Fourth Age Enlightenment

A Note from Cirdan’s Apprentice: This post is a follow-up to an earlier post by Grey Havens Group member, Charlie. GHG meetings inspire lots of thoughtful commentary. We are pleased to bring some of it to you here. Stay tuned for posts marking the Fourth Age (well, fourth anniversary) of the Grey Havens Group, launched in October, 2010. 

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In my last essay “The Ring as Apple of Temptation” (title should have been “The Ring as Rejection of God”), the last paragraph alluded to the transition into the Fourth Age with it’s less spiritual Mankind.  Sauron is dead (or is he?), Men have survived through a leap of faith, and the Elves are now gone.  The Fourth Age seems to be a metaphor for our own modern world of objective science based thinking which started about 500 years ago with the Enlightenment – a revolution in human thinking based on objective analysis/experiment as opposed to subjective faith. Pre-enlightenment thinking was solely a faith in an unquestioning belief in whatever the local inculcation promulgated. This was Mankind’s existence until the Enlightenment.  Similarly, the first three successive Middle Earth Ages are based on Iluvatar, Valar, Elves, Numenoreans.  All are beings of a more spiritual, stronger, wiser, or more long-lived than the simple, small Hobbits.  The Hobbits – representing the torch bearers into the Fourth Age because of their seemingly less capability than their aforementioned precursors.  They don’t have the spirituality, physical prowess, or longevity of the elves, or Numenoreans.  They are more like us (don’t forget they are getting taller like us – Pippin taller than Frodo taller than Bilbo).  Even the Numenorean descendants, Gondorians, are somehow “less” than their ancestors. But, let us not forget that the Fourth Age was achieved through an act of faith – the illogical plan of having a small helpless Hobbit deliver the One Ring back from whence it came.

So, what if anything might Tolkien be alluding to here?  Might he be trying to show us that our secular humanistic world still lacks something.  That we as humans cannot survive on only objective based belief systems.  That the Enlightenment was achieved from and birthed out of thousands of years of human development in a “human based” spiritual form of existence.  To totally reject our past is to reject a part of who and what we are (or maybe he was just spinning a good yarn).:-)

Therefore, I think, just like in Middle Earth, we should embrace both ways of being – objectively trying to understand our physical world (technology) to advance our standard of living, while at the same time understanding that we as humans need a spiritual form of belief for our ultimate purpose (meaning) in life.  The physical world in which we live is not enough for us – we need more.  Tolkien wisely leaves it open what the Fourth Age (or Fifth Age?) will bring.

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