The Palantir

I re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple of weeks ago because my family was gone and I had some free time for once in a decade. I noticed several aspects of Tolkein’s theology and cosmology that I didn’t notice when I saw the movies in the theaters, which was the last time I was excited about going to the movies.

The most striking thing was the response of the powerful men to the catastrophe of Sauron’s rise. Saruman looked through the palantir, saw Sauron, and figured, “I can’t beat him so I’ll join him.” Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. Denethor, Steward of Gondor, looked into the palantir and concluded action was hopeless. At one point, Gandalf complains of Denethor’s response to Sauron’s gathering armies this way, “Long has he seen it, and done nothing!” Denethor sunk into despair and passivity when duty and action were required. Gandalf, when he eventually defeated Saruman, covered-up his palantir realizing it was a powerful thing but of no use to the mission.

The internet is the palantir today. It’s a powerful tool for gathering knowledge and information, but neither necessarily lead to understanding and action. In fact, the internet is more-often generating nihilism, despair, and wickedness. The internet is a technology but behind everything in the visible world is a corresponding thing in the invisible world which is just as real. Like the palantir, it’s not a neutral object to be wielded by good and evil alike. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of the wicked and self-destruction when wielded by the good.

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