Grey Jedi and the Rejection of Prozac Christianity

I recently read Paul Miller's post at Christ and Pop Culture called Grey Jedi and the Loss of Faith in Star Wars.  In it he speculates about the teaser trailer to the upcoming film The Last Jedi, where you can hear Luke Skywalker say "I only know one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end". Miller, and many others, believe this signals the introduction of the concept of Grey Jedi to the films.

Grey Jedi are those who are in touch with The Force, yet who have rejected the Jedi code without embracing the Dark Side. I can't be certain, but I think Ahsoka Tano is the first officially classified "Grey Jedi". Her character, introduced as the Padwan of Anakin Skywalker in The Clone Wars animated series, eventually becomes disillusioned with the Jedi - and leaves their number. Yet she continues to fight with the Rebellion.

Miller believes Grey Jedi are both a clever marketing ploy by the Star Wars franchise, and a corruption of the mythology of the original films. A cynical attempt by studio execs to market the new films to a generation that wants spirituality without religious obligation or duty. One that rejects making a clear distinction between good and evil.

Now, there are Star Wars fans, and then there are Star Wars Fans. I tend to fall into the former category.

  • I have fond memories of the original films
  • I had an enviable collection of action figures
  • I tried desperately to love the prequels
  • I enjoy the two most recent films - especially Rogue-One. 

Yet, I have no exposure to the larger canon. So I may not be the best person to respond to Miller's criticism of Grey Jedi. Nevertheless I do have an opinion, and you can take it for whatever you think its worth.

First let's say, I can see where Miller is coming from. If we liken the Jedi Order to Christianity, then Grey Jedi are like those people who want to be spiritual without being religious. They are the "None's" or the "Done's".  They are the people who believe they can have church by simply getting together with friends, or those who say they just want to worship alone. They are Warren's "Spiritual Bloggers", unaccountable to ecclesiastical authority (see my previous post ). These are people who Miller sees as rejecting the substance (community, formal training, and the code,) for the gravy (the Force). And the community, the training, and the code, are what protect us from succumbing to the Dark Side. People who reject these things are put themselves in spiritual jeopardy - and it's only a matter or time before they fall.

I disagree with Miller in one respect. This is not the message the church needs to hear. This is too simple and self-affirming a view.  I think there is a much more profound lesson to be learned here from Star Wars - one that doesn't reject the concept of the Grey Jedi, but sees it as the ideal. One the Church needs to hear.

Suppose we accept the analogy that Christianity is like the Jedi Order, but now let's suppose the Grey Jedi - who reject the community, formal training, and the code (but still claim Jesus,) are not simply - as Miller puts it "fiercely independent, self-guided spiritualists" but rather - people who have a legitimate complaint.

"Everyone thinks the Jedi are perfect, that they can do no wrong. They thing the Jedi Council is completely incapable of injustice. The Jedi are just as capable of injustice as everyone else."

Suppose the Jedi Order had forgotten the truth about the essential unity of the Force, and instead adopted a corrupted form of moral dualism where warriors of light must defeat dark enemies. Suppose they had become entangled in the political strife of the Republic - rather than being agents of reconciliation guided by the essential unity of The Force. Suppose the Dark Side emerged from their attempt to suppress legitimate human emotions perceived as negative (or bad,) in a misguided attempt to maximize the good. Suppose those who could not suppress those feelings became "dark" because they had no legitimate expression for things like fear and anger. Suppose the Champions of light imagined that the Force would be that much brighter once their enemies were defeated. Suppose by failing to recognize the humanity in their enemies perpetuating the conflict.

A close examination of the original films reveals that the Jedi are not always in a position of moral superiority. In the Empire Strikes Back for instance, when Luke senses that his friends are in danger, he wants to help them, but he is advised by his teacher, Yoda, to stay and complete his training. Luke should be willing to sacrifice his friends, rather than allow himself to be captured by the dark side. His teachers seem certain that getting close to Vader, allowing his emotions to lead him, will result in Luke's corruption and fall to the dark side. Instead this is what ultimately leads to Vader's redemption in the next film. The plot of the film actually affirms Luke's decision - regardless of what his teachers say.

The prequels, which were still under Lucas's creative control, also show Anakin wrestling with his strong emotionals.  Yet he too is advised to suppress these emotions, or be consumed by the dark side. I can't help but believe the attempt suppress these emotions - rather finding legitimate expression for them - is what actually causes Anakin's fall. At the height of their influence, The Jedi are portrayed in these films, as arrogant, bureaucratic, and quietistic. They may be the good guys, but they are not our infallible guides to right and wrong in the film - the plot itself is our teacher.

It's my belief that the mythology had always intended to portray the division of The Force, into Light/Dark sides, as a mistake.

The Force in its fullness is True Good - a good that resolves the conflict between good and evil. It is the origin of all things, and the destiny to which they will ultimately return. While the Light Side of the force is actually a lesser good that defines itself by its opposition to Darkenss- (and is itself mixed with some evil).

The application of black and white distinctions to people, to emotions, to political systems etc. is prominent in our Western Culture. Our heroes are entirely good, and our enemies are entirely bad. We are constantly at war with something.  Some people attribute this black and white ideology to the influence of Christianity.  I think that is only partially correct.  It is the influence of a corrupted form of Christianity.  One which has forgotten that the division between good and evil does not lie between cultures, or between people, but as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts it, "down the center of every human heart".

There are no "good guys" or "bad guys" only people in conflict who each want good for themselves, and are willing to resort to evil to acquire it.

There are no "Good" and "Bad" emotions - only appropriate and inappropriate expressions of them.

The Scriptures teach the essential goodness of God (1 John 1:5; James 1:17) and of his creation (Genesis 1:31). It says that evil arose when people became dissatisfied with this essential goodness and believed they could achieve a greater goodness for themselves (Genesis 3:1-5) - bringing evil into the created order.

The Bible does not say that people are good or evil in any ultimate sense, it says all people are created in God's image - and flawed. The Bible also does not teach us to defeat our enemies, but to reconcile with them (2 Cor 5:16-19).

  • Our leaders portray our rivals as enemies that can only corrupt or destroy us. Yet God calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, and to love our enemies.
  • Our worship music is swooning and tranquil - stubbornly refusing to give expression to a full range of our human emotions. Yet the Psalms gives legitimacy to a full range of emotions - including anger, and resentment.
I've referred to our present day Christian Culture, at times, as "Prozac Christianity", because we think we can maximize the good in our lives by suppressing negative, and focusing only on the good in ourselves. Consequently we only choose to see the bad in those who get in our way. Instead, what we need to do is embrace our finite natures, trust in the essential goodness of God, and choose to work toward reconciliation with our brothers and sisters, not conflict. When we chose conflict over reconciliation we misrepresent the God who teaches us to love our enemies, and seeks reconciliation with all people. Perhaps we have a lot to learn from the Star Wars mythology - especially the Grey Jedi.
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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