We are going to play a game. The game is called “Joshua Harris or Jedi Path?” and if you bring it out at parties, you will not be invited back.
Here’s how you play: read the passage below, and tell me whether it comes from Joshua Harris’ megabestselling 1997 Evangelical culture title I Kissed Dating Goodbye or from the The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force, a guidebook published by the Jedi Order to be used as an instruction manual for Jedi Initiates as they familiarized themselves with the Order’s teachings and the ways of the Force, largely written by Grand Master Fae Coven and now in its third edition, heavily annotated by several generations of padawans through whose hands it has passed. Both books are conveniently available from Amazon.com.
Here’s the passage:
Fear, anger, and hate are strong passions that will cause you to lose focus and to find appeal in the easy pleasures…Love is also a strong passion and equally dangerous. Those who obsess over a…lover devote all of their energies toward the special object of their focus.
The 2018 documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye saw Harris recant the book he had released in 1997. Later in the year he said he could no longer call himself a Christian. Harris claimed in an interview that he felt it easier to abandon Christianity than to reconcile his emerging secular sexual ethics with the Bible.
But what Harris was rejecting, in rejecting his own book, was not biblical sexual ethics. It was in fact much closer to a religious creed from a galaxy far, far away.
The passage above is not from I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It’s from The Jedi Path. And one of the things that struck me the most in taking a second look at Joshua Harris’s book and the cultural landslide that followed was the effect of a created “code” on the human heart. It’s a phenomenon that is not unknown to students of the Force. The Jedi Code, unlivable as it was, was a constant controversy among Jedi who claimed to adhere to it without question.
Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Much like Harris’s code of courtship, the Jedi Code warned that the answer to temptation was to turn away from emotion and pursue a cold discipline of rejecting attachment to others. It supposedly set Jedi free from the grip of emotions, and yet we see Anakin Skywalker struggle more because of it rather than less.
I really hate to think about what would have happened if Anakin had run into purity culture.
Harris’s purity culture was rooted more in control and fear than it was in the pursuit of lasting goodness. Curtis Allen, a former member of the church Harris once pastored said that saying that he remembered the anxiety surrounding “guarding the heart” began to eat away at the ability for young men and women to have basic friendships. One woman in Britain wrote of her experience saying, “Guys were terrified of asking girls out, because the instant a guy and a girl went out, she was presumed to be planning her wedding.” Any involvement not signaling an impending marriage was somehow cheating the other person’s emotions or wronging one’s own future spouse.
Harris’s radical courtship method was not intended to make relationships harder. He was aware that it could be applied incorrectly: he warned young people against the risk of extremism, telling them that he was not advocating that they marry the first person they courted. Regardless of his caution, the anxiety his book inspired fed a movement bigger and stranger than he had imagined when he wrote it.
We are as humans wired, in part, to be reactionary. We often react to things that cause us discomfort by creating a cocoon in which we can feel immune to discomfort itself. The modern dating scene had hurt Harris as a very young man emotionally and spiritually, and he admitted in his own book that he “still felt the ache of having given away [his] heart.” But his code of courtship did not eliminate emotional thinking, rather changing it from being based on infatuation, to being based on fear, and the desire for a clear, unambiguous process.
But that focus on process over the principle of purity killed courtship where it stood.
There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no passion, there is serenity. Passion lines the path to the dark side and must be avoided. The Jedi Path explains to padawans that the reason love is forbidden to a Jedi is that it is considered that passion can lead to unwise decisions.
“Those who obsess over a parent, child, or lover,” warns Jedi Grand Master Fae Coven’s text,
devote all their energies toward the special object of their focus. The Jedi must serve all, not a select few. Should the urge to contact your birth families or form romantic attachments emerge, please consult your Master.
It is a warning worthy of Harris. To avoid the full depth of human feeling keeps a person safe, that’s the common thread. While this path was supposed to express a healthy detachment, the Star Wars canon would tell us it was actually a reactionary movement: it addressed excesses of the past with a sharp, rigid discipline rather than a deeper understanding of oneself. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin finally says that “from my point of view, the Jedi are evil.” Can we be surprised? Much like Harris, he had been pushed to a breaking point by a fear-based code.
If Luke Skywalker had not disobeyed Yoda and broken the code for the sake of his friends and loved ones in the original trilogy, he would not have been the self-sacrificial hero that the situation demanded; he would not have brought about his own father’s ultimate redemption. Harris might benefit from considering the nature of his self-made code, and whether there might be something beyond the system he had constructed, which might remain after that system had fallen.
It is not that there are no good ideas to be found in Joshua Harris’s book, or that there have never been any good Jedi. Candice Gage wrote in The Christian Post after Joshua Harris’s apology for I Kissed Dating Goodbye that she did not regret the impact the book had on her life. Acknowledging its problems, she also writes,
I’ve learned that God’s plan for my love life won’t protect me from having my heart broken. The long years of celibacy have taught me that God doesn’t necessarily reward good behavior the way I once hoped—being obedient hasn’t earned me a wedding. But serving God with my sexuality is about my relationship with Him, not my relationship with a future husband who may or may not exist.
Gage did not throw out purity, but instead looked beyond a man-made code, into divine truth.
Qui-Gon Jinn’s devotion to what is right, similarly, transcended the code itself, even as it apparently raised Mace Windu’s blood pressure. A younger Jinn scribbled in his Jedi Path textbook, “If the Living Force engenders compassion – eventually even love – I do not feel that these are a detriment, despite the precepts of the Code.” This is most deeply illustrated in how far he is willing to bend the rules to help fatherless Anakin, not because it is demanded, but because it is good.
Scripture is full of reminders that human beings are created in the image of God Himself, designed to love and feel and act according to truth and justice and goodness. To become attached. To risk. To desire. It is also full of warnings that a life of fear is not compatible with a life of faith, and that adherence to the letter of the law cannot replace a life in its Spirit. The purity called for in Scripture is not weaker than the purity espoused in Harris’s code. It is more powerful than he could have ever imagined. And it is not at odds with passion, but is its ally.
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- It is arguably more accurate to describe it as a work of merchandising genius, written by Daniel Wallace and published in 2010. ↑