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Thursday, December 17, 2015

8 Reasons Jedi are Totally Evangelical

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Image source.
Over the past few weeks, I've watched all 6 Star Wars movies (awesome!) and was struck by the similarities between Jedi and American evangelical Christians. Specifically, I mean I saw many of the same unhealthy perspectives I was taught in church also taught by the Jedi.

I present: 8 Reasons Jedi are Totally Evangelical

[this post contains spoilers for Star Wars episodes I to VI. I haven't seen episode VII yet, so no spoilers for that]

1. People change suddenly.

In "The Empire Strikes Back," Obi-Wan's ghost and Yoda warn Luke that he shouldn't go and face Darth Vader yet. He's not ready, and they're worried that he may "turn to the dark side."

In other words, if Luke goes and interacts with Darth Vader, Luke may, somehow, suddenly decide to join the dark side. Under the influence of temptation, Luke may suddenly become a completely different person.

Does this sound like evangelical Christianity? Yes. Oh my goodness yes. We have to be careful about the influences in our lives, the people we interact with. If we start listening to someone who's teaching something that goes against "what God said", then we may be "led astray." Our minds are so powerless and tainted by sin that we should fear even listening to other people.

In reality, turning to the dark side is a long and gradual process, with many massive red flags along the way, as we see in episodes II and III. There were so many points where Anakin could have and should have realized "no, this is terribly wrong." It's not like you just take one step and then the rest is an uncontrollable fall into pure evil.

But evangelicals and Jedi fear that first step so much that they're afraid of any situation that sort of resembles something where a potential "first step" into sin might happen.

(Interestingly, in episode VI, the Emperor also seems to believe that "people change suddenly." He says Luke just needs to pick up his lightsaber and use it in anger, and "your journey towards the dark side will be complete." Uh, what journey? That would only be a first step.)

Or, on the flip side of the "people change suddenly" concept: In "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi," Luke thinks he's just gonna go convince Vader to become good again. He thinks if he just goes to see Vader and says and does the right things, Vader will turn back to the light side.

Sort of like back when I was always doing evangelism- I thought that for each person I encountered, there would be some particular thing I could say which would convince them to become a Christian. I thought if I just presented more and more logical arguments and answered all their objections, it would just "work." I never thought about how each person has their own very complicated life and has developed their own perspective on religion over the course of many years.

I did evangelism always hoping for big, sudden changes. But people don't really change suddenly like that.

However, at the end of "Return of the Jedi," Darth Vader does appear to change. When the Emperor tries to kill Luke, Vader intervenes and throws the Emperor down one of those big holes above which every fight scene in Star Wars seems to take place.

And suddenly, Luke totally trusts Vader and sees him as a "good guy." Suddenly it's all about how father and son love each other. Darth Vader had killed millions of people (including the entire population of the planet Alderaan), but suddenly it doesn't matter. Suddenly all is forgiven.

That's how it is in evangelical Christianity too. You can do any number of awful things, you can kill millions of people, and then "repent" on your deathbed and that means you're all good with God and you'll go to heaven.

(Does this seem like the most unjust thing you've ever heard? Actually, Christians see this as a selling point. It doesn't matter what you've done, God can still accept you. Isn't it wonderful that you can commit murder and not be considered by God/Christians to be a bad person?)

This "instant forgiveness" has been used by the church to cover up sexual abuse of children. Churches be like, oh, yeah our pastor abused someone [or, actually, a long list of someones], but he repented so it's all good! God forgave him, so the victims should just get over it.

Yeah. That's disgusting.

2. The dark side is the easy way out, and the light side is all about discipline.

Yoda explains the dark and light sides of the Force:
Yoda: Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.

Luke: Vader... Is the dark side stronger?

Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

In contrast, it is explained that the light side- the Jedi side- is all about discipline. It's all about controlling yourself. It's easy to follow the dark side and use your emotions to power you in a fight, but that's bad. In the long run, you'll be stronger if you discipline yourself instead.

This is just like evangelical Christianity. They say that sin is easy and fun in the short run, but it's better to deny yourself that pleasure and follow the rules instead. I have seen this line of reasoning used to imply that pleasure itself should be viewed with suspicion, that doing something that makes you happy is "selfish" and it's better to not do it.

The best example of this is the church's rules about sex. Supposedly, all sexual experiences or thoughts that don't involve your (opposite gender) spouse [whom you may not have even met yet] are sinful. This includes everything from consensual sex to porn to masturbating to noticing that a person is attractive. Many books have been written about how it's easier to just "give in to temptation" but we shouldn't do that; instead we need to stamp out our sexuality if we're not married.

