More Thoughts on Avatar and Christianity

I met with a group of fantasy friends this past Saturday, and of course Avatar came up. One, Mike Duran of Decompose, brought me an LA Times article discussing the criticism of the movie by the political right.

Then on Sunday our guest preacher used Avatar in an illustration. He said he hesitated to do so and that his wife advised against it. Someone sitting behind me whispered, “Why? What’s wrong with it?”

(While I wanted to whip around and say, You don’t know what’s wrong with a movie espousing a worldview so diametrically opposed to Christianity as Avatar? I refrained myself. 😆 )

All that to say, this movie is becoming a cultural phenomenon, yet there seems to be some growing opposition to it. As far as I’m concerned, however, the controversy is missing the core objectionable material—the religious framework of the movie.

Here’s how people seem to be reacting:

  • The majority of moviegoers love it
  • Some like the movie but think the story is a tired reworking of a common tale (follow this link for a humorous look at Avatar‘s plot line)
  • Some like the movie for the visuals but think the storytelling was preachy.
  • Some dislike Avatar because they object to the political and social ideology.
  • A tiny segment warn that the movie promotes a panentheistic/anti-biblical worldview.
  • I have to say, I’m disturbed by all those reactions by Christians except the last one. Yes, ALL but the last one.

    To indiscriminately love the movie is a problem. To object to it because it isn’t a better story or because its got the wrong politics or the wrong view of society is also a problem if the moviegoer doesn’t see the religious framework.

    The truth is, our religious convictions will affect our politics and our view of society and of art—unless they aren’t really convictions. James Cameron’s apparently are. The political and social statements he made in Avatar are consistent with the panentheism the movie preaches.

    What, then, does the criticism of the movie say about those who find fault with it? Are we most troubled by the predictable story and warmed-over dialogue? Are we most troubled by the military bashing? By the “tree hugging”? By the anti-technology message? Do we find no fault and are ready to give it the movie-of-the-decade award (or perhaps movie of the century)?

    It all seems so odd to me.

    If Jesus walked among us today, would we listen to His conversation with the Pharisees and criticize them for their politics? Or for their social ideology? For their inability to tell stories as well as Jesus? Wouldn’t the real issue be the one Jesus nailed them on—they were of their father the devil.

    Do Christians not see the false religion in movies like Avatar and Dancing with Wolves and The Lion King and Pocahontas? Or is false religion unimportant? Or less important than politics?

    It’s this last question I pray isn’t true. The Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah in part because He did not fulfill their expectation for a political savior. Have we Christians resurrected that expectation? Is this why we ignore the affront to the nature of God that dominates this movie?

    For further discussion, see “Avatar And Religious Discussion.”

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    10 Comments

    1. Perhaps one reason Christians find it easy to overlook the pantheism is due to the direct biological link that is driving the Navi’s belief. For them everything is connected because they “jack in” to Pandora’s network and “interface” with the world that way. In a way that makes it less “religious” and more “science”.

      A quite clever way to ease the thought of pantheism into the audience’s mind–subtler than some of the other movies that show a “mystical” connection rather than a physical one.

      But there is obviously danger in seeing this movie or any one with out any kind of filter.

      As shown by this article: http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/11/avatar.movie.blues/index.html

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    2. Stuart, you might be onto something. There were numerous other dialogue lines and illustrations of the “oneness” of that world, but it’s easy to give those a pass if you accept the fantasy premise: in this world, connecting with nature is possible.

      Since we’ve been discussing this topic, I’ve thought about some of my favorite TV showes–Star Trek: Next Generation and Star Trek: DS9. In one we meet the Borg who live in a collective. They are immensely powerful, but the individual is lost. And they are the enemies. In the second, the series ends with Odo, the shape shifter returning to his home planet and joining the “collective” (for lack of a better term), purposefully submerging his Self in the sea of Other. This was presented as a good thing for Odo.

      I wonder how many other media endeavors have introduced this line of thinking in one way or another.

      Jason Joyner wrote a post about the article you linked to. It’s quite sobering!

