Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger defends Tolkien from Rorate Coeli‘s silly charge that he is gnostic and, what is more, has the courage to put his name on it.
Not to sound ill-educated or not caring – but – is it not possible to merely read LOTR and enjoy it? Why must one always find a hidden meaning in the words? We can find hidden meanings in anything is we twist and turn in just the right fashion. Maybe I am just a poor benighted soul, but for me LOTR is a time to escape – I look forward to the middle spring when I have finished getting the garden ready, and my wife hands me a cold drink and I retire to the porch for a few hours to read LOTR as a reward. Why must we pull something apart? By the way I did era the defense and found it fascinating, just as the critical review made little sense to me.
The primary purpose is enjoyment, which is a good thing, in its proper form. So if that is all you get out of it, good! However, many people like to contemplate, and if they do, good too. Both are good.
I agree about contemplation, I fear at least for new LOTR is not what I need to. contemplate. Thank you fir your response.
Of course we can merely enjoy a book, Andy. I would say there’s a difference between ‘pulling apart’ and ‘entering into’, which in the case of LOTR, is entering into to find what’s already there, rather than twisting Middle Earth to find (or rather, create) “hidden meanings”. If the ‘Catholic soil of Middle Earth’ (to paraphrase the author himself) is no great draw for you, then never mind about it. Knock back a cold one and enjoy! Likewise, it’s no defect to savour the rich symbolism, and engage other parts of the mind than the aesthetic, when reading LOTR. As to why some people get their knickers in a twist about these things, and see Gnostic ghosts where only Catholic spirits live – original sin makes us stupid.
Thank you for your response – perhaps, no I know I wasn’t as clear as I wantedto be. I have this unsettled feeling that we are losing our sense of wonder, joy and pleasure. We become overly interested in delving into or entering what we perceive as meaning. I could argue that in LOTRTolkien was decrying the industrialization of the country-side as much as making a Catholic text. I fear that is our over analyzing that leads to articles such as the one from the anonymous priest and then the reply. This for me creates fractures in our ability to value one another as children of God. Perhaps in our desire for symbols we miss the most poignant symbol – the Cross. On a side note my wife has been very clear, upon sitting with my cold one and LOTR on my lap to read she has to wake me and the. cold one is untouched and I am only three four. pages into the book.
Thank you for pointing this out. I’m a bit irritated with the notion that in order for us to “accept” anything that smacks of fantasy, etc it must be allegorical in some way. If the said fantasy, etc can’t be made into an allegory then it must be “evil”. Why? Why is it considered evil? The charges that it will open oneself to “evil” forces does not hold up. But that’s the impression I’ve got for years. Is this due to insecurity?
The only reason why Chronicles of Narnia and LOTR is found “acceptable” in some circles is because they can tease allegorical meanings out of them and the authors were professed Christians. Nevermind that Tolkien himself hated allegory. However, a series like Harry Potter is vilified because it does not conform to set “allegorical” standards. Never mind that its a story about love and friendship and good triumphing over evil. Never mind that Harry is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. Nah, its “evil” because there is magic in it. UGH! I don’t know why some Catholics are so quick to dismiss fantasy unless it can be “Christianized” in some way. The monks during the Middle Ages painstakingly copied Greco-Roman mythology and the Norse/Anglo-Saxon sagas knowing full well there was magic and invocations to other gods in it. They were secure enough in their faith to allow those to be preserved which I am grateful for and we all should be.
I agree that we are losing our sense of wonder. I don’t know why :(. I think it might have to do with being overly defensive and insecure. I love fantasy. Its fun to immerse oneself in another world. In fact, the modern fantasy genre is heavily influenced by mythology and Tolkien is considered the grandfather of it. Many fantasy writers cite Tolkien as their major influence. Sure, he isn’t one of JK Rowling’s influences but the other ones she cites falls in the same tradition. The spells aren’t even real in the books. Yet, the accusations continue. Ugh, its aggravating :(.