But seriously, why? All those supposedly sinful examples of "taking the easy way out" aren't actually sinful at all. Just because something is harder and requires more sacrifice doesn't mean it's a better thing to do. I no longer believe that sex is sinful- I think it's sinful when you don't treat people with love and respect. And all those rules and how we worked so hard to "discipline" and repress ourselves- it's all for nothing.

Discipline and denying yourself pleasure isn't intrinsically a godly and healthy thing to do.

3. Repressing emotions

When the Jedi council meets Anakin at the end of "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," Yoda says this: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you." The Jedi council can sense Anakin's emotions, and they use them against him- as a reason that he should be ineligible for Jedi training.

Same thing with Christianity. The church teaches that normal human emotions are dangerous, and we have to stay constantly vigilant and control how we feel.

The Jedi never taught Anakin how to actually handle his emotions. They just acted like he was bad for even feeling in the first place.

4. Rules about relationships

A major plot point is episodes II and III is Padme and Anakin's secret relationship (and secret marriage). Jedi are not allowed to be in romantic relationships. This leads to Anakin's sneaking around and not trusting the Jedi council. Later, when Padme is pregnant and he's worried that she could die, he can't get support from any of the Jedi because he has to hide the whole thing from them. Nobody understands what he's going through, except Darth Sidious, and that's why Anakin turns to the dark side.

Same thing in the church. If you have any kind of relationship issue that involves anything other than two people of the opposite sex who wait until marriage before doing it, you can't talk about it in church. You'll be judged. You're only allowed to say it in church if you frame it as "this was a sinful thing I did in the past and God has made me a totally new person and of course I follow all the sex rules now" or "I'm struggling with this, can you guys pray for me to be able to follow the sex rules?"

There's a culture of shame and silence, and it means people aren't able to get support from each other.

5. "Let go of everything you fear to lose."

In "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," Anakin has visions of Padme dying, and he goes to Yoda for help. Yoda tells him, "Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."

Yeah, that advice wasn't so helpful. Anakin pretty much concludes that the only person who can help him save Padme's life is Palpatine aka Darth Sidious.

Because seriously, Yoda's telling him he just needs to force himself to not care when people die?

When I watched that scene, I was reminded of this video, where John Piper says it's right for God to kill women and children. Piper was asked how on earth it could be okay that God killed so many people in the Old Testament, and basically his answer is that it's always okay for God to kill anyone. God doesn't owe you life. If you died, well, it wouldn't be wrong or unfair.

If someone dies, don't go asking God "how could this happen?" because eh, God kills people sometimes, and that's fine. Whatever.

In fact, according to evangelical Christianity, we all deserve to go to hell anyway, so yes, we totally deserve death. (And if you think that sounds awful and unjust, that's just your emotions, and you need to get your emotions to SHUT UP about it.)

I'm also reminded of the cliches that Christians use to respond to tragedy, trying to put some kind of positive spin on it- "God has a plan", "all things work together for the good of those who love God", etc- instead of just saying "yeah this sucks."

And Yoda's advice to Anakin is scarily close to that whole attitude of "just trust God more and force yourself to believe bad things aren't really bad."

6. They're not telling you things.

In "Revenge of the Sith," Anakin is drawn in by Palpatine's descriptions of what the dark side can do. He had never heard anything like it before. All he knew about the dark side previously was the one-dimensional view that the Jedi teach: Sith are selfish and evil, and Jedi are good.

Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious, aka the Emperor) tells Anakin about a Sith named Darth Plagueis, who had the power to create life and stop people from dying. Then this happens:
Anakin: Is it possible to learn this power?

Palpatine: Not from a Jedi.

Yeah. And he's right- the Jedi had never told Anakin about this. They would never even acknowledge that those dark-side powers existed.

Turns out there was a lot that the Jedi don't tell you, probably because they fear that if people had that information and were able to make an informed decision about it, they might choose the dark side instead of the light side.

This is just like the church. All my life, I heard one-sided arguments about how evolution is clearly false because of blah blah blah, and Christianity is better than all the other religions because blah blah blah- but those were just caricatures. I never knew what people who disagreed with us actually believed. I was afraid to go read something on these topics from a non-church-approved source, because what if I was led astray? (See point number 1, "people change suddenly.")

