The Dark Side of the Force

I watched the original Star Wars trilogy again recently. I was introducing my kids to it, trying to wait until the younger ones were old enough to vaguely grasp what’s going on. And beginning with the original trilogy because The Phantom Menace isn’t actually all that good as a film (particularly not compared to A New Hope), and because I’m a purist like that.

Lots has been said already about the Star Wars conception of “the Force” and how, despite what we’d like to believe sometimes, the Force isn’t a direct equivalent of God.

The Force isn’t God, because the Force is an impersonal energy field that is created by living things, whereas God is a personal Creator of all that is. The Force is dualistic, with good and evil both a part of it, whereas God is good, solely and purely.

I know all this, and it isn’t what I want to talk about.

Being fully aware that the Force isn’t God, the original trilogy can serve as a metaphor or parable of sorts, describing a great spiritual conflict of good and evil like the one we find ourselves in here on Planet Earth. So long as you treat it as a metaphorical story and not a direct allegory, you can still find glimpses of truth in it. It’s become a part of our modern cultural lore, and we can use it to communicate certain truths at need, just like we can use other stories.

No, what I wanted to talk about was Yoda’s speech about being a Jedi; the one that comes in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

You know the one: “A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware anger, fear, aggression; the Dark Side are they. Easily they flow; swift to join you in a fight. But once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

I’m willing, with certain caveats in line with what I’ve already said, to interpret the Force as being a dim reflection of the Godhead, and the Jedi as the Miles Christi, the soldier of Christ in the spiritual battle in which we find ourselves. So “a Christian’s strength flows from the Lord”.

Thus far so good. This is a truth which we hold to be self-evident, and is in line with Scriptural teaching that “without Him we can do nothing”.

But it’s after that that we begin to run into troubles.

Anger, fear and aggression are deemed to be irreversibly corrupt products of darkness and evil, along with hatred.

This we need to be more careful with. Certainly hating one’s fellow man is no Christian thing to do. Jesus died for him as much as He died for me; He loves the most hardened ISIS fanatic as much as He loves me.

Not that the hardened ISIS fanatic is doing His will, you understand, but that even his evil deeds do not change the love of the Lord for him.

But the Bible instructs us to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good”. If hatred is intrinsically evil in and of itself, we’re in a bit of a quandary. Or in other words, it’s ok to hate the devil, so long as we recognise those who have made themselves his footsoldiers on earth as dupes as much in need of salvation as we. Hating the devil is fulfilling the will of God, and in line with His character. Hating sin is Godly, so long as we love the sinner.

We’re typically not very good at that, but it’s nevertheless a mistake to follow half-remembered Star Wars lore and make this sort of hatred wrong.

When the Emperor tempts Luke to give in to his hatred and strike him down, we have to be careful how we let ourselves interpret it. Luke, hate the evil that the Emperor represents, but the Emperor himself is a human being made in the image of God, and worthy of your compassion, not your hate.

Similarly, anger, fear and aggression.

I’ve talked about anger before on this blog, pointing out that God Himself is “slow to anger”, not incapable of it. He’s capable of feeling anger and acting righteously at all points. We sometimes aren’t, yet it’s not anger itself that’s the problem, but what we do with it. Anger is a normal, healthy and good response to a situation in which a wrong has been done. Luke does not sin by becoming angry at the Emperor’s manipulations and contempt. But he does have to be careful what he does with that anger.

The Jedi response is apparently to get rid of your anger somehow. Either by stuffing it down and sitting on the lid, or by the Buddhist means of killing your sense of self. If you can destroy your own capacity to feel these dark emotions, then the anger and hate goes away, because we can’t feel them any more. This is the Buddhist ideal of nirvana, as closely as I can make out, and it’s wrong and unhealthy. God made us with the capacity to feel angry about injustices and to hate sin. If we destroy our own ability to feel anger or hate, we cripple ourselves for the spiritual battle the Lord has called us to. We open ourselves not to “positive emotions” like peace and happiness, but to feeling nothing at all. This is unhealthy, and opposed to God’s design.

Fear is a dark power when it masters us, causing us to do all sorts of crazy, unhelpful and sinful stuff. But even fear is not evil itself. The proper purpose of fear is to alert us to danger and ready us to flee or fight. If we cripple this capacity in ourselves we are not behaving in a healthy manner, and are in danger of extreme foolhardiness.

