what we could possess. We who began as the Adam (man) became the golem, the ‘un-man’.

Frodo and Sam illustrate one half of this paradox, Golem the other. Frodo and Sam attain and save their selves because they give themselves away for others, for the world. And not for some abstract cause but for each other and for the Shire. In contrast, Gollum is obsessed with his “cause”: possessing the Ring. His selfishness is so self-devouring that he almost has no self left. He talks to himself more than to others; he often makes no distinction between himself and his “Precious”; he is confused about who he is. He speaks of himself in the third person. (“Don’t let them hurt us, Precious!”) It is the Ring that is now the Precious, and Gollum has lost his preciousness, his value. He has become its slave, and it has become his master. In fact it has become the self, the person, the subject, the actor, and Gollum has become its passive object, its IT. He is nothing without the Ring, He cannot distinguish himself from the Ring. He is the Ring, The person has become a thing. He has lost his soul.

Jun 12, 2012

A quite brilliant article in the Telegraph on Peter Tatchell, gay marriage and the role of the State

Brendan O’Neill writes in the Telegraph on the domestication of Peter Tatchell


His conclusion is sobering ‘The gay marriage campaign will end up expanding the remit of the state, granting it the authority to overhaul an ancient institution, redefine our relationships, and rebrand is all as “partners’ rather than husbands or wives.’ 

May 16, 2012

It really hurts to be told you’re useless

Tim Minchin, comedian, musician and actor was well worth the listen on Desert Island Discs this week.

What stopped me in my tracks as I listened was his incredibly honest reflections on receiving a disastrous review by Phil Daoust in the Guardian as a new-comer to British comedy back in 2005 and especially the insight into the fragility of the human ego.

Michin said:

People are quite contemptuous of artists who are not good at dealing with reviews but I think it’s completely disingenuous because it hurts being told that what you’ve worked on is useless.And I’m probably particularly not good at it. Which is why I don’t read them anymore.

Imagine you had to get up, you the listerner, dear listener, had to get up every night and do a whole lot of jokes that you already know that you don’t find funny any more, write a whole lot of songs that you don’t like the tunes of anymore because you wrote them yourself, sing with a voice that you loathe because its your own voice. These are all normal human things right  to not like your own material.

And someone in a national newspaper, your newspaper, the one you respect and read makes specific criticisms of specific bits in the show and doesn’t say that this could do with work but says this makes this person not deserve to be on stage.

How would you feel at the point, you get to that point in your show that night? How do you get up on stage and get to that joke again with that guy’s words ringing in your head?

It wasn’t the worse thing in the world but it was very, very hard to recover from it.


May 3, 2012

A piece I’ve written for Evangelicals Now ‘No one kills in the name of atheism?’

Originally a post on this blog Evangelicals Now have edited and published it for a wider audience



This section of a documentary entitled The trouble with atheism presented by Rod Liddle also highlights the extreme violence conducted by atheist states in the past century.

Apr 9, 2012

Winner of US Masters Bubba Watson tweets ‘To God be the glory!!!’

Just after midnight (here in the UK) Bubba Watson won one of the most prestigious golfing touranments in the world – the US Masters. As a Christian he celebrated his win giving thanks to God on Easter Sunday!

In a tweet just a few weeks ago he said:

Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf

This post from the Billy Graham Organisation tells us more

(HT: Steve Couchman)

Apr 6, 2012

The state we’re in: what Cameron & Obama’s Easter messages tell us

His Grace takes issue with David Cameron’s easter message.


(HT: David Robertson)

Mar 27, 2012

Your ideas won’t change the world – A TEDx talk from a City Church Oldboy

Where do good ideas come from, ideas that change a city?  They come not out of thin air but out of the values and convictions of those who shape them.

The people who made Birmingham were moved by ideas to transform a city – but what values shaped their ideas?  Andy Weatherley looks at 4 men who made Birmingham what it is and asks why did they do what they did.

Andy Weatherley is pastor of City Church‘s daughter church Grace Church and he spoke this last weekend at TEDxBrum on how values change the world through the ideas they spark.

(When you get to the TEDx page click on ’10:20 Andy Weatherley – Birmingham’ on the right-hand side )


Mar 22, 2012

Melvyn Bragg on the ignorance of Dawkins and de Botton









( HT: Mez McConnell)

Mar 16, 2012

Gay marriage? It’s a stupid distraction from the main war

Peter Hitchens has written an interesting piece in this weeks Spectator (sadly not available to read on-line) in which he argues that those who are opposing gay marriage are fighting the wrong battle. It is in his words ‘a stupid distraction from the main war’.

Rather than form coalitions to oppose the tiny number of gay men and women seeking to marry (relative that is to heterosexual couples) we need to face up to the fact that

‘The real zone of battle, a vast 5,000 mile front along which the forces of righteousness have retreated without counter-attacking for nearly 50 years, involves the hundreds of thousands of marriages undermined by ridiculously easy divorce, the millions of children hurt by those divorces and the increasing multitudes of homes where parents, single or in couples, have never been married at all and never will be.’

