Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Argument of the Agnostic: Is Religion So Easily Deposed by Rationalism??

Today's article can be quite dissettling for first timers considering the arguments of an agnostic. However, it is quite clearly as plain that such arguments must be heard in order to understand the basis of those arguments when they are presented. Though not an argument for pure atheism, today's article is a strong argument with strong questions as to "Why a believer believers what s/he believes?" And if you do, then pray tell, "Let us all know, by all accounts please," asks the inquiring agnostic.

Essentially, for the evangelist and apologist this plea for a rational argument immediately becomes fraught with all kinds of obstacles and trap doors. In fact, though the temptation is to enter in forthrightly to debate and contend, the wise man knows that belief cannot be taught but caught; cannot be understood but embraced. That it is not necessary to answer the unknowable as much as to question our knowing and ourselves as being the universe's all-knowing omniscience source of de facto explanation as the agnostic would have us become.

Yeah, to answer a fool is to be a fool oneself. Which is most likely what an agnostic would think the closest thing to an answer that a believer might bring. However, for the believer himself or herself, we know all too well that some answers do come in our belief while many will not come. That it is not that we must have answers to help belief but that we must move towards our questioning beliefs in the totality of a faith stripped of its rationalism and demands for proof and knowing. Even those who stood before Jesus Himself seeing the God of the universe could not belief. Seeing, knowing, proving are not very good foundations to walking with God.

Yes, to believe is to be a fool in the eyes of the true agnostic, and yet to not believe is to act foolishly when the only best, surest thing that we can do is to simply believe. A man or woman of faith understands this, and through the course of life will have some questions answered and many not answered but the pith of one's faith is not based upon oneself but upon the One who giveth faith. The Creator God whose image is stamped upon us heart and soul. And through His Son Jesus that helps the unbelief of some to wrestle with life's most important questions of personal meaning, purpose, love, and so on.

Even so, my dear brothers and sisters, we move forward. Not clearly, not easily, but forward into the dark rifts and valleys of life's paradoxes, riddles, myths, and mysteries. What we know is that Jesus is come as Savior and Lord and that is enough. It is in that knowledge that all else becomes meaningful and meaning finds its purpose. Be at peace. Be courageous. Seek to love, not argue. And to touch the unbelief of some that they too may come to know Christ as Savior and Lord. Amen and amen.

R.E. Slater
December 24, 2014

God & Jesus | Credit: Wikimedia

Religion’s smart-people problem:
The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith

by John G. Messerly
December 21, 2014

Religious belief the world over has a strenuous
relationship with intellectualism. But why?

Should you believe in a God? Not according to most academic philosophers. A comprehensive survey revealed that only about 14 percent of English speaking professional philosophers are theists. As for what little religious belief remains among their colleagues, most professional philosophers regard it as a strange aberration among otherwise intelligent people. Among scientists the situation is much the same. Surveys of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, composed of the most prestigious scientists in the world, show that religious belief among them is practically nonexistent, about 7 percent.

Academic Philosophers of Faith - 14%

Prestigious Scientists of Faith - 7%

Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think. But such facts might cause believers discomfort. There has been a dramatic change in the last few centuries in the proportion of believers among the highly educated in the Western world. In the European Middle Ages belief in a God was ubiquitous, while today it is rare among the intelligentsia. This change occurred primarily because of the rise of modern science and a consensus among philosophers that arguments for the existence of gods, souls, afterlife and the like were unconvincing. Still, despite the view of professional philosophers and world-class scientists, religious beliefs have a universal appeal. What explains this?

The Appeal of Religion

Genes and environment explain human beliefs and behaviors—people do things because they are genomes in environments. The near universal appeal of religious belief suggests a biological component to religious beliefs and practices, and science increasingly confirms this view. There is a scientific consensus that our brains have been subject to natural selection. So what survival and reproductive roles might religious beliefs and practices have played in our evolutionary history? What mechanisms caused the mind to evolve toward religious beliefs and practices?

