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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Losing My Religion

posted by on May 30 at 13:12 PM

This is how it happened:
yyystar_wars_death_star.jpg I was seven, spending the summer in Seattle (from DC), and expending a large amount of mental energy in the doomed project of removing the African accent from my developing American English. I was tired of classmates, particularly black American classmates, making fun of it and wanted to return to school that fall sounding just like Flip Wilson, my hero at the time. For complicated reasons—busy parents, culture shock, lack of friends outside of the family circle—I had reached the age of seven without seeing a single movie. The whole business was a mystery to me. What is it people saw in those big boxes?

Because everyone was talking about Star Wars that summer, I begged my Maiguru Sana (Auntie Sana, my mother’s sister) to take me to a screening of it in Ballard. She agreed. She too had never seen a movie in her life—she was 33. Because her husband’s time was completely occupied by a doctorate dissertation, she had the free time to watch this Star Wars with me. We went to Ballard, we entered the theater, we sat near the front row, the screen opened, the spectacle began, the spectacle ran, the spectacle ended, and I was totally transformed. (My Maiguru, on the other hand, slept during the whole movie—even the loud space battle couldn’t wake her up.)

Now to explain the meaning and cause of the great transformation. I went into Star Wars a Christian and walked out of it an atheist. Before seeing the movie, I understood the war of Good against Evil to be an entirely Christian one: God vs. Satan. The war happened on the ground, in the sky above, and the immense dark space beyond the moon. The universe was ordered by heaven and hell. So imagine the shock of seeing on the screen a whole different order, a whole different war between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil; a war, furthermore, that made no mention of Jesus, or Lucifer, or the star of Bethlehem, the Romans, the beasts in “The Book of Revelations,” the Last Supper. Yet, in the absolute absence of these Christian codes of goodness, I still sided with these other codes and acts of goodness taking place in a faraway galaxy.

In the bright afternoon light of that day, I realized that God was limited, and what was infinite was the Good itself, and that the Good could take on different shapes (Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, John, Luke Skywalker, Jesus, Princess Leia, Mary). In the bus back to the University District, my head was on fire. It was like seeing the world for the first time. I was born again.

RSS icon Comments


I guess it was a good thing that your aunt didn't take you to see Oh God or The Bad News Bears Breaking Training.

Posted by elswinger | May 30, 2007 1:24 PM

I think this post just made me religious. I'm joining the Church of Charles Mudede and his congregation of Makers Marxists…

Posted by Dominic Holden | May 30, 2007 1:25 PM

This post for some reason made me very happy. Thanks Charles.

Posted by flamingbanjo | May 30, 2007 1:28 PM

i'd just like to congratulate Charles for finally posting a coherent and organized slog posting.

Posted by ddv | May 30, 2007 1:29 PM

What a great story. I wish I had something like that, but I honestly don't even remember if I ever believed in God or why I stopped if I did, or what. Maybe I'll steal yours, if anyone asks.

Posted by Levislade | May 30, 2007 1:29 PM

No shit @ #4. Congrats.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 30, 2007 1:35 PM

if star wars makes you an unbeliever, don't watch the phantom menace. it make you a believer again.

Posted by infrequent | May 30, 2007 1:40 PM

Props for the anecdote, Chuck. To help "worship" at home, that comics shop in the market is selling life-size cardboard cutouts of all the SW characters for $29.99. I might go pick me up a Lando Calrissian.

Posted by jackie treehorn | May 30, 2007 1:43 PM

Charles has singlehandedly brought human tust back to my life.

BTW, I lost my religion while listening to "Loosing my Religion".

Posted by re:spect | May 30, 2007 1:43 PM

Was Phantom Menace the one ending with the transformation into Vader? If so, definitely my fave of the sextology.

Posted by brandon | May 30, 2007 1:44 PM

Ugh... can't stop myself.....

Shouldn't you post a picture of the "Star Wars" Death Star instead of the "Return of the Jedi" Death Star?


