Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Church of the Jedi

Jonathan Prejean has taken exception to my modest little review of The Revenge of the Sith. One reason is that Prejean has a deep emotional investment in the Star Wars saga. I do not.

Assuming that a movie is worth watching at all, the best way to enjoy a movie is not to overrate it. For example, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a camp classic. Folks enjoy it precisely because it’s so campy.

In this respect, a lot of B-movies are more enjoyable than a lot of “great” movies. But the best way to ruin a good B-movie is to judge it by the standards of a “great” movie.

Now, whether, and to what extent, you enjoy a Star Wars movie is a matter of personal taste, so I’m not going to get into a big argument over that.

Speaking for myself, the more I enjoy a Star Wars movie, the less seriously I take it. If I took a Star Wars movie as seriously as Jonathan Prejean or George Lucas does, it would instantly collapse under the staggering weight of its monumental silliness.

For the record, I think that the only installments of the sextet that are really worth watching are the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Revenge of the Sith. And I’d rank them: #1: The Empire Strikes Back; #2: Star Wars; #3: The Revenge of the Sith.

Everyone is entitled to rank the sextet however he likes. I just mention my particular preferences so you know where I’m coming from.

Jonathan treats the saga as an allegory for natural law and natural theology. But this is a very flawed analysis. There’s a big difference between a pre-Christian and a post-Christian outlook. What is post-Christian is self-consciously anti-Christian.

Lucas is a child of the Sixties. The Beatles popularized Eastern religion. In our own day and age, “spirituality” is “in” as long as it’s anything but Christian spirituality. Buddhism, Yoga, Sufism, Cabala, the vision question, animal guides, spirit-guides, &c.

This is a political statement. It’s a way of sticking it to Christianity.

In addition to Lucas, Joseph Campbell was a paradigmatic syncretist. For him, Jesus was interchangeable with any number of other mythological heroes.

It’s hardly surprising that Star Wars saga predisposed Jonathan to become Catholic, for Catholicism is very syncretistic in its own right. Patron saints assimilate patron gods. Iconography assimilates idolatry. The sacraments assimilate mediumistic magic. The Pope assimilates the pagan Pontifex Maximus. Apostolic succession assimilates shamanistic apprenticeship.

In Scripture, the paradigmatic sin isn’t pride, but idolatry. Classical Protestantism (e.g., Calvinism, Lutheranism, Anabaptism) respects this prohibition.

Another parallel with Catholicism and Buddhism alike is the fact that the Jedi are a celibate order, which is why Anakin must keep his marriage secret. Of course, Buddhist monks and Samurai had a solution for that: pederasty. Somehow Prejean managed to miss that particular parallel. I wonder why.

And notice, once again, like Buddhist monasticism, that the Jedi recruit little boys, separating them from their natural families.

Apatheia is not a Biblical value. Moreover, apatheia is not at all the same thing as the Aristotelian golden mean. Furthermore, apatheia is not at all the same thing as divine impassibility. Prejean is systematically confounding one thing after another in his desperate effort to defend the indefensible.

Jonathan offers up a completely abstract, intellectualist definition of grief: “the proper Christian feeling of grief is over the failure of the opportunity for virtue, the failure of goods being rightly ordered to their ends, not the loss of temporal goods.”

This is a prescription for hypocrisy and recipe for false piety. It’s an “ideal” that no one either can or ought to live up to. It’s a Gnostic, world-hating ideal. Jonathan is the one who is erecting his piety on the negation of natural goods. Moreover, this is not something he believes in for a moment. This is play-acting, folks. Let’s pretend that we wouldn’t or shouldn’t be grief-stricken over the loss of a wife or child or friend or father or mother. Who does he think he’s kidding, anyway?

There’s nothing the least bit monastic about Prejean’s lifestyle that I’m aware of. He hasn’t taken the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—much less a vow of silence. March with the Whigs, dine with the Tories—that’s his philosophy.

My criticism of the old republic had nothing to do with human authority in general. I was quite specific on that point. Of course, Jonathan is a frustrated royalist, so he naturally waxes nostalgic for these aristocratic regimes.

My stated point was that the relationship between the republic and the Jedi is analogous to the relationship between the Japanese imperial cult and the Shogunate. The Samurai are the security detail, the palace guard, for the royal court. And that’s the role of the Jedi as well.

I don’t regard it as an especially idealistic vocation. The old republic is a police state in which the Jedi exist to protect and defend the oligarchs. I find this calling no more admirable than a banana republic in which five families own 90% of the arable land.