Today there are two basic [biological] explanations offered

1 - One says that religion evolved by natural selection—religion is an adaptation that provides an evolutionary advantage. For example religion may have evolved to enhance social cohesion and cooperation—it may have helped groups survive.

2 - The other explanation claims that religious beliefs and practices arose as byproducts of other adaptive traits. For example, intelligence is an adaptation that aids survival. Yet it also forms causal narratives for natural occurrences and postulates the existence of other minds. Thus the idea of hidden Gods explaining natural events was born.

Environmental Explanations for Religion

In addition to the biological basis for religious belief, there are environmental explanations. It is self-evident from the fact that religions are predominant in certain geographical areas but not others, that birthplace strongly influences religious belief. This suggests that people’s religious beliefs are, in large part, accidents of birth. Besides cultural influences there is the family; the best predictor of people’s religious beliefs in individuals is the religiosity of their parents. There are also social factors effecting religious belief. For example, a significant body of scientific evidence suggests that popular religion results from social dysfunction. Religion may be a coping mechanism for the stress caused by the lack of a good social safety net—hence the vast disparity between religious belief in Western Europe and the United States.

Better Conditions = Lower Belief Values

There is also a strong correlation between religious belief and various measures of social dysfunction including homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births, abortions, corruption, income inequality and more. While no causal relationship has been established, a United Nations list of the 20 best countries to live in shows the least religious nations generally at the top. Only in the United States, which was ranked as the 13th best country to live in, is religious belief strong relative to other countries. Moreover, virtually all the countries with comparatively little religious belief ranked high on the list of best countries, while the majority of countries with strong religious belief ranked low. While correlation does not equal causation, the evidence should give pause to religion’s defenders. There are good reasons to doubt that religious belief makes people’s lives go better, and good reasons to believe that they make their lives go worse.

People don’t want to know; they want to Believe

Despite all this most people still accept some religious claims. But this fact doesn’t give us much reason to accept religious claims. People believe many weird things that are completely irrational—astrology, fortunetelling, alien abductions, telekinesis and mind reading—and reject claims supported by an overwhelming body of evidence—biological evolution for example. More than three times as many Americans believe in the virgin birth of Jesus than in biological evolution, although few theologians take the former seriously, while no serious biologist rejects the latter!

Consider too that scientists don’t take surveys of the public to determine whether relativity or evolutionary theory are true; their truth is assured by the evidence as well as by resulting technologies—global positioning and flu vaccines work. With the wonders of science every day attesting to its truth, why do many prefer superstition and pseudo science? The simplest answer is that people believe what they want to, what they find comforting, not what the evidence supports: In general, people don’t want to know; they want to believe. This best summarizes why people tend to believe.

Why, then, do some highly educated people believe religious claims? 

First, smart persons are good at defending ideas that they originally believed for non-smart reasons. They want to believe something, say for emotional reasons, and they then become adept at defending those beliefs. No rational person would say there is more evidence for creation science than biological evolution, but the former satisfies some psychological need for many that the latter does not. How else to explain the hubris of the philosopher or theologian who knows little of biology or physics yet denies the findings of those sciences? It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it. (I knew a professional philosopher who doubted both evolution and climate science but believed he could prove that the Christian God must take a Trinitarian form! Surely something emotional had short-circuited his rational faculties.)

Second, the proclamations of educated believers are not always to be taken at face value. Many don’t believe religious claims but think them useful. They fear that in their absence others will lose a basis for hope, morality or meaning. These educated believers may believe that ordinary folks can’t handle the truth. They may feel it heartless to tell parents of a dying child that their little one doesn’t go to a better place. They may want to give bread to the masses, like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.

Our sophisticated believers may be manipulating, using religion as a mechanism of social control, as Gibbon noted long ago:

“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world
were all considered by the people as equally true;
by the philosophers as equally false;
and by the magistrate as equally useful.” 

Consider the so-called religiosity of many contemporary politicians, whose actions belie the claim that they really believe the precepts of the religions to which they supposedly ascribe.

Individuals may also profess belief because it is socially unacceptable not to; they don’t want to be out of the mainstream or fear they will not be reelected or loved if they profess otherwise. So-called believers may not believe the truth of their claims; instead they may think that others are better off or more easily controlled if those others believe. Or perhaps they may just want to be socially accepted.

