Updated: Aug 28, 2021
The Force. It’s a spiritual substance that permeates the entire galaxy. The Jedi can control it if they train their minds to that effect. But what is it? If you recall a scene in the recent Star Wars: the Last Jedi, the cynical Luke Skywalker is instructing young Rey about the Force. “What do you know about the force?” She replies, “It’s a power that Jedi have that lets them control things and…make things float.” “Impressive,” he quips. “Every word in that sentence was wrong.” Luke is right. The Force is, in fact, not just a power or even just an idea from a movie.
Something like it is considered by many to be the heart and soul of the third largest religion in the world: Hinduism. Within Hinduism most believe that God, A.K.A. Brahman, is like the Force, one with all things, ultimately impersonal, and beyond all description. This view is also commonly called pantheism.
Within Hinduism most believe that God, A.K.A. Brahman, is like the Force, one with all things, ultimately impersonal, and beyond all description.
The medieval Hindu philosopher, Shankara, is the most famous advocate of this “Force” view of God. According to Shankara, all things are Brahman. The many different things we see in the world, such as people, frogs, and rivers, are just illusions. Enlightenment comes through realizing that everything, including the self, is God.
Many are attracted to this view of God for two reasons. First, many American writers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, have sensed that nature is so sublime, so majestic, that it must be part of God. Emerson poetically describes this experience: “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.”
This brings us to the second attractive reason that many embrace Star Wars religion–everyone gets to be God. According to new age spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle, who advocates this view, promotion to the status of deity can do wonders to boost a person’s self-esteem. It’s no wonder that Western people looking for a stronger sense of self are attracted to this concept.
It’s no wonder that Western people looking for a stronger sense of self are attracted to this concept.
As attractive as it may seem, there are several problems with Star Wars religion. Master Yoda may be able to lift an X-Wing with the power of the force, but not even he can overcome the following objections. First, there is a logical problem with Star Wars religion. If all is one, then how can we reason about distinct things? Star wars religion would appear then to decimate science, progress, philosophy and so on.
Much more has been written about this than I have time to say here. Another problem with Star Wars religion is that it does not promote the beauty of nature that initially attracts people to it. This is because, ultimately, everything loses meaning and beauty. All the sublime waterfalls and leaping dolphins in the world are not distinct. Everything is one with the divine, impersonal void.
Another problem with Star Wars religion is that it does not promote the beauty of nature that initially attracts people to it.
But the greatest difficulty with Star Wars religion has to do with the existence of good and evil. It sounds very spiritual at first to think that God is all things. Yet some things in this world are absolutely evil. Star Wars religion teaches that evil too is part of God. It’s the Dark Side, right? Things like murder, rape, war, and genocide are all one with God. This appears to remove any good reason to do good or avoid evil, to seek kindness and reject cruelty.
All of it is a part of God. Evils like child abuse or sex-slavery would be part of God too. Recently, as part of a preparation course to adopt children in the state of Colorado, I had to learn about the realities of child abuse. It is an insidiously evil part of the world. Do we really want to say that child abuse is just another aspect of God? Shankara has a response to this, though. He says there are two levels of truth that we must learn to live by–the lower level of distinctions and the ultimate level where all is one with God.
But on closer inspection, the lower level, the one with distinctions between good and evil, is still an illusion. It is not real. All is really one with God, and we are back where we were before. The Two levels of truth idea does not deliver the believer in Star Wars religion from the problem of evil. This is not to say that there are not other good aspects of eastern spiritualities. But I am not alone in my criticisms. Even Ramanuja, another Hindu philosopher, pointed out similar flaws in Star Wars religion long ago.
Yet even Ramanuja, another Hindu philosopher, pointed out the same flaws in Star Wars religion long ago.
Let’s briefly compare Star Wars religion to Christianity. The religion of Jesus teaches that God is both infinitely greater than, yet distinct from creation. God, the perfect being, is good, who made nature like an author writes a book. God exists throughout the story, but he is not identical with everything in it. Nature, instead, reflects his beauty (Psalm 19:1). God made the cosmos “very good” but permitted evil (Genesis 1-3).
One explanation for why evil exists is because for creatures to have free will they would have to possess the ability to do evil. This creates a barrier between the holy God and sinful people. The Gospel of John teaches, however, that the author of creation has invaded his own story as fully human in order to suffer the penalty for mankind’s sins and restore all of creation. When God became man in Jesus, he showed that nature is good and not an illusion.
When he rose from the dead, he began the restoration of all that he made. This restoration is at work in the world today. Also, God cannot be controlled by focusing our minds. But he can have a real relationship with us, putting us in harmony with himself, ourselves, and all creation. This new harmonious relationship is the gift of God to all who receive it by trusting in Jesus.