This past weekend, I went with my family to see the newest episode of Star Wars - "The Force Awakens." Like everyone, I am wowed by the special effects and technical expertise of the moviemakers, especially when heightened by the 3-D glasses provided by the theater. However, I have to admit that when I leave any Star Wars (or Lord of the Rings) movie, I'm inevitably disappointed by the rather simplistic cosmology that is the operating system of both. Many people in our culture have jettisoned the traditional Judeo-Christian myths (and here I mean "myth" in Joseph Campbell's sense of a philosophy that is too profound for logic alone to articulate, and thus necessitates the telling of a profound "story"). These folks view this sort of myth as WAY too dualistic, yet - ironically - they now find themselves embracing a Star Wars - type myth that is EVERY BIT as dualistic. Here, all of the good lies on one side (e.g., with "The Republic") while all of the evil remains on the other side (e.g., with "The First Order"). I suppose most moviegoers end up losing sight of this underlying philosophy in a welter of way-cool, awesome special effects, but it is nevertheless still present as the operating system. In its defense, the Star Wars philosophy does hold that evil is actually the dark side of THE GOOD ("The Force"), and that a Jedi "is responsible for holding in balance the light and dark sides of The Force," as the current movie proposes. However, in practice, the two remain continually at odds with one another, locked in a continual battle.
For me, the dualism embedded in this kind of philosophy does little to heal a world wracked by conflict based on the conviction that each side (whether it be the U.S., China, fundamentalist Christians, extreme liberals, jihadist Islam, etc.) views itself as completely correct, and the other side as completely wrong. What we need, I believe, is a more nuanced philosophy which reveals the fact that in EVERY person, philosophy, culture and religion, "our gifts are our flaws and our flaws are our gifts." As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke so aptly puts it: "If my demons leave, I am afraid my angels may take flight as well." And here he is of course talking about the light and shadow sides of our INNER lives and philosophies. In my opinion, what is needed in our time is to uncover the underlying goodness of opposite positions and then work to see how each has been distorted into evil. In the current struggle with terrorists, for example, what is needed (in addition, perhaps to military action) is to bring to light the underlying psychology of the people who end up becoming terrorists, liberate the good and true aspects of that psychology, and then work for social justice in their particular situations. Similarly, it is important for us who are embedded in Western corporate-industrial culture to get in touch with the shadow side of our own system. I don't think a dualistic Star Wars philosophy is adequately equipped for this sort of work. What we need is a brand new philosophy or theology, one which is capable of holding the best aspects of opposite positions in tension. For this, after all, is a defining mark of what has traditionally been referred to as "genius." May all of us contribute what we can to the emergence of this revolutionary and transformative kind of philosophy :)
Photo: Bellvue Dome and Watson Lake at sunset, Bellvue, CO, December 20, 2015
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.