The commonality of bad movies and bad religion

Face it. Star Wars sucked. Even the original movie, which I remember fondly and vastly enjoyed watching, was horribly written — that George Lucas did not have an ear for dialog, and once he drifted away from a simple mythic archetype couldn’t put a plot together to save his life, was something that became increasingly evident throughout the series.

And Star Trek? Embarrassingly bad science, hammy acting, and an over-reliance on gobbledygook and the deus ex machina. There was maybe a small handful of episodes that were more than cheesy dreck.

So why do people adore those shows so fanatically?

Here’s one interesting explanation: cult movies plug into the same cognitive keyholes as religion does. The article is a bit superficial — comparing Star Wars to Catholicism, Star Trek to protestantism, and the recent Star Trek retcon/reboot to Mormonism is stretching the analogy way too much. But there’s something to it.

The Star Wars/Star Trek phenomena are a bit odd; I watch bad movies sometimes for entertainment, but I never lose myself in apologetics for them. They’re bad movies. They’re fun for the comic opera klutziness of them, and half the pleasure is being able to stand above them and outside them, and appreciate the sincerity of the exercise in slapping together a weird piece of crap in spite of little obstacles, like a lack of money or talent. But Star Wars/Star Trek have serious fans who devotedly study the lore and get into arguments about which is better, and even think they represent some high quality story telling.

I will boldly predict that some people will be arguing for that in the comments. Of course, they’re wrong. They sucked. Just like religion.

So the question is why do people cling to them…and it seems to me that our brains are equipped with a kind of ideological inertia, which is probably a good thing, since you don’t want to too casually flip-flop on ideas before you’ve worked out their viability. But sometimes we seem to be prone to a pathological degree of attachment, where because once we favored some strange object of worship, whether it’s Jesus or Spock or America or the Green Bay Packers, we can’t let go. Changing our minds would be an admission that we were wrong and could be wrong about something we regard as important in our lives, and there’s a reasonable fear that opening the door to that kind of uncertainty might lead to chaos.

There’s also a peculiar inability to separate the parts from the whole. You can like classical sacred music without endorsing the silliness about magic crackers and Original Sin, just as you can enjoy a light sabre battle on the screen without getting goofy over The Force.

So what is religion? It’s a parasite on a couple of useful features of how the mind works, its tendency to try and model the world around us as a coherent whole and its reluctance to abandon models that fail to work. It’s a particularly successful parasite because it can be introduced early, with mother’s milk, well before they get plonked down in front of the boobtube, and so it generally outcompetes Captain Picard…and it also gets relatively little pushback from the culture once the child leaves the breast to spend more time with outsiders, who are all praising the same mysterious being, and so far Yoda worship isn’t very common.