Star Wars and Orthodoxy

Remember in the Star Wars movies, how various emotions were able to throw different characters over to “the Dark Side of the Force”? Anger, hate, vengeance, competition, ambition, greed, even an excess of sexual passion or selfishness therein. (Recall that Jedi Knights are supposed to be celibate – like some quasi-monastic mystical police force – and how marrying Padme – secretly and against Jedi advice – was a big wrong turn for Anakin Skywalker on his way to becoming Darth Vader.)

These are some of the passions Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church, and other Orthodox, talk about, and how they push us, as if from outside ourselves, in directions we don’t want to go, or shouldn’t want to. They’re not afraid to say an aim of Orthodox self-restraint and ascesis (asceticism) is a Greek word, apatheia. This isn’t like the modern meaning of the English word apathy, a bad thing, but it is a certain equanimity, or tranquility, like that in the Morning Prayer of the Optina Elders. It’s also illustrated in the story about the spiritual father who told his spiritual child to go to the cemetery and insult those buried there, to note their response, then to go back and praise them, and note their response: like we should be dead to both praise and insult.

Passionlessness is another word used in this discussion, appropriately enough. Again, not that you don’t devote yourself to whatever you’re supposed to be doing in life – what Americans usually mean by “passion” today (in the non-romantic, non-sexual meaning, anyway) – but actually, that you don’t devote yourself to what you’re not supposed to be doing in life, if you get my drift.

This can sound kind of Zen, and of course, self-restraint, self-discipline are important parts of many religions for their serious practitioners. (In fact, I have heard that the most common use of the word jihad in Muslim literature isn’t as an analogue to Western Christian crusade, but spiritual struggle with oneself.) But the big difference with Buddhism is that our goal isn’t nothingness, but ongoing repentance, trying to come closer to the (Tri-)Personal God in His Energies/Activities. We’re not supposed to act ‘out-of-control’ like animals; and Adam and Eve, before they fell, were in-control of themselves, not controlled by passions – perhaps even leading up to and during marital relations!* – until the serpent tempted them, tricked them, and they submitted to him and their passions instead of to the God Who loves them.

Also, of course, our aim is not to control God or His Energies like the Jedi’s is to control the Force – although there are accounts of some Orthodox Saints who seem able to do extraordinary things at will. However, perhaps these are like St. Seraphim of Sarov in his famous conversation with Nicholas Motovilov: Seraphim asked God to let Motovilov see the Uncreated Light of God’s Energies, ie, that he (Motovilov) “was in the Holy Spirit” right at that moment – in response to a question from Motovilov. Generally, the idea is to bring ourselves into agreement with what God wants.

(*–The Fathers are not all in agreement on whether Adam and Eve had relations before the Fall. But ISTM they were married: “What God has joined….” Also compare Genesis 1:28, 2:24, 3:16-17, 4:14, 5:3. For what it’s worth.)

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  1. Karen

    In the second trilogy, the Jedi were almost monastics, and suddenly the Force had a WILL– the Jedi even had a temple. Hmm.

    But George Lucas is actually Buddhist– hence the message of “detachment” that the Jedi are supposed to practice. But this is similar to the Orthodox Christian emphasis on controlling the passions.

  2. me

    Hi Karen–

    I seem to have a vague recollection about that will of the Force concept. Can you refresh my memory?

    Thanks very much!
    Leo Peter




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