Sunday, June 29, 2008

Using "the Force" to Strengthen the Faith

A review of Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters by Dick Staub (Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Ever since Star Wars appeared on the silver screen in 1977, Christians have had justifiably uneasy reactions to the blockbuster series. George Lucas, creator of the popular movies, once said, "I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, 'If there is only one God, why are there so many religions?' I've been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I've come to is that all religions are true."

This perspective hardly coincides with Christ's words, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Instead, Lucas consciously draws upon the ideas of various individuals (such as Joseph Campbell), mythologies, and religions. As a result, Star Wars is infused with spiritual syncretism that includes elements of Gnosticism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, dualism, pantheism, and more.

The spiritual underpinnings of Star Wars, including the permeating energy field Lucas calls "the Force," have little to do with orthodox Christianity. It is somewhat surprising then to see Dick Staub's book Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters attempt to glean biblical wisdom from films many Christians view as antagonistic to Christianity. Readers seeking an apologetic critique of Star Wars will need to look elsewhere. Staub, a radio host, attempts to incorporate elements of the Star Wars films in order to offer Christian discipleship reflections and advice. Although the dust jacket vaguely indicates "a younger generation" is the focus, Staub's book will also appeal to older fans.

Each short chapter (41 in all) begins with a quotation from a Star Wars film and a biblical quotation. Too often, though, the juxtaposition of quotations is awkward. A chapter on meditation opens with a quote from Yoda, which reads, "Concentrate ... Feel the Force flow" (p. 59), followed by Psalm 77:6: "I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit." Another chapter quotes Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace): "Make an analysis of this blood sample I am sending you" (159). This is followed by Ephesians 2:13, which speaks of the "blood of Christ." The relationship between the Star Wars quotations and those of Scripture often seems contrived. Some will also find quotes by non-Christian thinkers, such as Buddha and Lao-Tzu, out of place.

Staub's sometimes on target reflections, such as his insightful chapter on Soren Kierkegaard (Chapter 7, "Will One Thing"), are found among uneven chapters. Chapter 9, "Enter the Cloud of Unknowing," smacks of anti-intellectualism. Staub writes, "The Lord of the Force [his phrase for the Christian God] is beyond knowing, yet invites knowing ..."; "The way to God is the way of the mystics." (52); and "Our experience of God is beyond the intellect ..." (54). Granted, other sections of the book hint at reliance on the intellect and the importance of the mind, but this particular chapter can communicate a decidedly wrong-headed approach to seeking truth; namely, that the intellect does not play an important role in the process. Staub also refers to Christianity as "mythology" (10)--a position he defended in an interview with Christianity Today by likening his views on the matter to those of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. This, however, is unclear in Staub's book.

Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters is its failure to draw clear distinctions between the worldview of Star Wars and that of Christian theism. The repeated use of the phrase, "The Lord of the Force," in reference to the God of the Bible is confusing. The "force" is impersonal, but God is personal. The "force" has a light side and a dark side, but God does not. Are there elements of Christian wisdom in Star Wars? Yes, but not to the extent Staub indicates.

A version of this review appeared in Christian Research Journal.

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