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On Religion, chapter 3: The Force Be with You

March 25, 2007

On ReligionThis is part of a series of posts detailing my thoughts on On Religion by John Caputo, a book read in preparation for the Emergent Village Theological Philosophical Conversation.

The unfortunate problems of chapter 2 extend into chapter 3. If one has not bought Caputo’s arguments for the unique convergence of the secular and the sacred in the postmodern milieu, his springboard for chapter 3 becomes muted at best. Luckily, his interpretation of people as cyber-spirits and his discussion of the religious themes in Star Wars are both fascinating even if one has not taken a leap of faith on his periodization of history. His thesis is to explain how religion has evolved in our postmodern era; and while some might argue with his examples, his cultural analysis is at least intriguing.

The premise for Caputo’s discussion of cyber-spirits is predicated on the fact that modernity could never have predicted the world in which we live. How is it that the most affluent and technologically savvy society in history could still believe in God? Caputo opines that our cyber-culture has weakened the distinction between the real and unreal. We can go to virtual stores and purchase real books. Some of us consider people close friends we’ve never met and can only identify by an obviously pseudonymous nick. In an era when even a modestly budgeted film can contain CGI the categories of possible and impossible blur, and it is this blurring that Caputo seems to see as explaining the prevalence of religion in our technological age.

But before completing his historical tale and bring home the overarching moral, Caputo takes us to a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away. A place filled with mystical power, and a lot of CGI. While anyone nursed at Lucas’ mythological teat will notice the odd problem with Caputo’s facts, his analysis is largely spot on. Lucas takes Campbell and runs it through Asimov and came up with one of the greatest epics of modern times. Caputo’s point is that religion adapts. His religious ideals of being slightly unhinged, motivated by selfless devotion come through in his analysis of Star Wars; and it provides probably the best contemporary analog yet for religion without religion. With the Force, the impossible is possible.

However, the truth is that the Force provides only a religion without God. It still is a religious system with a dedicated creedal system, a strict hierarchy and definitive delineations of the sacred and profane. Only those who know the force can enter the Temple. Only those deemed worthy, adept and teachable may become Jedi. It is still, in short, a religion. But I’m getting ahead of myself in my critique of Caputo. For I, like him, am keeping my cards close to my chest till the game is over.

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