September 15, 2008

The Kingdom

In his book The kingdom of God is near, João César das Neves analises the history of mankind, from the point of view of our collective relationship with God, since the end of the Middle Ages until the turn of the Millennium. In his analisys he includes, for each century, a work that in some way reflects and summarizes the essence of that century. For the 20th century he chose Jurassic Park.

Unlike the other choices, I cannot agree with this one. In my personal opinion I would chose 3 different works to capture the spirit of the 20th century: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter. If I had to cut it down to one choice I would stick to The Lord of the Rings.

One of the aspects that clearly unites these three stories is the fight between good and evil. Here there are three very different nuances, but they all reflect very clearly our collective story of the last century. It is impossible not to recognize in Darth Vader's Death Star the atomic bomb, not to see in the racism of the pure-blood Death Eaters the nazi racism, not to relate the feelings of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, swept from the Shire to sneak into the depths of Mordor with the feelings of the WW2 soldiers, swept from british fields to fight in the devastating scenarios of the trenches. And this is a question that also pinpoints something essential of our epoch. After the two world wars it became completely impossible to maintain the naive notion of progress, to believe that the future would always be better, and the only reasons for the evils of the past were the technological underdevelopment and the material poverty. It became evident, except for the voluntarily blind, that the world is and will continue to be the stage of a gigantic fight between good and evil.

Another aspect common to these stories is magic. Magic can be strange as a summary for a time that has such a technological ethos, so much at odds with the spiritual, the transcendent and even the fantasy. But, in the end, and as we can see clearly through George Lucas' genial inspiration, technology is just another different attempt at doing magic. Not matter how many computers, lasers and automatic gadgets we have, what we really want is to force matter to obey our will. If there is a force ruling the universe, we want to be able to control it as we see fit. The same happens with Harry Potter. Harry Potter stories are interesting exactly because it would be much more fun if we had indeed a magic wand and we could change the world with a spell and a waving. With regards to the Lord of the Rings, I must compliment Tolkien, because I believe he managed to take the story much deeper, the magic in the Lord of the Rings makes us reflect much more and come to very different conclusions than the other two works.

George Lucas is able to transport us to the inside of a new mythology as he intended to, and also to make us think about the origin of evil (as we see young Anikin, a cute kid that surely none of us thought of when seeing the adult character in the older movies) and about what can cause people to be redeemed, to return to good (the final scene where Darth Vader saves his son, with the cost of his own life).

J. K. Rowling is able, in a more childish way, to make us think about the salvific power of love. And friendship. And the origin of evil, with the flashbacks into Voldemort's past. And death, which is the great taboo of our days, especially in books for a juvenile audience. And also, through Dumbledore, she manages to make you reflect on fatherhood and mercy.

But Tolkien leads us much further. Every time I read the book I find new meanings. Tolkien managed to find new ways to express old truths, in such a way that they become understandable for the vast majority of a population that is christian in label, but neo-pagan in essence. I could enumerate the immense number of christian symbols in the book. But I will mention only three aspects. The first is the triple representation of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet and King, respectively Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn. The second is the truth that evil cannot be defeated by force, it is too strong and too widespread for that. But evil ends up destroying itself. That is what happened when the ring is destroyed in the lava. And that is what happened at the crucifixion of Christ. The brutality of the guards, the cold-blood of Pilate, the hipocrisy of the pharisees, the betrayal of Judas, the cowardness of the other apostles, the indignity of Herod, the ingratitude of the croud constitute an extremely clear manifestation of evil. And it brought the defeat of that evil in a way that could not have been so complete had that manifestation not happened in all its power. And that is also what happened in our century: the world wars were the consequence of stupid nacionalisms that had already existed for a few centuries, but had never been manifest in all their strength and wickedness. And only after that manifestation of evil, it became possible to write the declaration of the Rights of Men, to start building the European Union, to begin treating the Jews as our brothers. Lastly, the ring is a perfect symbol of the struggle we live: we can only really achieve victory when we give up the power of the ring. When we abdicate the power. Because what is characteristic of the century that has passed, in mankind's relationship with God, and therefore in mankind's history, is the return in all its strength of the old temptation: You will be like Gods. Nazism, communism, the World Wars, the Cold War, the other smaller wars and the tragedies in small scale that happen in each family, in each school, in each workplace, in each soul, are usually related to this. We want the power to the world according to our will. In the illusion that it would make us happy. It doesn't. It makes us destroy one another physically and it makes us destroy ourselves interiorly.

What makes us happy is a different thing. It is the genuine and generous gift of ourselves. And it is the acceptance of the gift of others to us. Happyness is not to be conquered, but to be received.

Here I am, Lord, I want to be happy. If it is going to be necessary that You control my life and make me happy, help me Lord for it is not going to be easy for me.

Let thy Kingdom come! Let our lives become the plan of love that You have for us, instead of this fraticide battle we get involved in, by trying to carry on our little personal plans. Let us be capable of accepting that You are the King, not us.

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