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Monday, June 26, 2017

Star Wars and Spirituality

Everyday Ethics: ISIS, Prisons, Assisted Dying & Star Wars
(17/8/2014)

"Is there really a spiritual connection? The former astro physicist David Wilkinson who is now a theology professor at Durham university certainly thinks there is. He is the author of the Power of the Force: the Spirituality of Star Wars...

I love the, the story line, I love the heroes, I love the special effects. But underneath I think what really got me even as a teenager were some of these big questions. Questions about hope and good and evil and whether there's more to the universe than just science and technology and those are the questions that stayed with me both as a scientist and my professional career as an astrophysicist and then on as a theologian. It's popular culture's interest in some of these big questions...

[Star Wars] does have a spirituality but it doesn't have a set of answers...

Someone once said that when you go and see a movie, you feel a movie first before you then rationalize it. You encounter the story, you internalize the story. You either reject it or you play with it. And so spirituality is multi layered in Star Wars. That's why some people have said well its Buddhist. Some people have said it's a christian allegory. I don't think it's either of those things - I think there's a whole number of questions layered one on top of another which invites the viewer to come in and find your own way through the questions...

I don't think there's a god. I think there's a question about god... Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry who very much had a humanist agenda and Roddenberry believed that as we explored the universe, as we developed in science and technology then human beings would be brought together. There was no need of god. And so on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise people from all different backgrounds found themselves together in this united quest and apart from one or two problems with Klingons eventually all would be well

'You had the first interracial kiss there in American TV didn't you?'

But Star Wars is much more open ended. It rejoices in the technology. It loves the light sabers and the Death Stars and all of this technology but ultimately that doesn't provide salvation in Star Wars. Salvation in Star Wars comes from something that goes beyond science and technology. Indeed one critic has said that Star Wars is a way of exploring both our good and bad feelings about science and technology. It doesn't reject science and technology but it says, particularly in this concept of the Force that there is something more that goes beyond the rational.

'What is meant by the Force in Star Wars?

Huh! Alec Guinness a devout Roman Catholic once came out of mass one day and a Star Wars fan ran up to him and said: May the Force be With You and Sir Alec without thinking about it replied: and also with you and i thought to myself what a silly thing to say...

I think the Force is simply that concept which allows us to think beyond science and technology: that which we can explain or that which we can control. It says there is something to the universe that lies beyond our power

'And why can't we call that god?'

I think in popular culture we don't want to close down the answers too much. We want to leave them open and of course in the Christian understanding of God, God is not simply that which goes beyond ourselves. God is the one who reveals himself to us in particular ways so that we know his nature and that's where I think a number of different faith communities can use the question of the Force to resonate with their belief in some kind of higher power or transcendence as we theologians would say to the universe...

Star Wars plays with evil in really quite a complicated way. A lot of people see the movies and see the iconic evil figures of Darth Vader or the satanic looking Darth Maul and think that evil is that which is outside of us, embodied. But actually of course Darth Vader starts off as this young cute child Anakin Skywalker. And part of the first three movies is to explain how someone good falls. How they succumb to temptation or in Star Wars language the Dark Side. And so evil is both outside of us, embodied, but it's also something that we struggle with internally in terms of our moral choices and temptations...

[Besides the idea of Lucifer the fallen angel] You can also hear the echoes of what often is represented in the Bible as the mess of human sin. That often small things take, become completely out of proportion and lead people from one step to another. And so Lucas starts the saga with a trade dispute in a rather obscure part of the galaxy. A trade dispute which will lead to eventually an evil empire taking over the galaxy. Much criticised by some of its critics who said: why go into such a small thing in order to tell this big saga? Well I think what is resonating there with is what a number of faith communities would say, that moral choices in small things can have very very big consequences down the line and you see that in a Biblical narrative as well...

The world isn't as simple as that but popular culture does have this belief that good will always triumph. It's embodied in hope and its posing the question: where does hope come from? If you look at lots of movies you see this hope embodied in lots of different ways. Sometimes the hope is based on science and technology will deliver us. They will bring in utopia. Other times the hope is simply dear Annie singing the sun will come out tomorrow. It's all going to be fine anyway. I think what makes Star Wars slightly different is the belief that good will triumph because of this other power to the universe. Now that's very much a Christian belief, that good triumphs because of the grace and love of God rather than simply the choices that humans will make. But all movies are simplistic. They don't tell the whole story and we know that the world is far more complicated than that...

The original Star Wars trilogy came out of the nineteen seventies with American angst about the ending of the space race and the fact that westerns were no longer on television and a whole number of things. And it will be very interesting to see how this new trilogy of movies picks up not just location but the culture of the decade that we're now in with all of the different questions that we encounter in spirituality and in the way that the world is shaped by religion and by politics as well"
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