Thank you for the response – you stated more clearly what I was trying to say – we no longer seem to be able to enjoy a book, a movie – fill in the blank without finding a hidden meaning. I think we have become overly insecure and fearful. Again thank you
You’re welcome. Its something I’ve been concerned about. I grew up in a quasi-fundamentalist home where my parents did not allow me to read fantasy much. Sure, I read the Chronicles of Narnia but that is because they didn’t know what was in it. Even in watching Disney movies, my dad would always try to find some religious meaning in them. He couldn’t just enjoy the story. There was also an hysteria during the 80’s about witches, etc. A lot of that turned out to be false. We used to not be that way a long time ago. Mythology, folklore, romance, fantasy are embedded in most cultures. A lot of it has magic, etc in it and its fine. It isn’t real. It helps the imagination and creativity. I like stories with heart and I’ve read some fantasies that have exactly that. Since when did we Catholics become so insecure and suspicious of everything? I honestly think that this kind of suspicion of fantasy, etc has been detrimental to our witness.
Et tu, Mark? I disagree with most of Rorate Coeli’s article on Tolkien–but am I a coward for not using my real name, Mark? Must you climb on this dishonorable bandwagon that accuses prudently anonymous people of being cowards? Seriously? There are many reasons why someone would choose to be anonymous, and most of them say nothing to a man’s courage.
If a priest is going to go around accusing somebody of gnostic heresy, to the delectation of Reactionaries, he should have the moxie to use his name. Otherwise, it looks like a star chamber.
So — are you saying that the topic of discussion (including accusations, if that’s the case) and the segment of audience that takes pleasure in the discussion is what determines a man’s courage? You are using emotional words of fake machismo like “moxie” to embarrass people into throwing away prudence when they have determined anonymity is wise? (“Moxie,” when used in the negative they way you do, is one of those playground bully words that are best revealed by substituting them in the sentence with “stupidity.”)
But I have certainly made accusations before, and I have probably fed the “delectation” of RadTrads a time or two–as have some of your anonymous blogging friends. Are we then cowards, Mark?
I personally know someone who wrote openly on the Internet about pro-life views, and he was dragged through some “star chambers” of his own at the workplace–in an official capacity, mind you. He was attacked, and great effort was made to ruin his life. When you consider the abject thuggery of the homosexuals and other liberal camps these days, and when you consider the pervasive resources for finding out about people, it is, in fact, a great risk to put your name on the Internet–and that says nothing of the opportunities that it provides social engineers and identity thieves to get you.
There are many other possible reasons for prudence, but using intimidation to browbeat people into putting their names out is only giving material support to identity thieves, thugs, and predators. Not to mention the fact that it would be easier to find PII on a priest than some average Joe.
So please stop attacking the courage of men who prudently preserve their anonymity. It is an ugly thing for you to do. Attack their arguments. Ridicule their work. But kindly knock off this puerile baiting that is not worthy of the elementary school playground.
I don’t think there’s anything prudent about what Fr. X is doing. He’s ginning up a mob of Pharisees who already consider themselves God’s gift to a Church unworthy of their greatness and encouraging them to expel yet another innocent person from the fold. I think the least he could do is sign his name to the latest bull of excommunication (a bull that includes not only Tolkien, but Joseph Pearce as well). He claims the weight of the priestly office to do this, but does not give us enough information to even know if he is really a priest, much less qualified to offer this magisterial pronouncment. If people want to use a handle in a combox, that’s one thing. If they want to publicly besmirch a good man’s name while claiming the weight of the priest’s office, I think that’s another.
I don’t care about the prudence of his argument or the prudence of putting his credentials forward. Those are completely separate issues as to whether or not it is prudent to stay anonymous. (And there isn’t that much difference between a comboxer and a blogger.)
One reason that occurred to me is that his superior may have requested or insisted that his blogging be anonymous so as not to distract his parish with unnecessary controversy. It may be a matter of *obedience*.
You. Don’t. Know. You know absolutely nothing about this man’s courage, and questioning it is out of line and uncharitable.
Here’s the thing I think needs to be considered. If what you are writing needs to be anonymous, like when you say:
“One reason that occurred to me is that his superior may have requested or insisted that his blogging be anonymous so as not to distract his parish with unnecessary controversy. It may be a matter of *obedience*.”
