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Date: Sun, 30 May 1999
Movie Review -- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
From: Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
**Warning, contains some minor spoilers**
Northrup Buechner wrote:
>Modern intellectuals have been using technology
>for a long time to attack everything on which
>technology depends. Here it is on the level of
>But I think there is a deeper lesson here. Most
>of us thought that "the force" was a harmless
>piece of whimsy in otherwise imaginative and
>entertaining movies. But we were fools.
I think saying we were fools is a bit of an overstatement. "The
force" as mystical yet dependent upon movies which rely on the
best available technology has been an issue since day one of the
"Star Wars" legacy. I used to think "the force" was Lucas' way
of expressing the "benevolent universe" premise in spite of the
explicit mysticism. I still think that to some degree. It's
interesting in "The Phantom Menace" that "the force" is actually
rendered *less* mystical, in that it relies on a symbiotic
relationship between the cells of ones body and some microscopic
"bugs" that give one added abilities (including heightened
reflexes, more stamina, and better contact with "the force"). If
George Lucas is a mystic at his base, he is a rank amateur. One
doesn't convey mysticism by making super detailed computer
renditions of actors and scenes, nor by making "the force"
biological, nor by creating Industrial Light and Magic!
The best aspect of the new "Star Wars" movie is the utter
benevolence of young Anikin Skywalker, who barely knows about
"the force." He is portrayed as a child who doesn't expect to
get hurt, even while racing in a chariot behind two jet engines
or getting unexpectedly caught up in a space battle high in
orbit. If Anikin is turned to "the dark side" in some future
episode by taking pride in his accomplishments, that will be a
dreadful turn of events, but we've seen it before, so it's
I think what is new (at least in this century) is the attempt at
"integrating" mysticism and science as if the two are merely
different aspects of the same metaphysics. This comes from Kant,
but Kant knew what he was doing -- his "followers" (modern movie
makers), don't know what the heck they are doing. Notice in his
writings that Kant never makes references to any facts -- there
are **no** facts in his philosophy whatsoever. Yet, in movies
such as "Star Wars" and especially in movies such as "The
Matrix," one is expected to "get the message" that reality isn't
real (or we can't perceive existence as it really is) in the
most perceptual means possible (high grade special effects,
digital sound, etc.).
A reliance on the perceptually self-evident cannot lead to
If modern movie makers were serious about
their reported message, they'd stop making movies and go live in
some wilderness somewhere and not try to convince anyone of
anything. To the contrary, "Star Wars" inspired a generation to
go into high technology fields, such as computers, aeronautics,
and robotics. I don't know of anyone who was inspired to go to
church based on these movies, probably because ardent
church-goers know that the way to God is *not* through technology.
Bottom line is that ideas have to be taken seriously, even in
popular movies, but these ideas are generally confused and
haphazard and are not the message one gets by enjoying the
movie. What one gets from "Star Wars" is a sense of adventure
and a moral perspective on existence. One may disagree with the
explicitly stated morality -- or its mystical base -- but "Star
Wars" has clearly defined heroes and villains, which is
difficult to get these days.
I certainly wish I could go see benevolent science-fiction that
has no mystical base whatsoever, but these aren't made any
longer, so I'll go see "Star Wars" to get some spiritual fuel to
fight the phantom menace, Immanuel Kant.
Date: Tue, 1 Jun 1999 19:35:54 -0400 (EDT)
The Phantom Menace and Mysticism
Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
><Thomas Miovas: A reliance on the perceptually self-evident
>cannot lead to full-blown mysticism.>
><HB: Yes it can: Kant and the Bible rely on your reading
>their books with your eyes; older "prophets" relied on
>your hearing with your ears. The fact that reason and
>technology created the means of Lucas expressing mysticism
>is only an implicit contradiction, not one that would stop
>anyone from being influenced to be mystical.>
I agree with Mark's point in the previous post that the mystic
cannot be consistent and has to rely on reason to some extent
or he won't survive, but I was trying to make a different point.
I think to the extent that "mystical ideas" are presented in a
concretized form -- in art, especially movies -- they are
rendered non-mystical. What I have in mind is the presentation
in the movie "Stargate" of Ra (the Egyptian god) being an alien
who took over a human body, and who derives his powers from an
advanced technology. That is, Ra is presented as something who
follows causal law, he just has greater abilities than man. I
don't think there's anything mystical about this, and because of
that, if there were any followers of Ra still alive, they'd be
screaming their bloody heads off to have Ra depicted in that
manner -- and rightly so, because it renders him in a form that
is non-godlike (the drawings and sculptures of Ra in Ancient
Egypt are symbolic, not renditions of what Ra really was).
Similar examples can be found in most modern science fiction.
Some people think the movie "The Matrix" depicted a Kantian
universe, but I think Kant would disagree. The matrix was not
Kant's Noumena -- it couldn't be, because Kant's Noumena can
never be rendered in terms the human mind can understand, let
alone be rendered in a form that can be perceived by man.
The whole trick of the mystics is not that one has to read their
words or hear their voices -- these are merely visual / auditory
symbols in a concrete form -- the trick is that they come up
with floating abstractions *that can not be concretized*. To the
extend one has to use one's senses to "get the message" is not
what they are relying on -- they are relying on the listener
suspending his consciousness. I think this is the flip side of
Galt's statement (from memory) that the mystic considers *your
mind* to be the awesome power he is deathly afraid of. He is
afraid you will try to concretize his psuedo-abstractions, thus
rendering them impotent qua mysticism -- and thus he will lose
his control over you.
