“This is the way” is not a catchphrase — it’s a creedal affirmation. This may be why the line from “The Mandalorian” has resonated.
Although the show does not fully explain the Mandalorian “way,” and the title character questions parts of it, the simple mantra nonetheless evinces a commitment to a way of life that provides a durable identity and a reliable guide to right action, even when the way is dangerous, difficult, or self-denying.
Our culture does not give us a way — not a singular one. Rather, we have an ever-expanding array of options, laid before us with all the glamour advertising can offer. We’re taught to build our identities around desire, consumption, and what we enjoy and can own. Thus, whoever you are and want to be, someone is trying to make a buck off of selling that identity to you.
Indeed, it’s now possible to order “gender-affirming hormone therapy from your phone” free of any requirement of an in-person physician’s evaluation. A radical new identity, including permanent body modification via cross-sex hormones, can be procured without even having to get out of bed. What a brave new world.
We do not, and cannot, have a way. Instead, we are supposed to each be a way unto ourselves. Thus, it should not surprise us we are so divided, as we don’t love or desire the same things. Nor can we unite around the value of autonomous self-creation, for it offers no way to resolve the inevitable conflicts between irreconcilable desires.
To the extent that our culture promotes a shared way, it is a negative one — an “anti-way,” if you will. This is evident in the efforts to banish unfashionable opinions, efforts that are all the more shrill because they lack any basis in shared rationality.
The exhortation to be yourself and break boundaries is constrained by the implicit caveat that those who transgress the ever-shifting boundaries of fashionable opinion will be ruined. For example, Gina Carano, a star on “The Mandalorian,” was recently fired for expressing right-leaning views, even though she and her character are everything liberals claim to love.
Like other dissenters and nonconformists, Carano was punished for defying the edicts of the mandatory new leftism that pervades Hollywood. The enforcers of modern leftism’s anti-way eagerly use their cultural and economic power to suppress dissent on this subject, even though this breaks the liberal promise of a political and cultural framework in which people with diverse beliefs and lifestyles may nonetheless live together in peace.
The law is also being turned to harass, rather than protect, nonconformists. Many communities that do follow a shared way have come under sustained legal attack from leftism’s anti-way. A recent article in USA Today illustrates this. The author argues traditional Christians are just using “religious liberty as a tool for exempting religious individuals and organizations from laws they do not like.”
This rhetorical turn — conservative Christians are trying to be above the law! — blows up the case for leftist pluralism. If orthodox Christians are not permitted to live in accordance with our beliefs and to form communities and institutions in accord with them, then why should we support leftism?
Notably, as leftism’s anti-way cheers endless gender expression but ruthlessly enforces one opinion about sex and gender, Carano was first targeted for offenses against transgender pieties. Thus, her case illuminates the potential political alliance between traditional Christians and the many secular or moderately religious voters who hate politically correct scolds. These “barstool conservatives“ are not socially conservative in the usual sense, but they would leave traditional religious believers alone.
If anything, simply being left alone would be a victory right now, given that major LGBT groups are pushing the Biden administration to yank accreditation from Christian schools and colleges that have orthodox beliefs on sex and gender. But Christians must not be content to withdraw into private enclaves, for in a culture that has lost its way, we know the way — indeed, early Christians referred to the faith as “the Way.”
That we know the way is an earthly claim, as well as a spiritual one. Our culture is deliberately forgetting basic truths of human flourishing in this life, such as the necessity of uniting the two halves of the human race to beget and raise children.
We are having fewer children than we want and need, and are confused about what it means to be a man or woman, or whether there even are men and women in any real sense. Answers to fundamental questions of who we are and how we are to live are being repressed in the name of personal autonomy — acknowledging the reality of biological womanhood excludes men who insist that they are women.
The truths that Christianity teaches on these matters are not just for Christians. They are common to humanity, but Christians especially should bear witness to them. As our culture neglects the basis of authentic human flourishing, we must be a counterculture that keeps alive in preaching and practice a better way of life. The truth of the right way of life will resonate with those seeking it.
To return to “The Mandalorian,” the emotional heart of the show has been in the substitute family relations of the characters, variously orphans and outcasts. It makes for good television. It should also move us to reflect on the importance of preserving the natural family. Baby Yoda and the other foundlings only need substitute parents and a new family because they don’t have a mother or a father anymore.
A better way of life than leftism’s anti-way begins with the primeval unity of mother, father, and child; the foundation of the family life that most people are called to. Politics can support this, and we should welcome policy proposals, such as that recently offered by Mitt Romney, designed to help families.
Regardless of government policy, however, Christians should be exceptions to the decline of marriage and childbearing in America. A culture of strong families and communities is good for everyone, even those who do not marry and have children, as they can partake of it as extended family and friends.
All can share in the goods of family and community, and satisfaction and genuine individuality are found through deep and committed relationships with others, not through individualistic pleasure-seeking. It is through relationships, rather than desire, consumption, achievement, and adulation, that we can most fully develop our humanity.
Thus, Christians believe that this way of life points beyond itself and that earthly goods have a spiritual fulfillment that surpasses them. This belief enables us to hope beyond the eventual loss of all earthly goods in death. Instead of ourselves, we trust in Jesus, who declared, “I am the way.”
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.