Why Christians Aren’t Up in Arms about Avartar, Part 2

I mentioned yesterday that there are possibly two more reasons Christians aren’t up in arms about Avatar the way so many were about Harry Potter, misguided as that opposition was. Well, I’ve thought of three more instead of two. 🙄

First (fourth over all), I think we may be ignorant of other worldviews. I’ll be honest. I came out of the movie thinking that it was heavy on New Age themes. But the friend I went to the movie with commented on its pantheism.

Sure, I thought, that’s what it was—straight pantheism. Until I started to write my first blog post on the subject and discovered that “classic” pantheism didn’t fit the movie. However I saw the term panentheism more than once and finally did a little research on that term. And there in the definition was the religion of the Na’vi, clearly laid out, almost point by point.

You see, I haven’t kept up with what others are believing, and I suspect I’m not alone. But how can we recognize the message of Avatar if we are ignorant of the other worldviews infiltrating our culture?

The second reason (or fifth, going back to yesterday’s post) I don’t think Christians are up in arms about Avatar is ignorance about or misuse of the Bible.

The history of Israel and Judah, for example, is replete with warnings against and consequences for compromising with and incorporating the beliefs of the cultures opposed to God. These Biblical narratives are given for our instruction today. The principles we can draw from the story of Solomon or Jeroboam or Asa or Ahab or Josiah or any of these historical figures are principles we need to learn. Do we? Or are we merrily on our way to incorporating a little panentheism along with our Christianity, just as Solomon built high places for Baal right along with the beautiful temple for Yahweh.

Seemingly we’ve forgotten Gal 5:9 — “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” or Jesus’s admonition to beware the leaven of false teaching (Mark 8:15).

Which brings me to the third (sixth over all) reason. We aren’t taught how to be discerning any more. We need our senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14).

The process isn’t complicated. All it requires is holding up Scripture alongside whatever ideology or belief or philosophy our culture is advocating and do a compare and contrast.

So, with Avatar, we should ask, Is the god of the Na’vi, like or different from the God of the Bible? How is the “incarnation” of the main character among the Na’vi like or different from Jesus’s incarnation? Is the “second birth” the movie mentioned anything like Jesus’s statement to Nicodemus that we must be born again, of the spirit? In comparison to Scripture, what does the movie have to say about creation? About death? About salvation? About our relation to nature?

Instead of encouraging Christians to think along these lines, some in the Christian community are telling us to “relax.”

But here’s what Paul says:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but {wanting} to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
– 2 Tim. 4:3, 4

Seems to me we need to call myths by their names, or we very well might find ourselves turning aside to them.

If you’re still with me at this point, please hear one last thing. I can recognize the idolatrous teaching in Avatar and still like the movie. I don’t have to hate it just because I’ve identified its false worldview. If that were so, there would be little in this world I would like.

Martin Luther, for example, had a worldview that allowed him to persecute Jews, something I think is opposed to Scripture. Nevertheless, I enjoy his hymns and benefit from his stance on justification by faith.

With Avatar, I can enjoy the cinematographic beauty, the imaginative elements, the creation of such a vivid fantasy world, even as I identify the panentheistic worldview. The two are not mutually exclusive positions.

For further discussion, see “More Thoughts On Avatar And Christianity.”

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 9:00 am  Comments (12)  
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12 Comments

  1. My ears cringe when they hear Jesus’ name used in vain. But I rationalized it away by it being a stereotypical response from tough guys.
    Per your comments, I’m wondering if it was the movie’s agenda to also (intentionally) portray “God” and “Jesus” through the use of profanity, and that by the bad guys – making their “god” seem profane.

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  2. I’ve been skimming through this series with some interest. I’m certainly not one to get uptight about Potter; some of my favorite movies are ones that many people would have serious problems with… and with potentially legitimate reason.

    But Avatar’s religious portrayal didn’t phase me in the least. Perhaps I had already experienced the shock of seeing genuine worship of other deities in Lagaan. But more than that, this was a fantasy piece, about a fantasy world in a sci fi universe… it has little bearing on my life here.

