Why is Star Wars more popular than God?

I’m not a Star Wars fan.

I don’t hate it; I don’t love it. I’m normally quite agnostic on the subject.

I don’t begrudge people having favorite movies; I have favorite movies. I don’t begrudge them sharing their favorites with their kids (though it will be quite a few years before my kids appreciate any of the movies that I like,) nor do I look askance at movie-themed products (those Frozen-middle grade novels strike me as a cute idea.)

But when I see moms dressing their infants in Darth Vader onesies, I think society has gotten really, really weird.

Target is filled with mountain of Star Wars crap, much of it regular products with a Star Wars logo slapped on. Fuzzy infant socks with a tiny picture of Yoda’s head on the side; beer holders and bouncy balls and ugly sweaters.

I’m not judging the sweaters; they’re advertised as “ugly sweaters.” (Why would anyone purposefully spend money on an “ugly sweater”?)

I can’t get to the diaper section without feeling like my soul is being crushed beneath the mountains of useless crap produced solely so we can buy it, wrap it up, and exchange it for someone else’s box of worthless crap in imitation of ritual.

And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?

33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

At least you can eat lentils. How much have we sacrificed for this pile of crap?

70% of American adults claim to be “Christians;” that drops to only 56% among “Young Millenials” (folks 19-25 years old.) But parents are disproportionately religious, which probably explains why, according to le Wik, “62 percent of children say religion is important to them, 26 percent say it’s somewhat important, and 13 percent say it’s not important.”

Interestingly, on a related note:

From Faith in the Family: How belief passes from one generation to the next
From Faith in the Family: How belief passes from one generation to the next

According to Vern Bengston’s research, Jews and Mormons are particularly good at passing on their religious beliefs to their children. He credits this to these religions’ intergenerational focus and household rituals. Part of it is probably also the fact that these religions are still focused on having children, and religion is pointless without children. If you’re looking for a religion to raise your kids in and have no particular preference of your own, Mormonism or Judaism might be the ticket.

Bengston also finds that a major influence on a child’s likelihood of adopting their parents’ religion is how good the relationship is between them and their parents, particularly their father:

From Faith and the Family: How religious belief passes from one generation to the next
From Faith and the Family: How belief passes from one generation to the next

If your dad’s a jerk, you’re likely to reject his beliefs. (Does this mean divorce is driving the increase in atheism?)

At any rate, no matter how you slice it, over half of parents–and children–claim to be Christian.

What percent of people are Star Wars fans?

One amusing study found that 4.8% of Alaskans “liked” Star Wars on Facebook. Alaskans appear to be the biggest Star Wars fans, followed by WA, OR, and Utah. Star Wars has the lowest % of likes down in the Deep South. In other words, English and German-descended folks like Star Wars.

I always groan a little when someone produces a map of ethnicity without realizing it.
(I always groan a little when someone produces a map of ethnicity without realizing it:

The "Americans" are mostly Scottish/Irish
Note the very high quantity of English in Utah and Maine, vs their relative absence in the Deep South [highly black] and MA/RI/Conn/NJ [Irish, Italians.])
A Facebook Poll asked people to list their favorite books; while Harry Potter came in first, 7.2% of people listed the Bible.

Obviously this is not a good way of comparing affection for Star Wars to affection to the Bible, but having interacted with people, 7% feels rather close to the actual percentage of real Christians.

There’s always a chicken and egg dynamic to marketing and advertising. How much of the crush of Star Wars merchandise is driven by actual demand, and how much is everyone just buying Star Wars crap because there happens to be an enormous pile of it?

There’s another thing that makes me uncomfortable: this notion that Star Wars somehow reflects my culture. Or as an acquaintance claimed this morning, “The Big Bang Theory.” For the sake of this post, dear readers, I have ventured into the nether reaches of YouTube and watched The Big Bang Theory highlight reels (I can’t seem to find any full episodes; probably a copyright thing.)

The Big Bang Theory is not my culture. (You may have noticed a distinct lack of Batman jokes on this blog.) Neither is Star Wars. Yes, some nerds like Star Wars, but we are not the people who motivated Target to stock enormous piles of Star Wars merchandise. I have nothing personal against these franchises, but I recoil against the claim that they have anything to do with my culture.

At any rate, no one is stopping you from buying a Veggie Tales DVD (Amazon has a ton of Veggie Tales free for instant streaming if you have Prime membership; there are also a bunch on Netflix,) or Queen Esther action figure, Bible Heroes trading cards or Anarchy in the Monarchy card game–no, wait, the last one is just funny, not religious.

I’ve never understood why, but the average “Christian” parent won’t buy any of that. Perhaps their kids just don’t want religious toys (though I would have loved ’em.) Perhaps my Christian friend was telling the honest truth when they said, “No one likes a Jesus freak.” Maybe most “Christians” are less devout than I am (which is really saying something, since I’m an atheist.) Maybe the folks who decide which products will be carried at major stores aren’t interested in religiously-oriented items, and everyone else just goes along, sheep-like, with whatever they see. I don’t really know.

