It would be interesting to answer the question of whether or not The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) is a religious story by testing against ‘religion is an explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos’. Does the Lord of the Rings give an account in which the causal and intentional explanations for the happenings in Middle Earth fall together?
One of the problems in testing a scientific theory and of developing one, I might add, is to ask the right question. The other problem, of course, is to find the right answer. Let us first take a step back and look at the claim.
What could make The LOTR into a Christian story? There is no Christ, no God, no revelation, nothing about the fulfilling of God’s promise to the Children of Israel (there is no Israel), no Pope or priest, no original sin or the Garden of Eden, and so on. So, how could anyone claim that the story of the Middle Earth is a ‘recognizably’ Christian story?
There is one way of justifying such a claim, however. Take some or another Biblical theme, dress it in another set of ideational clothes, and tell the story further. However, according to the dominant consensus, such a story would be ‘secular’ and, as one never tires of assuring, the ‘secular’ is the other of the ‘religious’. Thus, if one follows the consensus in the field of religious studies, the secular story that The LOTR is, could never be a religious story.
If you accept the claims made in ‘The Heathen.’, you face no problems when confronting the ‘secular’ world; it is a secularized religious world. You know this is the dynamic of religion; you know that the Christological dilemma is the motor in the spreading of a de-Christianized Christianity. Thus, you are prepared for the possibility (and even the necessity) of religious (or Christian) themes being dressed up as ‘secular’ ones.
Does it mean that The LOTR is an EI account? When you ask this question, bear in mind that even the Bible (as a story) can become an EI account only if you accept it as the Revelation of God. If you do not, then the Bible is a mere book and does not become an EI account. Instead, it ends up being viciously circular: the Bible is the revelation of God’s Will because it ‘says’ that it is such a revelation.
Let us assume that someone believes The LOTR is a true story about the Earth. Does that make The LOTR into a religion? The answer is at par with the question: what if I believe in the truth of Sherlock Holmes? You can form an association, collect curiosa, meet regularly, dress differently, etc. Believing in the truth of a story is not enough to transform a story into a religion. In short, The LOTR might be considered a ‘religious’ story to the extent it secularizes a religious story.
I would like to draw your attention to a fact I have repeated many times. Religion is self-reflexive: what it is includes what it says about itself. Religion as an EI account of itself and the Cosmos captures this self-reflexivity. To investigate any further into religion at that level of description is to do theology. That is why I shift the level of study in the tenth chapter to look at religion as a worldview. Even this creates problems for doing a scientific study of religion. Hence, in the eleventh chapter, I look at religion as an entity that generates a configuration of learning. This enables us to study some aspects of religion scientifically without having to do theology.
However, keep in mind that besides generating a configuration of learning, religion is also a worldview and is primarily an EI account. As such, there is no way of using any piece of human knowledge (whether Logic or Physics) to ‘explain’ this EI account further without being a believer. You could also formulate the nature of my hypothesis in Chapter 9 in this way: it is the best ‘theological’ account of what religion is. To elaborate further on this hypothesis is to do ‘scientific’ theology (as though such a label is not a contradiction in terms!).
One of the virtues of ‘The Heathen.’ is that it shows why the above is the case. Chapters Nine and Ten, together, tell us in scientific terms why the further use of the notions of an EI account and Worldview forces us to do theology. In chapter Eleven, I lay the groundwork for a scientific study of religion.
In other words, do not get stuck at the level of an EI account. Two more chapters come after the ninth chapter. EI account is my hypothesis about religion, it is true, but because religion includes what it says aboutitself, we cannot build further on that hypothesis.