We’re instructed to fear the Lord, because He’s dangerous. He’s described as a lion, a consuming fire, surrounded by whirlwinds. He made the great white shark and called it good. He is, as CS Lewis rightly pointed out, not remotely safe.

But He’s good. He truly loves us and wants the best for us, but that shouldn’t lure us into deciding that He’s a sort of supernatural teddy bear.

He loves us and wants the best for us, yes; but He’s all-knowing and really does know what that best looks like. More, He has nothing invested in perpetuating our comfortable sins, He wants to set us free from all that and isn’t really so interested in how much it’s going to hurt us to give up the destructive sins we love. Just like it isn’t loving to buy a drink for an alcoholic, so the Lord would not be truly Love if He allowed us to continue in our comfortable sins.

Fearing the Lord is the antidote to this. If we truly recognise how very unsafe He is, it will restrain us from pursuing such things.

Aggression is a trickier one. This is allied to Yoda’s statement that “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence; never for attack”.

It’s seductive because it sounds so reasonable. We don’t want to be hurting other people or attacking them. We don’t want to be the aggressor in a conflict.

But what if we are attacking evil? According to a strict interpretation of Yoda’s words, this is wrong because it’s aggression, which is the Dark Side. So by these lights, the right thing to do is to stand by until you are attacked. Evil can flourish so long as it doesn’t actually make a direct assault.

To be fair, the Star Wars universe never goes this far down this particular pathway, but we must remember that Yoda’s counsel to Luke was to sacrifice his friends, even let them die if necessary, and continue his training.

Now, I’m all in favour of being fully trained, but knowing that an evil is occurring and deliberately standing by and doing nothing is a grievous wrong.

And this is what’s wrong with the Jedi. They’re supposed to be the guardians of right and order, but the Old Republic is riddled with smugglers, gangsters, criminals, oppressors and exploiters, all proceeding about their business apparently unmolested by Jedi interference.

The spiritual Christian soldier sung of in the old hymn is supposed to be an aggressive attacker of the enemy’s domain. Jesus’ words were that “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”. The picture is of an active church aggressively assaulting the domain of the devil, taking ground in the spiritual realm and rescuing the prisoners of darkness, not of the gates of hell assaulting a beleaguered church. Passivity is a Jedi ideal, not a Christian one.

The Biblical ideal is that ultimate Good will emerge victorious and that evil will ultimately be done away with. The problem with the Jedi is that their theology is as uninterested in the ultimate triumph of the light side of the Force as it is in the ultimate triumph of the dark side. They are keepers of the balance, seeking a world in which good and evil cancel one another out somehow, not a world in which good reigns supreme.

And I know which world I’d rather live in.

Anger, fear and aggression are not the enemy, any more than earthly nations or political groups are the enemy, or individual Muslims for whom Christ died are the enemy, or homosexuals are the enemy.

We do have to be careful what we do with our anger, fear and aggression, and careful not to let them control us, but it’s a mistake to paint them as intrinsically evil. It’s when we’re controlled by anger, fear and aggression that we begin to paint human beings as the enemy, and this is wrong, but properly-disciplined anger at injustice is Godly and righteous. Fear of the Lord is wise and leads, paradoxically, to freedom from other fears, and aggression directed at a Godly end and channeled through righteous means is a powerful force for good in the world.

The last line of Yoda’s speech is “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny”.

This is another line that sounds almost Christian. Once you start down the path of sin, it will have mastery over you and you canot be rid of it by your own strength.

But the problem is that we have all “started down the dark path”, and Yoda’s words and actions lead to no hope or possibility of redemption.

Turning Vader back to the light side is prtrayed as Luke’s idea, not Yoda’s. Obi-Wan counsels Luke to abandon this hope that even Darth Vader can be saved.

This is wrong and unbiblical. No-one is beyond redemption. God “so loved us, even when we were dead in sins and trespasses, that He made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up and seated us together with Him in the heavenly places”. Paul the Apostle started out as the ISIS or Taliban of his day. Surely there was no hope that he would be brought to faith.

And yet God did it anyway. Saul the persecutor and militant fanatic became Paul the fanatic for Christ, as committed to seeing the Good News about Jesus proclaimed as he had been to seeing it extinguished. Who knows whether the leaders of ISIS might not be potential Pauls in the making?

