In my last post I did not intend to suggest that one can make a facile equation between religious fundamentalists and the Sith. In fact, I think that the “religious Right” of our time has much in common with the Sith at their most sinister, and the Jedi at their most hypocritical.
In comparison with the Sith, recall how Palpatine used Anakin’s fear of death – the death of his beloved Padme – and of losing what he had. The desire to cheat death and the promise that this can be accomplished has been manipulated by lots of religious groups to win adherents. And when one throws in the promise of powerful miracles that will make your problems go away, you have not merely fundamentalism, but that of the televangelists whose Bibles apparently contain a misprint and say “Go, sell all you have and give to the rich”.
No religious tradition can avoid the potential for exclusivism that leads to fundamentalism of sorts. Anakin’s “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy” sounds rather like the words attributed to Jesus, “Whoever is not with me is against me”. Yet elsewhere, Jesus is recorded as saying something much more inclusive: “Whoever is not against me is for me”. Trying to hold to both will simply have you running in circles. In the end, it may not be that goodness is self-authenticating as good, but that the struggle is to define as good that which is loving and selfless and kind, to define it as good first for ourselves, and then to seek to win others to that point of view. For as Obi-Wan said, much depends on one’s point of view.
As for the Jedi, they often traded in absolutes too. The dark side is too dangerous. Once you start down that path, it will forever control your destiny. It is not the Jedi way to kill prisoners. But Yoda’s words about the dark side proved false: one can come back. And when confronted with a dangerous Sith, Mace Windu was willing to cast aside principles and kill Palpatine.
Luke Skywalker redefined the Jedi way. He “brought balance” (with his father’s help), finding that he could love and be attached, without sacrificing all his values and who he is in order to save his sister at any cost. That’s the great challenge: to not become what we are fighting against as we fight.
The greatest struggle is not to defeat evil. The greatest struggle is to hold to that which is pure and noble as good, and to not cast it aside in an attempt to defeat those who seem to have cast it aside themselves. For the challenge of our great epic stories – whether that of Jesus or that of Luke Skywalker – is to not repay evil for evil, but to overcome evil with good.