Star Wars and the Ancient Religion
The appearance of a new episode of the Star Wars film series is an important moment for Christian witness. To be sure, we can shrug our shoulders, since Star Wars is old news. Or we can enthusiastically introduce our grandchildren to what we might think is a beloved, harmless yarn. Or we can—and should—discover in the series an occasion to sharpen our presentation of the gospel message and help our children and grandchildren, and anyone else who might be interested, to understand the culture in which they live.
In this famous and creative saga, which we must respect for its artistic value, we find many positive ideals—bravery, friendship, love, and spirituality, and others—which help explain the success of the series. However, in examining Star Wars’ account of the mystery and nobility of human life, the Bible’s answer, in comparison, emerges with incomparably more convincing power.
The Star Wars Phenomenon
Answering questions of morality and spirituality was the goal of George Lucas when he created Star Wars. In the 1970s, in the heyday of secular humanism, people were hungry for spiritual truth. Lucas realized that stories were more powerful than intellectual theories—especially for children. He intended to produce a children’s fairy tale set in outer space as a “teaching tool” for the re-creation of “the classic cosmic mysteries.” In so doing, he influenced audiences young and old and deeply affected the last few decades of Western civilization. The new films will no doubt extend that influence into the next generations.
As millions of people stream, perhaps naively, into theaters this weekend to reconnect with the powerful Star Wars adult fairy tale, most of them will be unaware of the worldview that gives this saga its structure and coherence. The term worldview simply means the way we think about the world without stopping to think about it. The fish doesn’t need to think about the water in which it swims. I’ve spent much of my teaching and writing years showing that there are only two ways to see the world. I call them “Oneism” and “Twoism,” which is another way of describing what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:25. He says that there are only two ways to be human—we either worship nature (in a thousand different ways) or we worship the Creator. If you can count from one to two you can understand worldview. Worship of nature is Oneism because nature is all there is and everything is made of the same stuff. “All is one!” This is the essence of a pagan worldview. Worship of the Creator means that in all of reality there are two kinds of existence: the uncreated Creator, and everything else, which is created. That is the worldview of Twoism.
By this standard, Star Wars is clearly Oneist. In spite of the fun elements we all enjoy, the message of the film is self-consciously pagan. If this sounds harsh, check out the following elements.
A Oneist Approach to Morality, Creation, Spirituality, Redemption, and Death
Here are some of the Oneist principles we find in the Star Wars movies:
- Morality is what you make it. The Force is either good or evil, depending on how you tap into it via your emotions. There is no objective distinction between good or evil.
- Existence creates itself. Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “The Force is an energy field created by all living things.” There is no Creator/creature distinction.
- Spirituality is found within, not revealed from the outside. Luke Skywalker must trust his feelings, empty his mind of questions, and “feel the Force flowing through him” in order to create his own truth.
- In redemption, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader optimistically “saves” the galaxy and destroys the Emperor, though evil cannot ultimately be eliminated, because evil is an integral part of a Oneist world.
- According to Yoda, death is eternal sleep.
Specifically, Star Wars Contains a Pagan View of God
Lucas said he desired to produce something spiritual, but the spirituality he proposes is clearly not based on biblical Twoism. This is most obviously the case when the constant pagan blessing “May the Force be with you” replaces the typical biblical blessing, “The Lord be with you.” For Lucas, God is a “force”—not a person. Nature, containing that “force,” is part of the Force. God the transcendent Creator, who is separate from creation, does not exist. This makes Star Wars, at the deepest level, Oneist.
But just how Oneist? To answer this question, we need a little background. You may want to watch the Ligonier teaching series Only Two Religions, especially part three, “Carl Jung’s Alternative Spirituality.” Very simply, Lucas’ terms “dark side” and “light side” come directly from Carl Jung. Jung was an anti-Christian Swiss psychologist of the last century. His enormous influence planted seeds of Oneist pagan thinking that now flower vigorously in our culture. Part of Jung’s legacy is Star Wars.
George Lucas picked up Carl Jung’s ideas from a man he called his “mentor” and “friend,” Joseph Campbell, who was a committed disciple of Jung. A highly influential thinker in his own right, Campbell rejected Christianity and became an expert in pagan myths. He produced a highly successful PBS documentary series, The Power of Myth (1988), filmed, in part, at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
It was Jung who introduced the “spiritual,” pagan myths about joining the dark and light sides. For him, this meant the rejection of the biblical Christ and the worship of the Gnostic God, Abraxas, who was half-man and half-beast—a god who combines all opposites. This joining of the dark side and light side, of good and evil, of God and Satan (in his estimation), is what Joseph Campbell called “the monomyth” of “the ancient religion,” which he taught to Lucas. Thus, Darth Vader is “the balancer” of the light and dark forces.
