The Monastic Calling of the Force in Star Wars

I’m happy to run this guest piece by Dylan Pahman of the Acton Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanPahman.

In his recent essay at Public Discourse, “The Family and the Force,” my colleague at the Acton Institute Jordan Ballor examines the treatment of the family in the Star Wars franchise, focusing especially on its most recent installment, the record-setting “Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” (Spoilers ahead!) In particular, Ballor takes issue with both “the Jedi and Sith alike” for viewing “the family [as] a problem rather than a solution.”

While the Jedi may underestimate the importance of family, on the whole they are wise to worry about the compatibility of family and the religious calling of the Force, demonstrating a lesson applicable beyond the Star Wars galaxy. Family may not always be a problem, but to brand it “a solution” may equally swing the pendulum too far—far away from the facts.

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On the Chestertonianism of Star Wars

One of the most striking things about the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakensis how old the film sometimes feels. Part of the oldness is because the story itself feels more like a remake of A New Hope than a genuine reboot of a storied franchise. The plot feels familiar, as do most the characters. A poor scavenger on a desert world discovers previously unknown force abilities. A planet-destroying space station figures prominently in the film’s climax. A masked and hooded dark figure serves as the dominant villain and serves a far-off master of whom we know virtually nothing.

Even specific lines call us back to the first Star Wars movie, as when we can overhear storm troopers saying that “they split up” while looking for our heroes aboard a new death star. There is also much in Abrams’ technique that calls to mind the older stories, most notably the side-swipe transitions that are used frequently throughout the film. Based on the reviews, however, this is what most fans wanted (myself included) so you can hardly fault director JJ Abrams for making those choices. That he could make a rejiggered A New Hope and create a fantastic adventure of a film is a testament to his strengths as a director. Continue reading

Moral Sentimentalism and Mechanized Society

Recently Alastair Roberts and I had the chance to do an email back and forth over an issue I’ve noticed increasingly often in the way that many are reasoning about issues of public ethics. Unsurprisingly, the discussion sprawled out a bit from there and brought in everything from the work of Jonathan Haidt to the bureaucratic state to the way that the internet shapes and constrains our reasoning. It’s a bit long, but hopefully enjoyable. My emails are in bold. Thanks for reading!

Alastair, here’s my basic observation. You tell me if I’m crazy.

In discussions of public policy it is very rare to find the online discussion beginning from a place of inquiry or a felt need to investigate further. There is a kind of instinctive assumption that we just know the good and so the main priority is then advocating for that good, shaming those who are opposed to it, etc. The name I’ve given this so far is “moral positivism.”

It seems like there are a number of things that likely feed into this. One of them is the assumption behind a lot of left-wing writing these days that most public problems aren’t necessarily moral problems, but administrative ones. Find the right public policy to realize the good and we’re sorted. That’s my biggest critique of the Vox.com set. (This is, of course, a quintessentially modern way of approaching social problems and is precisely the sort of thing CS Lewis is attacking in That Hideous Strength.)

Another point is that I think the Overton window on certain issues has become incredibly small. If something can plausibly be framed as being the position in favor of equality or the compassionate position, then it’s almost impossible to make arguments against it. Continue reading

CS Lewis Archives of Mere O

We don’t often post on the Lord’s Day here, but we’re making an exception: Today marks 52 years since the death of CS Lewis, one of the two men whose work inspired the naming of this site. It’s no surprise, then, that we have had a fair bit to say about Lewis over the years here at Mere O. Here are a few of our best pieces on the old dinosaur of Oxford.

The Foolishness of Stephen Colbert

I’m pleased to publish Dustin Messer for the first time today at Mere Orthodoxy. A Boyce College graduate, Dustin served as Editor-in-Chief of The Bantam Journal at Covenant Theological Seminary before graduating from Covenant in 2014. He and his wife Whitney live in the Dallas area and worship at Christ Church (PCA) in Carrollton, TX. Dustin enjoys working at both Christ Church and Legacy Christian Academy.

