Is the Force . . . God?

{Q} Can the Force from Star Wars be interpreted as God?

Well, to paraphrase Bill Murray: “Maybe a god.  Not the God.”

And our understanding of this hypothetical Force-god is, as Yoda might put it, “always in motion.”[1]  This was actually George Lucas’s precise intention: to be imprecise.

I would hesitate to call the Force God.  It’s designed primarily to make young people think about the mystery.  Not to say, “Here’s the answer.”  It’s to say, Think about this for a second.  Is there a God?  What does God look like?  What does God sound like?  What does God feel like?  How do we relate to God?  Just getting young people to think at that level is what I’ve been trying to do in the films.  What eventual manifestation that takes place in terms of how they describe their God, what form their faith takes, is not the point of the movie.[2]

In drafting the original Star Wars, Lucas drew upon various concepts of the supernatural because he

wanted to “awaken a certain kind of spirituality” in young audiences, suggesting a belief in God without endorsing any specific religion.  He developed the Force as a nondenominational religious concept, “distill[ed from] the essence of all religions,” premised on the existence of God and distinct ideas of good and evil.  Lucas said that there is a conscious choice between good and bad, and “the world works better if you’re on the good side.” . . . In 1970s San Francisco, where Lucas lived when he wrote the drafts that became Star Wars, New Age ideas that incorporated the concept of qi and other notions of a mystical life-force were “in the air” and widely embraced. [Wikipedia: “The Force” (Emphasis mine)]

This hodgepodge approach, though well-intentioned, was guaranteed to generate incoherence—reflecting Lucas’s own shallow view of religion:

“I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, ‘If there is only one God, why are there so many religions?’  I’ve been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that all religions are true.”[3]

This notion, though quite popular, is simply untrue because it contradicts reality: the world’s religions and philosophies do not share the same conception of “God.”  They contradict each other at key points, despite having a lot of overlap when it comes to ethics.  Indeed, saying “all religions are true” sounds, on the surface, like one is being positive toward all faiths—but actually it’s quite thoughtless and disrespectful, because it refuses to let religions speak for themselves.

In any case, when Lucas finalized what came to be subtitled A New Hope, he managed to evade that philosophical quagmire by distilling his pseudoreligious idea down to something that wasn’t contradictory:

“The Force is . . . an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us.  It binds the galaxy together.”

“Use the Force, Luke.”

These words of Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker (from two separate scenes) are foundational, because they were the world’s introduction to the Force.  And the old Jedi has immediately ruled out the Force being identified with the God:

As a Christian, one who believes in a righteous and sovereign Creator, I’ve never had a problem with Obi-Wan’s bare-bones explanation, because the notion of a manipulable energy field doesn’t conflict with the God of the Bible.  Characters in the Original Trilogy never refer to the Force as some kind of deity.  Calling it an “energy field” implies that it’s just another part of the natural realm, mysterious though it may be.  If a Christian or a Jew were to show up in the Star Wars realm, they would say that God created this “energy field,” just as He created gravity, electricity, or magnetic fields.

On the other hand, three other characters—none of whom, presumably, knows anything about the Force—manage to inject some spirituality into A New Hope: Han Solo, Admiral Motti, and Governor Tarkin all refer to belief in the Force as a “religion.”  We could maybe put this down to their misunderstanding of the Force and Force-users, but in the real world nobody refers to the mysteries of physics—like energy fields—as “religion,” despite the fact that the average person certainly doesn’t understand that realm.  So, perhaps there really is a religious dimension to the Force.

Obi-Wan himself hints at this when he says that Darth “Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force.”  This partly contradicts his explanation of the Force in the same conversation: if the Force is an “energy field,” why does it have a “dark” side and a “light” side?  I mean, we don’t talk this way about electricity or magnetism, right?  Categories like “dark” and “light” would seem to involve character traits and moral values—meaning the Force would have to be more than just an energy field.  Perhaps a “god” of sorts.

It occurs to me that if the Force is “created by all living things,” then maybe we should expect it to manifest the character traits of some of those living things:

The light side of the Force was the facet aligned with compassion, selflessness, self-knowledge and enlightenment, healing, mercy and benevolence, while the dark side of the Force was the element aligned with hatred, fear, covetousness, anger, aggression, jealousy and malevolence.[4]

If this is a “god,” it sure doesn’t strike me as inspiring devotion or worship.  With a mixture of light and darkness, and with Force-users fighting each other, the Force is obviously at odds with itself—which certainly doesn’t line up with the God of the Bible:

  • “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.” (1 John 1:5)
  • “You [God] are good and do only good” (Psalm 119:68).
  • “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who . . . never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

The Bible’s portrayal of God is that He’s utterly self-consistent; never at odds with Himself.  This doesn’t mean He’s only “positive” or “happy” all the time; nor does it mean that His dealings with humans can’t change in response to changing circumstances.  It means that His character and standards never change.

