Theologically Sound. Culturally Relevant.


No, Mandalorian can’t really help you navigate crises of faith

I have a moment to do two of my favorite things: dunk on Big Eva and talk film. And for the glory of God, we will be looking at an article Christianity Today wrote about The Mandalorian. Alexandra Mellen of Christianity Today writes an article titled, “‘The Mandalorian’ Can Teach Us How to Navigate Crises of Faith.” Now, at first glance, you may think that this is a shameless attempt to appease the culture or titillate your fancy for your favorite TV show. And you would be right. Now there is a right way to mix pop culture and faith and there is a wrong way to do it.

My positive example of a right way to do it is where I used a clip from Scrubs where a character misquotes Romans 8:28 to explain who Romans 8:28 refers to and why it’s terrible for apologetics to misquote that verse. However, that particular episode was wrestling with the ideas of divine providence and it was no stretch to use that example. Mellen’s article, in contrast, reads a lot more into Mandalorian than it deserves and has gone well outside of the scope from which one can derive literary meaning.

As Din travels to various planets tracking down the mysterious alien child Grogu (better known as Baby Yoda) and eventually seeking a good home for him, he meets people whose beliefs severely challenge his own. Din’s soul-searching becomes the heart of the show, and his willingness to question his worldview makes a good example for us as well.

So far, we are stating the obvious. I would add that the second season was a deconstruction arc as opposed to “soul searching” whereby Mando gradually sheds his religious conviction for practical outcomes.

But what, exactly, is the Way? Is it protecting the Mandalorians’ covert on the planet Nevarro at all costs? Is it keeping his face hidden from even his own people? Is it caring for foundlings, orphans who are rescued and reared to preserve Mandalorian culture? What if fulfilling one of these tenets jeopardizes another? Worse, what if some of them aren’t essential for a Mandalorian to follow?

The problem is not that the Mandalorians have too many rules or goals that are in conflict, it’s that they have very simple, broad rules that are challenged in instances of injury, exposure, or perhaps accident. Their rules are impractical. They are not in conflict with their objectives. Mellen then explains that in an episode, Mando meets Mandalorians who do not keep their helmets on, this challenging his upbringing in which he was taught that his way was the only way. It would turn out that he was part of a particular religious sect, that was not representative of the broader Mandalore culture. She uses this to articulate:

How does a person proceed after a revelation like that?…

One way is to surround ourselves with friends with different perspectives. The droid that saved Grogu was reprogrammed by Din’s friend Kuiil, who insisted that it accompany Din and Grogu to a showdown with the Empire. Din relents because he trusts Kuiil, not because he’s changed his mind about droids.

This approach has been valuable in my own life. I’ve had professors I trust suggest new approaches to doctrine and politics that I would’ve rejected from a stranger. I can see humanity in controversial issues by spending time with people impacted by those issues. “As iron sharpens iron,” so these people have refined my beliefs (Prov. 27:17).

Another important habit is to examine our priorities and be conscious of which cognitions are essential, and which are not. Din Djarin may not have realized at first that he was doing this, but every risk he takes for Grogu points to it.

This is reading into pop culture a message that the literature is not speaking to. The story arc regarding Mando’s prejudice against droids is a complete departure from Mando wrestling with a crisis of faith. This is indulgence. She moves on to talk about the first major compromise to his interpretation of his creed.

The dissonance isn’t completely gone for Din. He still has to figure out what his Mandalorian creed will be in light of Bo-Katan’s revelation. But when he took his helmet off, he let one belief outweigh others: Be the family to the foundling in your care.

When our worldview is shaken by painful realities, we can find the way in the midst of cognitive dissonance by setting our priorities straight. Christ’s death and resurrection are “of first importance” (15:3); love is “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31); the Word of God is more trustworthy than human leaders (1 Thess. 2:13). These may not resolve the dissonance—they may make it worse—but prioritizing them will not lead us astray.

To inject Star Trek into Star Wars, I’ll summarize Mellen’s arguments by stating that Mando chose a “prime directive” that sorted out how to act in the situation. One could argue that said compromise was unnecessary in the first place because the Storm Troopers in Mandalorian are nerfed cardboard cutouts, but the issue of point as to whether the compromise was the only option is a digression for the arguments here. She concludes:

We’re called to the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1). Sometimes that won’t be comfortable. Jesus told his fellow Jews that they misinterpreted their own Law—six times in one sermon (Matt. 5). Where they rationalized, he refocused them on love. When we encounter a similarly jarring revision of what we think we know, it’s okay to dwell in that cognitive dissonance. We can take a cue from Din Djarin and pursue truth, following Christ, who is our Way.

If someone used my favorite show to make monumental straw grasps in an effort to be relatable, I would cringe at the example. And I do not believe I am alone in this. It’s far easier to read into Scripture what Scripture has to say than read TV shows to see what Scripture has to say. This is distinct from reading the ideas of a TV show and then comparing them with the teachings of Scripture.

Contrast these two statements: “Tony Stark’s sacrifice in Avengers Endgame was an application of John 15:13.” “Tony Stark is an example of how to live out your faith.” These statements both describe the same exact events from the same exact pop culture example. But which one is the dog wagging the tail as opposed to the tail wagging the dog? That is the key distinction we need to make when addressing pop culture and Christianity.

And perhaps The Mandalorian is stretched here because it does not competently wrestle with moral ideas. We are supposed to hope for the survival of Baby Yoda thinking that he may be the last of the Yodas, but the audience is supposed to laugh when Baby Yoda eats what could be the last of a different sentient species. Moreover, Bill Burr’s character resents an Imperial officer for his convictions regarding the expendable nature of Storm Troopers. Yet Bill Burr has no qualms about going Quentin Tarantino in exacting revenge, gratuitously killing the Storm Troopers, whose lives he valued in the previous scene.

Perhaps this is why we got the article that we did and why it took nearly three months to come out with it. And the article we got was on how a religious deconstruction arc can help you navigate a crisis of faith. If your crisis of faith can be countered by watching Mandalorian, you’re a Star Wars fan craving average caliber television as Disney destroys your favorite franchise, not a Christian.


2 Responses

  1. It sounds like a weak attempt at trying to make Christianity relevant to popular culture. Kind of like a 50+ year old pastor in skinny jeans, its a real stretch!

    1. I tried to recall when a pastor did this to a show I liked but I barely recollect the sermon. It must have been pastoral clickbait, if that’s a thing. Like, it tried to pander in a carnal way but if I were carnal it would have been led on.

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