“We’re very opposite.” That’s what Bill Maher said to Stephen Colbert in a recent interview. In the conversation—which ranged from mildly awkward, to tense, to nearing hostile—Maher and Colbert take turns sharing jabs about the other’s opinion on the proper response to global terrorism, the presidential election, and religion:

However, despite Maher’s claim to the contrary, the tension in the conversation was not, in fact, due to a difference of opinion—it was not because they are “opposites.” Rather, the tension was a result of a belief Maher and Colbert share, something upon which they profoundly agree. Both Maher and Colbert recognize the all-encompassing scope of Christ’s claims. Both understand that Christ’s lordship extends past the four walls of a church and reaches into the public square, the body politic. Continue reading

When Grace “Fails”—The Music of Call the Midwife

The third episode of the first season of the BBC show Call the Midwife is about what we do when our attempts to love and show mercy to a person seem to fail. The first story in the episode concerns Nurse Lee’s relationship with an old soldier who she visits in-home to help care for his ulcerous feet. The second concerns a pregnant woman in her early 40s who has remarried after becoming a widow but who has married more for her children’s sake than out of love. Continue reading

Evangelicals need to read Richard Hooker.

I’m pleased to host this excellent interview between Mere Fidelity contributor Alastair Roberts and my friend Dr. Brad Littlejohn. Dr. Littlejohn, who did his doctoral work at Edinburgh with Mere O favorite Oliver O’Donovan, has just published a popular level introduction to 16th century English theologian Richard Hooker. If you’re like me, you’ve probably come across Hooker’s name somewhere, but don’t know much about him. His lone major work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, is hard to track down in an affordable edition. So Hooker is just a name for most of us, like other obscure theologians in the church’s past. Brad’s book will go some way toward addressing this problem. Having read it, I now want to find a way of reading Laws, if only I can find an affordable edition. Enjoy the interview! (Full disclosure, Brad is the president of the Davenant Trust, an organization I’m pleased to serve as a board member. But even if I were not his friend and fellow board member I would be delighted to host this interview here at Mere O.)

Thank you for agreeing to join me to discuss the subject of your new book, Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work. For the sake of those who may not be familiar with Hooker, can you give a very brief description of who he was?

Sure thing. Basically, when I’m talking to Reformed people, I say something like “Think of him as Anglicanism’s John Calvin.” He became within a few decades after his death the preeminent theologian of the tradition that came to call itself “Anglican,” even though Hooker wouldn’t have thought of himself in these terms, just as Calvin never thought of himself as the first “Calvinist.” His life was comparatively short (1553-1600), almost entirely coinciding with Queen Elizabeth’s long reign (1558-1603), so he is mostly known only for his one great work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Continue reading

On the Demise of Grantland

The news that those of us who love good writing had been dreading finally came last Friday: Grantland is dead. No one can be particularly surprised at the move given ESPN’s acrimonious split with site founder and editor-in-chief Bill Simmons earlier this year. Indeed, the Atlantic predicted how all this would play out four years ago:

But Simmons will lose this battle — the rebellious teenager still relies too heavily on its parents for support — and ESPN will drive this site into the ground. It’s only a matter of time before he leaves. “I don’t know, I think I have one more big sellout of my career,” Simmons told Mahler. Well, at least ESPN didn’t name the site The SimmonsPost; naming it Grantland will make it easier to extract Simmons from the venture when the time comes.

READ MORE: Don’t miss our roundup of other things to read about Grantland over on Mere O Notes.

After the announcement a number of different people took to Twitter to discuss the story. Nicole Cliff of The Toast perhaps made some of the most important observations: Continue reading

A Note on Mere O Notes

Hey all, so I’m still sorting through some of the things I want to do with Mere O as the lead writer. One thing I’ve been thinking about, and reading this book has pushed me further along in this thinking, is the role that Mere O Notes will play on the site. When Matt and I launched that part of the site the vision was to have a kind of Daily Dish-style curation hub that we used to share interesting essays and articles we came across online.

Since that time, a few things have happened: Continue reading