Posted by dirge | May 30, 2007 1:48 PM

I don't remember any one specific defining moment, when I stopped believing in God and embraced the notion of atheism. When I decided firmly that God was a fiction. I think my belief sort of waned and faded away. My parents tried to raise me as a Christian, but I stopped believing in God about the same time I stopped believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny.

Sadly, I'm older than Charles. I was in high school when Star Wars was released, and had already long been an atheist by then. At that age I had a freshly minted drivers license and out of control hormones. Star Wars was not a religious (or rather anti-religious) experience for me. I just thought Luke Skywalker was hot and the special effects were awesome. Star Wars was the first movie that I ever saw more than once; I think I watched it 4 or 5 times.

Thanks for that trip down memory lane, Charles.

Posted by SDA in SEA | May 30, 2007 1:52 PM

Now this makes sense. Posting the Death Star finally made me realize where Charles' Stalinist architecture fetish comes from. Dude's been wanting to live on it all his life!

Posted by Clarity at Last | May 30, 2007 1:53 PM

After all the heavy-handed religious garbage in the prequels Lucas tried to claim he'd made the movies to teach kids the value of religion in the first place. Can't find a reference for the quote outside of my memory. Still, I hope he hears about this one.

Posted by JD | May 30, 2007 2:10 PM

The "good" is another name for "God". There is no God that we humans can understand. We are humans, after all. So call God what you want- infinite good, Allah, Mother Nature. It's all the same. Some kind of power that encompasses all our defining thoughts. Even atheists believe in a God- but would never admit it.

Posted by giminy | May 30, 2007 2:19 PM

Wow that is a nice story, but I don't think that makes you an athiest. Just no longer a Christian.

Posted by ragajungle | May 30, 2007 2:20 PM

Wow that is a nice story, but I don't think that makes you an athiest. Just no longer a Christian.

Posted by ragajungle | May 30, 2007 2:20 PM

That's fucking rad, Charles, we have to swap childhood stories some time, a lot of common ground there.

I became an atheist slowly, growing into my thirties and gaining enough distance on my twenties that I realized some time a couple years ago that all the seizures of religious feeling, so glorious and deliciously frightening (and, "thank God" not specified to any doctrine) that hit me every now and then when I was young - I uncommittedly wore a cross everywhere as recently as nine years ago - were simply a young man's tiny forays into the edge of schizophrenia.

My housemate was telling me the other night about his friend's kid who has Aspberger's. His language skills are excellent, he is physically unimpaired, but because some part of his brain, his meat-brain is wicky-wacky, he has no empathy. And when you are not there in front of him, you don't exist. He has no interest whatsoever in your experience, ever.

Does this boy have a soul? Do any of us? We are living flesh. We are animals, here to enjoy the highest pinnacle animal life has reached (so far as we know). I hope we don't all kill each other because of some imaginary bullshit whizzing around inside all that fallible, definite meat. And I'm still on the side of the good guys, too.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | May 30, 2007 2:30 PM

"In the bright afternoon light of that day, I realized that God was limited, and what was infinite was the Good itself, and that the Good could take on different shapes".

Yup...the typical 7 year olds reaction to SW. cough*bullshit*cough

Posted by Rotten666 | May 30, 2007 2:52 PM

@15: Shut up.

Just... shut up.

Posted by Ben | May 30, 2007 3:04 PM

"Even atheists believe in a God- but would never admit it."

Sorry to have to burst your Judeo-Christian fantasy Giminy, but this Atheist absolutely does not believe in God.

To-date, there is not a single shred of empirical evidence for the existence of such a being, and furthermore, science - real science that is, not the pseudo-scientific clap-trap of the ID'ers over at The Discovery Institute - has done quite a good job of showing why the physical universe does not require "Some kind of power that encompasses all our defining thoughts" in order to exist.

