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The Invisible Man

Is Star Wars Blasphemous?

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I hope this doesn't sound too bonkers, but something has been troubling me lately, and I would be grateful for anyone's ideas: if a film posits a godless universe, is it a Christian's duty to steer clear of it? Something as seemingly innocuous as Star Wars, for example, which states that the universe is governed not by the God of Abraham but by an invisible force that we can channel and utilize seems hugely problematic to me. Likewise Kubrick's 2001. Do we commit blasphemy when we watch such things?

I'm new here, and I haven't had a chance yet to explore everything, so please forgive me if this topic has come up before.

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SDG   

Hi, Invisible Man. Welcome.

I'm sure you'll find plenty of food for thought on this board. Regarding Star Wars specifically, you might enjoy reading this essay of mine, and this essay by a friend of mine might be even more directly relevant to some of your concerns.

To broaden the discussion a bit, though, let me put a question to you. Do you think there is a place in Christian culture, or in the cultural lives of individual Christians, for the literature of classical Greco-Roman mythology, such as the Odyssey or the labors of Hercules?

Edited by SDG

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There is a difference, I think, between our studying a subject like mythology with a view to understanding it and in our engaging it emotionally and sensually. When we buy a ticket to something like Star Wars or Harry Potter, we are, more often than not, agreeing to suspend our disbelief and fall under its spell for a couple of hours; we don't sit there in the dark like cold, unblinking androids (well, unless the film is a turkey like The Phantom Menace lol). But how can this be okay when a movie effectively begins with the legend long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was no God? Should we, as Christians, even be thinking such things? And, more pointedly, why would we want to?

Personally, I have always found the Star Wars movies to be dull and uninteresting, but I am rather smitten with Kubrick's 2001 and recently I have found myself extremely troubled whilst watching it. I have started to feel that, if my faith is worth anything, I must find stories that do not insult me by denying the one who made me.

Edited by The Invisible Man

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SDG   

"Cold, unblinking androids"? Is that what you take for the proper posture of a Christian reading The Odyssey or the labors of Hercules?

Prescinding from this rather loaded rhetoric, would you really say that pagan or otherwise sub-Christian literature and art is a fit subject only for dispassionate analysis, not aesthetic appreciation and engagement? I should not enjoy Homer and Virgil? I should not read my children the stories of Hercules and Icarus as stories, but only teach them about these stories from a strictly academic point of view?

I don't think that this is the perspective that Christian culture has historically taken. It's certainly not the view that I take.

On a side note, I think that you are seriously misstating the religious implications of Star Wars (cf. the essays linked above), and even to a lesser extent 2001 (cf. my short review).

Beyond that, though, while I would certainly agree with you regarding the necessity of stories that don't deny God, and even of stories that affirm Him, I'm not sure I could conclude that just because a story in some way, shape or form denies God means that it has nothing of sufficient value or truth to make the story worth engaging (with sufficient discernment and qualifications, of course).

Thoughts on watching movies with some problematic or objectionable elements

Edited by SDG

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Mark   
Personally, I have always found the Star Wars movies to be dull and uninteresting

Are they blasphemous? I don't know, but I'm right with you on "dull and uninteresting," brothah! cool.gif

(ducking for cover)

(And welcome to the boards, Invisible Man)

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IM - you are wrestling with good questions, and you should find lots of discussion here in various threads that will help. (Unsolicited plug: And SDG's site is a source of good, thoughtful essays on this and similar topics).

There are some movies I avoid for the reasons you are struggling with. Also some books and music. It's not that they cannot be studied at the academic level, or enjoyed at the artistic level. Many good Christians may do so with honorable intention and result.

For me it often boils down to a personal conviction - what is God asking of me, right now, in my life with him? There are contributors here that watch movies - with appreciation and enjoyment - that I cannot choose to watch, no matter the potential artistic merit. (A recent example of this is Sin City. I am fascinated with the technology and artistry used to make it. But I have read enough about it here and elsewhere, as well as paged through the graphic novel, and I know that it would not be a spritually healthy thing for me to do.)

Here is another example, from literature rather than film: I have long been a fan (and still am) of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels. They are humorous, thought-provoking, insightful - and just plain fun. I had collected just about all the books to date (24 out of 27) in hardcover. Pratchett is atheist (though not stridently so), and his work pokes fun at all kinds of human foibles, including religion and faith. Over the past year I was convicted in my spirit that I was not to have the collection anymore, and after several months of struggle, I relented and gave them away. (As long as I'm being confessional, I better mention that I kept one - my first - for sentimental reasons.)

