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The Gospel According to Star Wars
John C. McDowell
Westminster/John Knox Press, 204 pages

The Gospel According to Star Wars
John C. McDowell
Dr. John C. McDowell is the Meldrum Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and a member of the Church of Scotland's Panel of Doctrine. He is the author of several academic journal articles; of Hope in Barth's Eschatology: Interrogations and Transformations Beyond Tragedy (Ashgate, 2000); and, with Mike A. Higton, of Conversing With Barth (Ashgate, 2004).

John C. McDowell Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steve Lazarowitz

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If I'm not careful, this could be the longest review I've ever written. There is so much I want to say, and so much I can't say, because if I said it, it would probably ruin the book for the people who might enjoy it. Christian science fiction fans, and perhaps students of philosophy might find it interesting. That said, I personally found the book flawed in a number of important ways.

Let's get the basics out there. This is not an entertaining book, nor was it meant to be. This is a relatively dry book on religion and philosophy... it touches on both. It's also a book that assumes you have a fair bit of knowledge about the Bible, and religion, which fortunately I do. Thus I was able to appreciate some of the points made, while philosophically able to challenge others.

Mr. McDowell uses this volume as a tool to promote Christianity. In it, he draws parallels to the Bible from all six of the Star Wars movies and even some of the existing literature. The problem is, this can be done for any religion, or any philosophy. Pulling out things that match a preconception is no trick. In fact, looking to establish any theological or philosophical treatise when entering a body of work is easy, because you'll always find something.

One of my biggest problems with this volume was an arrogance from the author that simply made me want to put the book down on more than one occasion. He not only presents unwarranted assumptions as axiomatic, but he takes other authors who have their own opinions and states that they're clearly wrong, without giving the context in how they are wrong. In fact, he puts down several fellow theologians claiming their arguments are mistaken, when in fact, none of this can be proved. It's all opinion.

There is a lot of food for thought here. A number of points well made. A number of interesting side alleys that have been explored, but in the end, there is one example I could sight about what made this book so frustrating to read. In the excerpt below, Mr. McDowell speaks of why evil is so hard to pinpoint. He seems to be saying, as you'll soon see, that the main evil characters in Star Wars don't see themselves as evil, because they were indoctrinated into a world where their actions were supported by their experiences, and as such, seemed natural to them. McDowell writes:

"Such an inheritance assumes that its own way of seeing the world and acting in it is not only legitimate, but natural -- it's contingency and arbitrariness are accordingly masked. That is why those inculcated into the various forms of racism, patriarchalism, consumerism, and imperialism, for instance, both failed to see through their identity-determining beliefs and find all manner of ways to justify them."
What Mr. McDowell fails to do in this book is turn this very basic premise to his own thought process. Like those evil characters in Star Wars, the author was exposed to certain experiences and certain truths that might seem natural to him, but seem like bollocks to me, based on my experiences and the truths I've come to know. As such, he's approaching this entire subject from what seems to be a natural truth, and in fact "fails to see through his identity-determining beliefs (i.e. Christianity) and finds all manner of ways to justify them."

Admittedly, I'm not a religious man. I don't believe in the Bible, though I have read it, and I don't believe that any one group or society has all the answers or even most of them. Still, for people who already agree with this author's general outlook, this will probably be a good read. If they don't believe it, however, this book is unlikely to convince anyone that Star Wars truly reflects Christian principles or biblical parables. Maybe, just maybe, for once, entertainment should be left as entertainment, and not forced to fit an artificial premise that is neither convincing nor satisfying.

Copyright © 2007 Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz is a speculative fiction writer, an editor, a father, a husband, an animal lover and a heck of a nice guy (not necessarily in that order). Steve lives in Moonah, Tasmania with his family and four giant spiny leaf insects. You can check out his work at http://www.dream-sequence.net.


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