My oldest son and I recently re-watched the Lord of the Rings, the movie based on Oxford scholar J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastic fantasy epic and sequel to his novel, The Hobbit. An ardent Catholic, Tolkien loaded the Lord of the Rings with vivid representations of Christian themes like death and immortality, the corrosive effects of power, free will and fate, and of course, the battle between good and evil. Director Peter Jackson's film rendering of the classic is faithfully stunning, garnering several U.S. and British Academy Awards including best film, best cinematography, and best make-up--the latter, wildly imaginative and perfectly executed. Most impressive are the realistic renderings of really icky bad guys. If only evil were so obvious!
There are many bad guys in the epic and relative few good guys, both readily identifiable without uttering a word. The good guys look good. The bad guys look bad. For instance, the adorable, innocent, and lovable Hobbits are quite obviously good. They live in darling little thatched cottages in the cute village of Hobbiton in the sweetly bucolic Shire. Even their names are friendly: Bilbo Baggins, Frodo, Pippin, Merry. No threat there.
Also outstandingly good are the regal, refined, and deeply honorable Elfin people. Their manners, carriage, and even their way of speaking conveys goodness. Their homeland, Rivendell, is a magical sanctuary sheltered in lush vegetation with mythical waterfalls and majestic mountains, enshrouded in ethereal mist. Ahhhhh....
On the other hand, the bad guys are unmistakably awful. Jackson's Oscar-winning makeup team envisioned evil with such brilliantly terrifying imagination, there's no mistaking the evil. They're all twisted, dark, menacing, with terrible teeth, sorely in need of some image management. The Hobbit's diminutive dark counterparts are the homely, bulbous Goblins, droopy, wart-laden slobs. Their homeland, Mount Gundabad, is no vacation destination either, with dark, rocky promontories and lack-luster, stony fortress dwellings.
Bolg, the icky-named son of Azog the Defiler, of the Orc clan, is admittedly physically fit, the better to defile innocents, I suppose. You definitely know he's evil when you see him coming, his face a mildly reptilian, scarred mask, also with awful teeth. Poor dental care must be an issue among the demonic. His dad Azog was at least as homely and mean-looking, possibly worse, with his copious battle scars and sickly pale complexion. The Orcs live in scary hide yurts with bad landscaping.
All the other many Lord of the Rings bad guys and critters, are decidedly disagreeable in every way. You can spot them a mile away.
Unfortunately, true evil, of the real-life variety, is increasingly difficult to spot. In fact, with few exceptions, evil seems increasingly to hide in plain sight or to even disguise itself as good. Of course, this is lousy news, because anybody can fall prey to deception when it's wearing a comely disguise.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20
Whoa! Did God say ""Woe?"
I have an acquaintance who met a guy online who checked all the boxes and wooed her over several weeks, then somehow swindled her for several thousand dollars. She's very well-educated and successful, but wishful thinking and loneliness made her vulnerable prey to a cunning predator.
Living in Florida, I know of several seniors who have been subject to scams, including one who lost her savings in a home improvement hustle. So wrong. I think people who prey on old people are especially despicable.
Sex trafficking is a global epidemic that often starts with demonic promises of deliverance that seduce desperate immigrants, misguided young people, and helpless children. Like they say, there's a special place in hell for those perps.
More and more, I get warnings from my banks, utilities, and assorted retailers about elaborate schemes to con me out of something. I'm on high alert.
There's the more garden-variety version of damaging deceits. If you've ever had a frenemy, you know what it means. This is the a person who pretends to be your friend, even your best buddy, and yet all along wishes you'd die in a fire or fail miserably. You want to avoid these folks.
Social scientists say frenemies are more toxic than a mortal enemy. The deceit and destructive disconnect is more destructive than an old-fashioned enemy you can spot. I think we can extrapolate this wisdom for other types of false fronts.
For a while, I had a slightly guilty habit of scanning the more prurient headlines in the Facebook newsfeed or the click-bait at the bottom of CNN.com, and just had to stop. The number and nature of crimes these days is just horrifying. Aside from the epidemic of random mass shootings--increasingly by normal-seeming citizens without warning--there's an obvious uptick in truly twisted crime and immorality perpetrated by regular people that nobody suspected had a dark side....nice soccer moms, the popular teacher, the church elder, the good student.
What the heck?
For most ordinary humans, it's hard to imagine that people would be so wantonly and fearlessly cruel, but such evil exists, seemingly more ever more common and twisted. This is not news to God, who predicted human decline some time ago, even taking into account original sin and our general, inherent moral failings.
Godlessness in the Last Days
3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)
Shall we use Tim's prediction as a checklist for today? 100%!
Leave it to Beaver ran from 1957 to 1963. I often cite it as representative of a bygone, better era in American history in every respect: Intact, functional families, traditional values, economic prosperity, a robust middle class, national security...the U.S. arguably at our apex as a beacon of hope to the world.
Naturally, every family wasn't idyllic and there were concurrent national challenges to overcome because we're fallen humans, redeemed or not. Society was finally beginning to recognize and repair grievous racial and gender disparities and injustice. Remarkable, faith-centered, albeit flawed, mortal leaders emerged to shape the nation. Overall, American life shimmered with hope and promise.
At this milestone moment, in 1962, we removed prayer from public schools. How very like us humans to decide--as we're hitting our stride--that God is superfluous. Are we so confident that this seemingly minor act didn't result in violently destructive repercussions that promptly started to unfold? Tracing history, so began a slow slide that led us to this unrecognizable state in which we find ourselves today.