Ancient Star Wars Philosophy

© Waldemarblut | Dreamstime.com - Star Wars Photo

© Waldemarblut | Dreamstime.com – Star Wars Photo

Christians are familiar with how the body metaphor communicates the unity in diversity that believers have in Christ. The apostle Paul used it repeatedly in his writings to communicate the unity in diversity within the body of Christ, as in Romans 12:4–5: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” It seems that Paul used an idea that already existed within ancient Greek and Roman philosophy to communicate the Christian gospel to them. In his work Coriolanus, the historian Plutarch attributed the origin of the body metaphor to a Roman aristocrat, Menenius Agrippa.

In the 5th century BC, the plebian lower class of Rome was on the verge of a revolt because of the callous treatment they received from upper class Roman money-lenders. In a mass protest, the plebes left Rome and encamped on the Sacred Mount. The Roman Senate sent a diplomatic team, led by Menenius Agrippa. He concluded his gentle requests and persuasions with the following tale.

All the members of man’s body rebelled against the stomach. They complained that it did nothing for the maintenance of the rest of the body. But “all other parts and members did labour painfully, and were very careful, to satisfy the appetites and desires of the body.” The stomach laughed at their folly and said: “It is true, I first receive all meats that nourish man’s body: but afterwards I send it again to the nourishment of other parts of the same.” So it was with the Senate: “The Senators are cause of the common commodity that cometh unto every one of you.”

These words and the promise of political changes pacified the plebes, who returned to the city. And so the revolt was averted. The Plebes returned to fight in the Roman armies; and the rest is, as they say, “history.”

Stoic philosophy, which was popular during the time of Paul’s preaching, also applied the imagery of head and body to God and the universe. John Thom in The Dictionary of New Testament Background described Stoic theology “as a monistic and materialistic pantheism, in which God permeates all of nature, from the cosmos as a whole down to the most lowly physical object.” Nothing existed outside of the world and its material principles.

God is an immanent ordering and creative principle that is present in all things as fine, fiery substance or pneuma, which gives everything its form and internal cohesion. God is also an active principle or reason (logos) that acts upon matter. “Since all of nature is imbued with the universal reason (logos), all events form part of a goal-directed rational process  … nothing is left to chance.” Everything is providentially arranged. There is a season and a time for everything.

Happiness was found in attaining one’s goal as a human being, which Diogenes Laertius said was: “to live in agreement with nature.” This meant people were to live in agreement with their rational nature as well as the nature of the universe. Stoic happiness did not depend upon attaining positive things like health and wealth, but on making the right choices to attain them. “Happiness therefore depends on what is in our power (i.e., making rational choices) and not on things beyond our power (i.e., attaining wealth or being healthy).”

A choice was right only if it was made consciously and for the right reasons. There was only a right or a wrong judgment; there are no intermediate possibilities. So two identical actions could be valued differently, depending upon the person’s motivation in performing the action. “Only the truly wise person is able to make the right judgments and thus perform correct and virtuous actions, but Stoics admitted that there are very few, if any, truly wise people.”

Everything in nature was rationally and providentially arranged. “The wise person therefore accepts his or her fate willingly without trying to resist, because it is at the same time the divine will and providence.” The Stoics denied that this was determinism. Even if the individual could not change what was fated, they still had the freedom to accept their fate voluntarily or be forced to submit to it.

The Force in the Star Wars movies seems to be a modernized version of the Stoic Logos. There was also a Dark Side to the Stoic universe. Universal purpose and design was offset with chaos. Destruction and devastation seems to frequently overrun purpose and design. The universe could often be a dangerous place. Thus the Stoic’s call to align with the natural order, the Logos. We might say that Stoics were exhorted to “use the force” of the Logos to overcome the darkness of uncertainty.

The major distinction between Stoicism and Christianity is the pantheism of Stoic thought, where the universe was God: “For there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law, one common Reason of all intelligent creatures and one Truth.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

In Christianity, the transcendent God created the universe: “In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-13)


Walking in Beauty

© Guoqiangxue | Dreamstime.com - Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park At Sunrise Photo

© Guoqiangxue | Dreamstime.com – Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park At Sunrise Photo

Aligning your will with the Logos of nature, discovering your place in the natural order, is a common theme in many philosophies and religions. One such example is the Navajo sense of hózhó. I first became aware of this Navajo concept when I read a mystery novel by Tony Hillerman, The Blessing Way. I’ve read through the series twice and think I may do it a third time. The stories were always told within the context of some aspect of Navajo culture, which I’ve come to deeply respect.

In the Navajo language there is no word for religion, but hózhó comes closest. Hózhó defines the essence of Navajo thought and is their basic value concept. The term is often translated as: “it is pleasant, beautiful or blessed.” It expresses a combination of concepts in English such as: beauty, perfection, harmony, goodness, normality, success, well-being, blessedness, order, and ideal. Every aspect of traditional Navajo life, secular and spiritual, is related to hózhó.

The Navajo believe the universe is “an orderly, all-inclusive, unitary system of inter-related elements.” A universal continuum ranges from the tiniest insect, being or power; to the largest and most powerful, such as the great mountains that set the boundaries for the Navajo country or the thunder and lightening that crash above them. This all-inclusive universe contains evil as well as good. This is not an abstract sense of evil, but the complement to what is hózhó in all things—controlled, harmonious, orderly. Evil is then what is uncontrolled, unharmonious, disorderly in all things. “Every human being, no matter how good in life, has an evil component.”  Evil and danger come from disturbances in the natural order or balance in the universe.

Similar to the principle of reciprocity, hózhó governs Navajo relations with many elements of the universe, including other humans. So injury for injury, sickness for misbehavior, and favor for favor will set things right. this sense of reciprocity echoes the teaching of “an eye for an eye” in Leviticus 24:17. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus noted how reciprocity was used to justify returning evil for evil, but then restated it in a way similar to the concept of hózhó: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

The Navajo ceremonial system, which is aimed at the restoration of universal harmony, ritualizes this principle of reciprocity. A ceremony or “sing” is conducted by a hataalii or “singer.” Singers often apprentice with older experts for long time periods. The following is the closing prayer from the “Navajo Way” Blessing Ceremony:

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

Navajos believe in a Creator, a formless spiritual force that is the source of all life. When Navajos pray to this almighty Force, they address the evidence of its powers: the sun, the wind, etc. The traditional Navajo way can be described as “life itself, the land, and well–being.” All living things—people, plants, animals, mountains, and even the Earth itself—are relatives. Each has its own spirit or inner form, which gives it life and purpose within the orderly, interconnected universe. Like the ancient Stoics, the purpose of Navajo life is to maintain balance between the individual and the universe; to live in harmony with nature and the Creator.

Regrettably, the union extolled here seems to be a pantheistic one, where everything in existence merges into God. As Charles Hodge noted in his Systematic Theology, God exists as the universe in pantheism: “All is God.” All reason is his reason; all activity is his activity. Good and evil, pain and pleasure, are equally phenomena of God; “modes in which God reveals himself, the way in which He passes from Being into Existence.” He is not then a person; someone we can trust. God is merely the substance by which the universe and all it contains manifests its eternal transformation. Finding your place within the natural order, striving to walk in beauty, does recognize a beauty and purpose within the creation, but ultimately that is lost in the pantheistic union with God.

The wisdom teaching of Ecclesiastes seems to be a point of contact in Christianity with hózhó. We see this in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” And again in Ecclesiastes 3:1ff: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  Yet in the end, the path walked in beauty by the Navajo will diverge from that of the Christian. For the hózhó of the followers of Christ is to “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:13)