Can Christians Learn Anything From Dune?
We can’t just NOT talk about Dune, right? It’s too jam-packed with imagery and themes and all that mess to possibly get away with avoiding it. But, it’s also a tricky subject, because it’s pretty clearly exploring the themes of another religion entirely. But what can Christians learn from the story of Paul of the house of Atreides, other than just learning to read dense books that are slow as molasses? For this video, we’re going to focus specifically on something you’ll hear quite a bit between the movie, the show, and the book: the power of fear and why the Litany Against Fear doesn’t quite cut it. Let’s talk about it.
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Luke 12:27-34 NRSV
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Okay, so we’ll be mostly talking about an aspect of Dune for this video, but let’s at least start with a quick synopsis of this dense piece of science fiction
Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, a young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, and he must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people.
As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of spice—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.
So, the story itself follows the epic journey of Paul as he figures out all of that mess and the political intrigue that people love.
But the real captivating part of Dune, for me at least, is in the Bene Gesserit
The Bene Gesserit are a pseudo-religious organization of all-women spies, nuns, scientists, and theologians etc
The group uses genetic experimentation, galactic political interference, and religious engineering to further their own agenda of ascending the human race all in an effort to bring the advent of their chosen one, the Kwisatz Haderach.
The Kwisatz Haderach is the one who can be in all places at once, which is exactly as nondescript and ominous as a Christ figure needs to be
Which, of course, they all believe to be our main character Paul Atreides because main character syndrome duh
We could have a couple hour breakdown of the Bene Gesserit and their origins, impact and all that mess, but for our purposes in this video, I want to touch on one of their practices in particular: the Litany Against Fear
Paul’s mother is Lady Jessica and she also happens to be a Bene Gesserit. Part of her upbringing and training was this Litany - it goes like this:
I’ll do my best Jessica impression...
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
This is a great piece of meta within a story, let me assure you. We’re going to disagree with the main points of it in this video in particular, but that is by no means an attempt to throw away how solid of a storytelling device this is
I’m not the biggest fan of Dune as it is, but it’s hard to deny the lasting power of tropes like this
Any moment where things take a stressful turn, we see Lady Jessica resort to this Litany like a prayer to ward away the fear that would make sense in the situation
The Bene Gesserit are a bit obsessed with fear, as we all should know from the incredibly stressful scene with the hand in the box thingy
Given their obsession, this litany makes a ton of sense. It’s a focus item and something important for their work.
And it’s, again, a great Litany with some powerful words. I’ve seen tattoos or the phrase Fear is the Mind-Killer. It’s a pervasive sentiment.
But it does have a pretty key flaw that we will break down. In order to do that, let’s take a look at some Christian scripture from the Bible about fear
Our scripture for today came from the Gospel of Luke and these are the words of Jesus speaking to a crowd. These are pretty famous words that are often repeated in popular media.
Consider the lilies of the field - Jesus is often quoted here as someone that is saying we shouldn’t fear because God has our back. At its worst, I’ve seen this passage made to say that we don’t to be afraid of anything just because God exists
This often comes out in a sort of faith over fear mentality, right? Which, hey, I love the idea of faith over fear, but I have to kindly ask someone what they mean by faith first.
See, Jesus is absolutely telling the crowd that, if God takes care of the lilies of the field, how much moreso will God care for the incredible work that is humanity. Sure - but that isn’t *all* that Jesus is saying here.
Jesus does say not to worry over little things, but he doesn’t say not to worry at all
Verse 31 says instead, strive for his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well
Well what does that look like? Well, Jesus continues and says that the Father is glad to give you everything, so sell all of your possessions and give alms.
Then we have the real scorcher of a closing act - where your treasure, there your heart will be also
What on earth is Jesus talking about?
How did we get from a conversation about lilies and ravens to a conversation about our wallet dexterity in heaven? Wut?
When in doubt, if it’s a sermon from Jesus, it’s helpful to back up and take a bird’s eye view of the conversation.
This passage is preceded by the parable of the rich fool who stores up his treasures in a barn and then builds more barns to store his bigger treasures and then dies the next night - what did his possessions do to change that?
Okay - now I hear you, that didn’t help at all.
It might take a bit of deeper reading, but why are these two stories - three really if you consider the lilies of the field and the treasures to be two different thoughts… how do these things relate?
It all has to do with the final point that Jesus is making - how are living a life that strives after the Kingdom of God? What does it look like to strive for that Kingdom?
The answer may feel almost insultingly semantic - we strive for the Kingdom of God by actually doing the whole striving thing.
The truth of the rich man storing treasures is that he isn’t actually *doing anything.* He is a static figure storing up nothing. His constant striving for more worldly wealth is static.
In the same way, the worrywort who is concerned over clothes and fashion and fancy feasts - they are static figures so concerned with the things going on right then and there that they have stopped striving actively for the Kingdom of God
The problem with fear isn’t being afraid, it’s being stunned into a place of passivity. It’s allowing our fears to stop us dead in our tracks and end our striving for a more Christ-like life.
In the opposite sense, if we are so actively concerned and afraid of accruing great wealth here on earth, then our actions aren’t active at all, but are instead are just busy hands going nowhere fast
And this is the potential problem of the Litany Against Fear - The words themselves are just words, they are passive. But the act of using the Litany Against Fear is something else entirely.
Just like simply saying faith over fear doesn’t mean anything, just saying the Litany Against Fear is passive and pointless. To be against fear, that’s something that must be done actively. That must be pursued. That must be discovered. And that’s the difference between Paul and Lady Jessica - as cool as Jessica is as a character, she’s a passive sponge of a person when it comes to her incessant reliance on a lifeless chunk of words
Paul is the one who actively is pursuing a defiance of fear. If fear is the mind-killer, then Paul is the one forcing his mind through the murkiness of fear, while Jessica is just hiding from it and truly waiting for it to pass like the Litany says.
The truth of the Christian response to fear is that it is active, it is the act of being, to put it in Dune terms, it is the kwisatz haderach that bridges the calm passivity of Christ the Shepherd and the active being of Christ the King
The Christian response to fear is to all at once be in active pursuit of the Kingdom of God and in passive defiance of fear’s attempted hold on us because we know that God’s got us
So, sure, faith over fear. But once those words leave your lips... Move. On. To dwell in that passive space is to build up a storehouse here on earth and that’s no help for anyone in the end.
But what does this actually mean for us today? How are we able to apply this to the way we are currently living?
At Checkpoint, we believe that we are pursuing the Kingdom of God through our three main rules: we are doing all the good that we can, we are seeking to do no harm to one another, and we are striving to grow in some way, shape, or form in this community. Even if you aren’t a Christian or don’t believe in God, these are still the steps that we believe are crucial to living a better life.
So, whether you are a Freman, of the House of Atreides, or Bene Gesserit, know that you’re always welcome to join us in our pursuit against fear and towards the grace offered by Jesus Christ.
But please, make sure your sandworm is leashed before you come inside, okay?
Question: Did you like the 2021 Dune movie? Are you looking forward to part 2? I enjoyed it, but though the exclusion of some significant scenes with Duke Leto cheapened some of the weight of the film, but a genuinely great attempt at something that is simply TOO dense.
God loves you. We love you. You matter.
Until next time,