      Becky

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    3. I don’t get the pantheism issue at all. I don’t remember any reference to god or religion for that matter in the movie. Sometimes we Christians get too concerned about reading Jesus and the Bible into everything that we see. It’s just entertainment..lighten up. As far as “tree hugging” goes..since when is having some respect for what God has given us a bad thing? The fact is the Earth is a beautiful creation and I don’t think that God is too happy with the way we are trashing it. Good for James Cameron for this message.

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    4. It all depends on the person and if they really take the movie serioulsy. I like movies, and I dont care if they are sending a message. I wont pay attention to it and it wont get to me. Im an Avatar junkie. Im studying the Na’Vi, and trying to speak the language, but it is not straying me from doing what I have done everyday like devos, praying, and worshipping. Im not trying to bash you guys, but this is my point of view.

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    5. Is it any wonder that the people outside of Christianity find us wierd. I saw the movie and took my youth group to see it. There are very powerful similarities to the Spirit world and the world of Pandora. Ofcourse you would have to be in the spirit to understand that….and unfortunately most of the views I read have come from a real lack of spiritual insight. Grow up the world is hungry for answers and they will find them when we as christians are lead by the spirit and not by our religious little boxes. Mell Gibson was not and is not a credible christian but God used his move to spread the true message of the cross as never seen before. It is sad when we as christians are outsold by the world because people are hungry for truth and we can’t fill the void with our fake christianity……stay plugged in because God is on the move and He is passing by the nominal religiously minded chritians.

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    6. Iowa Christian, Brian, Reality Check, I think you’re being exposed to false teaching without realizing it. Please understand, I’m not saying we should avoid all contact with our culture. Far from it. I even think there was a lot to enjoy in Avatar. But it’s a mistake to close our minds or pretend we aren’t influenced by the message in the movie, whether you were consciously aware of the message or not.

      Iowa Christian, I’m stunned you didn’t see the religion in the movie. Not Christianity or Jesus, certainly. Avatar advocates a kind of universal oneness with a deity in everything and at the same time beyond everything. Watch it again and look for the religious inferences and I think you’ll be surprised.

      Brian and Reality Check, I recommend a book called Hollywood Worldviews: Watching films with wisdom & discernment by Brian Godawa (InterVarsity Press). It’s a balanced view regarding what’s coming out of Hollywood (after all, the author is a screenwriter working IN Hollywood).

      One thing that caught my attention is his idea that we Christians can be either anorexic or gluttonous when it comes to our movie intake. Anorexics say, It’s all bad. Gluttons say, It’s just entertainment, relax and stop being so worried. Both positions have problems and leave Christian unprepared to engage our culture.

      Becky

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    7. […] of the articles I quoted (written by Christians professionally reviewing the movie) and some of the comments to my various posts espoused this same […]

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    8. I thought the moive was great. I think some christians read to much into things. Its a story made up by man. If you want to be up in arms about something how about some of these churches that add to or take away from what the bible teaches. How about are schools, they took God out of it you can’t pray to God without offending someone.

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    9. I just saw the movie for the first time today. I see both sides. Its a movie and it is entertaining. I know that most people will watch this movie for that purpose only. I also see how it can be used as a message for as you said “tree huggers”. That makes sense clearly, but I also strongly see how this movie could be taken religiously. I’m no college graduate or anything smart and special. I don’t get a lot of the big words being thrown around here, I’m just a 19 year old guy who watched the movie, but I think that this movie will be taken however anyone wants to take it. I saw this movie and felt initially so bummed that that world was so much better than the dying world we live in now. Now that I have thought about it I realize that it is just a movie and that when I die and go to Heaven it will be so much better than that world will ever be. I know that my God is bigger than “avatars” god, but i think that through the director/writer or just through God himself this movie was made to show Christians something. The faith that the Na’vi people have in their god is huge and it won them the war. In todays world we focus to much on technology, or hugging trees or whatever and not on what God wants us to do. This movie will show anyone what they want to see, but it got me thinking about how we as Christians need to get our acts together and start listening, or “plug in”. A lot more good will come out of this world if we do. All in all I enjoyed the movie and I apologize if i offend anyone or if my writing isn’t quite “up to par”.

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    10. […] For further discussion, see “More Thoughts On Avatar And Christianity.” […]

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