Image: Poe Dameron and Finn from The Rise of Skywalker
I’m not a great fan of the recent crop of Star Wars films but, during the Christmas holidays in 2020, I took my family to see the finale of the trilogy of trilogies, The Rise of Skywalker.
As expected, it was a curate’s egg, with even the good elements struggling to lend it gravitas. Nonetheless, a recurring theme that interested me was the desperate need for friendship among the characters and for the skill, courage and – above all – the inspiration and hope of others in order to win the day.
Of course, it was all underscored with emotional cries of, “We’re not leaving you!” or “We’re coming with you!” or “I can’t do this on my own!” - but it was a quote from Poe Dameron, as a newly promoted General discussing plans for the final stand, that really struck me. He said, “The First Order wins by making us think we’re alone. We’re not alone. Good people will fight if we lead them.”
Replace The First Order with Satan and you have the key to the devil’s mission - isolate and conquer.
In the Garden of Eden, God saw that it was not good for man to be alone and so created him a helpmate. Satan’s immediate response was to come between Adam and Eve and to tell them they could be gods, omnipotent and without the need of anyone’s help. But one can only feel godlike by separating oneself from those who are not, leaving them abandoned and isolated in their own way; as always, the devil makes godlike separation an attractive proposition, but the reality is a spiral into self-centred isolation and lonely despair.
Men, in particular, can fall for this 'godlike ideal'. At one end of the scale, there is the independent, self-sufficient, invincible alpha male, with his high-flying job, trophy wife and expensive, secluded homestead. But it always surprises people when the more extreme of these types turn on their wife and kids and then shoot themselves in an act of despair when their lives go horribly wrong, often through debt or divorce. They can’t handle the isolation, sudden vulnerability and loss of control - and helplessness quickly becomes hopelessness.
At the other end of the scale there is the man who wants a sedate, comfortable and uninterrupted life, with his TV, Playstation and takeaways, happy to let his wife carry the burden of raising the family. And somewhere along the spectrum there may be the man who buries his head in work, or travel, or hobbies, or in some other way avoids engaging with the reality of other people.
The recent admission of loneliness by the British businessman, Mark Gaisford, and the viral acknowledgement it received, simply confirms how endemic isolation is in our society.
Not all men are like this, of course. And many Catholic men have their isolation imposed on them when they find themselves just about the only male attending Mass. Despite a strong desire for fraternity, they are frustrated by the complete absence of men, let alone those with whom they might share real friendship. Their loneliness stems from being abandoned rather than having deliberately withdrawn themselves from fraternity.
Yet try to convince Catholic men to join a men’s group and you often meet an extraordinary level of resistance: “I'd love to come but I can't! The wife, the kids, the job, the house! I have no time! Now is not the right time!” It’s as if we have become too comfortable in the isolation-we-know to muster the strength to commit to the fraternity-we-don’t! Busy individualism has become the new normal to the extent that leisurely fraternity looks like madness.
Subconsciously, I believe, the real reason is that men know that fraternity will make humbling demands of them. It will challenge them to do the things they should be doing as men, but don’t because there is no one holding them accountable. Isolation makes us inert, inertia makes us susceptible to temptation and sin, and sin further isolates us from our brethren and from God. Ask any man addicted to pornography and he’ll tell you it becomes a lonely and shameful hell. But, surrounded by the deceptive comforts that money and technology bring, we kid ourselves that life is good and that we have all we need to keep loneliness at bay.
So what’s to be done? You can’t force anyone out of their isolation, but sometimes it takes a devastating or rock-bottom situation to do it for them. A man has to see how awful it is to be alone before he chooses to either end his life or to find it again in the company of others.
When he comes to that point, however, will there be others ready and waiting to give him hope? As Poe Dameron says, “They’ll come if they know there’s hope”.
And when they did come, boy was it impressive!