    In other words, while I can see the pantheistic nature of the Na’vi religion and their goddess as completely contrary to Scripture, I see no reason to complain because the fantasy world says little about this one. And while Cameran may be a godless man himself, I didn’t see anything in the movie that was particularly aimed at destroying Christians.

    So, yes: May we be aware of worldviews and how those ideas shape our thinking. May we remain rooted in sound doctrine. But Avatar presents nothing sound enough to base anything off, and so is little threat to one’s spirituality if you were to seriously consider the Na’vi’s spiritual framework in the first place.

    At least, that’s my impression.

    ~Luke

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  3. Bob, I hadn’t thought of that. I’m at the place where I don’t expect non-Christians to have the same standards I have, and I’m not offended when they act exactly like who they are. They are godless and disdain Christ, so yes, I expect them to profane His name.

    Did Cameron do that intentionally because the Christian worldview is opposed to the panentheistic one he espoused? That’s an interesting thought. We’ll probably never know.

    Becky

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  4. Even without seeing the movie, I’ve read enough on several sites to determine my thoughts about the movie. My decision is this: Christians should not watch Avatar.

    Movies and media in general need to be analyzed on three counts.

    The Author (Scriptwriter, Actors, Director):

    This is more important in books than movies, but it is never the less important. Discover what the director’s previous movies have been, and what the worldview of the scriptwriter is. These questions help you on the final step.

    Content: Remember, violence is fake, swearing (except for taking the lords name in vain) is a culture issue, but sexual content is real.

    Violence: Violence is fake, and generally it isn’t even realistic. Unless your watching a horror movie, the level a violence shouldn’t be a problem. (Unless you throw up easily.)

    Swearing: This movie takes the Lord’s name in vain, and for that reason, we know that it doesn’t please him. (Ten Commandments)

    Sexual Content: This is different. The main characters of this movie may all be CGI, but the image is still the image of a human body. This is different than violence, because the violence add realism (in good movies), whereas sexual content serves only one purpose: to arouse feelings in you.

    You may say that it adds realism, but we can be told that someone lives a certain lifestyle without seeing it demonstrated.

    The movie is filled with continuous images of barely dressed native females. The movies even depicts some overly intimate behavior between people who were not yet married in any way. On this count, the movie fails.

    The final point is PURPOSE. What purpose does the movie serve.

    Purpose: From all accounts, the movie attempts to display capitalism, military activity, and a lack of environmentalism as bad. It tries to portray environmentalism as good, and glorifies science and nature. (Notably hard to do in one movie.)

    But above all, the movie does not glorify God. We are told to think on “whatever is pure, whatever is noble”. Does this movie lead you to think on these things?

    For these reasons, I will not be watching this movie, or approving it in any way.

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  5. Hi, Luke, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Avatar’s religious portrayal didn’t phase me either. I recognized it (or thought I did) as New Age, thought it was heavy handed, and wondered how the Christian writing community would react. (Would those criticizing Christian fiction for being preachy also nail Avatar for preaching its religion?)

    My surprise and shock has been in the “chill out” response, and in the blatant lack of awareness regarding the spiritual message in the movie.

    For those unaware of the central panentheistic worldview Cameron espoused, I think they are open to error. Cameron isn’t attacking Christianity—at least I don’t think so—but he is giving “favored nation status” to an opposing worldview. Both can’t be right.

    If I see the movie and recognize what is false in the fantasy world (many of us fantasy writers believe the genre is the very best for revealing Truth), I think I’m ahead of the game.

    Someone unaware of the false worldview? I think they are like the frog in the kettle, with the heat slowly turned up another notch. Dances with Wolves – the fire is lit. The Lion King – the kettle is on the stove. Pocahontas – the flame soars higher. Avatar – the water starts to simmer. Meanwhile, the frog is desensitized to the rising heat and continues merrily floating to his death.