There is a lot that is right with this argument but what Hitchens overlooks is that the gay marriage argument is not really an argument about gay marriage at all. It is an argument about every marriage and an argument about gender.

1)It is an argument about every marriage. If the law is changed then that changes marriage for everybody.  My marriage of 18 years is overnight redefined.

Not least it means that the centuries old, universal, understanding that marriage is inextricably linked with children will be broken for ever.  This has unseen and probably unintended consequences that I will explore in a future post.  But let it be known now that the redefinition of marriage will cause much harm to our children and children’s children.

2) It is an argument about the eradification of gender.

Perhaps the very last place where difference between gender is recognised is in the institution of marriage. When this is gone the language of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother will be gone, perhaps for ever.

So I share Hitchens concern – where have we been for the past 40 years? But also appeal for a recognition that there are bigger things at stake than the right or not of a few thousand gay couples per year to marry.

Mar 9, 2012

Marriage cannot only be a commitment between two people who love each other – part 1

Ask a friend for a definition of marriage and you might expect something like this

‘Marriage is an expression of love in which two people make an exclusive commitment to one another.’

Or  maybe something like

‘a private arrangement between parties committed to love’

If that is what marriage is what possible reason could there be for anyone objecting to same-sex marriage? It would be as discriminatory as telling a couple they could not marry because they came from different countries or they had different coloured skin.

It’s working from such a definition of marriage that gay lobbyists (and an increasing number of the population including politians and a prime minister) argue that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of equality.  The argument goes that there can be no rational reason to resist the implementation of same-sex marriage legislation and therefore what lies behind the resistance of ‘traditionalists’ is nothing more than prejudice. Those who oppose a change in the law are now almost without thought regarded as simply  intolerant, bigoted and homophobic.

But what if the kind of definitions we’ve considered are not a sufficient definition for marriage. What if marriage by definition means more than a loving commitment? What then?

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage has centred around attitudes towards gay people when really the debate needs to centre around the question ‘what is marriage’? How we define marriage is absolutely crucial to whether or not it is appropriate to legislate for same-sex marriage.

By far the most helpful book on the subject  is David Blackenhorn’s  The Future of Marriage. For the record Blackenhorn is no homophobe.  He states quite clearly that what is at stake is not ‘good versus bad, enlightened versus reactionary. The real conflict is between one good and another: the equal dignity of real persons and the worth of homosexual love, versus flourishing of children. On each side, the threat to something important is real.’

Blackenhorn’s book demonstrates that marriage cannot only mean a commitment between two people who love each other. He writes:

‘Defining marriage as essentially a private emotional relationship obscures a large piece of reality…’


Because Blackenhorn points out that marriage exists for a bigger purpose, it always has. Marriage is a social institution that has been designed primarily for the purpose of raising children. He writes ‘Childrearing is probably the single most important social need that marriage is designed to meet, but there are numerous others as well.’

Three important statements then with which to finish this introductory post

1.  That children (at least the biological possibility of children even if sadly frustrated by infertility) are central to the definition of marriage is a reality recognised by former Home Secretary Jack Straw MP back in 2000 when he introduced legislation for same-sex civil partnerships:

“I’m a very strong supporter of gay rights and treating people the same regardless of their sexual preference – but marriage has a different purpose.  Marriage is about a union for the procreation of children, which by definition can only happen between a heterosexual couple. So I see no circumstances in which we would ever bring forward proposals for so-called gay marriages.”

2. The interconnectedness of marriage and children  is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 16.

  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Blackenhorn comments:

‘Here we see six important ideas. Marriage is intrinsically linked to children. Men and women have equal rights in marriage. Marriage requires the spouses’ free consent. The natural family is society’s basic group unit. The institution of the family deserves protection. And, marriage is a fundamental human right.

The key point is that each of these ideas is connected to all the others. Freedom is linked to solidarity. Marriage is linked to family. Rights imply responsibility…Together, these six ideas are not perfect and do not tell us everything about marriage, but they ably suggest marriage’s fundamental shape and public purpose.’

3. Finally, that marriage is above all else for the purpose of children has been recognised across all cultures and at all times.

Blackenhorn after presenting a raft of evidence on how marriage has functioned through-out the world writes:

‘Across cultures, marriage is above all a procreative institution. It is nothing less than the culturally constructed linchpin of all human family and kinship systems. Marriage brings together biologically unrelated persons to produce the next generation, create fatherhood as a social role for men, and radically expand the reach and possibility of kinship ties. It brings together the two sexes in such a way that each child is born with two parents, a mother and a father, who are legally and jointly responsible for the child.’

Now the question we must turn to next is does anything about the way in which marriage has traditionally functioned suggest that we should not redefine it now.  What is at stake in a redefinition of marriage and should a society have any concerns?


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