As a historic example of this point, remember the early Catholic
Church forbade any artistic renderings of God or his powers.
This was done so they could continue to maintain the idea of God
in the form of a floating abstraction. If all you have is the
Bible, with no other references, one is reduced to having to
have a *belief* in God, rather than a knowledge of his
existence. And this lead to the Dark Ages.
It took Thomas Aquinas to make the argument that God gave man
his senses so man could *perceive* His creation. Though this
eventually lead to the Renaissance, the Church was still very
much against the depiction of God in a form that could be
understood by the mind of man -- especially in the perceptual
form of man, because they knew that if God could be perceived by
man, the gig was up.
When Kant stepped in to save religion (i.e. mysticism), he used
every trick in the book to rip a gap between knowledge and the
Fortunately, we have Ayn Rand and Objectivism, which clearly
shows that knowledge does come from sensory perception, and that
the primary purpose of art is to concretize abstractions.
So, to present my argument a different way, so long as one can
point to a concretized abstraction and say "This is what I mean
by Ra (or God or the Noumena)," to that extent, it is no longer
mystical. While it may not actually exist in reality, it becomes
the product of a warped imagination, rather than the "product"
of a "mystical insight."
Date: Tue, 8 Jun 1999 03:15:44 -0400 (EDT)
Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
><HB: I don't see the argument that concrete images of
>the mystical destroy, or even undercut, its mystical
>character. Relics imagined to be bones of the Saints,
>the Shroud of Turin, etc. don't undercut mysticism.>
When I first read this tacked onto the end of my post concerning
mysticism and art, I was wondering why HB was bringing up
something that was not art -- i.e. relics and artifacts.
However, I've decided it's a good place to start.
<HB: Mysticism is not a theory of how to communicate.
>It is a theory of cognition--the idea that knowledge
>can be gained without reason, logic, perception. It
>is a claim to an automatic means of conceptual
>knowledge, knowledge gained "nohow.">
I agree with this definition of mysticism, and I would argue
that to the extent someone needs to perceive relics, signs, and
miracles to back up their belief in God, to that extent they are
not mystics. These people are looking for factual evidence for
the existence of God, but mysticism doesn't rely on factual
The Catholic Church understands this issue better than some
people on this forum. I know, because I had to take several
courses on this topic while getting my philosophy degree at a
Catholic university -- including Theology, Understanding the
Bible, and Philosophy of God. In these courses it was made very
clear that the Catholic Church has a *disdain* for those seeking
factual evidence for the existence of God. Actually, disdain is
the wrong word, what they have is *pity* for those who have to
witness a statue of Mary crying before they believe in God.
That's the primary motivation behind the Pope going to regions
where an outbreak of (supposed) miracles occur -- he has pity on
those poor souls who don't know the essence of faith, because
these folks are mired in their material bodies and rely too much
on their senses. They even go so far as saying the Bible is a
crutch for those who have little faith, because one shouldn't
need all those examples in the Bible to know God. This is
entirely consistent with their position that faith is superior
to reason, and they know that reason is based on perception.
Mysticism requires that one believe in something without
evidence or in spite of the evidence. If someone has no factual
evidence whatsoever, but he believes in God anyhow, then he's a
mystic. If a scientist proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that
the Shroud couldn't possibly be around two thousand years ago,
or that the stains are due to something other than human skin
(say something totally unrelated to human skin -- i.e. paint or
rust stains), but someone goes on believing it was once wrapped
around the body of Jesus, and the pattern of the stains was
brought about because Jesus touched it -- then he's a mystic.
This principle holds true for every type of mysticism, not just
a belief in the Christian God.
Relating this to motion pictures: If a producers presents
scenes demonstrating something taking place -- Luke Skywalker
hearing Obi-wan's voice (and you hear it, too) telling him to
use the force, before he turns off the computer and blows up the
Death Star; Jedi Knights pushing their palms towards the enemy,
and that enemy flying away from them; spirits flying out of the
Ark and destroying the Nazis in "Indiana Jones"; the waters
parting before the Jews in "The Ten Commandments"; Otto (a
"changeling" on Deep Space Nine) turning into a bird or an
inanimate object, then turning back again; Captain Sisko (DS9)
appearing in the Celestial Temple and talking to the Prophets;
"Q" (on Star Trek) appearing before the crew and making all
sorts of things happen, because he's omnipotent; people walking
through a circular Egyptian relic and winding up on another
planet ("Star Gate"); Wile E. Coyote ordering stuff from Acme to
try to ensnare the Roadrunner; Pinky and the Brain, two
laboratory mice bent on taking over the world; etc. -- he is
providing perceptual evidence to back up his ideas. To this
extent, there is no mysticism involved.
These are all products of imagination presented in a perceptual
form, and precisely because it is perceivable, it is not
mysticism. The ideas themselves may be mystical, if their
creator expects one to get them without any perceptual evidence
(or claims that this would be a superior way of "getting it"),
but this is a different issue from that of presenting them in a
concretized perceptual form.
My position, basically, is that if mystical ideas are presented
in a perceivable form, they become fantasy rather than mysticism
-- and they have no more significance than a talking laboratory
mouse presented in a cartoon.