A long time ago in a galaxy far away there was no paper. This is something I didn’t realize until I read a book of essays by Ryan Britt a couple years back. George Lucas, although a limited visionary, saw a Star Wars universe without paper. When I thought back over the original trilogy, and the harsh prequel trilogy, that seemed to be true. Nobody picks up a piece of paper to read anything. Like many people I went to the theater to see The Force Awakens and left stunned. After being battered by episodes I through III, it was good to see the old form return. It was as if the force really had awakened. Then I went to see The Last Jedi.
Overly long and often plodding, I wondered, after it was over, what was so different this time. Not only was Luke Skywalker annoyingly noncommittal to the force, but backstory and counter-backstory made the truth hard to discern. There was a lot more talk of the Jedi religion as a religion. From my perspective, of course, this isn’t a bad thing. I would like to know more about this. There’s a secret tree on Luke’s island wherein are the sacred Jedi scriptures. Yoda shows up and calls down lightning like a little green Elijah and burns the Jedi library and its Keebler home. Then it hit me: not only is there paper in this universe, there are actual books. Scriptures.
We’re never shown the inside of any of the books, but if the fact that fans tend to fill in the blanks holds true we may well see future publications of the Jedi Bible. H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a fictitious tome, now exists because his devotees couldn’t live in a world without it. And paper scriptures add an entirely new dynamic to any religion. Most world religions (at least on this planet) have some form of text. Books tell us what to believe and how to live our lives. Given enough time people will realize that they were written by other people and need to be interpreted by people. After all, if God could write the Bible, what would prevent him from writing the Qur’an, or the Book of Mormon? So stuck here in the middle of a trilogy the rules have changed. First paper has appeared in Star Wars. And although it’s a little too early to be sure, it looks like Jediism will never be the same.
Posted in Bible, Current Events, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Origins
Tagged Elijah, George Lucas, H P Lovecraft, Jedi Bible, Luke Skywalker, Necronomicon, Ryan Britt, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens, Yoda
Stay away from the dark side. That’s generally good advice. Ironically, new religious movements (NRMs, in the biz) have come up in my conversations quite a bit lately. Some of my friends have suggested that I start a new religion—job security would no longer be an issue. I’ve been studying religions my whole life, and at times I’m sorely, sorely tempted. Meanwhile a friend pointed me to a story on Details.com about Jediism. Yes, there is a religion based on Star Wars—actually, I shouldn’t be too hasty here. There is at least one religion based on Star Wars; likely there are many. The question that is indubitably raised is okay, so do these people actually believe this stuff? Don’t they know Star Wars was written by George Lucas? How can it be a religion? I can only respond with: Have you ever heard of Scientology? Religions do not have to be believable to be believed in. History has shown that time and again.
Jediism is based on the teachings of saints like Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi. What they are teaching is straight Joseph Campbell. Served neat. Good versus evil. A sense that a cosmic force surrounds us. The hero’s journey. The same thing can be found in the Bible. Wrap it up in a Jedi cloak or in a Galilean robe and the end result isn’t much different. I’ve seen bumper stickers suggesting that Obi Wan died for my sins. Just as long as good wins out in the end, who’s to complain? Does it really matter if it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away or just away in a manger?
The problem with religion is that we lack a proper definition. Christianity clearly uses the word to describe itself. When looking at those who thought differently (adherents of Judaism, Roman paganism, the great goddess of Syria) early Christians had to call them something. If Christianity is a religion, so must they all be. Some religions, however, are not based on belief, but practice. To be is to do. Some religions are based on historical people, some on fictional people. Some are very serious while others are difficult to tell. Some religions are ancient, but looking at the state of the world it’s hard to say that they’ve been terribly successful. So when a bunch of sci-fi fans think they’ve discovered the truth in the mind of George Lucas, who’s to argue? And I really do mean that about keeping away from the dark side.
Posted in Classical Mythology, Deities, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Origins, Sects
Tagged George Lucas, Jediism, Joseph Campbell, New Religious Movements, Obi Wan Kenobi, Scientology, Star Wars, Yoda
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, or so it seems, I began studying religion not knowing where it would land me. One of the great things about studying religion is the perpetual refreshing of religious thought that grows with human culture. Anthropologists and philosophers and sociologists have difficulty defining exactly what religion is. It is clearly a belief system of some description, but in many parts of the world religion is not so much reflective and reflexive—doing the ancient rituals and getting on with life. Every great once in a while I learn about a new religion. Those who don’t spend too much time thinking about it might be surprised to learn that new religions emerge quite frequently, and sometimes with the most unlikely of inspirations. Consider Scientology. While reading about new religions recently I discovered Jediism, or Star Wars religion. Like Scientology, it is based on science fiction. For those of us alive in another universe in 1977 it is difficult to convey to more recent hominins just how impressive Star Wars was. Life-changing, in some instances. Jediism takes the concept of the Force and makes it a central tenet of a belief system for the twenty-first century.
Having witnessed the impact of Avatar in even more recent lightyears, perhaps we should not be surprised that fantasy worlds spawn new religions. After all, although death and suffering pervade even the most pristine of human-concocted galaxies, good ultimately wins over evil in these realms. It is something worth hoping for. Maybe even believing in. Some people question how serious those who call themselves “Jedi” on religious surveys really are. There are online Jedi sanctuaries, and even humor can be a part of a serious religion—consider the craze of Christian clowns that was going around in the 1980s. For those of us from long ago, religions just don’t seem authentic without some antiquity to them; they should’ve been started centuries ago by founders who can be mythologized to sainthood or divinity. We have more facts about the life of Yoda than we do of Jesus.
The thin line between fact and fiction grows more effaced every day. Can religions be based on fictional founders? Of course they can! Without any means of determining objectively which religion is right (if any), we are left with only a person’s word about what s/he believes. If I choose to believe that Sherlock Holmes was a real person what harm does it do? It may even benefit the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As Matt Rossano points out in his book Supernatural Selection, religions are about perceived relationships. Many people have relationships with fictional characters, sometimes falling in love with one or fantasizing about being one. Basing a religion on a fictional character may be the greatest sign of trust. After all, we can’t even define religion in a way on which all specialists will agree. Religion itself may be the ultimate fiction. May the Force be with you, just in case.
Posted in Deities, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Origins, Sects
Tagged Avatar, Jedi, Jediism, Matt Rossano, New Religious Movements, science fiction, Scientology, Star Wars, Supernatural Selection, Yoda