Third, when sophisticated thinkers claim to be religious, they often have something in mind unlike what the general populace believes. They may be process theologians who argue that god is not omnipotent, contains the world, and changes. They may identify god as an anti-entropic force pervading the universe leading it to higher levels of organization. They may be pantheists, panentheists, or death-of-god theologians. Yet these sophisticated varieties of religious belief bear little resemblance to popular religion. The masses would be astonished to discover how far such beliefs deviate from their theism.

Belief Declines with Knowledge or Higher IQs

But we shouldn’t be deceived. Although there are many educated religious believers, including some philosophers and scientists, religious belief declines with educational attainment, particularly with scientific education. Studies also show that religious belief declines among those with higher IQs. Hawking, Dennett and Dawkins are not outliers, and neither is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

Or consider this anecdotal evidence. Among the intelligentsia it is common and widespread to find individuals who lost childhood religious beliefs as their education in philosophy and the sciences advanced. By contrast, it is almost unheard of to find disbelievers in youth who came to belief as their education progressed. This asymmetry is significant; advancing education is detrimental to religious belief. This suggest another part of the explanation for religious belief—scientific illiteracy.

The Burden of Proof is on the Believer... Not the Unbeliever
[An Argument for Agnosticism]

If we combine reasonable explanations of the origin of religious beliefs and the small amount of belief among the intelligentsia with the problematic nature of beliefs in gods, souls, afterlives or supernatural phenomena generally, we can conclude that (supernatural) religious beliefs are probably false. And we should remember that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever to demonstrate there are no gods, but on believers to demonstrate that there are. Believers are not justified in affirming their belief on the basis of another’s inability to conclusively refute them, any more than a believer in invisible elephants can command my assent on the basis of my not being able to “disprove” the existence of the aforementioned elephants. If the believer can’t provide evidence for a god’s existence, then I have no reason to believe in gods.

In response to the difficulties with providing reasons to believe in things unseen, combined with the various explanations of belief, you might turn to faith. It is easy to believe something without good reasons if you are determined to do so—like the queen in “Alice and Wonderland” who “sometimes … believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” But there are problems with this approach. First, if you defend such beliefs by claiming that you have a right to your opinion, however unsupported by evidence it might be, you are referring to a political or legal right, not an epistemic one. You may have a legal right to say whatever you want, but you have epistemic justification only if there are good reasons and evidence to support your claim. If someone makes a claim without concern for reasons and evidence, we should conclude that they simply don’t care about what’s true. We shouldn’t conclude that their beliefs are true because they are fervently held.

Another problem is that fideism—basing one’s beliefs exclusively on faith—makes belief arbitrary, leaving no way to distinguish one religious belief from another. Fideism allows no reason to favor your preferred beliefs or superstitions over others. If I must accept your beliefs without evidence, then you must accept mine, no matter what absurdity I believe in. But is belief without reason and evidence worthy of rational beings? Doesn’t it perpetuate the cycle of superstition and ignorance that has historically enslaved us? I agree with W.K. Clifford:

“It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone
to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

Why? Because your beliefs affect other people, and your false beliefs may harm them.

The counter to Clifford’s evidentialism has been captured by thinkers like Blaise Pascal, William James, and Miguel de Unamuno. Pascal’s famous dictum expresses: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” William James claimed that reason can’t resolve all issues and so we are sometimes justified believing ideas that work for us. Unamuno searched for answers to existential questions, counseling us to abandon rationalism and embrace faith. Such proposals are probably the best the religious can muster, but if reason can’t resolve our questions then agnosticism, not faith, is required.

Besides, faith without reason doesn’t satisfy most of us, hence our willingness to seek reasons to believe. If those reasons are not convincing, if you conclude that religious beliefs are untrue, then religious answers to life’s questions are worthless. You might comfort yourself by believing that little green dogs in the sky care for you but this is just nonsense, as are any answers attached to such nonsense. Religion may help us in the way that whisky helps a drunk, but we don’t want to go through life drunk. If religious beliefs are just vulgar superstitions, then we are basing our lives on delusions. And who would want to do that?

