Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Sith in the Bible

          As we enter the Christmas season, many Americans are counting the days, not till Christmas, but until the release of the movie Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  And just as it is helpful to be ready to answer the question, “Is there a Santa Claus?” in a gentle, sensitive, and honest way that points to Christ, it might be helpful to address the question, “What can we learn from Star Wars?”.  I don’t know that worthwhile lessons can be learned from the coming movie, since I have not yet seen it, but there might be some things to consider – food for thought, so to speak – in earlier Star Wars movies, games, and comic books. 
"Sith" in Ezekiel 35:6.
          In the movie Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker says, “If you are not with me, then you’re my enemy,” to which Obi-Wan Kenobi answers, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”  Inasmuch as Jesus, in Matthew 10:30, says, “He who is not with me is against me,” this might lead someone to conclude that Jesus’ system of ethics, in which the standard of moral goodness emanates without change from the character of God, is more like that of the Sith than the Jedi.  And, while the Bible makes no mention at all of the Jedi, the word “sith” occurs in the King James Version, in Ezekiel 35:6, right after a mention of “the force” in the course of a prophecy against the nation of Edom. (“Sith” is an archaic form of “since,” or, “seeing that.”)  These parallels appear to be merely coincidences, or luck, just as it is a matter of coincidence that Daniel Wallace, a textual critic who oversees a vast library of digital images of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, has the same name as the author of a recent book that represents ancient manuscripts of Jedi lore and customs.   
By the other
Daniel Wallace.
        I would caution against expecting a strong affirmation of Christian values from a franchise that consistently promotes a fictitious sort of Eastern mysticism.  Nevertheless some aspects of the teachings of the fictitious Jedi overlap some aspects of Christian ethics.  Perhaps there is no better illustration of this resemblance than in the Jedi Code.
          In the Star Wars galaxy, the Jedi Code was standardized by a Jedi Master named Odan-Urr, thousands of years before the Star Wars movies began.  The Jedi Code is a code, not only in the sense that it establishes a set of moral standards, but also in the sense that it is a sort of riddle to be solved by careful contemplation of its meaning:  “There is no emotion, there is peace.  There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.  There is no passion, there is serenity.  There is no chaos, there is harmony.  There is no death, there is the Force.”
          Taken at face value, the Jedi Code appears to encourage a level of stoicism that is foreign to the actions and attitudes of the Jedi in all the Star Wars movies.  Unless one is willing to conclude that the Jedi do not understand their own code, one must look beyond the literal level to understand these words.   
          Odan-Urr was from the planet Draethos, and a theory about a quirk in the ancient Draethos language may help one see through the code’s otherwise opaque and puzzling sentences.  The theory goes as follows:  in the language of Draethos, as it was spoken when Odan-Urr standardized the code, when something was in motion, and someone asked, “Where is it?”, the answer would be that it was going toward its destination, rather than that it was at whatever location it happened to be.  Thus if one were to ask a Draethos, “How old are you?” the answer would not be, “I am 850,” – the Draethos have great longevity – but rather, “I am becoming 851,” except at the very moment when the birthday and birth-time occurred.  Similarly, if you asked an apprentice-carpenter about his vocation, he would not say, “I am a carpenter’s apprentice” but rather, “I am becoming a carpenter.”  According to this theory, transient things, or things in transition, were described as if they did not exist, but were coming into existence; stability, permanence, and existence were almost synonymous.  With this in mind we undertake the interpretation of the Jedi Code.   

There is no emotion, there is peace.  This does not endorse stoicism, but teaches, instead, that emotions are reactions to circumstances, which are always changing.  One’s actions should be based on one’s character, and character should not vary as circumstances change, but remain consistent with the pursuit of the peace that comes through the fulfillment of one’s purpose.  An emotion should be considered desirable or undesirable depending on whether it contributes to or distracts from one’s purpose.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.  It is inevitable that a Jedi will encounter puzzling situations that he does not know how to resolve, and which may even seem impossible.  However, the knowledge that one does not know something is the first step toward knowing it.  A Jedi should acknowledge his ignorance but rather than embrace it as a permanent state, he should regard it as an invitation to acquire knowledge, to make discoveries, and to satisfy his curiosity, within the limits of wisdom.  When this attitude is a regimen of the mind, ignorance is the herald of knowledge. 

There is no passion, there is serenity.  Of all emotions, those which involve attachment are among the most dangerous to a Jedi, for they lead to self-assertion, which leads to obsessive passion.  Attachment would be good, were it not an obstacle to what is best.  To say of anyone or anything that it belongs to oneself is to challenge the nature of things, for nothing in the physical universe remains with us, as we do not remain with it.  A Jedi is a steward, or a guardian, but not an owner, and should seek to value all beings and all things to the degree proper to their nature, rather than according to how he may be benefited by their service to him.  His ambition should be to serve, rather than to be served.  When a Jedi is undistracted by selfish attachment and passion, he will approach all tasks with serenity, knowing that whatever the outcome, he has lost nothing, for nothing belongs to him.  [Even so, try not to lose your lightsaber.]

There is no chaos, there is harmony.  [Some early MSS do not include this line.]  It is not unusual for a Jedi to experience losses which later appear to have been preventable, and to know others who have experienced such losses.  Similarly one may have beneficial or profitable experiences which one did not design, and which also seem, in retrospect, to have been avoidable.  The outcome of a battle and the rise or fall of empires may pivot upon the smallest of details.  When a Jedi contemplates any experience that appears to be a matter of chance, whether initially harmful or beneficial, the experience should be considered to have a purpose which is not yet perceived.  A Jedi who truly acknowledges this will either be able to discover harmony and purpose in any circumstance, or be content that such harmony and purpose will ultimately be revealed.

There is no death, there is the Force.  Each Jedi is a luminous being, and rather than consisting of his physical body is a steward of it.  The Jedi do not deny the reality of death; yet many masters, strong in the Force, have affirmed that even the departure from this plane of existence should be regarded as a continuing journey rather than a destination.  And, from a certain point of view, we will never be totally unbound from those we leave behind.  The purposes for which we were entrusted with our tangible lives, and given our bond with the Force – to secure peace, to share knowledge, to pursue wisdom – continue to be fulfilled in the lives of those in whom our lives have been invested.          


          If this interpretation is accurate, then some elements of the Jedi Code interlock very well with Christian theology – and others, not so much.  I hope that as Star Wars:  The Force Awakens entertains cinema-goers by the millions this month, it will include some worthwhile lessons.  Let’s try to find the good in everything – rejecting whatever is evil, and keeping what is good.  I wish you all a merry Christmas season, and may the Lord be with you.


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