“May the Force be with you.”Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
Happy May the Fourth! Today is “National Star Wars Day” to those who are into that modern-day saga of the struggle of good and evil.
We have lately visited the Cosmos’ dualism. The Star Wars universe is one of almost pure Dualism – the “Light Side” versus the “Dark Side”. The good-guy Jedi wield light sabers of white or green light while the bad-guy Sith wield light sabers of hellish red light. The good guys can always be tempted to turn to the Dark Side and follow the current Sith Lord, who is a master plotter, calculator, and manipulator, and filled with the power that comes from anger and hate.
In the original trilogy the Sith Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi standing , “Luke, release your anger and find your power,”. Luke does not know that Vader is his fallen father, once a powerful Jedi himself. He will learn this later. Vader had been seduced to the Dark Side by the secret Sith Lord, Darth Sidius (insidious!). Together Sidius and Vader had established the Galactic Empire to replace the moribund, corrupt, semi-democratic Galactic Republic.
For Sidius it was all about power, used however necessary to gain absolute control. But Vader had been motivated by revenge and anger and a desire to control the Cosmos in the name of “the greater good” of universal peace. The problem was that this peace was like the Roman peace of earth’s antiquity: “They [the Romans] created a wasteland and called it peace,” as one Roman historian daringly quipped.
The Star Wars saga is one of the great cultural allegories of our time, embodying most of the great questions that lie at the heart of human civilization and society. All the great conflicts are subsumed – social and political order versus personal freedom, individual rights versus societal duties and demands, economic advantage and exploitation versus personal needs and security, individual wellbeing versus collective wellbeing, etc. In the telling, we meet the Tempter over and over again.
But the Emperor-Tempter does not force Vader to “turn” to the Dark Side, just as Vader cannot ultimately force Skywalker to turn. The choice must be made freely. Even if the temptation seems overwhelming, consent comes from personal choice. Vader and Skywalker are the protagonists, one seeking to turn the other. Skywalker believes against any reasonable evidence that somewhere deep inside, a little spark of good, of true light, still smolders in Vader. In the end, he is proven right and he “redeems” Vader as they destroy the Emperor together, although Vader gives his life in the doing.
In the last instalment of this blog series, we suggested that there is a cross-over between the personal face of evil and the impersonal events we call “Acts of God” which inflict more widespread, generalized pain, suffering, and misery. Star Wars makes this connection too. (It would be interesting to know just how much of all this George Lucas was consciously incorporating in his greatest masterpiece.)
Let us consider for a moment how Lucas presents it. In the original series it is not as clear as he makes it in the second trilogy. In Episode 1 (actually the fourth film in chronological production), the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn’s apprentice, the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Queen Padmé of Naboo discover Anakin Skywalker, a young boy who is a slave on Tatooine, a planet on the fringe of the Republic. Anakin has an extremely high “Metachlorine” count which indicates a child with a very powerful connection to “the Force”, the fundamental energy of life and the universe. The Force has a light and dark side (like Yin and Yang) and takes personal, incarnate form. It is in everything and everyone, but some people have a much stronger connection, or presence, than others.
Of course, there is no exact parallel between this allegorical universe and ours. But, as in the Star Wars story, we all experience the very real, personal manifestations of the forces of nature as both beneficial and destructive. We also all have within us the ability to use our own power and ability to good or ill, benefit or harm towards ourselves, others, and the rest of the creation. My response to what is can be on the light side or the dark side. Even when life and the Cosmos throw pain and suffering at me, and even death, there is still that choice.
I may be a helpless, hapless victim in the sense that what comes to me and those precious to me brings the evil of death, pain, suffering, and misery. It doesn’t matter that the cause of the suffering is some impersonal “natural” power. It is evil because it does evil to me and mine. But I am not entirely powerless, for I still have the power to choose how I will meet this evil.
As we said last time, it is no good to say that the coming of these afflictions is not evil. For you and me when they come, they are. Occasionally we find some mystics and saints calling even these events good because of their faith that they are ultimately God’s doing, even if only because God permits them to happen instead of stopping them and protecting us from anything bad that could happen. For these great souls, the good breaks through as they learn to suffer well and praise the Creator for giving them the grace to go through them and find Him/Her there in their midst.
In a perfect spirituality, I do not disagree with this perspective, and have had some experience of it myself, as have many people I know. But that has never taken me to the point of the great mystics welcoming the coming of evil in whatever form it takes as an opportunity to know my Creator better and more intimately. If that is a result of what comes, it is great, but I won’t go looking for it, and, frankly, I personally don’t know anyone who would.
I recognize the Star Wars universe with its light and dark. It is everywhere around us, but, as C.S. Lewis put it in his essay “Evil and God” (see previous post), evil is a parasite on good. It is not an equal “partner” in truth and what is meant to be. Darkness is the absence of light; as soon as light breaks in, the darkness begins to fade. As soon as truth breaks in to our awareness, the wrong and the lie begin to fade away.\
And so with our sense of why death and pain and suffering feel “wrong”, not “normal” in the ultimate sense. Even now, even with COVID devastating society, the economy, and many thousands of individual lives, families, and communities. All through history we see the battle fought over and over – to restore and even create life and peace where there has been destruction and rampant death and evil. Only very warped and deranged people want war more than peace, death as an amusement over peace and life and harmony. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, droughts, etc. all come and will continue to come and wreak havoc on us and the other living creatures of this world. But they are never “right” and “good” in any meaningful sense. Instead, what we have always seen afterwards is resurrection and renewal in the natural world, of which we are part, despite our schizophrenic behaviour towards it.
As long as the human race lives, we will not just “lie down and die” and meekly submit to “the inevitable”. We are not made that way. We are made to rise, to overcome, to create, to renew, to enhance. Our innermost soul tells us this even in the midst of the worst. Most often, our soul tells us without words, but nonetheless with great clarity through our drive to live, to repair, to make better. Our “dark side” too often disrupts the truth of who we truly are meant to be, but, as Saint Paul puts it in one of his letters to an early Christian community called the assembly (church) in Corinth, “Death is the final enemy”. Even so, “Death has lost its sting.” He calls death a personal power, not an abstract, inevitable result of evolutionary law. It is wrong and not meant to rule or have the final word. The final word goes to Life, perfect Life, the very Life of the Creator imparted to human beings through the mediator of the Creator’s personal presence among us – Yeshua ha-Mashiach, who truly died but was raised as the personal guarantee that pain, suffering, misery, and death do not have the last word.
TO BE CONTINUED