An Argument for a Better Humanity

Why is all this important? Because human beings need their childhood to end; they need to face life with all its bleakness and beauty, its lust and its love, its war and its peace. They need to make the world better. No one else will.

John G. Messerly is the author of “The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives.” He blogs these issues daily at reasonandmeaning.com. You can follow him on Twitter @hume1955.

The Hobbit and the Riddle of Christmas

Bilbo Baggins | Credit: New Line Cinema

Like Bilbo Baggins, there is more to the Christ Child than appears:
He too is a riddle and Christmas poems and carols rightly love to extend
the contradictions of His birth into paradox.

The Hobbit and the Riddle of Christmas

by Alison Milbank | ABC Religion and Ethics
December 22, 2014

Although Tolkien's novel The Hobbit begins in the Springtime and ends in Midsummer, it is pure Christmas. It begins with overwhelming numbers of unexpected visitors and much consumption of good food and drink, and ends with a cascade of present-giving.

"Dragon-sickness" - the lust for gold and material goods - strikes not only children at this season. Indeed, recent years have shown up the greedy hoarding of money, houses and yachts among the rich in a manner reminiscent of Smaug's bewildering "glamour": some earn salaries many times larger in proportion to other workers' wages than in earlier times, while making us all believe that their value in the market dictates and thus justifies this obscenely large remuneration.

The Hobbit is a story which shows that it is not just the rich who become enthralled by the glitter of wealth, but also the dispossessed. The great dwarf craftsmen in metal who are on a quest to regain their stolen gold are possessed by "a fierce and jealous love" for it. Even Bilbo the hobbit, who is generally more interested in breakfast than gold, is bewildered and seduced by coming upon the dwarves' great ancestral jewel, the Arkenstone. Like the Ring he chanced upon under the Misty Mountains, the stone is quickly tucked away in his pocket, and he does not tell his companions that he has it: he becomes the burglar that his name, Baggins, suggests he has the potential to be. Soon Lakemen, elves and birds all gather round the dragon hoard, wanting a share of the spoils.

What breaks the deadlock as these groups lay siege to the mountain where the dwarves refuse to share any of the treasure, is another theft by Bilbo. He takes the Arkenstone and offers it to the besiegers, so that they can use its glamour over Thorin the dwarf king to force him to make peace. As a result of this burglary, Bilbo is thrown out of the dwarves' company, and is lucky to escape with his life.

Yet at many crucial stages on their journey, it had been Bilbo's underhand ways that had ensured their safety: like Odysseus, who hid his men as sheep to evade the Cyclops, Bilbo smuggles the dwarves out of the Elven-King's prison in barrels, which are floated down the river; Bilbo's invisibility allows him to rescue the dwarves from the Mirkwood spiders.

Even Bilbo's riddles, fair as they are in a riddle contest in Anglo-Saxon or Norse conventions, smuggle truth in disguised form:

"A box without hinges, key or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid."

What the riddle does is to state the reality of an object in paradoxical form, in contradictory ideas. How can a box lack any mode of ingress? How did the treasure get into the box? Our normal categories are questioned and for a moment, a riddle makes the world seem strange or bizarre. In deciphering the answer, we are forced to look at the object in a new way. After the "making strange" comes the illumination; once a riddle is solved it is blindingly obvious - but the egg takes on a new depth of meaning.

The burglar Bilbo is himself a kind of riddle, and of course, the last riddle question Bilbo asks Gollum is "What do I have in my pocket?" Bilbo is thus the key to the riddle whose answer is the emblematic Ring, "the precious" object of desire. Bilbo is the key as he is associated with keys in the course of the plot. He finds the key to the trolls' hoard, which contains important weapons, including the sword, Sting, which Gandalf gives him and which will have so vital a role in this story and in The Lord of the Rings.

