Is Star Wars Christian or Anti-Christian? Should the Force be with you?

I’m pretty pumped. Start Wars Episode VII is in the works. I’m super excited, but I know that not everyone shares my geeky expectation. Some folks have serious theological disagreements with Star Wars. We’re going to try to rescue Star Wars today using a little Thomas Aquinas…


Star Wars VII is going to be directed by JJ Abrams (new Star Treks, Super 8) and will include the original cast with the likes of Harrison Ford, Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher, and even new faces like Andy Serkis (the actor who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings).

andy serkis as gollum

Hopefully Andy Serkis was not cast for the part of Jar Jar Binks. Just sayin’.

Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) have over the decades expressed concern that the worldview of Star Wars does not conform to the Christian worldview. I want to look at this concern, and then try to rescue Star Wars for all you Christian Star Wars fans (yes Greg Willits, I’m looking at you).

The mistake that people make when getting all down on Star Wars is that they make this equation:

  1. Christians have God
  2. Star Wars has the Force
  3. But the Force does not map on the biblical doctrine of God.
  4. Therefore, Star Wars teaches a false worldview, a false theology, and must rejected as evil!

Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

May the Force be with you: What the heck is this Force?

Let’s start with what the Force is not?

  1. The Force is not a personal God to whom one prays.
  2. The Force is not omnibenevolent or ‘all good.’ There is a ‘dark side’ to the Force.
  3. The Force is not just for good guys. Bad guys use it, and apparently use it more powerfully than the good guys.

It seems that the force is really an impersonally energy source. You can seem immediately that this does not jive with a Judeo-Christian understanding of the universe…or does it?

Christian Star Wars fans: Do not fear!

Let’s look again at the anti-Star Wars argument:

  1. Christians have God
  2. Star Wars has the Force
  3. But the Force does not map on the biblical doctrine of God.
  4. Therefore, Star Wars teaches a false worldview and false theology, and must rejected as evil!

Let’s flip this around. Let’s say that the Force stands for something other than God. Perhaps the Force is neither a spiritual entity nor a divine essence. What we need is to find in the Force an analogy to our current Christian worldview.

Pause: I realize that we don’t even really need to do this. It’s a fictional movie saga that’s fun and mythical. But to appease those that want to have a philosophical justification, here goes.

There is one thing in our universe that maps perfectly with the Force. I’m going to go down the Thomas Aquinas trail, so please follow me.

According to Thomas Aquinas (and the Catholic tradition), humans and preternatural spiritual beings (angels and demons) have a power that stretches beyond the faculties of all other natural things and species. This special faculty shared by angels, demons, good men, and evil men is called intelligentia. This word comes from two Latin words:

inter + legere

inter means “between” (like interstate) and legere means to “choose, pick out, or read.”

Intelligence, then, is the ability to choose between or to discern.

This is a power (or might I even say force) given to us by Almighty God. Your dog, cat, fish, and cactus plant do not have it. We do have it. You guardian angel also has it.

Since we have intelligence or rationality, we can manipulate our environment, manipulate nature, manipulate objects around us, and manipulate other people. Our influence over creation through the reign of rationality can be really good, but it can also have a dark side…

The Passions and the Force of the Intelligence

According to Thomas Aquinas, there are eleven passions. Emotions like fear, joy, and anger. Because of original sin, these passions interfere with our rational intelligence. We eat too much ice cream, scream at other drivers, and cry over silly things. The passions twist and thwart the force of our intelligence so that we do dark things.

The Dark Side of the Force

We have perceived that the myth of the Force in Star Wars is not God or the Holy Spirit, but instead it is the shared experience of human and angelic rationality. This is why evil characters try to get good characters over to the dark side of this force by moving them to passionate anger, rage, covetousness, or lust. We see that the Sith Lords even overtake the entire Empire by manipulating others through this force of rationality. It happened to the Empire in Star Wars. It has happened to every human society. The only way to have the “Empire Strike Back” is to rule the passions rationally through right reason and prudential thinking. So being trained in the force is really just using the intellect to habituate virtue in ourselves and in society.

The dark side of the force is like the dark side of human rationality. Rationality is a good, but it can be twisted and abused for evil – always through the corruption of the passions/emotions.

Reassessing the Force as a Christian Analogy in Star Wars

Someone might say, “Yeah, but Yoda can move rocks with the Force and Luke can stand on his head with the Force. What does that have to do with rational intelligence?”

