Fantasy Friday – Tangled

Interesting that I spent so much of the last CSFF tour discussing fairy tales because I just saw—well, last week—Tangled, Disney’s retelling of Repunzal. In fact, the first time we went to see it, we were turned away. Sold out, they said.

Sold out? But the movie has been around for a month already. Sold out? Are you sure? They were sure.

To beat the rush of all the people who were turned away after us, we went the next day to a morning showing.

Tangled was well worth the effort. I understand Disney has decided their run of fairy tales will end. I’d like to see them reconsider, but if it must be, they’re going out on top.

Tangled is simply one unexpected twist after another (pun accidental 😉 ), with a lot of witty, Shrek-like dialogue thrown in.

When I got home, I read the version of the fairy tale in my copy of Grimms to see how the movie was alike and how it differed. Apart from doing away with the prince, the movie version was strikingly similar. But more, so much more.

In the end, the key component is sacrifice. It’s a kind of fairy tale version of “The Gift of the Magi.” And there is redemption, forgiveness, enduring love, hope. Besides, the plot is pretty good, too. 😉

Seriously, gone is the love-at-first-sight—or sound, as the case might be—of the print version. Instead, there is a believable relationship that develops, a friendship that takes hold, a realization that dawns only in the midst of crisis.

And yes, there is crisis. Danger from left and right and down the center. Everything seems opposed to our Rapunzel and her chance for life outside the tower. Well, not quite everything. Rescue comes in a surprising guise.

Script writer Dan Fogelman outdid himself with this one, I think. The story structure is solid—to his credit because he changed such a significant part, one of the main characters. And speaking of characters, each was well motivated and believable (even the chameleon! 😉 )

The animation, as you expect from Disney, is superb. The voice actors played their parts to perfection—nothing over done. Throw in cuteness and it’s a movie kidlets would love. But throw in the writing, and it’s a movie adults will want to see again and again.

If you haven’t seen this one yet, I encourage you to put it on your soon-to-see list. If it’s not still playing in a theater near you, watch for it at your local dollar theater or plan to get the DVD (or borrow the DVD from a friend). Especially if this is the end of Disney’s fairy tales, you won’t want to miss it.

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm  Comments (8)  
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Safe Fiction Is Dangerous (Or, A Review of How to Train Your Dragon)

I caught the animated movie How to Train Your Dragon at our dollar theater today (never mind that it cost $4.00—a different story, but the movie was still a bargain). It’s a wonderful, fun, well-executed, “safe” production.

The main themes involved parent-child relationships and being true to oneself. Good things, for the most part. There was even a touching moment when the dad tells his son he’s proud of him.

I can see parents happily taking their children to see this movie and feeling oh, so good about it. I know I felt uplifted when I walked out of the theater.

But here’s the thing. There are some side issues that parents need to think about and discuss with their children, yet many may draw a false conclusion about the movie because of its happy ending and the reconciliation achieved, father with son and humans with dragons.

Here are some of the tangential (and the elaboration of one central) issues.

  • The decision not to kill a dragon (animal rights?)
  • The existence of a “greater evil” than the one the humans saw (big government? big business? God? Satan? Who is the greater evil extorting the “dragons” today?)
  • The attitude toward war (Father: They’re killing hundreds of us. Son: But we’ve killed thousands of them. They’re just defending themselves.)
  • Be true to yourself. (No matter how “different” you are? No matter that your true self is sinful?)

Am I saying How to Train Your Dragon is a bad movie and people should smash the DVD they bought? Hardly! I loved the movie and would recommend it to anyone. It’s family friendly but it’s artistic, too. At times I thought I was seeing an animated version of Avatar (an animation of an animation—now if that doesn’t say something about the digital revolution).

What I am saying is that “safe” fiction is the most dangerous kind because people are disarmed, no longer alert to possible ideas that may foster a false worldview.

Ideas, of themselves, are not dangerous. I can listen to atheist Christopher Hitchens in a debate about the existence of God and be unaffected by his worldview because I am alert.

Ideas that float in under the radar, however, are another thing. They enter unchallenged, co-exist with the truth, and someday after they’ve been fortified, may even challenge the truth to a shootout.

Media has taken this approach to introducing a shift in worldview through “safe” stories for the last thirty years at least. But the reality is, “safe” Christian fiction is no more safe than the media brand of safe.

I read one book put out by a Christian imprint that was all about lust. The heroine refused to marry the hero (because he wasn’t a Christian) but didn’t refuse his kisses and didn’t stop dwelling on them or longing for them. The story came to one titillating climax after another. But it was safe. No bad words (so it wasn’t actually “edgy” 😛 ). No bedroom scenes.

But set aside books that are stretching the normal boundaries. Look at Amish romance. Does anyone know or care how Christian the Amish actually are? Are these books addressing legalism? (I’m asking, because I haven’t read any.) Church divisions? (Amish churches have divided over whether a woman’s dress must be double-breasted or not, whether or not a hook-and-eye is acceptable, and many other such particulars. You learn these things when you accompany your grandmother to a family reunion and everyone else there is Amish.)

