Features

Faith vs. the Force

Commentary | In trying to evoke "spirituality," George Lucas turns to myth instead of the Bible

Issue: "Saber savior," May 22, 1999

When Bill Moyers asked his youngest son why he had seen Star Wars at least a dozen times, he responded: "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all your life." As Moyers explained, "He was in a new world of myth." That new world of myth has been a topic of debate and interest ever since 1977, when Star Wars first warped itself into our national consciousness. With the release of The Phantom Menace the mythological impact is again a matter of spirited discussion. Producer George Lucas has offered different and contradictory messages about his own agenda in the making of the Star Wars series. Explaining the blockbusting success of the first episode, Mr. Lucas insisted that his only purpose was to make a "fun" escapist movie, "whose only purpose was to give pleasure." Nevertheless, the mythological elements in these movies are hard to deny, and Mr. Lucas has more recently claimed a higher purpose than entertainment in his movie making. "I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct-that there is a greater mystery out there," he told a fascinated Bill Moyers, who interviewed Mr. Lucas in Time. The Moyers interview reveals so much about both Mr. Moyers and Mr. Lucas. They both seem absolutely agog over the power of myth and convinced that modern secular Americans need new myths to replace the tired old "myths" of religion, including biblical Christianity. "Religion is basically a container for faith. And faith in our culture ... what one might describe as a supernatural, or the things we can't explain-is a very important part of what allows us to remain stable, remain balanced." Mr. Lucas says he believes that "all religions are true," though we cannot know who or what God is. In writing Star Wars, Mr. Lucas "had to come up with a whole cosmology," and chose to imitate an existing belief system rather than to invent a new religion. In the process he borrowed freely from ancient Gnosticism, Buddhism, and certain elements of Christianity. "I wanted to express it all," he explained. The mythological structure of Star Wars is primarily indebted to the Eastern religions, though Americans are more likely to recognize that now than they were in 1977. Zen Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies are now staples of America's polytheistic popular culture. Bookstore sections on "Spirituality" feature hundreds of books in the "Buddhism for the Masses" genre, and the even less serious "New Age" materials. In the years since 1977 Americans have become primary consumers of Eastern philosophies and ancient mythologies-dumbed down for popular consumption and dressed up for a media age. Interest in pagan mythologies received a boost in the 1980s with the late Joseph Campbell's television series (hosted by-guess who?-Bill Moyers). Through books and television series, Campbell introduced a generation of secularized and confused Americans to the world of ancient and modern myths. Mr. Lucas and Campbell had a mutual admiration society for several years. At a tribute for Campbell, Mr. Lucas described him as "my Yoda," recalling a spiritual guide from Star Wars. Campbell said he was "proud that something I did helped him define his own truth." Conspicuously absent from Mr. Lucas's cosmology is anything connected to biblical Christianity. Although oblique references to faith abound in the film, the central religious motif is "the Force," explained by Star Wars: The Magic of Myth (Bantam Doubleday Dell) as a combination of "the basic principles of several different major religions." Further, "it most embodies what all of them have in common: an unerring faith in a spiritual power." "The Force" is not analogous to Christian faith, but is a form of personal enlightenment and empowerment. Faith in "the Force" is simply faith in mystery and some higher power-mostly within. As Mr. Lucas instructs: "Ultimately the Force is the larger mystery of the universe. And to trust your feelings is your way into that." The last thing Americans need to be told is to trust their own feelings. The mythology of Star Wars is perfectly adapted to the spiritual confusion of postmodern America. "Go with the Force" is about all many citizens can muster as spirituality. When Christianity ceases to be the dominant worldview of a culture, paganism is quick to fill the void. Luke Skywalker and company are a form of simple escapism for many moviegoers, and a source of spiritual "insight" for others. Christians will be amazed at the special effects but should be wary of any spiritual effect. As Carl F. H. Henry reminds, "Judeo-Christian revelation has nothing in common with the category of myth." We must not confuse Christian faith with "the Force."

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R. Albert Mohler Jr.
R. Albert Mohler Jr.

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