The other thing is that in Darth Vader’s turning back to the light, there’s nothing said about any price to be paid for his previous life of evil. The past is apparently gone, all that matters is that he’s now on the right side. There are no consequences for his previous evil deeds.

This could only play in a semi-Christianised culture where we’ve accepted the idea that we don’t have to earn our way back into God’s good graces, but it’s only partly true. The thing is, there was a price to pay, a terrible one. One that we could not begin to pay. But it’s a price that God did pay. It doesn’t make it any less real; sin and evil is still sin and evil, and God is just in what He says the punishment is. But with Him there is forgiveness.

So I guess the point of this is that we shouldn’t strive to be like the Jedi in all things. Star Wars can serve as a parable of the spiritual battle, up to a point, but there are things we need to be aware of as believers seeking to have the mind of Christ. Yoda is one of the good guys, and has a certain amount of wisdom, but he doesn’t speak with the voice of God, and sometimes even what Yoda has to say can be unhelpful.

Man Versus Cute

My daughter had her eighth birthday the other day.

This isn’t the tomboy one that wants to be a ninja. This is the other one; the girly one. The one that likes cute stuff and actually plays with stuffed animals.

Anyway, among her presents was a DVD of the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

We don’t have cable (by choice) and I’d not seen the current incarnation of the My Little Pony toy line before, but I remember the old version from the 1980s, or whenever it was.

The old toy line was harmless enough, I guess. The ponies had horrible multicoloured manes and tails at ridiculous lengths, but at least they looked vaguely equine apart from that.

I have vague recollections of there being some sort of TV series that went with the toys back then, too, but I never saw it. I was a boy. I wouldn’t have watched it even if given the opportunity.

The new ones bear about as much visual relation to equines as Hello Kitty does to a cat. The eyes have become monstrously huge, taking over the entire face in tarsier fashion, and the snout is a little snub of a nubbin that looks as much like a raccoon’s snout as a horse’s.

The biologist in me could cope with the unnatural colours and the insane hair. But this is too far. It’s like the difference between Barbie and those awful Bratz dolls. Barbie’s proportions may be unnatural, but at least she’s humanoid. Those dreadful Bratz things are all eyes and lips, distorted mockeries of human form that have become ugly as sin in the pursuit of more cuteness.

But I’d have forgiven the ponies even their distorted looks if it weren’t for the personalities they are portrayed as having in the TV series.

To a one, they all seem to have severe Attention Deficit Disorder, and a number of them are apparently hyperactive as well.

We have an ADD child, and while I’ll be the first to admit that ADD has advantages as well as drawbacks, we do have to raise her to be able to act in the non-ADD world. I don’t need a show that encourages and normalises the tendency to blurt out whatever comes into her head and act on whatever impulse she is currently experiencing.

Worse, it’s like watching a dozen teenage versions of Elmo from Sesame Street.

One was bad enough, and at least on Sesame Street there’s the chance of a few adults around to mitigate and balance Elmo’s permanent babyishness. Elmo’s a permanent two-year-old. It’s the way he’s designed.

But a dozen ponies acting like the worst sort of immature teenagers and preteens is just painful.

Oh, I guess that morally it’s not that objectionable. The lessons (and everything has to teach moral lessons these days) are good ones like not worrying about what others think, being a friend, loyalty and so on. The point gets made with a sledgehammer a lot, but at least the ponies don’t come on afterwards to “talk about what we’ve learned” or otherwise reinforce an already-obvious moral.

No, it’s just the characters that are too annoying for words.

Even worse than that is the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls DVD that also walked into our house.

Here are the same direly immature personalities, with the same unnatural hair colours and skin colours, but now bizarrely reshapen into vaguely humanoid form.

Yeah. Ponies shaped like girls. And people worry about genetically modified crops.

I thought the goal of parenting was that children would actually grow up, not that we’d spend millions of dollars reinforcing their most childish tendencies.

Still, Brianna is thrilled with her presents. And I dare say that there were a few things that I loved as a child that my parents couldn’t stand.

I’d like to think that what I watched was better quality, though, but quite probably I’m glossing over things. My generation has to answer for the success of the original My Little Ponies, the Cabbage Patch dolls, the fairly silly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.