Pantheism’s Finest Hour

In May of 1980 George Lucas released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to his 1977 breakout hit Star Wars. The film is often regarded as the best of the Star Wars films, coming in at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, and ranking as the thirteenth highest-rated movie on IMDB’s top 250. The film contains some of the most memorable and iconic scenes in film history. Among these is the training of Luke Skywalker by Jedi Master Yoda:

“Feel the force around you”
The Force is a consistent theme throughout the Star Wars series. But what is it? Yoda says of the Force, “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.” From Yoda’s description, it is clear that the Force is not personal. Rather, it is an energy that binds all things together. It is a life force breathing through all things.

Broadly speaking, for those who follow pantheism or “New Spirituality” (our term encompassing pantheism, Buddhism, New Age, spiritualism, etc.), everyone and everything is god. Ultimately, we are not individuals, but rather part of a divine oneness that binds us all together.1 Part of our problem, according to this view, is that we are not enlightened enough to see this truth.2 Indeed, Luke Skywalker is incapable of lifting his X-wing out of the swamp because he does not understand his interconnectedness with all things. As Yoda says, “You must feel the Force around you.”

This same theme is carried on throughout the whole Star Wars series right into the latest installment, The Last Jedi. In this scene, an aged Luke is now the teacher helping Rey to learn about the Force:

Rey learns that the same force that runs between and connects life, death, warmth, cold, peace, and violence is also inside of her, and it is all in balance.

For Jedi, the Force is something that they can harness, that they can use. It is Yoda’s ally. New Spiritualists believe much the same. They argue that “We must harness the potential within ourselves. We must ‘reach out with [our] feelings’ and know that we are one with all things. Once we realize that we are really god, part of this great life force, our potential is unlimited.”

“Not this crude matter”
For New Spiritualists, human nature is ultimately divine. Our material bodies are only manifestations of our true spiritual nature.3 As Yoda says, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” A key tenet of New Spiritualist thinking is the denial, rejection, or discounting of the material world. The material world, and all that goes with it (including pain and suffering), is an illusion. What matters is to get in touch with higher consciousness.

In a world where we have been taught that we are nothing more than machines, animals, or just another cog in the wheel that keeps spinning, the New Spiritualist worldview holds out some appeal. It offers us the chance to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It seems at first to provide meaning and purpose. But does it?

C. S. Lewis (in a quote attributed to Martin Luther), says that humanity is like a drunken man who falls off his horse on the right side only to get back up and fall off the horse on the left side. Humans never seem to be able to stay in the saddle.4 Reacting against the materialistic worldview, many Westerners are drawn to the New Spiritualist movement. This new reality appears to offer meaning: we are connected to everything, we are one with each other, one with the earth. It is not the material world that matters, but our spiritual lives.

Instead of minimizing the spiritual, New Spiritualists minimize the material. However, by denying the importance or existence of a material world, we have only fallen off the other side of the horse. We are left with a worldview that fails to account for all of reality, that fails to account for physical pain and suffering, and ultimately that fails to account for personality in a satisfying manner. In the end, according to New Spirituality, when we all recognize our divinity, everyone will be absorbed back into the divine oneness. Individuality will disappear.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, affirms the existence of the spiritual world without denying the material world. Christians see God as personal, separate from his creation, and yet intimately involved in the world. He is not something that can be used or harnessed.

Furthermore, in Christianity all humans are connected, not by being god, but because all humans are made in the image of God. Contrary to what is popularly believed, Christianity celebrates the diversity in human beings. It is not that our personalities will be absorbed into one impersonal life; rather, our natures will be transformed into the image of Christ while each person retains their individual characteristics. Humans are made to be like God, but not to become God.

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Ben Keiser

Ben Keiser is a writer, teacher, and student of theology, whose chief interests include biblical theology of heaven and earth, C. S. Lewis, and early Christianity in the first three centuries. Ben has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He resides in Colorado where you can often find him hiking in the mountains.