While that’s a nice rationalization, let’s take it at face value. If someone were just giving catechesis on the importance of the Real Presence, the reality of hell and judgment, the necessity of confession, the four last things, on frequent mass attendance…..
Does anyone really think his superior is going to censor him? Maybe the problem is that he is focusing on things which aren’t profitable, and maybe he should be doing that instead.
You just rationalized away a possibility by pretending to understand the particulars of someone’s situation for which you have no knowledge–but I’m the one rationalizing for mentioning the possibility?
If we are theorycrafting, we might as well do it full-tilt and point out how easily that can be used against.
Yes, we don’t know the circumstances. But the old addage holds true. Something is more reliable when someone puts his name behind it. When it comes to doing so under a psuedonym, one should question the motives, and question them strongly.
I am obviously not “theorycrafting.” I put forward a few possibilities among many in an effort to show how irrational it is to try to “theorycraft” something into your preferred little twists. Your follow-up merely showed that you are willing to twist it with your theorycrafting to your own preferences regardless of the situation and regardless of your complete lack of knowledge of the situation. I mean, for cry-aye, you are twisting mere possibilities as if you are the master of these possibilities–all for the purpose of beating your chest and yelling “chicken!”
I mean, c’mon guys, it’s not like this priest can’t be taken down on the failings of his own words. You don’t have to attack the prudence of anonymity or attack his courage to do it. And you don’t fight an enemy’s failings by being unfair and uncharitable.
When you are putting forth possibliities that have silence as their evidence, then yes, you are theorycrafting. A lot of us already responded on the merits of the arguments. We just think that anonymity is part of the problem here. That isn’t being unfair or uncharitable. We aren’t slandering his name. We are simply saying he’s wrong, and he should be willing to own up to his opinions. If there’s a chance of blowback, perhaps that is telling.
Well, perhaps I don’t know what you mean by “theorycrafting” then. But I should have put the kaibosh on its use from the beginning because I took you to mean “theorizing” and that’s not what it means. The bottom line is, I put out possibilities in order to demonstrate the broadness of our uncertainty (if you want to call that “theorizing,” you desperately need some education), while you took those possibilities and tried to shoehorn them into your pet little theories in order to pretend like you knew the particulars. All for the purpose of false machismo and unsubstantive accusations regarding courage. But I’m sure your right — *I’m* rationalizing.
I don’t use my name on the internet, as a privacy issue. The priest who gave the talk on Tolkien did so in a public forum. There are just reasons to conceal one’s identity of one’s writing and the concept of a “pen name” has been around for ages. However, a public or even semi-public conference, with accompanying you-tube video is a difficult basis on which to claim the privilege of privacy.
I suppose the conference and the video may make it more *difficult* to remain anonymous, but why would that have any bearing whatsoever on whether it was prudent to maintain anonymity?
Well, I have to disagree that it is, in fact, “prudent” to maintain anonymity under the circumstances of a priest giving a talk at a conference. . If the talk is “private” in the sense, for example, that his bishop has made it clear that the venue is for a small group only (say parishioners or a region of parishes), then the talk should not have been recorded or transcripted, and that should have been clear to the attendees. . From the standpoint of not wanting to deal with the just controversy his words might engender, Father may be called prudent for withholding his identity. However, I would argue that this is not prudence, it is in fact laziness. Father either is unprepared, or does not wish to prepare to defend his words. . Any argument about how busy priests are simply begs the question, “why is he giving such talks in the first place?”
How can you possibly know the circumstances and reasoning for 1) giving this particular conference and 2) maintaining anonymity. You are making judgments you simply don’t have the competency to make. I swear you all think you have some kind of godlike insight into the circumstances of this individual.
You don’t. You are grossly overreaching your knowledge for the sake of uncharitably attacking someone’s courage. Period. Get off the playground and step into adulthood.
((sigh)) I don’t know how you came to the conclusion that I was making any sort of claim as to the circumstances or reasoning behind the conference or the anonymity. Instead of misreading my comment, failing to respond to it, and accusing me of making incompetent judgments, why don’t you explain why you think it “prudent” for Father to withhold his identity? Oh, and I’ve never attacked his courage. Not once.
