This is part three of a conversation between two authors whose books discuss the faith of J. R. R. Tolkien and the religious values underpinning The Lord of the Rings. Parts one and two appeared on our website earlier this week.
Bradley J. Birzer is assistant professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he specializes in the history of the American West, and related topics. His book, J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth, was just published by ISI Books.
Mark Eddy Smith is a graphic designer at InterVarsity Press, which published his book, Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues: Exploring the Spiritual Themes of The Lord of the Rings, earlier this year. (purchase)
From: Brad Birzer
To: Mark Eddy Smith
Before we begin our discussion regarding Tolkien and Christianity, I would like to thank Christianity Today for inviting us to write on this topic. My favorite historian, Christopher Dawson, argued that it is impossible to separate the cult—that is, a community of persons who worship the same God—from the culture. Indeed, without a religious foundation, it is impossible to have a culture of any kind. Religion is the basis of each and every culture. A culture that loses its religious foundation can only continue for a limited amount of time, and only so long as it maintains at least some semblance of its religious inheritance. Tolkien, who attended the same parish as Dawson in the 1940s, I am sure agreed with this, and he would be happy to see the Christian elements of his mythology affecting Christian and non-Christian alike.
Second, I want to note how much I enjoyed your book, Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues. I think your use of G.K. Chesterton and Josef Pieper is brilliant, and I think you're ...