I answer, “Right you are. Yessss.”

But there is more to it. We humans have used our minds to accomplish all sorts of impossible things like fly in airplanes, walk on the moon, split atoms, and explore the ocean floor.

Battles, scientific miracles, healing – all these are accomplished through the force of right reason.

The lesson is that it is intelligence rightly used that accomplishes great things. In Star Wars, we see that the Force is the power rightly used to bring a civilized society into a civilized society. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Aquinas would applaud George Lucas’ depiction of “the Force” as the only power to order society – because all these philosophers realized that it was true rationality that provided humans with law, order, and civilization. Even natural law requires rationality to see it.

Star Wars actually gives a pretty accurate political picture of how human intelligence can be thwarted to accomplish society evil. Evil politicians are always flexing the force of their intelligence. When men appeal to the “dark side” you have bad things happen like this:

So next time somebody at donut hour after church says, “Yeah, I used to love Star Wars, but I don’t let me kids watch it. It’s so unbiblical,” brush off your philosophy skills and go to work. Remember: Force does not equal God. Force equals human rationality.

And remember, next time you turn into a rage monkey and start living according to your passions, you’re becoming more and more like Darth Vader. Don’t do that! You may not have a death bed conversion where someone takes off your helmet and give you a last chance.

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Question: Okay, let’s talk about it. Do you think rationality or intelligence is the right lens through which to analyze Star Wars? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • RAM

    Just last night I was hearing, in a show, a lady and a priest (an exorcist) talking about Harry Potter movies. That saga really has some things wrong. They were talking about the movies (and the books) trying to bring sorcery into the common world (our world, the real one), twisting the mind and expectations of the audience. Star wars is set, as everybody knows, in a galaxy far away, a long time ago, so we can separate our daily lives from that stories. I would add that Star Wars franchise, in the end, shows the good people winning over the bad guys. And, well, The Empire Strikes Back has a winning empire in order to have something to tell after that, but you get the point.

    • Dear RAM,

      I agree. I’m not a fan of Harry Potter.

      • Why not?

        • I’ve met 3 priest/exorcists who have said that they have had possessed candidates and that during exorcisms the demons have revealed the Harry Potter novels as entrance points.

          I don’t want to call these priests liars because I respect them deeply.

          • That’s alarming for sure. Do you have any further details? Were the candidates attempting to perform sorcery? My own experience with Harry Potter books has been benign, so far as I can tell.

          • I expect that Dr. Marshall is telling the truth, and that so are his exorcist friends. However, that doesn’t make it prudent for everyone, everywhere, to forever swear off all enjoyment of fantasy stories.

            The thing is, ANY thing can lead us to sin, and God can use nearly anything to the good. Much like the Force doesn’t map to God, neither does magic in the vast majority of modern fantasy map to magic in the real world. When people know the difference between how magic works in the real world, and how it works in (the vast majority of) fantasy, it becomes a lot easier to put fantasy to use for God.

            In the real world, and in old-fashioned sword and sorcery, magic was a trade or bargain: a supernatural being offered use of its power to the sorcerer (or witch) in exchange for his (or her) service. If that sounds like a demonic pact or devil worship, that’s because it is. All those supernatural powers which the Bible forbids are gained exclusively by serving supernatural beings other than God.

            Like most post-Tolkien fantasy, in Harry Potter’s world, magic is something which anyone can use, provided they have the right tools, knowledge, skills, and abilities, to any purpose they desire. If that sounds a lot like technology, that’s because it is.

          • Marie

            There’s a lot more in the Harry Potter stories that makes them ill advisable for young people than the simple fact that magic is involved (regarding which i agree with you that there are distinctions to look at in how magic is portrayed and used in a book before deciding whether it’s evil or good in that book). There’s an inverted imagery throughout the HP books, where things that traditionally humans would regard as ugly or crass are normal or beautiful. This perversion of symbols isn’t something to which I’d want to subject an immature imagination that is still being formed.

            Furthermore, I do find it a noteworthy red flag that there are a not insignificant number of cases of kids becoming interested in the occult as a result of HP – in sharp contrast to TLOTR. True reading HP does not _automatically_ equal unhealthy interest in the occult, but it does head that way for a significant enough number of kids that my attitude is – why bother? If there are other books to read where the risk factor is much closer to zero?