And this same thing definitely applies to abstinence-only education. The reasoning goes like this: we mustn't give kids actual information about sex, we mustn't educate them about realistic risks and ways to manage those risks, because then they might decide to have sex and that is a terrible thing that must be avoided at all costs. Instead, abstinence-only education and purity culture exaggerate the dangers of sex, using fear to get you to obey the rules. "Condoms fail most of the time! If you have sex, it will ruin your life! If you're not a virgin at your wedding you'll never be able to have a good marriage!"

I believe that what Darth Sidious told Anakin was also very one-sided. He wasn't interested in helping Anakin save Padme at all- he just wanted Anakin to help him defeat the Jedi. If only there had been someone who was honest with Anakin- who could say, yes the power to stop death exists, but it comes with certain risks, so you should consider all this information and decide for yourself if it's something worth pursuing.

7. "Twisted"

In "Revenge of the Sith", after Anakin becomes Darth Vader, Obi-Wan tracks him down and they do some yelling at each other before an epic lightsaber battle. Obi-Wan say this: "You have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind, until now...until now you have become the very thing you swore to destroy."

Let's talk about how he uses the word "twist."

So up to this point, Anakin has pledged his life to Darth Sidious, murdered many Jedi (including a whole group of children), murdered the Separatists who were on Mustafar, and force-choked Padme. And yet, somehow, in an attempt to convince Vader that what he's doing is wrong, Obi-Wan says "you have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind."

Really? In other words, "you're wrong, but you've become so screwed-up that it's impossible to explain to you why you're wrong." Umm, how is that going to be convincing to anyone?

And Christians use the term "twist" in the same way.

Anytime someone makes some kind of argument for a position that's not the church-approved position on a particular topic, and they cite bible verses to support their argument, Christians say "you're twisting Scripture." You try to tell evangelicals that the bible DOESN'T teach that hell is a place of infinite torture and we all deserve to go there and we can only get out by believing particular facts about Jesus, and that's what they'll say: "you're twisting Scripture."

In other words, if you look at it from one perspective, it has this interpretation, and if you look at it from the other perspective, it has that interpretation, but the first perspective is clearly the straightforward correct one, and the other perspective is "twisted."

They're telling you you're wrong, but they're unable to give any reasons why you're wrong. Just that it should be obvious the bible says this, and you can only get it to say that by "twisting" it. Furthermore, your mind must be twisted by sin, and that's why you think that "twisted" interpretation sounds reasonable, when everyone else can see that it's self-evidently wrong.

"Twisted." "Twisted" is a word used to gaslight people, to make them think that they're incapable of logical thought and they just need to trust what the church teaches.

8. All the times when Luke is in his own little world

Luke is connected to the Force, so he senses things that his little group of friends- Han, Chewbacca, Leia, C3PO, and R2-D2- are unable to sense. And this means sometimes he says or does seems that make no sense to everyone else.

Like in "The Empire Strikes Back" when he suddenly leaves the group and goes off to Dagobah- a planet he knew virtually nothing about- because the Obi-Wan ghost told him to go look for Yoda there.

Or in "A New Hope" when the Obi-Wan ghost tells him to turn off his computer while attacking the death star.

Or, after he finds out that Darth Vader is his father, all those times where he senses some kind of telepathic connection and says "father" longingly. And knows Vader is on that ship or that planet or whatever. And "I'm endangering the mission. I shouldn't have come."

From the perspective of everyone else, Luke just now and then spouts random nonsense, and they have no way of verifying if any of it is correct.

Same thing with "having a relationship with God." You have this connection which nobody else can see. Maybe God will tell you to do something! Maybe God will give you some information you couldn't have known through any natural means.

Evangelicals emphasize so much that it's just about you and God, and then you find yourself saying "Vader's on that ship" without even realizing how insane you appear to everybody else.

All that matters is this connection you have with the spiritual world, they say- that's more real than the physical world.

But seriously, living that way means you're out of touch with reality.

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The Jedi are similar to American evangelical Christians in some scary and unhealthy ways. They try to keep everyone in line, suppressing their emotions, not asking too many questions. They have secret knowledge that can't be verified by anyone without that spiritual connection, and they think they have the right to tell other people what to do based on that knowledge.

And even though "fear is the path to the dark side," their whole philosophy breeds fear. Fear that "temptation" or listening to "bad influences" could suddenly change them into evil people. Fear that if you challenge the rules, it'll have disastrous consequences. Fear that your own emotions and desires are shameful and evil.

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