Columns - 2015

    21st Century religion

    A young hero is raised from infancy in a home not of his parents. Alone in the desert, he encounters a much older being -- about whom he's only ever heard fleeting stories -- with powers and wisdom beyond his ken.

    The powerful being shows the young hero a strange, unnaturally burning fire, and guides him toward a long journey to bring his oppressed people to freedom.

    Along the way he is taught to use special powers, and thanks to the seemingly impossible, miraculous navigation of a narrow trench he leads his people to salvation.

    His story is recorded in multiple volumes. Countless more have scrutinized every word and detail, and created stories to fill in the gaps or to explain seeming inconsistencies. Some have explored, at length, how these events could actually happen. For as long as the tale has been told, some people have devoted their lives to these scholarly pursuits.

    Yes, this is the journey of Luke Skywalker and his guide, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

    How can one compare Luke Skywalker to Moses? Easily: Moses was taller. (Also, frankly, both had their moments of whining early on.)

    But this is not to say that Moses carried a lightsaber or that Luke operated under divine providence.

    This is not to say that Moses used The Force to part the Sea of Reeds -- though that would be pretty awesome. (Disclaimer: As of this writing, this columnist has not yet seen "Exodus: Gods and Kings.")

    This is not the birth of Sciencefictiontology. John Travolta took care of that birth and not-immediate-enough death with "Battlefield Earth."

    This is not to say that the Big G is really midi-chlorians, or that the midi-chlorians which (unfortunately) explain The Force are the Big G. (Though there are those who do argue the point.)

    This is to say that the myriad followings of various Potters, Hobbits, Jedis, Federations (of Planets, not of Jews), Games of Thrones (or Hunger), and many others, takes on characteristics very similar to Talmudic thought. Certainly, it's just as true of baseball or football -- every Alabama fan already knows that crimsonness is next to godliness.

    [paragraph of silence for the UAB football program -- counter-balanced by a deafening paragraph for the deaf ears of those behind its verkakte demise]

    Each of these has their heroes, villains, rituals, paraphernalia, mythos, and ethos. The Bible might be the best-selling book of all time, but how does that equate relative to the $2.8 billion in worldwide box office for "Avatar?"

    Consider the recent release of the first trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (aka Episode VII: Apology for the Prequels).

    Many thousands of people crowded the internet and movie theatres just to see it the day it was released. Every frame was scrutinized for clues and meaning. Moreso when some character names were later revealed via retro trading cards.

    Controversy immediately erupted. A black stormtrooper?!? Sacrilege. Or racism. Or both. Or neither. Or inexplicable because stormtroopers are all clones of some Australian guy.

    A three-pointed lightsaber? Some thought it was cool, some gave it an equally icy reception. Is it even feasible? Practical? How are people supposed to believe in it as legitimate?

    In chat rooms throughout the internet, and coffee shops and conference rooms worldwide, many argued these points, and still do. They eagerly await The Next Revelation (i.e. trailer).

    Aren't these people having these debates, trying to solve the great mystery, just like scholars trying to interpret the Torah, or to interpret the interpretations of the Torah in the Talmud?

    Perhaps there is a human need to have something to believe in, or follow, or at least to scrutinize for greater understanding.

    Perhaps in the absence of religion providing a compelling exploration for them, they find it in other media. Perhaps there's a lesson in that for religion... and for those other media, and the power they can hold.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who hopes Natalie Portman will marry him despite his comment about the prequels... Because that's the only thing preventing it. He also wonders if use of The Force is a violation of Shabbat. For past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, follow

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.