My point is that this was a personal, relational, and spiritual issue for me that makes no judgement about any other Christian's ability to own or enjoy Pratchett works. And perhaps what you are struggling with is similar. The question is perhaps not "do we commit blasphemy...?" but instead "do I commit an offense against my conscience, and the One who guides it...?"

I'm sure there are examples of movies (or stories) that are objectively offensive to God, and to be avoided by all believers at all times. But I sense your questions lie with those that are less obviously so.

B

PS -> I wonder if this thread belongs better in a different forum category?

PS 2.0 -> Dang, Ken, I need to learn to type faster... smile.gif

Edited by Bill Moore

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Link to my blog post on how the Narnia stories awakened my love of pagan myth; link to similar blog post on the possible influence of astrology on the Narnia series. Like SDG, I don't see why we shouldn't be able to enjoy these things.

As for 2001, I don't see how anyone can avoid dealing with the fact that it is basically and essentially atheist, albeit with gnostic leanings (especially if you interpret the scene where the guy spills the wine to mean that the "spirit" must ultimately leave the "vessel" of the body in order to be worthy of travelling the stars; otherwise we are compelled to build bigger and bigger "bodies" in the form of spaceships, etc.). But even there, there is something about the monoliths that evokes our awe and our sense of mystery in a way that parallels the awe and mystery we feel for the divine, no matter how badly Arthur C. Clarke tried to subvert these things in the sequels.

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Thanks for the links, Peter. Especially liked the link about the possible connection between Lewis's "Planets" poem, the medieval beliefs about the known planets, and the 7 books.

Taking the conversation a little off track here...

B

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Mythologies are the product of primitive cultures, but Star Wars was conceived and thrives in a more sophisticated age, so I'm not convinced that all the rules of mythology apply. There is just no getting around the fact that George Lucas' universe is glamorous and Godless, and it seems to me that Christians who embrace it want to have their cake and eat it too. I admit that I am on shaky ground here, and, in some respects, I'm tossing the balls in the air just to see where they land; but it was my genuine confusion on this matter that led me to start this thread, and, despite the many wonderful and eloquent replies, I am still filled with doubt.

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DanBuck   

This board will never elimnate doubts. It is here soley to simultaneously, reinforce both sides of the issue on which you are waffling.

Ultimately, it will make your confusion a more informed one. smile.gif

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SZPT   
Mythologies are the product of primitive cultures, but Star Wars was conceived and thrives in a more  sophisticated age, so I'm not convinced that all the rules of mythology apply.

When I read that I immediately thought of G.K. Chesterton's words in Orthodoxy (by the way, this is not saying that you're an imbecile, and neither am I):

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century. If a man believes in unalterable natural law, he cannot believe in any miracle in any age. If a man believes in a will behind law, he can believe in any miracle in any age. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we are concerned with a case of thaumaturgic healing. A materialist of the twelfth century could not believe it any more than a materialist of the twentieth century. But a Christian Scientist of the twentieth century can believe it as much as a Christian of the twelfth century. It is simply a matter of a man's theory of things. Therefore in dealing with any historical answer, the point is not whether it was given in our time, but whether it was given in answer to our question.

And, no, mythologies are not only products of primitive cultures (and we really are not any more sophisticated).

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Andrew   

Hmm, if you're looking for your films to contain only absolute biblical truth, you'll be left with Billy Graham films and not much else (though some could argue that their simplistic path to healing and conversion is a myth in its own right). However, there are many films that point to beauty on some level, even if their truth is only partial (i.e. seen thru a glass darkly). For instance, '2001' reveals the beauty and profundity of space and the creations it contains; while the Star Wars trilogies point to the goodness of loyalty and friendship, as well as illustrating in Anakin's tale the slippery path of temptation. I also believe our view of truth is further illumined by studying contrasting viewpoints, i.e. further ironing out what we do not believe in.

Welcome to A&F, InvisibleMan!

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Hmm, if you're looking for your films to contain only absolute biblical truth, you'll be left with Billy Graham films and not much else

I don't agree. I am not saying that all films must be wholesome entertainment, and I see nothing wrong with those that show the horrors of the world, or that contain bad language and such (swearing is not a Christian issue). The only films that concern me are the ones that deny the existence of God.

