This post may contain some spoilers about Rogue One, but they are not significant, so read on.
Yes, I loved Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. And one of my favorite scenes occurred between two new heroes, Cassian and Jyn. Cassian is a member of the Rebel Alliance, an organization forming to take on the Galactic Empire (and steal the Death Star plans). When Jyn questions some of the potentially immoral behavior that the Rebellion is engaged in (like killing her father) Cassian coldly responds with some pragmatic defense of their actions. In his world, he is doing something practical not just holding on to ideals.
That’s a complicated moment for Star Wars fans, I think. The original trilogy contrasted the Rebellion’s high morals with the self-serving practicality of Han Solo. We never thought of the Rebellion as morally compromising. I think that Rogue One’s depiction is more realistic (but it should be noted, it is also more postmodern). It asks the audience a great question and it’s one that many Americans wrestled with this election year: how do I ally with the lesser of two evils? Now comparing the Rebellion and the Empire is an appropriate false equivalency considering our immediate context, but nevertheless, the Rebellion engages in morally questionable behavior. After all, this is a war between two political organizations that believe they have the right to rule.
I don’t think I’d be comfortable joining the Rebel Alliance because of that moral compromise. Now, I may prefer them in the fight against the Evil Empire and their destructive Death Star. But I still left the flick, much like I do with the circumstances of our current political economy, dissatisfied. The warring political powers are not considering ordinary people above their own aspirations (they are quickly choking on their aspirations, mind you). They aren’t employing ethics and morality first in their strategy, even.
The Aleppo problem is an even clearer example of this. Consider the warring factions: the Assad regime, the rebel groups, the Kurds, plus ISIS—all of them have special interests that don’t necessarily account for the whole or for the most vulnerable. They are interested in their own power. Some are “better” than others, to be sure; but they are ultimately guided by their own desire and not the desire of the One who created them.
The inadequacy of the options that the state gives us puts groups like Syrian Christians in a difficult spot. They are forced to make the impossible choice of supporting a brutal dictators regime or they leave their fate up to whoever wins the power struggle amidst the warring factions. It is a very complex situation, and despite its complexity, none of the parties have the answers.
You can see a similar pattern in how our health care system works. I know because I just went through it. The Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and CHIP offers Pennsylvanians and their children many options. Our recalcitrant legislators give us complex programs that create a labyrinthine system that the poor must navigate on their own, hoping that their children are covered. I consider myself competent and educated and I have trouble figuring it all out. Just last week, I learned that one of my kids’ health coverage was dropped. I found out when her insurance company rejected the doctor’s claim. When I called the people in charge, they told me that indeed I would have no idea that her coverage was dropped because they never told me! The most innocent and vulnerable among us, ignored again. However, the interests of the powers that be, legislators, big pharma, and for-profit insurance companies, are in tact. And those they allegedly serve? Ignored. They aren’t even part of the dialogue. They are left without an advocate.
In our current context in the U.S., the state offers us not just options about who the ruling class will be, but also about who we are. Identity politics assigns us options for what sociological category will make a claim upon us and it’s woefully inadequate. We fight over the rights of these invented identity groups, begging the government to recognize them. Like the Oregon court making “nonbinary” a “legal gender,” or Barack Obama listing “Middle Easterners” as an official racial category. Ordinary people are put in a position of begging the state to consider them, to act on their behalf, and to provide them rights even.
When Jyn asks Cassian questions about the morality of the Rebels, she’s criticized for her impracticality. When Christians say that Assad and the rebel factions leave them unprotected, they get ignored (and when Christians refuse to submit to a violent power, they are idealistic). We are left with the end results of the painful pragmatic reality of politics, their violent coercion into the unsatisfactory “options” they offer us. Their proposed hope is to “get involved.” Barack Obama tells us not to boo—rather to vote. If you are like me, you are left disenchanted, empty and longing for a savior.
So no, I won’t join the Rebel Alliance today. I won’t submit to the options the state has given me, as it is the harbinger of justice, salvation, offering me benevolent domination.
I am Christ’s, not what the state categorizes me as. It is distressing to me that the state continues to make meaning as if it is God; filing people into countable sub-classes that it rules over. I’m offended that so many see the state as the primary agent of change. As if it has a monopoly on these things.
Like I said above, the response to this monopoly is to distribute such power among the people—now they have to construct our own realities—if we can navigate the health care system before we die. I have another Way to find hope. I have an ally beyond the “Force.” He comes in the form of a baby, God incarnate, and he brings the Good News. He fills those that need with good things, and He sends the rich away empty. The mighty fall under his rule; he raises up the lowly. He is leading the greatest mutiny against the Empire; He is providing an option to the forgotten in Aleppo; He is making a claim on all of the world, and on us. He is the ray of light on the darkest day of the year.
Merry Christmas, fam.