You spring a leak: ((sigh))<–How can I possibly argue with that? You win.
Exhibit A (from your entry above):
You specifically said: "Well, I have to disagree that it is, in fact, "prudent" to maintain anonymity under the circumstances of a priest giving a talk at a conference."<–How is this not claiming to know the circumstances of the conference?
Then you got specific about the circumstances:
"If the talk is "private" in the sense, for example, that his bishop has made it clear that the venue is for a small group only (say parishioners or a region of parishes), then the talk should not have been recorded or transcripted, and that should have been clear to the attendees." <–You claim here to know that circumstances would not allow recording or transcripting of the conference. There are any number of circumstances that would call for it. (And, by the way, the privacy stipulations may have come from his pastor or any number of sources.)
"From the standpoint of not wanting to deal with the just controversy his words might engender, Father may be called prudent for withholding his identity. However, I would argue that this is not prudence, it is in fact laziness."<–Here you pretend to know the circumstances of what a general or specific agreement with pastor or bishop might be and for what reason.
It seems silly that I have to point out your own words like this, but you obviously are making claims about the circumstances, and your entire participation in this thread is an attempt to state the case against circumstances being correct for anonymity. So claiming that you are not "making any sort of claim as to the circumstances or reasoning behind the conference or the anonymity" is just crazy.
And you say I am "failing to respond to it,"? Why would I respond to these circumstances that you are making up and pretending they are relevant to reality when you obviously don't know?
Exhibit B (from my entry above):
I said: "How can you possibly know the circumstances and reasoning for 1) giving this particular conference and 2) maintaining anonymity."
As you see, I *did* respond to them by challenging you with this question about how you could know these circumstances. So pretending I did not respond to you is misdirection on your part.
On the other hand, *you* failed to answer my question–How can you know what you are claiming about the circumstances of the conference?
You wrote: ". . . accusing me of making incompetent judgments"<–Well, at least you got that part correct.
And as for you saying this: ". . . why don't you explain why you think it "prudent" for Father to withhold his identity?"
Now you are just reaching out of desperation. I've already given a few concerns regarding anonymity, and there are countless others–and you know darn good and well that I don't know the father's circumstances, so I have no way of knowing if it is prudent or not. But for all *you* know he has a perfectly prudent reason, which has been my argument from the beginning.
You wrote: "I've never attacked his courage."
Fair enough. The OP was using his anonymity as a way to attack his courage, and I misconstrued your part of the argument as supporting that effort. So I apologize for telling you to "get off the playground" if you are not. However, you are still grossly overreaching your knowledge of the circumstances.
Or perhaps you’re in such a hurry to find fault that you’re not reading as carefully as you ought. . When you quoted me above, insisting that I’m getting “specific about the circumstances” did you not notice that small but very important word: “If?” In other words, since you seem to need them, I was setting up a *possibility* and one that would tend to excuse Father’s anonymity, while placing the blame for publishing what they ought not squarely on the heads of Video Sancto and Rorate Coeli. . Okay. I think we’re talking past each other here. Let me go back to basics for a minute: 1. Rorate Coeli, a blog, published a transcript of a talk featured on a you-tube channel called Video Sancto, by an anonymous priest, highly critical of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. RC states that the talk is from an unsourced conference. 2. Video Sancto is somehow linked to a website called Audio Sancto, and AS has a policy of keeping it’s sources anonymous. This policy is outlined on the website. It is also stated on the website that transcripts are not to be made of the sermons they post. 3. Interesting to me, though not germane to the discussion, is the fact that Rorate Coeli either disregarded Audio Sancto’s written policy or got special permission to publish the transcript of the conference talk. 4. I disagree with Audio Sancto’s policy. 5. Based on the facts as I know them and as outlined above, I do not consider it prudent to withhold one’s identity from one’s words in this case. My above speculations were clearly just that and intended only to give as much benefit of the doubt to the priest as possible. My opinion is my own and based only on the facts at hand and not on any of my speculations. Sorry to have confused you!
