The Church of the Force

The Church of the Force February 22, 2017

IO9 highlighted how the new Star Wars novel Aftermath: Empire’s End has offered a religious justification for the way Obi-Wan lied to Luke in A New Hope. There a passage is read in the Church of the Force from the Journal of the Whills which says:

The truth in our soul
Is that nothing is true.
The question of life
Is what then do we do?
The burden is ours
To penance, we hew.
The Force binds us all
From a certain point of view.

What do you make of that, from the perspective of religious studies, Star Wars fandom, or ideally both?

Here’s another quote from the Journal of the Whills that I found on Twitter:

Journal of the Whills

And of course, there is a great deal online about Taoism in Star Wars, ranging from a website that outright asserts that Star Wars is Chinese Taoism, to this Yoda/Vader Yin/Yang symbol on Etsy:

Vader Yoda Yin Yang

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  • Matthew Funke

    I personally find it uncompelling. “Nothing is true” is another way of stating “We can state nothing with confidence.” If that’s the case, then you shouldn’t be allowed to state anything. It doesn’t justify saying anything you want *as if it is* true.

    Besides that, it seems to me that spiritual knowledge should point *beyond* our mundane experiences, not simply *deny* them.

  • histrogeek

    The Taoism of Star Wars conceit though always confused good and evil with darkness (yin) and light (yang). They really aren’t the same thing in Taoism and the Sith are no sense agents of the “feminine” passivity implied by yin.
    What the Star Wars light/dark Force is like someone read that Taoism has a light and dark nature but assumed that light and darkness had the same cultural meaning in Chinese philosophy as they do in Western philosophy.

    It’s a personal beef I have with the Force=the Tao.

    • Well obviously if you take the more passive Jedi and aggressive Sith and evaluate whether they resemble the opposite poles of the spectrum then things are going to look very much out of line with Taoism, but that seems an odd approach to me.

      I am not persuaded that the Jedi consistently represent the “good” or that everything about the Sith is “evil.” At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke finds a balance that eluded both sides. He allows his attachment to his sister to give him the strength of righteous anger. Yet noticing the moment when he has reached balance – literally a hand for a hand – he refuses to go further. That seems to me far more Taoist than Zoroastrian.

  • John MacDonald

    Maybe Obi Wan Kenobi thought lying to Luke that Vader killed his father would boost Luke’s “resolve” and “courage” against empire – just another “Noble Lie.” Maybe Kenobi thought it was more important for Luke to be “driven” and “committed” than “in the know.”

    As to the other part of Dr. McGrath’s question, there are numerous religious examples of the “Noble Lie.” For example:

    (1) Minimalist interpretations of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Tanakh or the Protestant Old Testament) often consider much of the Tanakh/Jewish Bible to be a pious fiction, such as the conquests of Joshua, and the historiography of the Pentateuch. The Book of Daniel has also been described as a pious fiction, with the purpose of providing encouragement to Jews.

    (2) The Book of Mormon, one of the Standard Works of the Latter Day Saint Movement, has been described as a hoax or pious fiction, and it is not accepted as containing divine revelation by those outside the Latter Day Saint movement (an umbrella term encompassing many sects, many of which describe themselves as Mormon, and some of which, such as the RLDS, do not describe themselves as Mormon).

    (3) The Quran, the sacred text of Islam, has been described as a pious fiction by several authors. The hadith, likewise, have been described as a collection of various pious fictions by several authors. Dale Eickelman writes that Muslim jurists employ a pious fiction when they assert that Islamic law is invariant, when in fact it is subject to change.

    (4) The relationship between the modern celebration of Christmas and the historical birth of Jesus has also been described as a “Noble Lie.”

    (5) There are numerous instances of “justified lying” in the bible, such as:

    (a) God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh.

    And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives. (Exodus 1:18-20)

    (b) Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies.

    And the woman [Rahab] took the two men and hid them and said thus: There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were; and it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark that the men went out; whither the men went I wot not; pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house and hid them with the stalks of flax. (Joshua 2:4-6)

    Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. (James 2:25)

    (c) David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah.

    David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business…. (1 Samuel 21:2)

    (d) Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die.

    Benhadad the king of Syria was sick … And the king said unto Hazael … go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? Elisha said unto him, go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die. (2 Kings 8:8-10)

    (e) In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.”

    Tobias said to him: I pray thee, tell me, of what family, or what tribe art thou? And Raphael the angel answered … I am Azarias. (Tobit 5:16-18)

    (f) Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.”

    [Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:8-10)

    (g) Even God lies now and then by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets.

    And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. (1 Kings 22:21-22)

    *As Nietzsche said, you need to wash your hands after reading the bible lol.

  • John MacDonald

    There are such things as mathematical truths, logical truths, scientific truths, psychological truths, etc., so in this sense there are truths. However, there are many things that people regard as truths that are subjective and arbitrary.

    For instance, as Nietzsche showed, if I say:
    (1) I prefer chocolate to vanilla
    (2) I prefer liberalism to conservativism
    (3) I prefer pro choice to pro life
    (4) etc.

    In the above, I am making value judgements about my preferences. The criteria according to which I am making the judgement is completely subjective and arbitrary. It is no more objectively true that pro life is the best position than it is that pro life is the worst position. Taking a stance on this issue is arbitrary and influenced by your subjective, arbitrary criteria according to which you make the judgement.

    In Star wars, for instance, Padme valued liberty (“This is how liberty dies” episode 3), so she preferred democracy. Palpatine valued an extreme form of peace (“Once again the Sith will rule the galaxy, and we will have peace” episode 3), so he preferred an extreme form of totalitarianism, which was the embodiment of the imperial values (“the imperial values of order, control, and the rule of law” “Star Wars,” Aftermath, introduction/Coruscant by Chuck Wendig). Anakin preferred the effectiveness of the single leader model (“The problem is people don’t always agree/Padme/ They should be made to agree/Anakin” episode 2).

    Many things that we hold as true and important in our lives really just reflect arbitrary opinion and point of view. Padme’s views on government were not “better” or “worse” than Palpatine’s views. The two just had diametrically opposed value systems.

    • John MacDonald

      This all goes a little beyond the Star Wars of Lucas’ imagination. In interviews Lucas calls Palpatine “The Devil” after all. But I think this is all none the less implied in Star Wars’ “From a certain point of view” philosophy.

  • John MacDonald

    It’s interesting that Princess Leia’s mother died because she lost the will to live, and Carrie Fischer’s mother died because she lost the will to live.