Can ‘Star Wars’ unify a fractured culture?

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hits U.S. theaters Dec. 18.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hits U.S. theaters Dec. 18. AP

The debate after the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attacks couldn’t have done a better job illustrating just how divided the American people actually are.

Many reacted as if having fewer guns was the obvious response of all reasonable people; others thought that the obvious solution is more guns.

This kind of disagreement is now all too familiar in other areas of public debate. Whether the issue is race, abortion, marriage, health care, immigration, or gender, the fundamental assumptions we bring to the table are so different that we might as well be speaking different languages.

And, in some sense, we are.

In the world of academic ethics, we spend a lot of time thinking about the disintegration of not only our political culture, but of any common moral language we could use to have genuine engagement. More and more ethicists are even challenging the basis of fundamental ideas such as the equal dignity of all human beings.

We used to have a common set of theological ideas on which to draw, but our commitment to freedom of religion and a secular public sphere has meant such appeals today have little force.

We seem to be running out of resources here.

But in just a few days huge swaths of our culture will drop everything and watch “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Many will do so multiple times. The trailer has over 70 million hits on YouTube.

“Star Wars” manages to bring together an unbelievable number of people – whatever their race, whatever their gender, whatever their politics, and whatever their age.

As a fan myself, I join many others in having been taught many other things by “Star Wars”. About the interconnectedness and power of all living things. About the dignity of all persons regardless of alien origin. About the capacity of orphaned farm boys to save the universe. About redemption for even the most evil of people.

I also learned that Empires are bad.

Americans might not be able to agree on what Christmas means in our culture, but we can agree on what movie to see during the season.

Let’s see what we might learn from this common cultural experience. The Force may still be with us.

Charles C. Camosy is a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University and a contributor to “The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned.”