A VIRTUAL DIALOGUE ON RELIGION, FAITH AND BELIEF: with George Lucas and John Paul II
VATICAN CITY/SKYWALKER RANCH, MAY 21 (ZENIT).- At midnight Wednesday, May
19, thousands attended the long awaited release of the Star Wars Prequel:
Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, which has already broken records and
continues to bring in what some estimate will be the largest box office
income in history, not to mention profits from licensing everything from
laser toys to hamburger promotions.
By now the main elements of the original trilogy have become household
words and are also found in the new movie. The "Force" is obviously with
little Anakin Skywalker throughout the plot as he seeks to balance the
cosmic forces in order to save humanity. Myth and faith, belief and
self-control are mixed and mingled and often interchanged in what some
critics have called a "pseudo-religious" drama and "Zen Lite."
Halfway across the globe, on the very same day, tens of thousands gathered
under the early morning Roman sun for another global event. Here there was
no one donning laser swords or Darth Vader outfits. In fact, there was not
even the slightest mention of the "world premiere," actually limited only
to the U.S., among those gathered for the occasion. For these people it was
They had come to the weekly general audience of John Paul II to listen to
the leader of over 1 billion Catholics exhort them to live their faith,
mature in their beliefs and to deepen their prayer life in the tradition of
centuries of mystics and saints. Nothing lite or pseudo-religious here. And
yet, several of the themes and topics discussed had more than a few things
in common with the underlying contents of the new movie just released on
the other side of the world.
Call it destiny or cosmic coincidence, but the fact is that the parallels
are uncanny and impossible to ignore. The Vatican of course issued no
public statement or press release on the Pope's opinion of the new addition
to the Star Wars series, and there was no featured movie review in the
L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
That doesn't rule out that the Pope will eventually watch the sci-fi
thriller, as he has the first three, or even add a copy to his already
immense videoteca which includes originals of recent works such as
"Schindler's List," "The Prince of Egypt" and "Life is Beautiful," as well
as two of his own plays written before he was elected Pope that have been
made into full-length movies.
So, given the fact that a face-to-face encounter is something that seems
hard to imagine in the near future, we have decided to take a page from the
same world of virtual reality that made the movie possible and, using the
digital method of "cut & paste," we'd like to present an imaginary dialogue
between George Lucas and Karol Woytila about religion, faith and belief.
No, we are not making this up. While the encounter never actually occurred,
all the words are very real indeed. Lucas' words have been selected from an
interview with Bill Moyers published in the April 26 edition of Time
Magazine on the "Theology of Star Wars" and the words of the Pope have been
translated directly from the original text of the general audience on May
19 mentioned above.
While this dialogue may not get morphed into any upcoming edition of the
remaining two movies of the Star Wars trilogy, at least it might serve as
food for thought for the rest of us, too often "spiritual aliens."
MOYERS: Is one religion as good as another?
LUCAS: I would say so. Religion is basically a container for faith. And
faith in our culture, our world and on a larger issue, the mystical level
-- which is God, what one might describe as a supernatural, or the things
that we can't explain -- is a very important part of what allows us to
remain stable, remain balanced. (...) I see Star Wars as taking all the
issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more
modern and easily accessible construct -- that there is a greater mystery
out there. I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, "If
there's 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 the
religions are true. (...) I think there is a God. No question. What that
God is or what we know about that God, I'm not sure.
JOHN PAUL II: The Acts of the Apostles offers us Paul's discourse to the
Athenians which is very appropriate for the religious pluralism of our
time. In order to present the God of Jesus Christ, Paul takes advantage of
the religiousness of his listeners with words of appreciation: "Athenian
citizens, I see that you are very religious. In fact, as I walked among
your sacred monuments, I came upon an altar with the inscription: 'To the
unknown God.' What you adore without knowing, I have come to announce to
you." (Acts 17:22-23)
At the foundation of the Church's encounter with world religions is the
discernment of their specific character, or the way in which they approach
the mystery of a Saving God, the definitive Reality of human life. Every
religion presents itself as a search for salvation which proposes
itineraries in order to reach that goal (CCC.843). One of the suppositions
of this dialogue is the certainty that man, created in God's image, is also
the privileged "place" of his salvific presence.