“Or perhaps you’re in such a hurry to find fault that you’re not reading as carefully as you ought.”
I don’t think so. I’ve read pretty carefully–but I am much more positively inclined toward you since I realized you weren’t supporting the attack on the father’s character.
“. . .did you not notice . . .”
Right. You say that *if* the talk was private, then the circumstances require that the talk should not be recorded and transcribed etc. The way I read it, that doesn’t change the fact that you pretend to know what the circumstances would be in that case. It wasn’t clear that you were potentially excusing the priest, but the assertion still assumes knowledge that you do not have. But maybe I misunderstand your intentions, and we can let it go.
If you are merely saying that there *could* be a circumstance where it was imprudent, then I haven’t said otherwise. My argument has simply been that you and the others have no idea if it was prudent or not, and that it is no excuse for the others to uncharitably question someone’s courage.
We are cool as far as your numbers 1 through 4 goes, though I personally would hold judgement on number 4. I might question the policy, but I don’t know what concerns are behind it. Either way, participants would be aware of it and they can choose to participate under that policy or not–no harm, no foul. However, it does raise an interesting possibility–the priest may have nothing to do with the withholding of his own identity.
In number 5, you write: “Based on the facts as I know them and as outlined above, I do not consider it prudent to withhold one’s identity from one’s words in this case.”
***Please–how do you know that the priest’s circumstances–circumstances that you don’t know about and have not articulated above–do not make it prudent to withhold his identity?***
If you don’t tell me how you know this, then your considerations shouldn’t and don’t carry much weight. (If you tone it down to “I speculate it was not prudent,” then I really question the value of bringing it up in the first place.)
You continue: “My above speculations were clearly just that and intended only to give as much benefit of the doubt to the priest as possible.”
This doesn’t seem to jibe with your conclusion above, but okay.
“My opinion is my own and based only on the facts at hand and not on any of my speculations. Sorry to have confused you!”
We’re good. I think we’re at least close to understanding each other–the question above (asterisks) notwithstanding.
Thank you for your patience and charity with my thoughts. Your generosity is appreciated! . I think we are approaching this from opposite ends, possibly. I tend to think that while there are instances when anonymity is acceptable, the *default* position should be that of using one’s name. I get the feeling that you are thinking more along the lines that anonymity would be the prudent default position, unless otherwise impracticable. . Where I am thinking that the circumstances, as I understand and discussed above, that make anonymity imprudent is that the priest in question gave a talk at a conference, and he apparently allowed that talk to be taped and transmitted on the internet. . Conferences are generally not private events in terms of who the speakers are or what the topics are. Conferences don’t even have the intimacy that might be claimed by a priest giving a homily to a parish specifically designed for that parish’s needs. Generally conference talks are available after the conference is over for purchase by attendees and others. People often attend conferences because they know who the speakers are to be. Based on that I think it imprudence to claim anonymity after the fact, so to speak, though it may have more to do with the clumsiness of Video Sancto than the wishes of the priest. . On the other hand, if it turns out that this priest is in China, is hiding from the Mob because they threatened his mother, or belongs to a religious order that commands internet anonymity, I will most heartily apologize. (sorry for being flippant, it’s been a long day)
You wrote: “I tend to think that . . . the *default* position should be that of using one’s name. . . . you are thinking more along the lines that anonymity would be the prudent default position. . .”
I think that’s about right. People have no clue the vulnerabilities they have on the Internet, and the ramifications of the exposure they get. We have this Facebook mentality where our lives–including our children–are splayed out in front of the entire world just waiting to be taken advantage of. There is every kind of predator, swindler, hacker, identity thief, and social engineer who love this stuff–let alone the many ways abusive government uses it. So the prudent measure–in general–is to stay anonymous unless there is compelling reason not to.
But neither of our “default positions” has anything to do with any *specific* case, such as with this priest.
Have you thought about the possibility that someone wheedled the priest into letting them videotape it, and he agreed reluctantly on the condition that it was anonymous?
