Worldview Analysis: Pantheism

If you’re a geek like me, you’re probably pretty stoked about the new Star Wars movie coming out in theaters this December. Then again, maybe you’re skeptical. After all, many Star Wars fans found Episodes I through III (the new movies) to be rather disappointing. Whatever your opinion about the Star Wars movies, I want to talk about something in the movie franchise that is very important.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good story. But we must remember that with every story comes a message. A discerning person can enjoy a movie while at the same time rejecting, if need be, the overall message of the movie, or even certain thematic elements of the movie. But there is a danger if one is not discerning. One of the things that makes children’s movies like Brave and Megamind so potent is that Christian parents may not be aware of what their children are being fed (no discernment), and children are malleable.

Now, imagine if you would, a universe where all things are linked and are ultimately part of some “One” spiritual existence or collective consciousness. In death, a person loses his or her personal existence and becomes part of the One. Sound familiar? It should. This is essentially what “The Force” is. Shocked? Hopefully not. As Obi Wan says in the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, “The Force is what gives the Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us. It penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

And when a person dies in the Star Wars universe, he or she becomes “one with the Force”. In another film, Revenge of the Sith, Jedi Master Yoda communes with another Jedi who has already died, Qui Gon. Qui Gon speaks of how he became one with the Force but was able to retain his consciousness, something he will teach Yoda, who will go on to teach it to Obi Wan. As the characters state, in death one becomes one with the Force. And while Qui Gon retained his consciousness, this is apparently not the normal way of things.

This isn’t some new thing created by George Lucas for the Star Wars universe. It is based on a real worldview: Pantheism. Of course, Pantheism is a varied philosophical belief, so when I speak of it I am sticking to the basic, generally accepted ideas at the heart of Pantheism. In Pantheism there is a singular, binding, spiritual consciousness. When a person dies, he or she loses all personal identity, becoming part of the collective spiritual consciousness. However, this can only be done through “enlightenment”. More on that shortly. Pantheism is mainly linked with Buddhism and Hinduism, but it can also be seen in philosophies such as Stoicism.

The Jedi masters teach the younger Jedi, called padawans, to let go of all attachment and emotion, as can be seen in movies such as Revenge of the Sith. This is a common goal for many Pantheists, as they believe that all matter is really illusion and that the key to becoming free of that illusion (enlightenment), and the cycle of reincarnation, is to separate oneself of attachments to the illusion. While the emphasis in Episodes IV-VI (the old movies) seems to be more on keeping control of one’s negative feelings, Episodes I-III take the teaching further.

How does Pantheism look as compared to the Judeo-Christian worldview? In Pantheism, God is impersonal, a “force” if you will. In Christianity, God is personal. In Pantheism, man is, in essence, one with God. In Christianity, man is a creature made by God, separate from God. In Pantheism there is no relationship to God. How could there be? God is impersonal. In Christianity, however, the ultimate goal is a relationship with God, for God is personal.

There is no such thing as sin in Pantheism, and there is only salvation, enlightenment, when one escapes the illusion of matter. But in finding enlightenment and escaping the cycle of reincarnation, a person loses all sense of individual consciousness and personality because he or she joins the collective consciousness. In fact, the very concept of individual consciousness and personality is also an illusion.

For Christians, sin is a very real thing. In fact, it is man’s fundamental problem. Salvation is found through the atoning work of the Christ (savior), Jesus, on the cross. Literally, Jesus had to earn humanity’s salvation through perfect obedience to the Father because they couldn’t do it themselves. And in death, there is no loss of personal identity, of individual consciousness. Rather, a person experiences one of two destinations as a very conscious and personal being: perfect communion with God and the saints as individuals living in a heavenly and earthbound kingdom, or ultimate separation from God in outer darkness and eternal fire.

Certainly the rule of the day in Christianity is to be selfless, as Jesus was. But this selflessness does not mean the negation of self, but rather the denial to oneself in favor of others. Christianity is, by its very nature, a relational worldview. Humans are, by their very nature, relational. And the material world is quite real. Few people really live consistently with the idea that matter is an illusion. How can they? Pantheists would claim that that is simply how strong the illusion has held of people. But then, maybe an oncoming train really is an oncoming train, and the pain of being hit by that oncoming train is real pain.

I will be going to see the new Star Wars movie (Episode VII). Hopefully you will too. And hopefully after reading this, you will have insights with which to go and see the movie. Perhaps now you can look for the Pantheistic themes. What do the characters say? Do they sound Pantheistic? For me, these observations make the movie more enjoyable. I like thinking critically about movies.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainment that comes with a different message, a different worldview. A Christian just needs to be discerning. And whatever he or she does, let Christ be at the center.

This post was written by Joshua Wagner. Joshua is 26 years old and happily married to his wife, Heather. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College. He is passionate about the Church, art and literature, theology, philosophy, and writing.

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