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Entries in judaism (1)

Tuesday
Feb072012

Jewish religious viewpoint on the mythology of Star Wars

The Tablet, a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture, is running an article by Liel Leibovitz that criticizes Star Wars for its encouragement of a "transcendentalist humanism.. that people use to describe themselves when they’re too dull to believe in religion and too dim to understand science".

Personally I don't have a religious bone in my body, Jewish or otherwise, so there is a lot in this that I cannot relate to. But you might. And in any case it is well written and provocative (if wildly over-the-top in its assertion that "George Lucas has ruined our lives"). Here's an excerpt:

Lucas was better than most at reimagining this human story. By setting his retelling in a galaxy far, far away, and by following [Joseph] Campbell’s guidelines religiously, he created an embodiment of the monomyth that was so powerful it instantly became mythological itself. We impressionable children of the 1980s found in Luke and Han and Leia the sort of universal thrust that most religions seemed to lack. In synagogue, they spoke of a personal God who gave us laws and expected us to keep them. At the multiplex, there was the Force, strange and mysterious and mystical. It was never a hard choice. We all became Talmudists of the Jedi.

Which—and I realize that by writing this I’m forfeiting any future claims to nerdhood—was a terrible thing, intellectually and morally speaking. Campbell certainly had his dazzling strengths as an erudite and engaging scholar of comparative cultures, but his lack of understanding of faith and its machinations is astounding. In an 1985 interview he gave to In Context, a humanist journal, he called the Bible “the most over-advertised book in the world,” dismissed its claim to moral authority, and argued that the violence the Israelites visited on the peoples of Canaan precludes their scriptures from shining an ethical light unto the nations. Any religion, Campbell argued, is nothing more than an invitation to sectarianism and hate.

It’s a popular theme nowadays, one that the nouveau atheists often flaunt. But its core failure, and Campbell’s, is that it fails to see the crucial nuances that set one faith apart from the other. It is true, as Campbell observed, that both Abraham and Kut-o-yis, a legendary hero of Montana’s Blackfeet, experienced hardships as boys and went on to suffer exile before emerging as leaders of their nations. That one went on to become the father of monotheism seems to matter little. Campbell has no patience for the specificity of Abraham’s—or any hero’s—teachings; all he’s interested in are the broad patterns of shared stories.

The same goes for Lucas. His good guys are so good that their unique brand of righteousness hardly matters. Take, for example, the issue of the Force, the power Jedi knights possess to manipulate the physical world with their minds. Here’s the best explanation of how it works (Lucas later concocted other, less-convincing ones), delivered by Obi Wan-Kenobi: “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together. … A Jedi can feel the force flowing through him.”

The Tablet: Monomaniacal