You say that conferences are *generally* not private, but we are not talking about conferences in general. We are talking about a specific conference, and we don’t know the circumstances or that specific conference. For that matter, RC may have made an assumption and misnamed it a conference. It might not have been a conference at all–the source doesn’t say.
“Based on that I think it imprudence to claim anonymity after the fact . . . ”
So in your mind there are no circumstances where it is prudent to have some publicity but keep it limited? Obviously you do because you came up with an extreme case where he’s hiding from the mob, but can you not imagine that one might have numerous other prudent but less extreme reasons to limit one’s publicity? If you don’t, that seems to willfully ignore any concerns that another reasonable human being might have. This is a common modern error–people tend to believe they can have full understanding and knowledge of a situation that is completely beyond them. They aren’t comfortable until they can *feel* like they have all the answers and know with absolute certainty how to proceed–but that’s impossible so they settle for the illusion of it and mindlessly apply it. By repeatedly saying “generally,” I think you have at least viscerally figured out that you don’t really have any idea whether this guy is being prudent or not. General ideas can be valuable, but “general” ideas have nothing to do with this specific case.
And I will say this one more time (first time to you)–by propagating an attitude that shames people (in your case because they haven’t given you good reason to reject your default behavior), you are encouraging people to be reckless with their identities and playing into the hands of the social engineers, identity thieves, and other predators out there. Everyone is underestimating them–you shouldn’t encourage that.
You have your mind made up about this and any disagreement is apparently the equivalent of pretending to know the circumstances of this case. You are allowed to speculate (maybe the bishop commanded anonymity; maybe it was a super-secret conference; maybe it wasn’t a conference *at all*; maybe the priest was *coerced* into giving reluctant permission for publication). Those who disagree with you are not. . In fact, according to you, questioning the prudence of anonymity in this case is “shaming” the priest in question, and further, is giving aid and comfort to nameless and faceless “bad guys” out there just waiting to take advantage of some poor priest. . Living in paranoia is unhealthy and not what Christians are called to do. I say this to you as someone who has been a victim of identity theft more than once (and the first time long before the advent of the internet). You can bet that I take all reasonable precautions to protect my identity. What I have learned — from experts in the banking and computer industries — is that you can’t always *prevent* identity theft, but you can mitigate the effects. . Given that many writers and speakers have a public presence here on the internet and elsewhere, it is irrational and uncharitable of you to suggest that to argue that this particular priest in this particular instance may not have acted prudently in allowing this talk to be published anonymously is tantamount to an encouragement of recklessness and danger. . However, your extreme paranoia has made your position clearer to me. It’s not healthy, and I disagree with it, but I do understand you better now. I also understand the strength of the fear-reaction, and that you’re not going to admit that any other opinion than your own is valid in this case. God bless you.
Um, while I agree that reactionary does not equal traditionalist, how is that proved by this article? The author clearly indicates that he is no way of the traditionalist stripe. As he himself said: “It is thus somewhat incongruous that I, an avid supporter of Vatican II and an outspoken critic of traditionalism, should be defending the traditionalist Tolkien, who showed open disdain for the New Mass, from a traditionalist condemnation of his work.”
That said, it is a good article and well worth reading. My favourite line was this one defending Tolikien against the charge that reading his books encourages Gnosticism: “But those who can speak Elvish or who can read the Dwarvish runes are not Gnostics. They are nerds. They may have no social life, but that does not make them heretics.”
My mistake. I thought Fr. Angelo was a Traditionalist priest.
No harm. We all make mistakes.
Yes, it is an excellent article – not least because it is temporate and respectful of the person whose essay it criticizes. Kirt Higdon
Interesting these posts about folks going after Tolkien over such charges. From what I can tell, far more common is the charge that Tolkien was a racist European imperialist whose writings are filled with examples of his contempt for other cultures and ethnic groups. My son posted three articles on Tolkien’s birthday, not debating whether or not Tolkien was a racist, but simply arguing about whether we should accept the fact while still celebrating his works, or reject his works as a result. I have to look pretty hard to find criticisms of Tolkien like the one mentioned here. It takes me no time nowadays to find the racist charge.