Mr. Vacca’s Article

Of crosses and light sabers

By James Vacca
May 28, 2005

For years I’ve endured the superficial analysis of the “Star Wars” saga as a hermeneutic leading to an understanding of Christianity. I am truly stymied and wonder if this has to do with a willful misinterpretation of biblical Christianity or if it signals a collective inability to critique our culture and its national myths.

Dick Straub dishes out a heaping plateful of exegetical mush in the May 21 Faith section of the Daily Camera as he espouses his book, “Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters,” confidently proclaiming that the “story arc of Star Wars is full of teachable moments for budding Christians.” He further gushes that “the Star Wars story line is a wonderful way of showing the parallel between Luke and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”

The Christian Gospel that I find operative in the authentic lives of people of faith is solidly focused on non-violence and peacemaking. “Star Wars” is a cinematic exploitation of what Walter Wink, professor of biblical interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, refers to as the “myth of redemptive violence.” This mythic narrative confirms “the belief that violence ‘saves,’ that war brings peace, that might makes right … violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and often the first resort in conflicts.”

If there is any transcendent thrust in the message of the Gospels, it seems most eloquently expressed in the ability of Jesus to edit violence from his life and ministry, finding creative, life-affirming solutions to every situation of impasse. In doing so, he admonishes both Jedi Knights and our modern day warriors, however honorable, regarding the consequences of living by the sword.

Authentic Christianity dismantles the simplistic view of reality enshrined in popular American culture and reveals in our never-ending tilt toward militarism that the world we live in is not easily divided into black and white, good and evil, saved and unsaved. We are to be about the transformation of our enemies, not their destruction. To co-opt the Gospel message is to understand that you cannot force your adversaries through continuous threats of violence to accept your worldview.

Although Staub and many other enlightened seekers see a catechetical reference in “Star Wars,” I find it indentured to the myth of redemptive violence and consequently a distortion of both the persona and the message of Jesus. In “Star Wars,” violence is the ultimate vehicle of transformation. The saga celebrates the use of lethal force in order to overcome a corrupt opponent. The light-saber duel has become emblematic of the “Star Wars” ethos and stands in direct opposition of Jesus’s command to love our enemies.

The potent myth of the conquering hero is part of a degraded imagination, because there is no warrior class in Christianity. The historic sub-culture of the Christian soldier is a perversion, not an authentic interpretation of the Gospels. The Christian crusader is an object of our collective shame, which stands in direct opposition to the words and example of Jesus as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Popularist misinterpretations of the Gospels permeate our culture, from the fear mongering of Focus on the Family to the toxic theology of the White House. Simplistic theologies of violence are reinforced by movies, which underscore such misplaced sentiments. When the myth of redemptive violence becomes national policy, I cannot innocently go about chanting, “May the Force be with you.”

Now, I don’t wish to parrot papal pronouncements and condemn “Star Wars” as another trite example of “vague spirituality” eroding modern religious sensibilities. Rather, I wish to affirm the moral vision of our real heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who detailed for us the dangers endemic in the idea of redemptive violence in his speech “Beyond Vietnam.” King asserts that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. He warns against the triple threats of racism, militarism and materialism and illustrates how these “isms” perpetuate a spiral of violence, cautioning his generation and ours that “there is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

We must not allow the cinematic reel to become the controlling myth that defines the American real. So enjoy “Star Wars,” but recognize that “The Revenge of the Evangelists” is already playing.

James Vacca teaches “The Bible as Literature” and other English courses at Boulder High School, and holds a master’s degree in divinity.

Mr. Vacca is a cool guy. Bib Lit was a way fun class.


~ by kiranapoleon on May 28, 2005.

5 Responses to “Mr. Vacca’s Article”

  1. Amen!

  2. i was hoping you’d read that because i was thinking you’d think that.

  3. I assume this man is a Christian, based on his use of the word “we”? Aside from that…you had this guy as a teacher??!

  4. I’m pretty sure he’s Christian, but I think it’s a more obscure brance. I read about it, once, but he kept his personal views out of class. Yeah, last semester I took the class that they mention at the end, Bib Lit, which was pretty awesome. We basically just went through the Bible and looked at it from a historical standpoint, how it was written/canonized and how it’s still changing, and how it affects stuff today, how themes and motifs from the Bible really are pretty much EVERYWHERE.

  5. thats pretty cool

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