I’m involved in a discussion on Andrew Willard Jones’ Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX. I’ve also had Star Wars on my mind a lot.
The dominant historical narrative is that the Middle Ages is defined by the struggle between the religious sphere, specifically the papacy, and the secular sphere, the kings of Europe, for sovereignty. While the papacy gained some headway from Gregory VII to Innocent III, they ultimately failed to unite all Europe under their headship and thus the various kings were able to centralize in the various nations we know today. Historians can hang, draw, and quarter me for simplifying in the comment box.
Jones’ primary thesis is that the world of St. Louis cannot be understood in the modern terms of “religious” and “secular” because the idea of the two spheres being separate in any fashion, thus how we understand them today, would be unthinkable. Both found their source in the divine and their specific proper ends were fundamentally in accord. Thus it was that a married layman could, in his younger life, serve his king in bringing peace to a country rife with conflict and end his life as a Pope – Clement IV. He may have moved between spheres, but there was no conflict or separation between the two. Both were simply different spheres in the same mission – building the kingdom of Christ on earth.
I’ll have more to say on the book in the coming weeks as the discussion gets more deeply into it. What does it have to do with Star Wars?
Well, Star Wars is one of those science-fiction films which more-or-less gets religion. Sure, it’s religion may just be warmed over eastern dualism (or is it a modern take on virtue ethics? Or Thomistic Rationality?), but it takes it seriously. The Force is not just a vague set of beliefs founded on some ambiguous “faith”, but a code which seeks to actualize man (divinize man?). Of interest to me is that there is no distinction between “religious” and “secular” for a denizen of the Star Wars world (ignoring Expanded Universe, I know it gets hairy out there!). The Imperials cower before the might it gives Vader and the Emperor. The Rebels invoke it as the raison d’etre of their efforts – May the Force be with you.
Science-Fiction is all about “What if?” questions. I really want to ask “What if we returned to or restored a world where society united the religious and secular?” Or more specifically, “What if we moved from the current liberal order to a Christian society?” What would a Christian Galactic Empire look like? Of course, people want to point to the religious dystopias (e.g. Handmaid’s Tale) as an example, but this isn’t what I’m talking about. What if both the brahmins of the society and the simple folk truly believed and let that inform their life, not just individually but societally?
It’s interesting to me that the greatest popular example in science-fiction comes from Star Wars – Space Opera not connected with our world. I wonder if people even think such a thing is possible. Most of us have allowed liberal secularism to become not only a belief, but the very grounding of our reality. Even the religious folk (myself included – though I’m working on the brainwashing) tend to see our faith as an incredibly important piece of our life that assumes a liberal-secular foundation. If you believe in thick religious freedom – like a disavowal of any and all confessional states – you’re definitely one of these people (I’ll let you intuit what my thoughts are on our “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty”).
There are cracks in these assumptions. The Deus Vult stuff is given with some tongue-in-cheek, but I can see a lot of the memelords actually believing their lulz and keks. Perhaps future servants of the restored Holy Roman Emperor are shitposting their way to societal salvation.
So what if we had a Christian Galactic Empire? Guess I need to get to writing.
If anyone has good recommendations on books on this theme – Science Fiction treating religion seriously and constitutive of reality, not an aesthetic overlay to secularism – feel free to point me in that direction.