    Becky

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  6. Another issue to consider is the way the movie makes U.S. soldiers into the evil bad guys. Problems with the movie’s plot are well-explained in a column by ESPN.com writer Gregg Easterbrook:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=easterbrook/100105&sportCat=nfl#avatar

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  7. Mark, I actually think the religious ideology informs the socio-political views.

    That being said, I also think some Christians get off-balance thinking democracy/US military is sacrosanct. While I am grateful to every soldier who stands in the gap for me, I know they are still sinners just like I am. I admire their bravery and am grateful to their service. I don’t want to see them unfairly characterized. But at the same time, I’m not going to give them a pass if they do despicable things—which sometimes happens.

    Obviously Avatar was not a balanced view of the military.

    It actually ignored democracy, which was interesting, and went straight for the jugular of capitalism. Once again, I think we Christians must be cautious. Our economic system, quite frankly, can foster greed. If our Christianity is more important than our capitalism, them we have a good mix, but once an imbalance occurred in the US, we began to have more and more problems—corruption, working the loopholes, inequity in “bonus” awards, monopolies, gambling rather than investing, and on and on.

    But once again, Avatar didn’t show anything but that negative side.

    I think Christians just have to be careful not overreact and to go to the other extreme.

    Becky

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  8. Hi, Neil, I guess I was writing my comment yesterday as you were posting yours. Thanks for jumping into the discussion.

    Let me deal with the content issue first. We know that the movie doesn’t please God because of its idolatry, never mind the language (are we surprised that people who don’t believe in God don’t revere His name?), but if I am to only interact with that which pleases God, then I am consigned to read only the Bible. Even going to church will have to be off my list because there are activities in church that don’t please God.

    But I think you make an interesting distinction between sex, bad language, and violence.

    Actually I hadn’t thought there was a “sex issue” in Avatar. I thought the Na’vi’s pronounced features, such as their tails, didn’t set them up as sex objects, but then I’m not a guy. 🙄

    The one actual love scene was little more than a kiss, though it did suggest sexual intimacy (I admit to be taken out of the story at that point, wondering how it was that so much else was different between the two cultures but kissing was the same). The two were as “married,” however, as I think the Na’vi society provided for (it was consensual, committed, and apparently exclusive).

    I would never want someone to violate their conscious and see a movie that might cause them to stumble. I honestly had not considered the sex aspect (scantily clad women is hardly an anomaly in the American media, but in context I thought Avatar’s depiction was more like the National Geographic than Playboy).

    As to your point about the people involved in the making of the movie, I’ll have to disagree. I don’t think it’s important to know about their ideology and/or lifestyle. I would rather see what there is to see (or read) from their work.

    Are we to avoid Mozart’s music because he lived in debauchery? How about Mark Twain’s books? Or Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories?

    As to the movie’s purpose, I think you have it half right. There is a strong socio-political message, but it’s built on a strong religious message, and it is for that reason I think we believers need to see the movie. We need to know what our culture is buying, what lie our kids are learning. How can we point to the false teaching if we are unaware of what the movie is teaching? (And glorification of science is definitely not one).

    Despite all the other parts—the cheesy story, great visuals, socio-political agenda, this is primarily a religious movie. It advances a way of looking at life that is opposed to a Biblical worldview. We Christians need to know this, and know how to answer it.

    Becky

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  9. How about a #7? Christians by and large don’t think deeply any more. And that’s both very sad and highly dangerous.

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  10. Daniel, I think what you’re saying here is similar to what I said about us not being taught to be discerning. But I don’t draw the line with Christians. I think this is an American issue.

    I’ve said before that I was taught in school to recognize propaganda. We studied the ways in which a person can be brainwashed (this was 8th grade history). I don’t think this is part of the curriculum any more. Why? Because much of advertisement uses the same strategies. A consumer economy can’t have consumers alert to the strategies used against them!

    That’s my theory, anyway.

    Becky

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  11. I think that the na’vi god was like the real God.
    He heard and answered there prayers in ways they didn’t realize until later. He also reserected Jake sully into an avatar body with his old body dying

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  12. […] For further discussion, see “Why Christians Aren’t Up In Arms About Avatar, Part 2.” […]

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