The below is a chapter from ExMormon’s Search For Meaning, available to purchase on Amazon.
If you asked my wife, she would say I am a Star Wars fan but she would also tell you it’s very confusing as to why I say I’m a Star Wars fan. You see, all I can do is complain about it: George Lucas constantly tinkering with the original movies, Mark Hamill’s whiny acting, storm-troopers that can’t shoot worth a damn, not to mention the embarrassing prequels and the letdown of the modern sequels.
If you’ve ever hung out with someone who loves Star Wars, or if you are a Star Wars fan yourself, it’s likely you also have come across this seeming paradox: Star Wars fans love to hate Star Wars. In this sense, “Star Wars fans” are quite similar to “Mormon fans.” If you talk to Mormons who are honest with themselves, they’ll say they believe the church is true but there is plenty about it they hate, and not just the euphemisms (“oh my heck!”) and the clichés (“I’d like to bear my testimony…”). Mormons love to speculate every six months about what announcements might be made during General Conference in hopes that some point of doctrine will mercifully be changed. Does anyone really like fast and testimony meetings, Sunday school or the endless meetings during the week? The Church is often treated like the bad tasting medicine that you take, not because you want to, but because it’s supposedly good for you.
Over several arguments about what exactly makes Star Wars so important to me, where I find it more and more difficult to argue my case, I have figured out why I keep showing up for each new movie. I hate a lot of things about Star Wars, but the idea of Star Wars…the idea I love. When I watched Star Wars as a child I remember having the sense that I was seeing just the tip of the iceberg. There was an entire universe going on behind the scenes full of fascinating creatures and curious worlds where anything could happen. By the same logic, it was the idea of Mormonism that I had such a hard time leaving rather than Mormonism itself.
The idea of Mormonism is that God loves us, wants us to be happy and return to him after we die. So throughout time he has revealed his plan of happiness to us through prophets. Members of the church personify God’s plan by encouraging, helping and loving each other on the way to eternal life. What a nice idea!
The downfall of the Star Wars prequels (among many) was that they over-explained: learning just how Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side sounds like a compelling idea for a film. But it’s the mystery of how Darth Vader turned to the Dark Side, not to mention all those one-off characters and subtle references to other adventures that get the imagination revving that makes Star Wars so great.
The idea of Mormonism by itself also sounds great, but many can’t help but feel compelled to go deeper than the superficial narrative. What is unique to Mormonism, rather than other Christian religions, is that many questions about it can be answered. It’s a relatively new religion with ample records and testimonies of people who were there when it happened. I thought I was supposed to find the answers to my questions about the nature of God, the restoration of the Gospel and Joseph Smith to increase my faith. Once I realized there was information out there that I previously didn’t know existed that held the possibility of providing additional answers, I couldn’t not read it.
In the end that’s what I did. And I found answers. And the answers made me disbelieve. Eric Hoffer’s quote from his book True Believer brought on a new level of understanding: “We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength.”
Desire is fueled by the unknown. Mormonism is like the magician who has revealed the trick behind their “magic.” Once the gimmick is laid bare, the magic dispels and you lose interest. Maybe if Mormonism came out with some new revelations about the nature of God or new ways that God wants us to behave, it would respark some of that desire. In that regard, Star Wars will continue to pull me into the theater every once in a while as long as it keeps attempting to come up with something new. But as for church, it’s just the idea of a unified belief system that I miss—something that never really existed in the first place—instead of the religion itself.