            Finally, we could argue a long time about whether HP is harmful, but isn’t that a silly question? Suppose the conclusion is “not harmful” (would be hard to convince me of that, but suppose you did) what then? Does a mere “not harmful” rating that mean a work is worth my time or my child’s time? When there are so many truly outstanding works, real classics of the highest literary and artistic merit, why settle? And there are SO many. It would be hard to read them all in a lifetime, let alone a childhood. Why waste time on mediocrity?

          • Marie

            Sure, but demons are liars.

            Just bringing this up to because I think you are making a weak argument here, not because I disagree with your conclusion. I agree that the Potter books are largely a bane not a boon to humanity.

  • Richard Marshall

    This is an excellent article, well put together, logically constructed, and almost pleasant to read. However, it is flawed, to distraction, therefore not so pleasant to read. There are many simple grammatical errors throughout the piece. I can tolerate the typically poor grammar in emails from engineers and managers, but I expect and enjoy reading a paper written to the higher standard of a PhD. Please hire a proofreader.

    • Dear Richard,

      Yes, there are grammatical errors and typos here. This is a blog and I often just riff on it without too much concern on making it all perfect. This material is not for sale and so I don’t have it professionally edited. This blog is a sandbox, not a monument.

      I have looked into hiring a proof reader, but they usually want the text days before publication, and sometimes I write on Monday morning at 7am and it’s up by 9am.

      Perhaps I’ll make it a goal to tighten the ship for 2015.

      If you or others every find problems, just list it in the comments and we’ll get it fixed. Thanks for your concern. If you’d like to write me off over typos, I’m fine with that.

      • Mary Martha Pazos

        I used to suffer from perfectionism and learned that it is more important to do one’s best at the moment and then move on to the next thing on the agenda. Hiring a proofreader costs both time and money. And some say that time = money. So unless everyone wishes to pay for these fabulous blogs so as to cover the editing costs and wait until they get proofread, my opinion is to offer up our grammar issues for the poor souls or for the conversion of sinners and let go of being picky. After all, it gives us an opportunity to exercise forgiveness.

  • wecleartheland

    I like it, though the separation of the rationality from the emotions sounds so dead. Why can’t the emotions ever be unified with the rationality?

    • Yes, the passions/emotions should be fully integrated under the intellect. Catholics believe in passionate living – just properly ordered to God!

      • PeonyMoss

        Perhaps that was a flaw in the teaching of the Jedi as seen in Episodes I-III. We see that the Jedi were taught to have no attachments at all (as opposed to having attachments governed by right reason.)

  • Jim

    I am uncertain if the explanation is good. I look at The Force and perhaps it is an intelligence, but it is an intelligence nonetheless that also seems to transcend each individual thing, the way people describe it in the movie it seems to be its own thing. Whereas intelligence, although a gift, still is part of me, its transcendent in its source, and so the Force also seems transcendent in its source too.

    I still tend to take the opinion that Fr. Barron had in his Catholicism Documentary that God is not some impersonal force (i.e. The Force) but God is a personal being (i.e. Being itself) and so the Star Wars Theology does seem to still fly in the face of the Christian Theology.

    Now granted, there are still some moral teachings and actions in Star Wars we could take away perhaps since the Jedis for all intents and purposes seem to be like The Stoics or similar sage like figures, even though they fight.

  • Darren

    What about the meaning behind the words, “May the Force be with you?” Everyone has an intelligence, so that greeting in the movie doesn’t make sense.

  • Fr. Jorge

    To deny the spiritual influence that a movie of this sort can have on people is foolish. You can theologize all you want but that the devil and his minions take every inch, any door they can take, they do. Our fight is not against flesh and blood but principalities, dominions, the spirits. Spirits come through movies, music too. If you don’t believe it then you have no idea of the spiritual world. You can be funny about this and make us look bad for knowing about the spiritual influence of these movies, but that doesn’t change a darn thing about how bad of an influence they are. George Lucas is New Age and the devil uses the New Age for his plans. I’m not saying you will lose your soul for watching star wars but it has an effect on you. One of them is the rationalization of the demonic, like you are doing here. I will be made fun of and called old fart and foolish for saying this but that’s ok, I’m used to it. I have lost friendships for calling Star Wars for what it really is. I rather have a few people mad than the Lord mad over this. I think you are wrong on this one. I still like your posts and blogs, but I can’t be on you on this one. You are giving me more deliverance work to to, just so you know. I have seen the influence Harry Potter and Star Wars can have on people, spiritually speaking. If you want to pick and select what’s bad among the bad, then good luck. I hope you change your mind. I pray for you. Fr. Jorge Miramontes.

