“Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes” (Don’t Believe It)
In Star Wars: Episode III, Obi-Wan Kenobi makes a rather odd claim about absolutes. At its core is a belief system that can affect how we see the entire world.
All right, Star Wars fans—Dec. 17 is right around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to discuss a movie many of us feel so strongly about.
That’s right: We’re going to talk about Episode III.
(Non-Star Wars fans, I promise to be super geeky for only a couple of paragraphs. If you can wade through that, I’ll try my best* to make the rest of this post worth your while.)
The specific scene I’m thinking about here is the brief conversation between Anakin and Obi-Wan on the lava planet Mustafar. Just moments before the climactic battle, we’re treated to a brief exchange of political and philosophical rhetoric that I consider to be the sad, disappointing cherry on top of an already unsatisfying sundae. Here’s an excerpt:
Anakin: Don’t make me kill you.
Obi-Wan: Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic! To democracy!
Anakin: If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!
Obi-Wan: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
This particular scene was jarring for a couple of reasons—partly because it felt like the movie was shamelessly hawking a particular ideology, but mostly it was the fact that Obi-Wan’s last line made absolutely no sense.
“Only a Sith deals in absolutes”?
Okay. Let’s talk about that for a minute. The reasoning behind Obi-Wan’s statement isn’t just limited to the silver screen—it’s actually all too common in the real world, and it’s important that we address and understand it.
Relatively speaking …
Of course, in the real world, there aren’t a lot of people talking about the evil Sith and their absolute-dealing ways. What you will hear, though, are variations like these:
- “There are no absolute truths.”
- “That might be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”
- “All truth is subjective.”
You can probably add a couple of others to the list—but there’s a problem with all these claims.
Every one of those statements falls apart when you hold it up to its own standards. Consider:
- Is “there are no absolute truths” an absolute truth?
- Is it true for everyone that everyone has individual truths?
- Is “all truth is subjective” a subjective truth or an objective truth?
You can’t say “there are no absolute truths” without phrasing your claim as an absolute truth. It’s self-defeating. If “there are no absolute truths” is an absolute truth, then logic itself would have to disintegrate into a whirling maelstrom of contradiction and M.C. Escher lithographs.
Absolute truths might require us to live up to a standard to which we’d rather not be held accountable.The trouble with absolutes
So here’s the question we need to be asking: If denying the existence of absolute truths requires such an overt logical contradiction, why do we insist on doing it? Why do people want so badly for truth to be an individual, personal thing instead of a universal, unchanging thing?
I think many people don’t like where the concept of absolute truth ends up. If absolute truths exist, then there’s probably a way to figure out what they are. And if we can figure out what they are, we’ll probably have to live by them. And if we have to live by them, we’ll probably find them to be inconvenient and challenging. They might even keep us from doing things we want to do.
Absolute truths, in other words, might require us to live up to a standard to which we’d rather not be held accountable.
So it’s much easier, then, to pretend standards don’t exist—and can’t exist. Easier to leave logic out of the equation and make truth a matter of opinion rather than a matter of fact.
Easier, yes, but not smarter. If absolute truths exist, then ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. They won’t stop existing just because we refuse to acknowledge them. No, the only viable solution is to get up close, figure out what those truths are and start living by them.
Opinions are irrelevant
There are still important questions left to ask—like where absolute truth comes from, how you can be sure you’ve found it and what difference it makes if you ignore it—but we’ve laid an important foundation:
Logic requires absolute truth.
As you examine this subject, you will find there are universal truths that apply to everyone, everywhere, at all times, without exceptions. These truths are unaffected and unaltered by the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others; and remaining ignorant of them will not keep us from being impacted by them.
At Life, Hope & Truth, we believe and are convinced that the Bible, the inspired Word of God, is filled with the truths you and I so desperately need to unlock the full potential of our lives. It’s a claim Jesus Himself made as He prayed to God: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). We also believe these truths are absolute and unchanging, regardless of location or culture or time, since the Bible also asserts that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Granted, there’s quite a bit of distance between believing in absolute truth and believing that the Bible is the place to find it, but God invites the challenge. He inspired the admonition to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) because He wants more than blind faith from you—He wants faith rooted in a solid foundation of evidence and facts. At the end of this post are links to further reading to help you on that journey.
We started this post by looking at a logical fallacy in Star Wars, but that journey took us to a valuable conclusion that we would do well to remember:
When it comes to truth, we all ought to be dealing in absolutes.
* Someone, somewhere, just read that line and thought, “Do or do not. There is no try.” If that person was you, please accept this heartfelt Internet high five.
For further reading, see our articles “How Do We Know the Bible Is True?” and “Are Good Morals Good Enough?”