What Star Wars Taught me about the Real Dark Side

What do Voldemort, Emperor Palpatine, and Sauron have in common? Well ok, zero marks if you said they’re all villains. Ten marks if you said that Sauron and Voldemort have rather a lot in common (rings/horcruxes, Death Eaters/ Ringwraiths…). But there’s something else about these villains, and so many others in fiction, that renders them all into one unique class—one which makes for brilliant fiction but bears absolutely no resemblance to real life.

They all knew that they were the villains. And they accepted it.

Voldemort content to be the greatest Dark wizard? Sauron assuming the mantle of the Dark Lord? Palpatine bidding unto the dark side? If you ever wondered to yourself why anyone would have ever thought dark magic is really fun, or have gone from the awesome-but-a-bit-weird Jedi to the patently-manifest-evil of the Sith, to have explicitly jumped from the light to the dark, you’re not alone. The reality is that human nature never gravitates towards the label ‘evil’ or ‘dark.’ Rather, every real-life villain paints themselves as the hero of the piece. History bears grave witness to this fact.

The 20th century was a veritable rogue’s gallery of dictators, despots, and tyrants. And yet, we can find a common thread between them, if only we look. Did Hitler ever call his people to unite under the banner of evil? Not once. He preached that his doctrine was one based on justice—righting the wrongs done to his people after WWI, serving the cause of humanity by weeding out its ‘weaker’ members, producing a world that would work hard in the cause of human progress. Similarly, the communist dictators did not advertise their death tolls. Rather, they promoted their revolutionary mottos: equality for all, and liberty for the downtrodden underclasses. Again, Truman did not feel inclined to read out the obituaries of the fallen at Hiroshima and Nagasaki—rather, he and his ilk justified their war crimes on the pages of history with the blood of those whose lives they claimed to have thus saved.


“Every real-life villain paints themselves as the hero of the piece”


 

The 21st century is no different. Did the leaders who have the blood of millions of Iraqis on their hands call their people to war in the name of greed, brutality, and inhumanity? Quite the contrary. They called their citizens to war in the name of freedom, democracy, and justice. On the other side of the coin, extremist groups like ISIL recruit by means of highlighting a history of injustices unleashed on the Arab world. ‘Right their wrongs’ they say, right their wrongs, and create a new utopia. A sad and familiar tale is thus played out of the pages of history.

Nobody works evil in the name of evil. Rather the villains of the world try to convince themselves and others alike that their evil is in fact goodness. How then can we be sure of what goodness truly is? How can we avoid the trap of fooling ourselves into thinking that what is wrong is right, and what is right is wrong?

The answers from religions the world over are remarkably similar. They tell us to refer an act or doctrine to our moral conscience—an impress of divinity in our very souls. This allows us to judge the rightness and wrongness of every action in accordance to our innate nature, one which has been modelled on the Divine Nature. We can try and run away from the call of this inner conscience, incorporating immoral acts into our daily routine, and yet its rebuke, however subtle, will always be present if are brave enough to listen. But not only have we been given an inner moral guide in our conscience but we have also been given an external guide in the form of Divine Scripture. Thus, if we deny our own conscience, we always have scripture to pull us back to where we should be. The Qur’an, which claims to be the peak of spiritual guidance, thus terms itself ‘The Reminder’ at many places- a reminder of our true moral nature from which we too often flee.


“Nobody works evil in the name of evil”


 

Aside from this religious perspective, we have the atheistic perspective on morality. It is often termed ‘Humanism’ in today’s world—an attempt to be ‘good without God.’ Whilst undoubtedly atheists can and often are very good people, they cannot help but find themselves in a precarious position when compared to the theist. Without a scripture to which they can refer, they are left only with their internal moral guide. And yet, as we have seen, our internal moral guide is often left powerless in the face of stronger emotional and materialistic desires. Our minds too easily seek to justify our wrongs and thus smother the call of our conscience. How can an atheist know how far they have departed from their true moral sensibilities? Without any moral guidance to follow, they are left adrift at sea—hoping they are nearing their destination, but at the mercy at every new wave that comes their way.

Undoubtedly religious people, like atheists, can be immoral, and many have committed great moral crimes. However, this is not the fault of their moral guidance, nor the fault of their moral exemplars. It is their fault, and their fault alone. They had both the internal and external moral guidance, but ignored it, as scripture itself forewarns. The difference between the atheist and the theist lies in the fact that one can clearly demonstrate to the theist how they had disobeyed their religious teachings. With the atheist however, no such facility exists. The humanist is able to justify any immorality they commit with an appeal to whichever moral philosophy they choose. Or, they can simply ignore all moral philosophies and do as they please, this approach too being consistent with atheism. With no moral guidance fixed, neither we nor they can hold their actions to account.

This should give every humanist pause for thought. Humanism calls to goodness, whilst admitting that in reality there is no objective standard of goodness. At best, this philosophy is rendered pointless, and at worst harmful. Pointless, because as we have found, people will always work in the name of good anyway. Humanism can therefore simply tag along with whatever moral trends are already prevalent or gathering force in society, and thus attempt to keep its face clean at all times. It acts as the opposite of religious morality: whereas the Prophets stood up against prevailing moral trends and championed another way, one which they claimed was the natural way to man, the atheist can easily assimilate into whatever crowd they find themselves.

But at worst, atheist humanism is harmful, because by removing an objective standard of goodness to which we can all equally conform, it opens the door to people making their own definitions of good and evil. A moral philosophy that simply says ‘be good’ is preaching to the choir. We all think we’re the hero of the story, and such unaccountable moral bravado is precisely the making of a villain.

“Is he, then, to whom the evil of his deed is made to appear pleasing, so that he looks upon it as good, like him who believes and does good deeds?”
[Holy Qur’an, 35:9]

By Umar Nasser

Follow the author on twitter: @UmarN91

To find more articles like these, visit Rationalreligion.co.uk

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