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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

May the Force Be Nonsense

Okay, I admit it. I'm looking forward to the new episode of Star Wars coming out next December. I really enjoyed Star Wars – all six episodes and Jar-Jar Binks is one of my very favorite characters. Sure, Episode 7 is being given the Disney magification treatment and they aren't paying much attention to George Lucas with regard to plot, but still………….it's STAR WARS!

I think part of the reason the propeller heads and critics in Hollywood had a problem with the three Star Wars prequels has more to do with the sanctity of Hollywood's religious beliefs than it does with the quality of the movies.  I mean, so far as cinematography and story-telling goes, the Star Wars saga is downright mythological in its presentation from start to finish. Where it gets crosswise of Hollywood in the prequels but did not in the original trilogy, is in the matter of Hollywood's received religious creed. The prequels deviated from the vague magical doctrine of the Force and tried to explain what had heretofore been a comfortably nebulous idea.

In the first three (Episodes 4-6), Luke Skywalker was a devotee of the Force, a "power" described by Obi-Wan Kenobi as, "…"an energy field created by all living things." A perfect description of Hollywood's god. Obi Wan goes on to state that, "It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together."  Even perfecter*. This jibes with Hollywood's idea of god as an amorphous goodness that springs from all living beings and rewards any trifling bit of goodness that a wealthy, self-absorbed actor, director or producer might muster up. At the same time Hollywood's god doesn't punish the small stuff which really doesn't matter anyway if you're a talented artist. 

In Hollywood Christianity, our souls live forever, being reincarnated as angels or coming back again in new bodies to give it another go at being good enough to become angels. The afterlife is a nebulous spiritual plane from which we can reappear as ghosts until we get our business done and then "go toward the light".  The original Star Wars was close enough to Hollywood's comfy magical religion to warm the cockles of the meanest old Chicago Sun-Times critic's heart.

In the prequel, however, we are introduced to the midi-chloreans, a microscopic life form that helps humans access the force thereby sucking some of the magic out of the thing.  Of course, you have to be born with these midi-chloreans in your blood. That makes you one of a special class of nobilified humans who can kick almost any other human being's butt. This sucked a little more of the magicality out of Star Wars. I suspect the critics, most of whom love magic, didn't appreciate their preconceived idea of the Force as magic and it caused them to turn on Lucas. Lucas was probably confused because he was just trying to tell a story not create a religion.

You'd think the idea of the Force having a dark side might have given some of the high priests of Hollywood pause, but actually, that's probably what endeared the idea of the Force to the Tinsel Town hoi polloi. After all if the God/Force has a dark side, that means it's natural that we do too and therefore it's up to us to decide which side we will choose and exploit. In other words, there is no "God" so to speak, only a mystical force with good and bad wizards sucking off some of that force for their own purposes.How cool would that be, huh?

A friend of mine who was once an actor told me right after Star Wars came out, that the idea of "The Force" was being batted around Hollywood's temples of Eastern Mysticism and séance parlors for years before Star Wars came out.  George Lucas's original vision of a vast impersonal "Force" perfectly fit Hollywood's loosey goosey, wishful-thinking brand of religion. It's little wonder they embraced it. Where Lucas lost them was when he made it a little more real with the midi-chloreans creating themselves a virgin birth child who becomes evil and then has his soul redeemed. 

This introduces the uncomfortable idea that some outside creature or creatures with a will of their own are manipulating things. Worse yet, the prequels make sin a matter of choice rather than simply being the standard good guys are good and bad guys are bad because that's just the way they are - no fault of their own. Can't have goodness without badness.

C.S. Lewis** wrote "If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God."   Whether it's slums, war, homosexuality, or child abuse, one could easily believe that all of it is a part of that sort of god and really not our fault when you reason it all out.

From Hollywood's religious position, good and evil must exist in order to maintain the balance of the universe (and to make good subject matter for highly lucrative movie-making purposes). Hollywood loves the whole Chinese Yin/Yang idea. Evil, according to the Holy Church of Rodeo Drive, is perfectly understandable, since it balances the good in some vague way. It could be said then that Roman Polanski's diddling a 14 year old actress simply opens room in the universe for Sean Penn to do relief work for earthquake victims in Haiti and by the by lets Sean off the hook for cheating on every woman he's ever married.

Hollywood's religion is entirely non-judgmental, fortunately for the Hollywood glitterati whose sins stuff the thousands of pages of fan magazines and gossip columns that fly off the racks in the grocery store aisles ever week.  In Hollywood's religion, there is really no such thing as sin and everyone is accepted as he is, except possibly for Mel Gibson who made that awful Passion of the Christ movie and other blasphemers who violate the ten political correctness guidelines.  A whole range of inconvenient traditional sins can be recast as acts of love and the old morality can be dismissed as bigotry and hate-crime.

Decades before Star Wars premiered, C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Abolition of Man, "The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?"

Christians think all of this force business is a lot of damned nonsense.  Lewis, in Mere Christianity goes on, "Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world – that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story."

The Christian God is a personal God who exists, not as Pantheists think of him, as some kind of a vaguely conscious force whose bones and sinews are the rocks and mountains, seas and living creatures, stars and nebulae of the universe. The Christian God is emphatically not the universe itself. He is more than that. The Christian idea of God is of a sentient being that actually made the universe for His own purposes and designed it to work in a certain fashion according to immutable laws set down by God, Himself.  We believe that the immutability of those laws is what makes it possible for the very atoms of the things, that make up this universe, to hang together.

Christians also espouse the idea that in this one world where we live, that for whatever purpose, God allowed us to have the free will to choose to do things our own way. When we chose poorly, albeit most deliberately, He then stood back and let things go very badly wrong - something He tried to tell us would happen. Our best guess as to why he let it happen is that, in order to teach us (and presumably the rest of the universe as well), what happens when you embrace sin as a lifestyle choice. He seems to have chosen to let us see that when He said, "The wages of sin is death," He wasn't just being arbitrary. He was trying to tell us one of the biggest secrets of the universe – that if you sin, things inevitably end in death.

We also believe that, as Lewis put it, "God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting things right again."  He did, after all, provide in the person of His Son, the means by which we might do so.
This is the reason that I believe that when the world goes up in flames and is scoured clean and God returns to us a New Earth renewed, that He is also very likely going to hand us some shovels and rakes and bags of seed that we may have the honor of cleaning up the mess we made and restoring it to its original beauty. I personally think planting trees will be healing to our souls and I look forward to planting some very nice forests and meadows with lots of flowers. Once everything is nicely grown up and looking good, Sheila and I will throw a big party there to celebrate.
You're all invited.

© 2015 by Tom King
 *Yes I know it's "more perfect" not perfecter, but I was going for an effect by deliberately misusing the word. Grammar Nazis just let it go!
** All C.S. Lewis quotes, unless otherwise noted are from "Mere Christianity"

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