But if you care about passing on your faith, consider abandoning the materialistic deluge and spend some quality time with your kids instead. Even if you don’t care about faith, I still recommend that. If you don’t have kids, substitute the loved ones you have. They’re worth a lot more than a Yoda-shaped mug.

19 thoughts on “Why is Star Wars more popular than God?

  1. Well I wouldn’t underestimate how important potent iconography is. Star Wars is popular not because of great dialogue or plotting or many things typically analyzed by nerds – but pieces of imagery or individual lines that are extremely powerful in how they hit our psyche. “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” is an inspired introductory line, that calls to mind fairy tales and epics but also the magical of scifi and well, it’s the sort of thing most authors would kill to write even once. Star Wars is able to do this over and over again (“Use the Force”, everything related to Darth Vader, etc).

    (As I mentioned elsewhere, why merely 5 years after Avatar made more money than any other movie ever, does no one reference it or remember a single line?)

    “Live long and prosper”, “to boldly go” also fit that bill, and so we get our other mythology. This sort of thing isn’t easily replicable (and it’s not even easily describable, which is why I am doing such a poor job of it.) It’s little surprise it has a stranglehold on our nation’s imagination.

    Early religions generally have this. A lot of the lines of the gospels especially catch this (people often say there is no line more beautiful than “Jesus wept”, and I might agree). But modern attempts to “sell” their religion? They tend to be so didactic and awkward that they completely fail at this sort of sublime prose and imagery. Certainly mainstream Christian commercial culture fails at it. (I think the consistency you find among Mormon and Jewish communities have a lot more to do with the dynamics of tight minority tribes in modernity, than any actual respect for their religion. But when you do get there, there’s a lot of adoration of the sublime aspects of that religion – the holy things, the hard things.)

    So yeah, Star Wars has a much better hold on the national psyche than Official Branded Christianity ™.

    The real hack would be to point out to kids how these really powerful stories are in fact *ripping off the bible* (or whatever holy book). Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter… they all have very strong Christian messages about sacrifice for the sake of all humanity. Appropriate them back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Idomeneus. I guess you are well-informed and have given much thought to the subject. :)

      “As I mentioned elsewhere, why merely 5 years after Avatar made more money than any other movie ever, does no one reference it or remember a single line?”

      Is that more in inflation-adjusted dollars?
      I haven’t seen Avatar, but I think that serieses draw in fans over time–people who didn’t see the first book or read the first movie may see the second, third, fourth, etc., and then go back and read the first. I’ve certainly read professional authors describe how each time they publish a new book, all of their old books get a sales boost. Harry Potter had 7 volumes; many other successful serieses have also gone past the traditional trilogy. (Even the publishers’ apparent preference for trilogies probably owes much to repeat authors selling more than stand-alones.)

      So Star Wars’s now 7 installments gives it a definite boost over most other movies.

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    • Did not see Avatar, but the idea of comparing movies’ box-office take to their cultural penetration is an interesting avenue to explore. Here’s the list of biggest movies from wiki. (Yes, I hate using anything with “inflation” in it, but I guess a list like this is fluff so being downstream from massive fudge does not hurt so much.) (Note that Avatar is #2 on the list.)

      Of those I’d say that Star Wars is a memetic monster, with far more memorable things than any of the others listed.

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  2. Speaking of things you don’t see everyday; atheists who tell religious people to tighten it up or atheists who use the term “real” Christians.

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  3. Bengston also finds that a major influence on a child’s likelihood of adopting their parents’ religion is how good the relationship is between them and their parents, particularly their father…

    If your dad’s a jerk, you’re likely to reject his beliefs.

    Caution here: causality may go the opposite direction. If you reject Dad’s beliefs, you’ll come to think he’s a jerk.

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    • Certainly possible.
      Most of the people I know who really dislike their parents dislike them for practical reasons, like drinking too much or beating them as children. I don’t really know anyone who claims to dislike their parents over theological disputes. Of course, that’s all anecdote.

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  4. Christians have also really secularized a lot of their religious holidays. It is true you don’t see a lot of memetic/marking things around biblical figurers – but you sure do see a lot of Santa, Santa’s elves and Easter Bunny things.

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  5. I’m a religious parent, albeit of the very rare mainline Protestant variety. We don’t buy Jesus kitsch because it’s tacky. Religious artifacts shouldn’t be so obviously disposable, which the Veggie Tales stuff is. (It is very popular for preschoolers though.) My sons have nice Bibles, and some silver Christmas ornaments they won’t get until they own actual houses. We pass our religion by experience, not by toys.

    As for Star Wars, that sort of thing is supposed to be disposable. Additionally, it’s something that people who otherwise share nothing can share. We are not a racially or religiously homogenous culture, but we do have blockbuster movies in common. Thus, office Secret Santas can safely purchase Star Wars packaged M & M’s in a way that they could not buy TestaMints.

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    • Thanks for your perspective.

      I notice that Mainline Protestants seem to be having a difficult time passing on their beliefs to their kids. Any ideas on what your fellow believers are doing wrong or could do better?

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  6. Humping the shark troll post, lolz.

    In a looooong poll, nobody knows who the fuck Star Wars is.

    Religion is unpopular. God is much more popular than religion. I suspect that you already assumed this and were just trollololing.

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