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DanBuck   

What if the films in question are fiction? Isn't their theology likewise to be taken as a "what if?" Imagining a universe with no God will often lead us to a better appreciation of how badly we need one. Just as a sci fi flick about an earth without an atmosphere would... yada yada yada.

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And, no, mythologies are not only products of primitive cultures (and we really are not any more sophisticated).

Excellent quote.

In this "modern" age we tend to think we are more sophisticated, but all that has really changed is that we have more technology and more advanced scientific knowledge -- both have resulted largely from the accumulation and distribution of knowledge that has been enabled since the invention of the printing press.

The condition of the human soul has not improved, although we may be better at avoiding those issues in the Western World, wired for entertainment, materialism and escapism.

Edited by TexasWill

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I haven't read much Chesterton, but in that long quote posted by SZPT he seems to be making a case not for mythology but for religion in a secular world. I personally doubt that many people in Western society actually believe mythology to be true. We have moved beyond it. And, more to the point, why does a Christian need it anyway? Unless one is a student of anthropology, what purpose does it serve? Isn't God enough?

And regarding this from DanBuck:

What if the films in question are fiction? Isn't their theology likewise to be taken as a "what if?" Imagining a universe with no God will often lead us to a better appreciation of how badly we need one.

But Star Wars doesn't do that: despite all the gunplay and the monsters, George Lucas presents us with an extremely glamorous universe; one so glamorous, in fact, that children want to grow up to be Luke Skywalker, American presidents try to name missile defence systems after the film, and grown men and women turn up at science fiction conventions wearing robes and brandishing plastic light sabres. The films' spell is such that there are an awful lot of Christians out there who know more about the Star Wars universe than they do the world of the Bible.

Edited by The Invisible Man

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I haven't read much Chesterton, but in that long quote posted by SZPT he seems to be making a case not for mythology but for religion in a secular world. I personally doubt that many people in Western society actually believe mythology to be true. We have moved beyond it. And, more to the point, why does a Christian need it anyway? Unless one is a student of anthropology, what purpose does it serve? Isn't God enough?

...The films' spell is such that there are an awful lot of Christians out there who know more about the Star Wars universe than they do the world of the Bible.

As to the first paragraph, part of God's creation is human beings with a propensity towards art. Every culture, everywhere makes art of some kind. It's not a question of "isn't God enough?" It's a question of "isn't God and his purposes enough?" Art is one of those purposes, and art is communication through metaphor. Mythology provides a deep vocabulary for metaphorical communication. I'd say more about this, but I haven't the time at the moment, and I know others could say it far better than I could. If you're interested in a theology of art, I'd point you to my paper on the subject archived at my website.

As to the second paragraph I've quoted above, I couldn't agree more. For a lot of Christians, pop culture or entertainment has become central in their lives. Entertainment is a fine thing, in moderation. Christ and his purposes should fill our lives, and if they did, entertainment would find its proper place.

Edited by crimsonline

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DanBuck   
And regarding this from DanBuck:

What if the films in question are fiction? Isn't their theology likewise to be taken as a "what if?" Imagining a universe with no God will often lead us to a better appreciation of how badly we need one.

But Star Wars doesn't do that: despite all the gunplay and the monsters, George Lucas presents us with an extremely glamorous universe; one so glamorous, in fact, that children want to grow up to be Luke Skywalker, American presidents try to name missile defence systems after the film, and grown men and women turn up at science fiction conventions wearing robes and brandishing plastic light sabres. The films' spell is such that there are an awful lot of Christians out there who know more about the Star Wars universe than they do the world of the Bible.

First off, it seems you change the color of the statements that disagree with you to red. This is odd. So, I changed mine to green. It seems more conducive to productive discussion and less like you're making my statement into a danger label on children's cough syrup.

Anyway, perhaps I overstepped by syaing that those fictions without God illustrate how badly we need one. And certainly I never meant to claim its Lucas's job to do so. He is after all, not a Christian as far as we know.

All I'm claiming is that there must be room in fiction for alternate metaphysics. OR even limited metaphysics. The film Wings of Desire and/or its American counterpart City of Angels both try to lay out a fictional account of angels, but there is no mention of anything in the spiritual realm other than Angels (like demons). and it seems that all angels really do is act in the stereotypical "gaurdain role" unless they are "falling" which is another boodle-bag of problems.

Overall the films depict an incorrect or incomplete theological picture and yet, there are some truly wonderful premises to derive from them. And I don't think Wim Wenders really believes this is what the spiritual realm looks like, he's just telling a story.