MOYERS: Some people have traced the notion of the 'Force' to Eastern views
of God -- particularly Buddhist -- as a vast reservoir of energy that is
the ground of all of our being. Was that conscious?
LUCAS: I guess it's more specific in Buddhism, but it is a notion that's
been around before that. When I wrote the first Star Wars, I had to come up
with a whole cosmology: What do people believe in? I had to do something
that was relevant, something that imitated a belief system that has been
around for thousands of years, and that most people on the planet, one way
or another, have some kind of connection to. I didn't want to invent a
religion. I wanted to try to explain in a different way the religions that
have already existed. I wanted to express it all. (...) I put the Force
into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in
young people -- more a belief in God than a belief in any particular
religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to
ask questions about the mystery.
JOHN PAUL II: Certain practices originating from the great oriental
religions are especially attractive to contemporary man. To these,
Christians should apply a spiritual discernment so as never to lose from
sight the concept of prayer as it is illustrated in the Bible throughout
the whole history of salvation. This necessary discernment does not impede
Then there is theological dialogue in which experts try to deepen their
understanding of each others' religious heritage and to appreciate their
spiritual values. Nevertheless, encounters among specialists of different
religions shouldn't limit themselves to look simply for a minimum common
denominator. They have the final goal of lending a courageous service to
truth, highlighting both points of mutual agreement as well as fundamental
differences, in a sincere effort to overcome prejudice and misunderstandings."
MOYERS: One scholar has called Star Wars "mysticism for the masses." You've
been accused of trivializing religion, promoting religion with no strings
LUCAS: That's why 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. (...) When the film came out,
almost every single religion took Star Wars and used it as an example of
their religion; they were able to relate it to stories in the Bible, in the
Koran and in the Torah.
JOHN PAUL II: Prayer, as an adoring acknowledgement of God, gratitude for
his gifts, imploring his help, is a special means of encounter, above all
in those religions which, even though they have not yet discovered the
fatherhood of God, nevertheless "have, in a certain sense, their hands
outstretched to heaven" (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 53). Nevertheless,
it is more difficult to establish dialogue with certain contemporary
religiousness, in which prayer is reduced to the increase of a vital force,
which substitutes salvation.
MOYERS: In authentic religion, doesn't it take Kierkegaard's leap of faith?
LUCAS: Yes, yes. Definitely. You'll notice Luke uses that quite a bit
through the film -- not to rely on pure logic, not to rely on the
computers, but to rely on faith. That is what that "Use the Force" is, a
leap of faith. There are mysteries and powers larger than we are, and you
have to trust your feelings in order to access them.
JOHN PAUL II: Dialogue about religious experience is also becoming ever
more important. The exercise of contemplation responds to a growing thirst
for interiority which is indicative of persons with spiritual desire and
helps believers to deepen their understanding of the mystery of God.
Nevertheless, mysticism can never be invoked in favor of religious
relativism, in the name of an experience which diminishes the value of
God's revelation in history.
MOYERS: You're creating a new myth?
LUCAS: With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the
classic mythological motifs. I wanted to use those motifs to deal with
issues that exist today. The more research I did, the more I realized that
the issues are the same ones that existed 3,000 years ago. That we haven't
come very far emotionally. (...) Myths tell us these old stories in a way
that doesn't threaten us. They're in an imaginary land where you can be
safe. But they deal with real truths that need to be told. Sometimes the
truths are so painful that stories are the only way you can get through to
them psychologically. (...) I'm telling an old myth in a new way. (...) I
guess I'm localizing it for the end of the millennium more than I am for
any particular place.
JOHN PAUL II: ...Christian truth allows the spiritual, moral and
social-cultural values found in [other religions] to advance. (...) As
disciples of Christ we feel the urgency and the joy to witness that
precisely in him God has manifested himself, as the Gospel of St. John
tells us: "No one has ever seen God: it is the only Son, who is in the
bosom of the Father, who has revealed him" (Jn. 1:18).
This witness should be given without any fear, but also with the conviction
that the action of Christ and of his Spirit is already mysteriously present
in all those who live their own religious experience sincerely. The Church,
together with all truly religious people, continues its pilgrimage through
history towards the eternal contemplation of God in the splendor of his glory.
Tomorrow: The Mystery Man behind the Myth of Star Wars