Though Lucas doesn’t go as deeply into such ideas as did Jung and Campbell, he popularizes their ideas effectively. We see the joining of opposites in the following areas:
- everything is relative;
- there is no distinction between animals, humans, and machines;
- there are no moral absolutes;
- there is no unique divine/human mediator;
- there is no God, separate from us, who is creator and redeemer.
How Has Our Worldview Been Transformed?
Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), one of the West’s greatest scientists, said many years ago: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being… . This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all.” Thanks in part to Lucas, many now believe that humanity is that intelligent and powerful Being, empowered by the Force, and that we will save ourselves.
Will the ‘Force Awaken’ with the Same Force This Time?
Doubtless, The Force Awakens will attempt to capture a new generation of naive myth lovers. The trailer declares: “The Force is calling to you. Just let it in.”
With enough money and imagination, there is every reason to think that the Force will reawaken pagan thinking in a new generation of Western believers who have already bought $50 million worth of tickets for the December release. Moreover, the appeal of paganism has certainly not diminished since the ‘70s and ‘80s. The movie is bound to catch the imagination of those who now call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Our contemporary world now embraces Eastern pagan spirituality:
- In Iceland, even atheists are joining the fastest-growing religion, Zuism, which is a pagan faith from ancient Sumeria.
- Faerie Magazine (for people who believe in fairies) is the nineteenth most popular lifestyle title of the 157 sold at Barnes & Noble.
- Millions of Americans practice forms of Eastern meditation and yoga to be released from the bondage of opposites and to succeed in joining the dark and light sides of existence.
- In rediscovering “the Force,” these eager spiritual ticket-holders believe they will find themselves “in heaven,” as one fan recently said.
A Christian Response
A large part of my life has been dominated by Star Wars imagery, as I have published a trilogy responding to the pagan phenomenon that it represents. Thus, I wrote The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, Spirit Wars, and Return of the Rabbi (as an ebook—in printed form, Capturing the Pagan Mind). These “wars of the spirit,” popularly revived by Lucas, represent, as noted above, the only two spiritualities offered: the “monomyth” of pagan Oneism or the historic gospel of biblical Twoism. With Stars Wars, we find ourselves at the very center of this timeless spiritual struggle.
To Go or Not to Go
I believe there are good reasons for viewing this film. We can certainly respect its artistic and entertainment value. Galactic battle scenes and human drama are entertaining. But also, by seeing this movie, Christians can sharpen their understanding of both contemporary culture and their appreciation of the Christian faith, allowing them to see in antithetical clarity both the Christian message and the message of Star Wars in order to present the gospel in a fresh way for our time.
In doing this, we follow what Christians have done throughout the ages. We need to realize that when Obi-Wan Kenobi instructs Luke to follow “the ancient religion,” this is a clear technical reference (for those in the know) to “pre-Christian paganism.” The gauntlet is thrown down in a call to theological confrontation. But this ancient, modernized “religion,” while implicitly claiming to be true, creates immense problems and gives no satisfying answers to the major mysteries of life:
- No impersonal force or “it” can meet the deep affective and moral needs of human persons.
- No human or impersonal source can give an adequate account of origins, since such an account fails to provide a convincing explanation of either personhood or of intelligence, on which the universe, and this movie, in particular, are based—including the love between Luke and his father and the technological wizardry that makes Star Wars so much fun.
Only a transcendent, personal, triune Creator can do that. Only the truth of such a personal God can meet our deepest needs.
At this relaunch of the seductive Star Wars myth, with its declaration that “all is finally well because all is one,” the world needs to hear not a clever myth. It needs to hear a bold proclamation of an historical fact—the fact that in Christ God defeated the darkness of the evil empire of human sin. He now grants real deliverance to needy human souls and a real promise—not of impersonal “eternal sleep”—but of a future eternal resurrected life and a face-to-face meeting with Him, our Maker and loving Redeemer.
Dr. Peter Jones is executive director of truthXchange, a ministry that exists to recognize and respond to the rising tide of neopaganism. He has authored several books and is the teacher on the series Only Two Religions.