Stephen Colbert on Tolkien, Robert Bolt, Loss and Faith

Stephen Colbert on Tolkien, Robert Bolt, Loss and Faith June 8, 2019

The late night comic and outspoken Catholic gave an interview to The New York Times that ranges far and wide over everything from politics to Tolkien to death and, of course, Catholicism

Some excerpts: 

I was raised in a devout Catholic home and bottle-fed Robert Bolt’s  “A Man for All Seasons,” which is about how it’s important that you not let the tide of history sweep you along if you don’t actually agree with it. And William Buckley said he  “stands athwart history, yelling stop.” I think we, with the show, stand athwart history and say: “That’s dumb. What a load of [expletive] that is.” Is that moral? I don’t know. I know that public lies that you are impelled to believe are worse than private ones. But I’m not  Erin Brockovich. I’m sure as hell not  Howard Beale. A fair amount of the time, I’m making poop jokes…

How many times have you read “The Lord of the Rings?” I lost count at 50. I am in the middle of a 180-hour lecture series by Corey Olsen, the Tolkien professor, who goes through it page by page. Almost every night I listen to about 15 minutes of a lecture…

But what do you get from “The Lord of the Rings” emotionally? Loss.

What about loss? Tolkien makes loss beautiful. He has a medievalist view of the world: The world is in a constant state of diminishment. The elves originally create the rings to stop the diminishment of the world, to maintain the beauty of the moment of creation that they came into. And the great revelation, which comes from Tolkien’s elves, is that men are incredibly ambitious and build high towers because they know they’re going to be gone. The elves are laid-back because they’re going to be around forever, and so they don’t have great ambition. Their great continuing sadness is that they see the diminishment of the world. That sadness is, I think, a big part of Catholicism. Because God himself dies, and God himself has agony and, of course, original sin…

…The heroic thing to do is to accept your diminishment, to accept — in the human’s case — death. In Tolkien’s world, death is the gift of Ilúvatar, who’s the one God. Catholicism is deeply combed through all these things. To perceive the world in the light of eternity, to accept your death as a gift, to accept suffering as a path toward joy. All of those are in Christ on the cross. So I think the books are another way for me to perceive the reality that my faith is trying to reveal to me through its tradition…

…Faith is different. Faith is not trying to change the world. Faith is not trying to change God. Faith isn’t trying to change the order of things. Faith isn’t trying to maintain your position. Faith isn’t trying to make less of the other. Faith is asking God to change you. You are the subject of God’s love, and in accepting that, you can transform yourself and release yourself of these appetites that are almost always at someone else’s expense.

Read it all. 


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