FWIW, my road to atheism began at around the age of 14, after a brief infatuation with Pentacostalism (at least I think that's what it was; all I remember is that speaking in tongues was involved) encouraged by an elderly aunt. My anti-epiphany occured one Sunday morning, when the youth paster described his notion of God as "being like Ivory Soap: 99 7/10 percent pure" (I kid you not!). My reaction to this statement was to wonder, A: why the YP didn't envision God as being 100% pure; and B: if God was in fact NOT wholely, entirely PURE, then why was I required to worship Him, as if he were?

Talk about setting up your slippery slope scenario...

Posted by COMTE | May 30, 2007 3:15 PM
I went into Star Wars a Christian and walked out of it an atheist.

So... not to quibble, because I liked your story, but it seems to me that you went into Star Wars a Christian and walked out an agnostic. Is this incorrect?

Posted by Judah | May 30, 2007 3:27 PM

judah, agnositc seems too weak an expression for my total experience. but i see what you mean.

Posted by charles mudede | May 30, 2007 4:21 PM

Most agnostics are also atheists. It's apparently hard for practically everyone on the fucking planet to understand, but gnosticism/agnosticism refers to a state of knowledge whereas atheism/theism refers to a state of belief or worship. There is no middle ground between theism and atheism.

So Charles walked into Star Wars as a theist/agnostic and walked out of Star Wars as an atheist/agnostic.

Posted by Atheo-agnostic | May 30, 2007 4:24 PM

Charles: thanks for clarifying.

Atheo-agnostic: learn to use a fucking encylopedia.

Posted by Judah | May 30, 2007 4:33 PM

May the Force be with you, Charles.

Posted by Mike | May 30, 2007 10:22 PM

Hey, Grant Cogswell is in the house! And Charles Mudede is referring to something beloved of common folk without derision or condescension! Good times!
I'm another natural born atheist. Before I was seven I was told I'd see god if I prayed, but I realized I could only see things if I was pretending real hard. I am willing to concede the possibility god exists (and is a fucking rat bastard), but my soul just never believed it.

Posted by christopher | May 30, 2007 10:59 PM

Whatever. Is this Blasphemy?

Posted by god | May 31, 2007 3:37 AM

My goodness,

Getting soft-spiritual over Star Wars? Read some Alan Watts, why doncha? Or some Baghavad Gita - (there's a space epic).

I mean, getting quasi-religious over Lucas?

(Well, to be fair, so did Joseph Campbell).

It's a good question though - what are the philosophical/spiritual/religious (three different things) underpinnings of Star Wars?

I mean, it hasn't stuck around because it's Shakespeare.

You've got your Taoism - The positive and negative ('light' and 'dark sides of The Force', in constant contact, opposition, 'balance' (whatever the f--- Lucas thinks he meant by that) -

And the 'All-pervading Force, that surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together...' - that's the Tao, or Brahma, the creator that is the creation. (Or the Holy Spirit in Christianity).

I think people like to lean on this semi-Asian aspect of the thing, to make it less onerous.

But, really, it's not so very Taoist - really, what Lucas gives you is a Christian fable.

Sure, there's 'good' and 'bad', but the story here is this - You must 'choose' to lean toward one side or the other.

(Actually, you must force yourself willfully to grip onto the 'good', because the 'bad' is so very sexy and powerful,...

As well as monetarily rewarding, and eeeeasy.

So, that's pure Christianity, no eastern mysticism there.

"You've got to choose, son, to Be Good!" Sayeth the Jedi.

(What a drag).

And what was the very bad thing that 'The Empire' was up to?

I mean, what was the Empire but a bunch of well-organized technocrats, doing their best create capital-rich and intensive trade coalitions?



Posted by LS | May 31, 2007 7:38 AM


LS, they were also specieists. Only humans were allowed to be free in the Empire, all other species were enslaved.
Also, Lucas used a lot of Joseph Cambell's mythology research, so I'm sure he was a little inclined to the story.
If you want to see a documentary about the influences Lucas uses (though I think they give him a lot more credit than he deserves) check out the History Channel's latest 'Origins of Star Wars'.

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