If you are willing to accept art at some level from those with a different worldview than your own, than even atheism shouldn't disqualify a film from your viewership. If you think the film is primarily trying to be an afront to the existence of God, by all means through produce at the screen. But do you really think that Star Wars is doing this?

Edited by DanBuck

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I don't have time to post properly at this point, but I guess I had better explain my "odd" reason for highlighting quotes in red: I thought it looked pleasing on the eye. Doh!

Edited by The Invisible Man

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SZPT   
I haven't read much Chesterton, but in that long quote posted by SZPT he seems to be making a case not for mythology but for religion in a secular world. I personally doubt that many people in Western society actually believe mythology to be true. We have moved beyond it. And, more to the point, why does a Christian need it anyway? Unless one is a student of anthropology, what purpose does it serve? Isn't God enough?

And regarding this from DanBuck:

What if the films in question are fiction? Isn't their theology likewise to be taken as a "what if?" Imagining a universe with no God will often lead us to a better appreciation of how badly we need one.

But Star Wars doesn't do that: despite all the gunplay and the monsters, George Lucas presents us with an extremely glamorous universe; one so glamorous, in fact, that children want to grow up to be Luke Skywalker, American presidents try to name missile defence systems after the film, and grown men and women turn up at science fiction conventions wearing robes and brandishing plastic light sabres. The films' spell is such that there are an awful lot of Christians out there who know more about the Star Wars universe than they do the world of the Bible.

Invisible, in many contexts religion is considered mythology, and regardless of whether you mean to in the post above, you both seperate the two and then join them together again as you respond to both me and then Dan respectively.

If you consider mythology (and mythology as religion or belief) to only be an ancient, outdated construct of thought, then I can see why you feel that Western society would reject belief in that idea of mythology. We clearly don't believe in the Greco-Roman gods anymore. However, even as you put forth this assertion, your other statements show that you understand that a certain mythology has been created by Lucas' "epic adventure" (I too, am with you on the "dull and uninteresting" part).

I think what most of us in this thread are trying to let you understand is this: Just as we don't believe that Zeus and his son Hercules are real or the beliefs surrounding them to be true, so we also don't have to believe that Anakin and his son Luke are real or the beliefs surrounding them to be true. However, as humans and as Christians we can be emotionally, intellectually, sensually touched by cetain aspects (and even glean some sort of life lessons) through the ingesting of both stories (reading Euripides or Sophocles, watching Lucas) without swallowing the entirety of either story as Gospel truth.

There is a book that I (and am sure others here) recommend that covers this subject well, called Reel Spirituality, by Robert K. Johnston. Among other things it posits 5 basic approaches that Christians make toward film. You might not agree with everything Johnston says, but I think that you'll find it enlightening.

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I hope none of this sounds too aggressive or reactionary, but as the words about "knowing Star Wars better than they know the Bible" strike a nerve that's been sore for many, many years, so I may come off a little snippy. If so, forgive me...

Everything is broken. And yet, everything contains glimmers of God's glory.

If we limit ourselves only to the Bible as a worthy subject of meditation, then we're going to face some serious challenges participating in culture.

But if we learn to "test all things and hold fast to what is good" ... to bravely explore things, with a close eye on our own weaknesses and our conscience... to enjoy things held by others to be "unclean," and develop discernment... we will be able to testify to the Source of all good things and expose the emptiness of all lies.

The films' spell is such that there are an awful lot of Christians out there who know more about the Star Wars universe than they do the world of the Bible.

This is also true of many things besides movies that never get this kind of scrutiny.

For example:

[Professional baseball's] spell is such that there are an awful lot of Christians out there who know more about [who plays for the Yankees] than they do the world of the Bible.

See... that doesn't trouble me too much. Just because you're enthusiastic about something, passionate about something, interested in something, doesn't mean you've made it your foundation, or that you idolize it.

Here's another example:

[The thick and flavorful pies at Spiro's Pizza, on the corner of N. 185th Street and Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline, Washington, cast such a spell] that there are an awful lot of Christians [in my neighborhood] who know more about [the Spiro's pizza menu] than they do the world of the Bible.

Count me guilty. I know that menu inside and out. Better than I know the Book of Deuteronomy. But when I am troubled, I do not run to Spiro's Pizza. I run to the Lord. And when I am blessed, I do not give the glory to hot pepperoni.

