Luke Skywalker's final words in the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi made waves across the internet: "I only know one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end."
This is a big deal, and not only because the Jedi are the awesome, lightsaber-twirling, Force-using heroes Star Wars fans crave.
It's also a big deal because the Jedi are the most well-known religious group in the Star Wars universe. The Jedi Order has existed for 25,000 years — far longer than Earth's Catholic church, and not entirely dissimilar.
So what does it mean when Luke suggests that he wants to abolish the Jedi? Is Star Wars about to take a hard anti-religion turn?
What is a Jedi?
On the surface, the Jedi are a group of noble peacekeepers scattered throughout the galaxy. They wield cool laser swords, they can move stuff with their minds, and usually when they show up, it's to save the day and look awesome doing it. They're smart, they're powerful, and in most places around the galaxy, they're respected. To a casual Star Wars fan, the Jedi are the badass heroes everybody wants to be when they grow up.
But the Jedi don't just have an academy. They have temples.
Jedi dress in robes. They are forbidden from romantic relationships and they're trained from a young age in the ways of the Force — the almost deity-like power that binds all living things.
In the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, Han Solo doesn't look at Obi-Wan Kenobi and say, "Oh, you're one of those space cops!" He tells a young Luke, "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."
Hokey religion. That's what belief in the Force boiled down to, for him. All the good things the Jedi had done throughout history were secondary to the fact that it was a religious group.
Right before the fall of the Jedi — and the fall of the Republic itself — the extent to which religion and government were bound got ... messy. Jedi didn't act as an independent organization, sending out missionaries and raising money for charitable causes. They were official tools of the government, and it would be hard for a normal citizen of the galaxy not to feel as if the so-called Jedi Knights weren't used purely to strong-arm government dissenters into giving in to the Senate's demands.
Where did government's agenda end and the Jedi agenda begin?
The Star Wars prequels, flawed as they are, show some of the problems with this setup. The Jedi Council is obsessed with prophecy — the idea that Anakin Skywalker (the Jedi who would later become Darth Vader) could "bring balance to the Force" and, in their view, eliminate the Sith ("evil Jedi," to put it simply). They are so focused on what their religion says about the hidden Sith agenda that they are manipulated into aiding the rise of the Empire and the downfall of their entire organization.
In short, they were so concerned with maintaining power that they lost it all.
It wasn't the just the seduction of the Sith that pulled Anakin Skywalker toward the Dark Side of the Force. The Jedi Order pushed him away.
What does this have to do with religion in modern America?
Just like the Jedi pushed Anakin away, one of the leading causes of atheism is said to be Christians. Not Christ, but Christians.
I'm a millennial. A Pew study says my generation is far less religious than that of our parents. Whole books can be (and have been) written on the reasons why, but anecdotally, as a Christian, it's not about the words of Jesus.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." In Christ's ideal scenario, people would look at you and say, "Your love for your fellow human is so great and so obvious that you must be a Christian."
Instead, the American Christian story has been warped and co-opted so much that from the outside looking in, the story is this: "If you vote Republican, love guns, hate gay people and are against women's rights, you must be a Christian."
Now, let me be abundantly clear: That's not an accurate view of Christians. It's not an accurate view of Republicans, either, while we're on the topic. Plenty of Christians hate guns and march for women. Plenty of Republicans are atheists who support gay rights. Large groups of people can't easily be pigeonholed.
But perception can be everything, and more than that, most of us young Christians know at least one person who fits the stereotypical mold of "angry old guy who loves God but hates immigrants." Some of us have heard people say, in complete seriousness, that you can't be a Christian if you support gun control, as if that were one of the core tenets of Jesus' teaching.
We're seeing such people use their religion, not for love, but for power. Instead of spending time caring for their fellow humans, far too many people go into the world in God's name on a hunt for more influence, even when that hunt becomes hypocritical.
Christians, like the Jedi, are becoming so obsessed with their personal agendas that they're missing everything going on in the world around them, and it could very well lead to their downfall.
Spiritual but not religious
Luke's role in The Last Jedi is interesting so far. He doesn't appear to have given up on belief in the Force.
In fact, he seems to be training Rey in how to use it. "Breathe," you hear him say in the trailer. "Just breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?"
He's teaching our heroine how to connect to the universe, how to use the Force to manipulate the world around her.
So when Luke says it's time for the Jedi to end, he's not talking about belief in the Force. After all, how can you doubt its existence when it allows you to lift rocks with your mind? He must be talking about something else. Not faith, but religion.
This idea isn't unheard. While many young people have left churches, they still consider themselves spiritual. What that means varies from person to person, but for many it's this: They still believe in God (or, at least, they believe in something pulling the strings in the universe). Maybe they like the things Jesus stands for, but they don't feel they can side with the church.
Some can't reconcile going to a Catholic church when it's been plagued by issues with sexual abuse. Some are uncomfortable with the idea that calling themselves a Christian could put them in the same bucket as Westboro Baptist Church. Some have the impression that Christianity is anti-science, and thus they can't be seen as Christian and also seen as intellectual.
To these people, the idea that "it's time for the Jedi to end" is relatable. If you associate religion not with love but with moments like the Crusades, then yeah, I can see why you might be anti-religion. If you look at the Jedi not as noble peacekeepers but as misguided zealots who were mostly wiped out in a war, then yeah, maybe the Jedi don't need to be around anymore.
Or maybe, just maybe, these organizations can be fixed. Maybe, under Luke or under Rey, the Jedi could return to their rightful place as spiritual advisers and defenders of the innocent. Maybe, under modern leadership, Christianity can return to its rightful place as a religion of love with a message of forgiveness.
I think the world of Star Wars would be less appealing without noble Jedi in it. Likewise, I think Earth would be less appealing without good Christians in it. So let's not repeat the mistakes of the Jedi. Let's give young people like Rey examples that they want to follow, not run from.