What do a 1980s evangelist, an Imperial Officer of the Galactic Empire, and the current Bishop of Los Angeles have in common?
I connected those dots recently when three of my grandsons spent a weekend with us. As we continued watching the Star Wars spinoff series called The Mandalorian, the “aha” moment occurred during a scene in episode seven of season two. In a dialogue with the Mandalorian, an Imperial Officer of the Galactic Empire justified why the Empire ruled with an iron fist. “Everybody thinks they want freedom, but what they really want is order.” The Empire had come to power promising peace and stability. What’s losing a few freedoms when you can have order?
That line uttered by the Imperial Commander was not just a linguistic plot device to trigger a fight scene in the movie. It also reminded me of what happens when unredeemed humanity is ruled by fear. A fearful society will sacrifice freedom for order.
This fictional dialogue prompted a non-fictional flashback for me. Forty-odd years ago, I was sitting in the Atlanta Civic Center attending a seminar presented by Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Schaeffer, an evangelical theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian minister, was on tour giving seminars based on his 1976 book, How Should We Then Live.
Schaeffer made an interesting observation — one I have never forgotten. Keep in mind, this was over forty years ago.
He pointed out that Western culture, especially in America, had adopted two bankrupt values of “personal peace and affluence.” Say what? In his 1976 book, How Should We Then Live? Schaeffer defined personal peace and affluence as wanting to “live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being disturbed….Affluence means an overwhelming and increasing prosperity — a life made up of things, things, and more things — a success judged by an ever higher level of material abundance.” (1)
Schaffer went on to offer a prophetic warning. As the Christian consensus continues to weaken, Americans will be willing to sacrifice their freedom and liberties, without raising their voices, to preserve these two bankrupt values of personal peace and affluence.
Later in his book, Schaeffer opines, “Politics has largely become not a matter of ideals — increasingly men and women are not stirred by the values of liberty and truth — but of supplying a constituency with a frosting of personal peace and affluence. They know that voices will not be raised as long as people have these, or at least an illusion of them.” (2)
As America is hell-bent on sliding down the path of relativistic humanism, rejecting its Judeo-Christian moorings, the inevitable outcome is a state of chaos. Modern society may be indifferent to objective truth, but it abhors chaos. Schaeffer’s point? A fearful culture will sacrifice freedom for order.
Then earlier this month, I read an article on totalitarianism written by Robert Barron, the current Catholic Bishop of Los Angeles. Barron proposed that authentic freedom is only discovered in a culture that honors objective truth and intrinsic goodness. But we are living, he argues, in a time when individuals demand the right to define their own sense of what is good and true. And once we set aside the objective value of truth and goodness, we open the door to totalitarianism — the ultimate destination of our current cultural mindset. “The grossly exaggerated valuation of private feelings and the concomitant denial of objective truth and moral value have introduced the relentless war of wills—and evidence of this is on display in practically every aspect of our culture. Unless some of us open up a space for truth and boldly stand in it, despite fierce opposition, we are poised to succumb to…totalitarianism…” (3)
Could it be that the more secular America becomes, the less freedom we enjoy?
Barron recognizes that indifference to objective truth and goodness inevitably leads to a war of wills where the strongest will eventually impose itself on all others inevitably leading to totalitarianism.
Schaeffer foresaw a fearful Western culture opening the door to totalitarianism by voluntarily sacrificing freedom for order.
And the Imperial officer of the Galactic Empire? Well, it sounds like he may not be so fictional after all.
(1) Francis Schaeffer, “How Should We Then Live?” (New jersey, Fleming H. Revell Company), 1976), pg. 20
(2) Ibid, pg. 227
(3) Bishop Robert Barron, Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, and the Distinction Between Fact and Fiction, 8/10/2021, https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/hannah-arendt-totalitarianism-and-the-distinction-between-fact-and-fiction/32747/
(4). Photo by Brian McGowan at Unsplash.com