I've heard this language -- "You know the movies more than you know the Bible" -- so many times as accusatory language in my life, and yet so many of the people levelling that accusation don't ever think about applying it to what they're interested in. If I went to my attorney and said, "I think you can talk more knowledgeably about the vagueries and details of entertainment and media law better than you know the Bible," he'd probably say, "Don't you expect me to be able to recite that stuff?"

Or, say, if told my dentist that I didn't trust him because he was more familiar with the details of gum recession than, say, the Exodus, is that really a condemning observation?

Don't get me wrong... I'm all for Bible study and devotion to God's word, but the things we hold in our short-term memory and can quote in their entirety are not necessarily the same things that profoundly move, minister to, and transform us. I can probably quote more of the Star Wars films than I can the Bible. And I'll bet mrmando can quote more Monty Python than he can from Paul's epistles. But I can probably safely say that the Bible influences both of us profoundly on a daily basis because of our exposure to it... to a far, far greater degree than Star Wars or Monty Python do.

[british accent](Even if mrmando is always up for an argument.)[/british accent]

(Although I will say that, growing up with the Star Wars stories, I was profoundly influenced by going from HATING AND FEARING Darth Vader as a character to actually having some sympathy for him and learning that bad guys can be redeemable. And that's something entirely consistent with Christian thought.)

Regarding Christian engagement with godless "what if" scenarios... the Apostle Paul walked among the idols at Mars Hill, spoke knowledgeably of pagan traditions, and even subverted on eof the altars there to testify to the glory of God. Similarly, given the insight, we can take these skewed, flawed, incomplete, misguided works of art and find evidence of God within them, highlight that, give God the glory for all that is good and excellent in them, and rightfully dismiss those things that are deceitful or flawed within them.

We must also know that, no matter how well we know the Bible, our own works of art (or works of anything else) are going to be imperfect as well, and likely to mislead or deceive. After all, while we may be redeemed, we still see through a glass darkly, and our works are still the feeble works of fallen minds.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Good stuff, Jeffrey! Of course, there is something to the notion that we really don't spend enough time with our Bibles (especially compared with the time we spend distracted by the world's shiny objects). But that doesn't take anything away from your excellent comments.

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mrmando   

Paul: But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

Michael Palin: I came here for a good argument.

And memorizing Scripture isn't everything. Nearly every day for the past couple of months, it seems, a kid somewhere in the Arab world, whose early education probably consisted of memorizing large portions of the Koran, straps on a bomb and blows himself and a few innocent bystanders to kingdom come

Edited by mrmando

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Okay, it's well after midnight as I write this, and mythology is not my area, so forgive me if I end up with egg on my face here...

Greco-Roman mythology was created by and for a pagan culture. In a sense, its time and its place is its excuse. People then simply didn't know any better. But Star Wars is from the here and now. It was invented by one of us and for all of us, so what purpose does this new myth serve? (assuming, of course, that it actually qualifies as a myth, which I doubt).

Yes, The Empire Strikes Back is terrific fun; it has exciting fight scenes, and amazing spaceships, and loud explosions, and interesting characters, but we have something far more important than that: we have Christ. We have, to use a cliche, seen the light, so why is it necessary for us to switch that light off for a while and linger in the darkness in order to create or experience art? Why on earth do we as Christians want to fantasize about a universe where God does not exist?

Maybe I'm just too one-dimensional in my thinking to get it; maybe this whole thread is just an overreaction. I just don't know...

Edited by The Invisible Man

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SDG   

IM, I want to say that I appreciate what I take to be the open-ended and sincerely questioning tone in your posts.

Not much time now, but a quick point. First, I grant your point that, yes, Homer and Virgil were in a morally different position from George Lucas, in that they had not heard of Jesus or the Gospel and he has. Nevertheless, my children listening to the labors of Hercules and my children watching Star Wars are the same children. We aren't talking first of all about Homer vs. George Lucas, but Christians imaginatively engaged with mythic worlds. If you consider entering imaginatively into a sub-Christian story to be "turning off the light and sitting in the dark," then in principle the labors of Hercules would seem to be just as great a waste of time as Star Wars.

Point #2: A number of posts above have repeatedly taken issue with the notion that Star Wars says there is no God, and links to more in-depth discussions have been offered (here's another one).

Please don't continue to assert without discussion or argument your anti-theistic interpretation of Star Wars. You seem concerned to be a courteous and reasonable interlocutor, but if you want to continue this line of thought you need to engage what is being said here.

Edited by SDG

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