Now, as I said before, I doubt this has anything to do with Lucas’ personal ideology. I expect it has more to do with his love of spectacle, which is a pretext for epic special effects, such as his penchant for virtual palaces.

I also suspect, as I said before, that he’s tapping into the audience of royal watchers, a la Princess Di, as well American “royalty,” viz. rock stars, movie stars, &c.

But whatever the director’s motives, this is the old order which the Jedi defend. And I don’t see much moral difference between an empire and an aristocracy.

Prejean then has an odd way of dragging in voluntarism, which he associates with Protestant theology and piety. But it’s the Jedi who embody voluntarism. They discipline themselves to totally repress their emotional life.

Conversely, Calvinism does not subscribe to voluntarism. The appeal to God’s will is not an appeal to a sheer will, divorced from God’s other attributes, but a will characterized by all of God’s other attributes. To take one classic formulation, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3.1). The will of God is a wise and holy will, not a sheer will.

Sola Scriptura is not “the Protestant concept of authority as an imposition on the will).” Scripture is the record of divine revelation, a revelation of the very mind of God. That’s a property-instance of supreme reason.

In the line “only a Sith deals in absolutes,” Jonathan glosses this in terms of “absolutes of will.” But there’s no textual justification for his interpretation. This is something Jonathan made up whole cloth. He’s using Star Wars as a pretext and cipher to do his own brand of theologizing.

Perhaps, though, his ridiculous overreading of the line is an example of living tradition and allegorical exegesis. This represents Prejean’s magisterial reading of the screenplay, based on the development of doctrine. I can hardly wait for Prejean’s penetrating theological insights into The Cat and the Hat.

“On the contrary, Lucas (rightly) views the Christian solution as the only thing that can answer the questions that pagan philosophy asks… his Incarnational and universal account of redemption is more von Balthasar than Buddha.”

Where is this coming from? Not from the movie itself. Does Prejean have an earpiece with Lucas whispering these subtextual revelations into his ear?

You see, Prejean interprets a screenplay the same way he interprets Scripture. He simply makes it channel whatever he wants to believe.

On a related note is his absurd summary of the Reformation: “The fear-based reaction of the Reformation, the "sky is falling" mentality, resoundingly proclaims a tale of people who fear the loss of the thing they value so much that they desperately need to put their faith somewhere.”

Where in Luther or Calvin is this a stated motive of the Reformation? What does this have to do with the Reformation soli? Prejean invents whatever he needs to make his case.

In this essay, Prejean refers the reader to an early essay, in which he laid out “an analogy of nearly-crystalline precision” between Anakin and Luther.

Here is Prejean’s central thesis:
“Luther's first negation was sola scriptura, the fundamental negation of the organicity of the Church. By limiting what is permanently binding on the Church by reference to a fixed and unchanging referent (Scripture), the possibility of real growth, real production within the experience and life of the Church is cut off at the knees. His second negation was in the concept of imputed justification, which is nothing less than denying the reality of Christ Himself. The underlying concept of imputed justification is that holiness is a thing that cannot inhere in creation, that humans cannot partake of the goodness of God. There can be no more pointed denial of Hart's concept of creation, and if one follows the premises of his argument, such a denial contradicts any possibility of the Incarnation.”

Notice the aprioristic character of Prejean’s objection. He doesn’t study what God has actually said and done. Prejean’s whole theological edifice is founded on nothing more than a theoretical postulate.

Likewise, justification by imputation is an exegetical finding. A revealed truth.

Again, the question at issue is not the abstract question of whether a creature can exemplify divine goodness, but whether a fallen creature or sinner can merit divine acquittal.

This is quite irrelevant to the metaphysics of the Incarnation since the Son of God is sinless and impeccable.

But Prejean always approaches theology through the interpretive grid of an extrinsic conceptual scheme. Anything that doesn’t fit within his preconceived scheme is eliminated and execrated. Prejean’s theology is a monumental exercise in make-believe. No wonder he finds so many parallels with the Star Wars saga. For him, there is no line between fact and fiction, history and theology.


  1. Prejean possesses an amusingly apocalyptic mindset. He stands always ready, ever manning the barricades of orthodoxy against a ubiquitous nemesis (an enemy that he sees in all places), and one that threatens the very fabric of authentic Christian existence.

    I'm personally in eager anticipation of his next installment - his further demonstration (from Pinocchio) about the dreadful consequences of a failure to see the good in creation.

  2. I think I'm starting to catch on: Jar-Jar Binks' king is Moses and the law: "He must be poonished!", and he's redeemed after baptism...ouch! my head hurts! I'll be right back.