    • JMJT

      I agree with Fr. Jorge M and also with Jim on the Star Wars discussion because I think that
      Star Wars harkens back to Pagan, Pre-Christian thinking and the absence of the One True God in this thinking is evident . I have watched various videos , mostly by Protestants who believe that people in general are being prepared to accept an Alien Antichrist and be open to unchristian ways of thinking and acting, some of them having to do with genetic engineering and cloning of humans.

    • Dan Knight

      Fr. I agree with you for the most part. But doesn’t that apply to almost everything in a postmodern culture? My family and I rejected Star Wars, not due to its ‘Force’ but because we don’t want to support Lucas’ Culture of Death politics.

      The problem: My kids went to Catholic schools, and yet – they received ‘Evolution is Science,’ ‘America is evil,’ and they read many books written by liberal authors such as ‘The Secret Garden.’

      I’m not claiming it’s impossible to apply a principled stand, but I am asking where to draw the line. My daughters started college, and the textbooks were full of outright lies – about America, and the West mostly. And the only reason these texts did not attack Jesus and Christianity was the basic assumption that Jesus is imaginary, and Christianity is worse than Nazism. Christians were only mentioned in the context of mass slaughter, witch burning, and ‘leaving behind myths.’

      So, where is the line drawn? All television, movies, songs, plays, sports, recreation, volunteering activities, businesses, and even sports involve some level of ‘burning the incense’ to He.Who.Must.Not.Be.Named. At the very least, we usually have to deny Jesus during participation: e.g. A football coach cannot say a prayer (unless its profanity laced) for fear of losing his job. Businesses are subject to junk science, and our Health Services have to bow to the pressure of special interest groups.

      Is this the fruit of Star Wars or is Star Wars a symptom of the times?

  • Star wars fan

    Before, what we know as ‘Star wars,’ the universe, when one reads the history of the plot one looks at it in a different way. How? Well, currently there is right and wrong in star wars.(Dark side or not Dark side) It used to be that the Jedi used both they were neither good or bad, causing them to be able to use the force of evil and the force of good.(thus they were more powerful) The new movie is about going back to the ‘old ways.’ And it will be depicted as a good thing. It will be depicted as getting the Jedi back into there “right” beliefs.They will go back to their old ways and use evil and good to get what they want. They might kill unnecessarily but also help innocents. There is a line to be drawn, one must know that this is the story of star wars good and evil aren’t necessarily different in the star wars world.

    Just trying to help, with my extensive Star Wars Geekyness.

  • Dan S

    I’ve always liked Star Wars. While I understand why some Christians would want to critique it, I share Dr. Marshall’s impulse to defend it. I don’t think Lucas was promoting occultism. The story promotes heroic values and has a redemptive arc.

    • Mustache

      Not until Disney has there hands on it.

  • Victor

    ((( When men appeal to the “dark side” you have bad things happen)))

    Doctor Marshall, after having read your post, all I can say at this time is that in my old age I’ve been believing that evil spelled backword is “Live” and long story short, the “dark side” will use any ” Lived” “Force” available and longer story shorter, I believe that God’s Children should only swear by The Altar that Christ swore and I also believe that He would want US (usual sinners) to stick to His Altar while only including all that is upon “IT” which He instituded while He walked His Father’s World …

    I hear YA! So what do YA think of my post Victor? … lol

    God Bless you and yours

  • Mary Martha Pazos

    Goodness! Exorcisms, new age, paganism. I enjoyed the Star Wars movies, as did my children, and the only effect I observed in my kids was a reinforcement of the boy scout mentality of wanting to be courageous and be prepared to fight evil even when the odds are against us and even when we don’t feel like it. In myself, I’ve always been pro-God and Church. I kept the movie where it belongs, on the level of fantasy.

    Yes, I am sure that some objection can be made against the philosophy contained in the plot. However, there are many other examples of films that are far worse that nobody complains about. Look at your typical cartoon. The laughs get louder when more bodily harm is performed. And what about your T.V. “entertainment?” The typical fare shows people being disrespectful to each other, and this is okay? Give me Star Wars any day.

