Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Hobbits & Substitutionary Atonement

Safely sequestered near the roaring hearth for warmth, yet strategically situated so that their conversation could not be easily over-heard, the two Hobbits put their heads together to try and sort things out.

Not wanting to appear the simpleton, Pippin had sought out his life-long friend and co-conspirator for some timely insight and advice.

"It's all heels-over-heads and sideways, Merry", cried Pippin sotto voice. "What's supposed to be one thing is half another, and the other side is just as worst!"

Meriadoc favoured his fine Hobbit comrade with a look both sympathetic and genuinely puzzled. "Pippin, how much Longbottom Leaf have you had before first breakfast?", he asked in wonder, "because you're making less sense than Bilbo at his birthday last year."

Pippin paused, collecting his thoughts before speaking (a minor miracle for this otherwise admirable Hobbit), and continued in a much more restrained -- but equally energetic -- fashion. "Well, Merry, Those-Who-Know-Such-Things are always saying that modernity is all about mastering things like Aragorn masters a horse, and using scientific spells like Saruman to control all knowledge. And They always told me, when I was but a wee Hobbit in the Shire, that postmodernity embraces Mystery like Gollum wants that Ring, and they like living in Pair-O' Ducks..." His voice trailed off as his confusion overtook him.

Merry sat up straighter, and as understanding came, he gently clapped his friend on the shoulder, and laughingly said, "Pip, I think you mean to say Parodox, not Pair O' Ducks. For a minute there, I thought you must have looked into the Palantir again, you were making so little sense! Now, what's this about everything getting mixed and sideways?"

"Well," said Pippin, catching his breath before all his words came tumbling out once again. "The Ent-Keepers of the Modern Ways believe in Substitutionary Atonement," - he stumbled a bit in pronouncing the Ancient Elvish term - "and they say that they can't really explain why a Supreme Being would create a system where He would have to punish His own Son, but -- and this is where it starts going sideways -- they accept it on faith, even though they can't explain it."

Meriadoc Brandybuck said nothing; in truth, he couldn't yet see what his friend was on about. Seeing the concerned but blank look in Merry's eyes, Pippin pushed on.

"And the Riders of Postmodern Rohan look at the same thing -- this idea that punishment and substitution is part of the Ancient Story -- and they can't see any way such a notion could fit into Middle Earth, so it's about as welcome as inviting a Black Rider to The Green Dragon for ale."

As Merry continued to give his friend polite but uncomprehending attention, Pippin could stand it no longer and cried out, "Merry! Don't you see? This isn't another "Peregrin Fool-of-a-Took" thing! Listen:
"The Ent-Keepers of the Modern Ways are content to have Mystery about this Atonement thing, even if they can't really understand it or explain it. But they're supposed to be all about explaining, defining, and controlling all knowledge.

"And the Riders of Postmodern Rohan - who are supposed to like Mystery and Paradox - can't get their minds around Substitutionary Atonement, they can't fit it in their sense of Middle Earth, so they invent new incantations to explain it away. Or they just refuse to talk about it, like Frodo won't talk about the Ring.

"Both of them are going sideways and acting like the other!"
Merry sprang to his feet, a look of understanding and horror on his face. "Pip, I think you're on to something! Ent-Keepers of the Modern Ways embracing Mystery, and Riders of Postmodern Rohan rejecting it... This is worse than the Eye of Sauron!"

Looking franticly about, he drew a deep breath and sudden exclaimed, "Gandalf! He'll know what to do!"

And, their need for a quiet corner now gone, the two courageous and admirable Hobbits bustled off to warn the rest of the Fellowship.

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