Is Star Wars Good Spirituality?

YODA-facebookBy Joe Perez

The greatest cosmic spirituality drama of our era with super cool light sabers is back. Star Wars: Episode III is out, it’s good, and it’s a big hit. That the film is deeply spiritual is not in question (George Lucas himself described his intention to “awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people” and loaded the film with not-too-subtle allusions to Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity.)

But audiences will ultimately judge for themselves. Will the spiritual influence of this massive pop culture icon be for good or ill? With the final film of the six now in release, folks around the Web have begun to weigh in. Here are a few highlights: Apparently inspired to use Anakin Skywalker’s loose morals as an instrument of instruction, a traditionalist preacher at Hollywood Jesus identifies related Bible passages and calls out the spiritual lessons of the movie. For example:

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

Repetitive, loveless, cheap sex? Excuse me, I must have dozed through that scene. The message in the movie’s “spiritual connections,” if I understand correctly, is that Star Wars needn’t be bad for spirituality if Christians learn the right lessons from the morals of the characters. Jeffrey Weiss discusses the film’s “quasi-religious mishmash” in a story for the Dallas News. Reg Grant, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, takes a traditional perspective when he says: “The Force is part of a cultural wedge of moral relativism,” said Reg Grant, professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.

It has no explicit God behind it and no absolute moral code, he said. No Explicit Gods. No Absolute Moral Codes. These are required in order to avoid the great bugaboo of moral relativism. Ergo, Star Wars is bad for spirituality. Got it straight? Interestingly, the reviewer behind the religio-rationalist Office for Film and Broadcasting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops takes a different angle on relativism in the same movie.

[Read more…]

In Defense Of Spiritual Smut

smutBy Joe Perez

Spirituality writing doesn’t have a very wide audience, at least not as wide as we think it should. On the Web and on Facebook, the prose in short form can easily become a redundant chorus of platitudes and in long form … well, simply left unread.

In continuity with the spirit of my writing, Gay Spirituality strives to rock a few boats and we’re willing to bear with the occasional flamer who doesn’t get it.

Our Web and Facebook page occasionally publish pics of hot men. There is a lot of this in gay culture and we have noticed that a little beefcake now and then makes our posts more interesting to the masses. In doing so, we strive to elevate the picture in some way, transcending its status as mere eye-candy, and presenting an opportunity to view it as source of wisdom.

It can even be funny to see the contrast, say, between a quote by Confucius about the nature of work next to a hot sweaty construction worker. The humor is intentional.

In doing so, we aren’t saying that gay culture is too fixated on eye-candy or that lookism isn’t a problem. But as sites like Philosophers’ Mail shows us, sometimes it takes a hook to get readers to pay attention to difficult or challenging material and to compete with the garbage sites offering fluff or empty calories.

We have seen other “serious” and “sophisticated” websites that refuse to post anything erotic because it would run afoul of political correctness. We choose to see the sexual and the spiritual as intertwined, and it would be hypocritical of us to sanitize our creative output to try to gain the approval of élites.

(By the way, we try to use pictures of models which show a variety of ages and body types. However, most male models tend to be above average looking guys. Also, we don’t subscribe to the view that looking at sexy, erotic pictures is a sin or anti-spiritual per se. In contrast, we have argued that Beauty is a force which raises the Eye of the Spirit upward in an embrace of the divine. Read “Looking at Lookism” to learn more.)

So if after reading this you are still offended or outraged that a spirituality page or site serves pics of hot men as part of its menu, then take what works for you and leave the rest. We hope at least this post explains better where we’re coming from.

A Lesson In Love From Groundhog Day

Groundhog dayNote: Cross-posted on Joe-Perez.com.

One of my very favorite movies is Groundhog Day — and it’s hard to think of a more creative and funny look at the spiritual development process. The movie’s climax focuses on the growth of the relationship between Phil (Bill Murray) and Rita (Andie McDowell) into self-expressed love, a scene which in which Phil creates a sculpture in ice of Rita’s face.

Rita: “I”m getting cold… how long do I have to sit here? … Come on, Phil, I’m freezing!”

Phil turns the sculpture to show her her own face.

Phil: “Let me turn it to the light.”

Rita: “It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. How did you do that?”

Phil: “I know your face so well I could have done it with my eyes closed.”

Rita: “It’s lovely. I don’t know what to say.”

Phil: “I do. No matter what happens tomorrow or the rest of my life, I’m happy now, because I love you.”

Rita: “I love you too.”

They kiss, and then Phil’s entrapment in the movie’s samsara plot is ended.

The scene gorgeously illustrates the principles of self-immanence (or Homophilia) and self-transcendence (or Heterophilia) at play. Phil’s desire for Rita (self-transcendence) shows up as his creative artistry with the sculptor’s tools. His love for Rita creates a beautiful likeness, and his explanation that he knows her face so well he could have done it with his eyes closed, shows the way in which he woos her by blurring the distinction between her face and his knowledge and creative power. She is won over through homophilia, appearing in this case not as attraction to a person of the same sex but as an image of her own face. Her self-love is transformed joyously into love for the other. Her love finally allows Phil to accept himself, the one thing that he had previously lacked.

Phil needed heterophilia to turn inward; Rita needed homophilia to turn outward.

