The much-anticipated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG-13) hit movie theaters in 2016. It is the eighth movie in the film franchise, and, as with other Star Wars movies, creator George Lucas spotlights a variety of worldviews.
“I wanted to try to explain in a different way the religions that have already existed,” Lucas told interviewer Bill Moyers in 1999. “[T]here’s a mixture of all kinds of mythology and religious beliefs that have been amalgamated into the movie, and I’ve tried to take the ideas that seem to cut across the most cultures.”
Apologist Patrick Zukeran told SCENES that the Star Wars series mostly promotes pantheism — the belief that equates God with the universe, thus, making them identical. That stands in contrast to Christian monotheism, which holds that God created the universe and is separate from it.
Even though pantheism is the basis for Hinduism and parts of Buddhism, Zukeran believes the Star Wars universe can be used to teach Christian kids about worldviews.
Zukeran, the founder and executive director of Evidence and Answers and the host of a radio show of the same name, spoke with SCENES about how parents can use Star Wars as an apologetics tool.
SCENES: The Star Wars universe has some elements in it that make some Christian parents uneasy, such as the Force. What advice would you give parents who live in a culture that is so obsessed with Star Wars?
Zukeran: Star Wars provides a great opportunity for parents, youth pastors and pastors to discuss important issues such as worldviews, the problem of evil, and what happens after death. Of course, Christians need to be prepared and equipped in understanding how to watch and evaluate movies. Star Wars presents the pantheistic worldview and principles from the religions of Buddhism, Taoism and New Age. Parents need to be aware of the ideas being promoted by the movie and explain what principles are true and explain why certain teachings are false.
SCENES: Are there any similarities between a biblical worldview and the Star Wars universe? Do you think Star Wars can be used positively in a child’s life?
Zukeran: Star Wars presents a great contrast between the biblical and the pantheist worldview. It can help introduce children to the pantheistic worldview and help them draw comparisons to the biblical worldview. Again, if adults understand worldviews, they can discuss the principles taught and explain how we know which worldview is true. The life lessons that are taught in the movie can be evaluated.
SCENES: What are the primary differences between a biblical worldview and the Star Wars universe that parents should not miss?
Zukeran: One of the clear differences between the worldview of Star Wars and the biblical worldview is that Star Wars presents a pantheistic worldview.
“Pan” means all and “theism” means god. Pantheism teaches that everything in the universe is one in essence. Pantheism teaches that the universe is eternal. There is no personal creator God but there is an impersonal force or energy that pervades the universe. In other words, God is the universe, and the universe is God. They are dependent upon one another.
This worldview is revealed in the concept of the Force. In the first movie A New Hope (1977), young Luke Skywalker learns about the Force from his Jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi.
“The force is what gives the Jedi his power. It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the entire galaxy together,” Obi Wan says to Luke. In this brief statement, the pantheistic worldview is presented. But it’s a theme presented many times.
For instance, we learn in the second film The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the energy that flows through the universe resides in all things. The Jedi learn how to connect with this energy and use it to perform supernatural feats. In his training with Master Yoda in the second film, Luke attempts to lift his X-wing out of the mires of the swamp using the power of the Force but he fails. Sitting before Yoda he states that he is unable to.
Yoda replies, “Size matters not. Look at me! Judge me by my size do you? And where you should not. For my ally is the force and a powerful ally it is. Life breeds it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we — not this crude matter. You must feel the force around you, here between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes, even between the land and the ship.”
The Jedi’s mastering the power of the Force parallels the training of mastering the Chi or Ki force in several forms of the eastern martial arts and practices such as yoga and some forms of alternative medicine. Chi is believed to be the impersonal life energy that flows throughout the universe and pulses through the human body.
By harnessing the Chi in individuals, martial artists believe they can perform at higher levels of ability or can release Chi power resulting in devastating effects. Some mystical forms of martial arts and alternative medicine teach the practitioner can perform supernatural feats when properly channeling the Chi force. Chi is controlled through specialized breathing techniques, gymnastics, and meditation.
The Bible teaches that God is a personal being who created the universe out of nothing. God is not dependent on the universe but is independent of the universe as the creator and the sustainer of the universe. All things in the universe are not a part of God but something God created. God is not a force that can be mastered or manipulated, but His creatures exist to worship and serve the Creator and Ruler of the universe.
The duty of the Jedi is to “bring balance to the force” in the galaxy. This appears to derive from Taoism, a religion built on the pantheistic worldview. A key principle in Taoism is the concept of “Yin and Yang.” This principle teaches that there are two universal and opposing eternal forces throughout the universe. These forces balance one another and bring harmony to the universe. One does not overcome the other but works together, creating a perfect balance.
Examples of such forces are:
Female (yin) and male (yang)
Cold (yin) and hot (yang)
Good and evil
Death and life
Dark and light
Negative and positive
When there is a proper balance of these forces, there is harmony. When they are not in balance in a person’s life or in the world, there is conflict.
According to biblical teaching, there are two forces at work with one another — light and darkness, goodness and evil, God and Satan. The two do not exist in a harmonious balance but are in conflict with one another. In the future, God will defeat evil and only when evil and darkness is defeated will there be harmony in the universe.
Another key theme in Star Wars is the concept of pain and suffering. When individuals do not respond to pain and suffering properly, they fall prey to the “Dark Side” of the Force. In Star Wars, the answer to dealing with pain and suffering comes from the teachings of Buddhism.
Buddha taught that pain and suffering are the result of an unenlightened view of the world. The unenlightened [people] view this physical world and their individuality as real. However, this physical world is an illusion. Pain and suffering occur when individuals in their false understanding of this world become attached to things of this world such as possessions, goals, dreams and even other individuals.
The answer to pain and suffering is the elimination of desire or all attachment to things in this physical world. When one completely detaches from the things of this world, pain and suffering will cease. For this reason early Buddhism and Southern Buddhists today teach that the true Buddhist renounces all attachments to this world and lives a solitary life never marrying, and owning nothing but their robe, walking staff and beggar’s bowl.
In Star Wars Attack of the Clones (2002), the young Anakin Skywalker is secretly married to Padme, which is against the rules. The Jedi are the ones to bring balance to the force in the galaxy and therefore are not allowed to marry. Anakin begins to have nightmares, seeing Padme suffering, and this haunts him. He goes to the master Jedi Yoda for counsel.
Yoda states: “Careful you must be when sensing the future Anakin. Fear of loss is a path to the dark side.”
Anakin responds: “I won’t let these visions come true, master.”
Yoda replies: “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not — miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy, a shadow of greed that is.”
Anakin asks: “What must I do, master?”
Yoda states: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
Yoda’s answer is built on the pantheistic worldview and the teachings of Buddha. The problem is that Anakin has fallen in love with Padme. This attachment will lead to desire and the “Dark Side” of the Force.
The answer is complete detachment from the things of this world. Yoda states that we should “rejoice for those who transform into the Force.” The worldview of pantheism teaches that our individuality is an illusion. We are all one with the universe. Therefore at death, we are no longer individuals but we are absorbed into the energy or essence of the universe.
The Bible teaches that the physical world is real but in a fallen state, which will one day be redeemed. Our individuality is not an illusion, but we are created in the image of God. At death we will not be absorbed into God but our individual personhood will continue to exist eternally, either with God or separated from Him.
Editor’s note: The above transcript was edited for clarity and SCENES first published this interview in December 2016.