And it’s literally impossible for some of God’s servants to pursue a good agenda (like the Jedi), while others are pursuing an evil agenda (like the Sith).  God never wills His people to carry out an agenda that’s at odds with itself: “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14)

Luke Skywalker pursues a similar redemption for Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, which he tries to get across to Princess Leia: “there is good in him.  I’ve felt it.  He won’t turn me over to the Emperor.  I can save him.  I can turn him back to the good side.  I have to try.”

With the 1999 release of the prequel The Phantom Menace, we discovered that Luke’s effort to restore Vader was actually “the will of the Force.”  Yet of all the many Jedi knights we see in the prequel trilogy, it’s only Qui-Gon Jinn who mentions this idea, so either he has a view of the Force that his fellow Jedi consider unorthodox—or, far more likely, George Lucas just hadn’t thought this through.

Nor, apparently, has Qui-Gon, who informs both a young Anakin Skywalker and the movie audience that there’s another previously unrevealed factor at play here:

Without the [microscopic life-forms] midi-chlorians, life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of the Force.  They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force.  When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.

Evidently, Qui-Gon’s own apprentice at the time—Obi-Wan Kenobi—never bought into his master’s point of view, because when he explains the Force to Luke years later, it’s nothing like what Qui-Gon had told Anakin.  Likewise, Yoda tells Luke nothing of “midi-chlorians” while training Skywalker on Dagobah.

What’s more, the notion of microscopic life-forms acting as a biological interface between sentient species and the Force would seem to rob the Force of anything supernatural.  “The draw of the concept of the Force in the Original Trilogy is that it comes across as a low-maintenance religion,” writes Evan Narcisse.  But with the introduction of midi-chlorians,

the mechanisms of the Force became less spiritual and more scientific.  Major bummer. . . . “Midi-chlorians” take all the comparative religion ideas, all the quasi-mythological essences that churn at the core of Star Wars and turn them into easily quantifiable biology.[5]

Perhaps Lucas should’ve left well enough alone before he scripted the prequels, because now he’s got us hung up between a version of the Force that people use, like any other tool in the natural realm, and a version of the Force that has its own agenda, pitting Jedi against Sith.  If we try to put all of this together in a unified package, it means that, bizarrely, the Force’s “will” is to allow itself to be used as a tool by both good-doers and evildoers.

Yeah, that’s a weird “god.”

Yet instead of perceiving the absurdity of this concept, Qui-Gon treats the Force like an authoritative god whom the Jedi ought to obey: “Finding [Anakin] was the will of the Force.  I have no doubt of that. . . . He is the Chosen One—you must see it.”[6]

Lyra Erso expresses a similar outlook in Rogue One, when she says goodbye to her daughter Jyn and urges her to “trust the Force.”  For the life of me, I can’t fathom the basis for that advice: how in the galaxy has this schizophrenic Force shown itself to be trustworthy?

Nonetheless, another Rogue One character, Chirrut Îmwe, asserts the strongest, most overt religious sentiment toward the Force in the entire Star Wars saga when he declares: “I fear nothing.  For all is as the Force wills it.”  This crucial statement, even more than Qui-Gon’s words, really takes us into “God territory”: Chirrut is saying that the Force sovereignly decrees literally everything that happens.[7]

But why in all the worlds does a sovereign Force decree that the Sith manipulate it for countless atrocities over the course of thousands of years?  And why are the Jedi themselves taught to “use” the Force as if it were merely a tool?  And how could the Force, if it is sovereign over the universe (or at least the Star Wars galaxy), become “imbalanced” so that the Jedi 

were keen to keep the Force “in balance”[?]  They attempted to achieve this by destroying the Sith and denying the dark side, essentially “keeping balance” by restoring the Force to its natural state, as they viewed the dark side as corrupt.[8]

And since dark-siders consistently do evil—why would anyone want a “balance” between the light and the dark?  Wouldn’t the Jedi seek pure light?  Why do some Force-users, like Qui-Gon and Chirrut, hold the contradictory beliefs that the Force is corrupted (imbalanced) yet still sovereign and worthy to be trusted and obeyed?  If the Force has been corrupted and is at odds with itself, how can anyone know its true will?  How can they know they’re not being deceived?

And why don’t the various Star Wars writers have characters in the saga entertain such thorny questions, leading to a coherent, more believable model of the Force???[9]

Since the famous Star Wars mantra, “May the Force be with you,” is similar to the ancient Christian blessing Dominus vobiscum”—“The Lord be with you,” I can’t help but wonder: What if old Ben Kenobi had embraced some of the teachings we find in the Bible? . . . If he had, I like to imagine that his pivotal conversation with Luke might’ve gone something like this:

Ben: “You must learn the ways of the Source, if you’re going to help me save the galaxy.”

Luke: “The ‘Source’?”

Ben: “The Source is the invisible Power that energizesnot only the Jedi, but everyone and everything else.  All the planets and their various lifeforms—indeed, the entire cosmos—everything was created by Him and for HimIn Him we live and move and have our very being, and in him all things hold together.”

Luke: “Can he be trusted?”

Ben: “If you place yourself in His hands . . . the Source will be with you.  Always.”


More food for thought:

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