  • A G Maxwell

    It’s a movie, fun, wars inter good vs. evil. To me, may the force be with you sounds like ‘the lord be with you’. Instinctively, the response is ‘and with your spirit’. The force could be the emotions often overwhelming the ‘ratio’: we need to be mindful of our intellect and regulate the emotions from taking over. A force is a drive towards good or bad, as also a pull from good or bad, it is in our human nature to be tested, proved.

  • Michael

    “What we need is to find in the Force an analogy to our current Christian
    worldview.” You may NEED to find it but it’s not there. The place of the
    Force in Star Wars is as a SUBSTITUTE for God and for Judeo-Christianity.
    It speaks nothing of the revealed history of Humanity as written of in
    the Bible and – given the average persons total non-knowledge of history,
    pre-history et al – serves only to further confuse and confound a
    disbelieving world. And Tommy’s interpretation of “intelligence’ is not

    enough to substantiate your claims that this “intelligence” uncorrupted by

    his 11 Passions would create a world “uncorrupted.”
    Further, you are NOT able to discern through that “intelligence” the degree
    of sentience and awareness possessed by others of God’s Creation, but can
    only use it as an excuse for the play of human arrogance.

    The Sea of Tranquility © 2011

    The Eagle is down
    The Eagle has landed in the Sea of Tranquility
    We choose to go to the moon in this decade
    and do the other things not because
    they are easy but because they are hard

    The Eagle is down

    the Eagle has landed In the Sea of Tranquility

    That’s one small step for man
    One giant leap for mankind

    Ankle deep in moon dust
    Under the crag of black moon mountains
    They gazed across a universe
    Of burning stones
    and chemical dust
    To that most profound and enduring discovery
    The race for space has made
    And they called it
    The Earth.

    Michael Springthorpe

  • TIm Gannon

    Thank you for this interesting line of discussion. It raises a deeper question about whether all spiritual forces are personal. I think some spiritual forces are personal (God and the angels) and some are not. I think intelligence and grace are two impersonal spiritual forces. This discussion leans in the direction of two kinds of spiritual forces, personal and not personal. My pastor is adamant that there are only personal spiritual forces.

  • Dan Knight

    Is Hamlet evil? Hamlet meets his Father’s ghost, condemned to walk the night due to an untimely death.

    Rarely is it mentioned that the Ghost is condemned because the murderer cuts him down in his sins. Therefore he was unable to confess and make an atonement to God to amend his sins. This is so Catholic, some suspect Shakespeare was a closet Catholic.

    But if the Ghost is condemned, was Shakespeare a heretic? After all, this Ghost is no teaching of the Church. Indeed, the Bard seems to be channeling his inner, future Spiritualist.

    No, the Bard’s not a heretic. All hyperventilating aside, the Ghost appears out of that religion we call – Artistic License. The Bard put the story in Denmark to attenuate any possible hard feelings that might have arisen if someone thought the Ghost, or Hamlet’s uncle was a real figure.

    The ghost of Hamlet’s father is no more than a Deux Ex Machina (God in the Machine). As with Secular Animism, where life, the universe, and kleptocratic politics emanates from the crystals and the energy lines, Hamlet’s ghost delivers to Hamlet knowledge he cannot get – because there wasn’t any forensic crime shows four hundred years ago.

    Does Star Wars abuse Artistic License? I don’t see how.

    Star Wars isn’t on par with Hamlet but we cannot cast out Lucas for The Force, and give the Bard a pass on The Ghost. These are plot devices, and without them the stories jam.

    Indeed, my complaint is more the other way round – why give Lucas a pass and cast out the Bard?

    Star Wars is escapist fiction.

    Hamlet on the other hand is a great opportunity to discuss murder, revenge, sin, guilt, and several types of love from a Christian point of view. Removing Shakespeare from our schools has robbed our culture, language, and literature. It’s the Abomination of Desecration of English by the English Lit Departments: It is the literary equivalent of ethnic cleansing or ‘man-made’ disasters. Pardon the euphemisms.

  • Zander Le Mort

    this wasn´t really necesery

  • Mohammed Elijah Powerbomb

    This is something I never gave serious thought to. Why do people even Christians love seeing people getting slain in pain for even when its scripted? This is the moral decay of earthlings.