These are the Two Directions of Love. Be understanding this simple distinction, we gain a profound insight into the root principles of life and love.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Andrew Sullivan Confesses: I Never Liked Gay Portrayals

looking-hboI have to admit to sharing many of the same aversions as Andrew Sullivan to early portrayals of gay culture. They didn’t seem to reflect my own experience, and they reinforced my sense of not really being part of the gay community but somehow an outside even there. Sullivan writes:

“A confession. I have long had an aversion to gay-themed plays, TV shows, movies, etc. I wasn’t born with it. I learned it. I learned it through what can only be called a series of cringes. I cringed at Philadelphia‘s well-intentioned hagiography of the “AIDS victim”; I cringed through Tony Kushner’s view of the plague as a post-script to the heroism of American communists; I winced at the eunuch, the sassy girlfriend, and the witty queen in Will And Grace; I had to look away as Ellen initially over-played her hand (understandably and totally forgivably, but still …). The US version of Queer as Folk was something I could not get out of my recoiling head for weeks – and I barely got through fifteen minutes of it. And please don’t ask me about Jeffrey. Please.Maybe I should have sucked it up and celebrated each and every portrayal of gay people in any form – after so many decades and centuries of invisibility or minstrelsy. But, like many members of any minority group seeing themselves portrayed for the first time on screen, I felt betrayed when my own life wasn’t depicted, my worldview was ignored, my politics wasn’t acknowledged. In many ways this was utterly irrational. But it was emotionally real. When there are so few cultural expressions of your core identity, the few become weighted with far more cultural baggage than they can hope to uphold. In a fraught time – between liberation and mass extinction, between criminality and civil equality – it was hard to forgive anything that might be conceived as counter-productive or inaccurate or ideologized.

The same dynamic operated the other way on me, as well. When I rather naively became a gay public figure by answering “yes” to the question, “Are you gay?” after I became the editor of The New Republic at the crazy age of 27, the shoe was on the other foot. Suddenly I was supposed to represent all “virtually normal” gay men, because I was one of very, very few out people in the mainstream media in 1991. And boy did I not represent them. I never claimed to, of course, and said so explicitly; but that really didn’t matter. I was out there and not representative of many others. So I had to be knocked off my perch in a period of great exhilaration but also great personal pain. Looking back, the necessary madness of that period, its extraordinary range of sheer emotion as we fought not just for our dignity but for our very lives, seems clearer and more understandable now. But no less painful.”

Read the full article, which includes a review of the new HBO series Looking.

Don’t Hate The Rainbow

rainbow-angle

Photo Credit: JD Hancock

By Joe Perez

Andrew Sullivan shares an e-mail from a 20-year-old college student that provides, he says, “proof” of the “end of gay culture.” Here’s a bit of it:

“I am writing you because I am living proof of what you are taking about. I have no idea what the Gay Culture of the 70s and 80s is about. I had no idea that AIDS had such a huge impact on gay life. I am completely ignorant of the pain and tragedy endured by the older generation. I respect what they did. I live my life the way I want. I am who I am. I have the freedom to be ‘out’ and not have to worry or hide who I really am. I guess I take it for granted. I guess I am guilty of that. I HATE the stereotypes and the labels put on gay people. I hate the idea of West Hollywood and the Rainbow. I am normal. I do not like the idea that I have to identify myself as gay . . . I am gay. I am different, but I am not weird. I am not inferior. I am normal; I am one of the guys.”

Where to begin? I’ll limit my comment to one line: “I hate the idea of West Hollywood and the Rainbow.” Ah, shucks. How can anyone hate the rainbow?! Seriously. Well, half-seriously. Yes, the rainbow flag is trite and overused, but it’s as close a symbol as the gay community has to a sacred object. It’s our cultural symbol par excellence.

Truth be told, I’m also not a huge fan of the flat rainbow flag symbol (as I said, it’s getting to be a little trite). My solution is to go back to the symbol’s origin in nature as a multi-spectrum rainbow of light, and then offer an alternative image for this important symbol. In my vision, the Rainbow becomes the Bridge of Light. We honor the rainbow because we honor our past, present, and future; we honor it because we honor the diversity (many colors) and unity (white light); we honor it because it’s our brightest aspiration for being truly who we are (gay identity) and being virtually as normal as we want to be (postgay identity). We honor both the visible (prerational and rational) and invisible (transrational) spectrum of existence. The Bridge of Light: not a new symbol for the gay movement but a renewal of the traditional rainbow.

But come on! This young man says he hates the rainbow. Hating the rainbow is hating yourself. Hating the rainbow is like hating Mom or hating Apple Pie or hating Thanksgiving or hating Old Glory. We shouldn’t accept that sort of cavalier, arrogant dismissal of our values from anyone without correction. And we certainly shouldn’t praise it! He wants to ignore and reject gay culture, our collective history, and the wisdom of our elders. We need a postgay culture that embraces and transcends the past, not an immature effort to bypass the formation of a healthy, strong homosexual identity.

We shouldn’t lose the positive values that the rainbow represents—embracing cultural diversity and celebrating differences—simply because some activists have taken those values to silly extremes. They don’t own the rainbow. We all do. Now more than ever we need to be sure that the younger generation knows there is an alternative to the old ways of looking at gay culture. Don’t hate the rainbow. Embrace the Bridge of Light.

(November 15, 2005)

Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from Rising Up.