Friday, July 24, 2009

Embracing the Dark Side

My grandson and I were watching Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith last night. About two-thirds through the film, Noah asked, “Why is the Dark Side so much stronger?” As you probably know, in the Star Wars universe, the Force provides powers to its adherents, but there is a “dark side” to the Force that uses these powers for evil rather than good. His comment came about the time that Chancellor Palpatine, a follower of the Dark Side, shot lighting bolts out of his fingertips to attack one of the Jedi Knights!

I finally said, “Perhaps it isn’t that the Dark Side is stronger but it only presents itself as stronger.” This is one of the perversions of evil. It presents itself as stronger (and much more fun) than good, but this is the ultimate lie of evil. Circumstances can tip the scales so that evil seems to have the upper hand, this is an illusion, even in the Star Wars universe.

Although some see theological themes in Star Wars, I struggle with that approach. In Lucas’ Star Wars universe, the only God is humankind (or whatever these people are). The Force is not God and the Force is never presented as a personal entity. The whole universe is based on mythological rather than theological themes. I will admit that the Star Wars films do tell us a lot about the human condition, however.

For example, the particular episode we were watching deals with the fall of Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into the Sith Lord, Darth Vader. Anakin’s actions are a testimony to each person’s desire to control his or her life and protect what is important to that person. In his case, his desire is based on a fear of loss. He does not want to lose his wife as he lost his mother. This film points out that such a desire ultimately leads to frustration, disillusionment, and death.

In the case of Chancellor Palpatine, we are reminded of the saying, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The character is depicted as the embodiment of evil and heavy-handed authoritarianism. He illustrates the idea that complete power destroys one’s humanity and warps one’s values. The person with absolute power justifies his or her actions by simply saying, “We do it because we can.”

Those who embrace a fundamentalist approach to religion and/or politics commit these two errors. They want to control circumstances because they fear chaos. They want to “protect and defend.” When they gain power, they do not hesitate to use it to pursue their goals. They have power because they are right, and they use the power to pursue their righteous agenda.

I am thankful that I live in a universe where there is a God who provides balance to life. Our God recognizes our fallen state and seeks to deal with it by identifying with God’s creation and God’s creatures. This is much better than an impersonal and uncaring Force.

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