Bilbo can take this role precisely because he is not in quite such thrall to gold as the other characters, and where Gollum riddles words associated with his alienated life underground, Bilbo's riddles all point towards relationships and the social in some way - as in

"No-legs lay on one-leg,
two-legs sat near on three-legs,
four legs got some,"

which conjures up a whole society of a man and a cat sharing a fish-supper. Bilbo is rather like a fairy-tale trickster: a trump card who changes situations and rules and makes new connections.

And like the Christmas burglar and chimney invader, Santa Claus, he is a distributor and gift-giver. For The Hobbit takes us modern capitalists - and Bilbo too with his formal contract - on a journey into more ancient economic models of exchange, in which society operates through the giving and receiving of gifts. To be a recipient of a gift is also to become a gift-giver oneself, so we see the Lake Men restoring the Arkenstone to lie on the breast of the dead Thorin. Bilbo himself is offered huge amounts of treasure but accepts only as much as one pony can carry, and then proceeds to donate jewels as he travels. Once home again in Bag End, he spends the rest in presents too. Tolkien makes all this central to hobbit society, in which one gives as well as receives presents on one's birthday.

The answer to dragon-sickness is not just simple generosity but giving as a mode of exchange, which unites donor and recipient, and which prompts reciprocity. Tolkien unites here gift-exchange practices of traditional societies with the Distributist political vision of his own day, which sought a more equal and just society not by removing private property but by distributing it as widely as possible.

Reading this at Christmas, however, reminds us of the most widely distributed gift of all: the Christ Child, who is given to all of us and to the earth itself. God the burglar - the thief in the night - smuggles himself into the world He made: "veiled in flesh the Godhead see" as Wesley's hymn reminds us and another begins, "When came in flesh the Incarnate Word / The heedless world slept on." Like Bilbo Baggins, there is more to this baby than appears: he too is a riddle, and Christmas poems and carols love to extend the contradictions of his birth into paradox, as in this example from Richard Crashaw:

Welcome all wonders in one sight,
Aeternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and GOD in MAN.

To read this riddle is to open a way to unlock the frozen gaze, fascinated by the dragon hoard but not in such a way as to reject the beauty and value of material objects so much as to pass them on. To see the baby hidden in the manger is to recognise the true Arkenstone, the "heart of the mountain," shining with "its own inner light." The - precious - gift of the Christ Child allows us to be more wedded to the world than ever, but in such a way as to become aware of its vulnerability and contingency.

On his death-bed, the dwarf king, Thorin commends Bilbo's blend of courage and wisdom, adding, "if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." Food and cheer are transitory pleasures, which take their value from the moment and the company. The Hobbit is actually as much about food or lack of it - as well as the fear of being eaten - as it is about the shiny solidity of metal. The dwarves are continually tightening their belts or existing on cram.

Just as Bilbo teaches the dwarves the value of sharing their gold, so they teach him at their first encounter - the unexpected party - the value of sharing food and distributing it as widely as possible. What, one wonders, was one bachelor hobbit going to do with a larder as full as his obviously was with mince-pies and cheese, seed-cakes, pork pies, cold chicken and pickles?

Economics is not a party, and the Incarnation is not a political program but I believe The Hobbit has something profound to offer us at this festive season about the true use of the bounty and beauty of the earth, which is to distribute it in such a way as to enable and make visible as many relations between producers and consumers, and fellow-workers as possible in contrast to the barren golden abstractions and glamour of money-markets. Ruskin wrote, "there is no wealth but life" and the hobbits are so successful a race as enablers and burglars because deep down they know that too.

But even the comfort and the fellowship of the Shire must be given up, "made strange" and riddled, so that one can travel "there and back again." When Bilbo brings us back with him from the Lonely Mountain, ordinary hobbit and human life can itself be received back as a gift, and seen as such, so that its comforts may be shared with others.

Alison Milbank is Associate Professor of Literature and Theology at the University of Nottingham, and Priest Vicar of Southwell Minster. She is the author of Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real.


See Also

by Ralph C. Wood | June 2, 2014

by John Milbank | Dec 31, 2013

by Josephine Gabelman | Dec 24, 2013

by Alister McGrath | Dec 22, 204