More importantly, are readers asking questions about the pastoral culture they lose themselves in? Or are we letting our guard down? Because it’s about a group of Christians. And Christian companies are publishing it. And Christian bookstores are selling it.

As I see it, if “safe” fiction makes us drop our guard, then it is the most dangerous fiction of all.

Legion and Attacks against God

I’m defining “attacks against God” as that which contradicts or distorts the truth about Him as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Some attacks against God are subtle and some are overt.

While I didn’t think the attacks in Avatar were subtle, apparently others did. Certainly those in The Shack were subtle enough that thousands of Christians have not seen them in light of the positives they discovered within the pages of the book. (An aside question: would Christians have so readily overlooked the idolatrous goddess worship espoused in Avatar if The Shack hadn’t desensitized many to the idea of God, the woman?)

Coming soon to a theater near you is a movie that appears to be a frontal assault on God and His nature. Legion, scheduled to release January 22, is a science fiction-horror movie or an apocalyptic thriller film, depending on what source you read. Here’s the premise and you can click on this link to see the trailer:

After God loses faith in humanity, the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), who has become a fallen angel, is the only one standing between mankind and Armageddon. This time using angels to execute the Last Judgment, God’s wrath descends on Earth to exterminate the world’s population. In a desperate, last-chance gambit, Michael leads a group of strangers to a small New Mexico diner to protect a young waitress (Adrianne Palicki) who may be pregnant with Christ in his second coming.


Here’s what one reviewer has to say:

Now, folks, don’t be too biblical if you want to enjoy this movie.

It focuses on the fallen angels versus mankind when GOD is disdainful of cruel people and their evil deeds.

LEGION the movie is a part supernatural and part horror flick and not a religious picture per se, so don’t reach for your bible.

It’s a mix of the EXORCIST and the TERMINATOR, if you must.

In other words, chill out. Relax. The movie’s just for fun, and boy is it! (“You will be treated to graphic scenes of violence, guns, sexual references and language, plus grotesque images and transformations. But you will enjoy the fast stomping action from tip to toe, heart in your mouth.”)

I know I probably sound like a kill-joy, but heart-in-your-mouth action does not make it okay to lie about God, to distort His character, to besmirch His angels or His Son.

However, the real issue, as I see it, is this “don’t reach for your Bible” attitude. The implication is, nobody was trying to tell the Biblical story, so don’t get all fired up.

However, when someone writes something that contradicts truth, we generally call it a lie. When a story shows God as the antagonist, especially when, by inference, God is the God of the Bible, this is nothing more than the flip side of the Avatar lie: Mother Nature (Eywa) is god, a good god who will protect Mankind as Mankind protects her.

On one hand, an angry God bent on destroying Mankind; on the other a kinder, gentler god who promotes peace and oneness and harmony.

And we are supposed to relax, chill out, not grab for our Bibles? After all, it’s just entertainment.

That’s as big a lie as the others.

What I Learn about Writing from Avatar

Those of you sick of this subject, feel free to click on over to a more interesting blog. I won’t feel offended (or even know!) 😆 I do have a tendency to camp on a subject (see ten-plus posts on The Shack, for example), but just so you know, I really tried to spark thoughts on a new topic. I visited other blogs, thought about the book I just finished, about what I read in my quiet time, and current events. Sorry, nothing there to share with you all.

So I’m back at Avatar one more time. I’ve thought about how this movie really seems to have three or four level. I identify the story level, the theme level, and the creative presentation level.

  • The story level includes the plot and character development (though some people might divide these two, which I would not disagree with).
  • The theme level includes the religious views and the sociopolitical ideology.
  • The creative presentation refers to the visual effect.
  • Most people agree that Avatar came up short on the story level. Sure, it had a sweet romance, but nothing was a surprise. From the moment Neytiri rescued Jake, it was apparent they would fall in love and that he would ultimately join the Na’vi.

    In addition, the characterization was weak. In a three hour movie, we learned very little about any other member of the Na’vi. And the earthlings were pigeon-holed neatly in their roles—the gun-happy military guy, the greedy and stupid capitalist, the tough on the outside but tender on the inside woman scientist, the geeky co-worker.

    I question whether anyone would come if Avatar, as written, were presented in the theater. I suspect the scathing reviews of the story would have the play shut down after the first week.

    The second level has to do with the message. Here Avatar either succeeded hugely or failed miserably, depending on whether or not you agreed with what James Cameron said. Some people camp on the environmental message or the anti-technology message, depending how you look at things. Some viewers wept because of the portrayal of the military while others wept for the loss of the Na’vi’s tree home.

    Another group of us either laud the movie or criticize it because of the religious views it espouses.

    On this thematic level, Avatar is steeped in controversy—never a bad thing for sales. But does it make for a quality movie?

    The last element is the creative presentation. This movie was a visual experience. I felt transported. I lived on Pandora for those three hours. I found myself frustrated with the sections of the movie that showed Jake on the military/commercial/scientific base and away from the real world of Pandora.

    Those latter sections made me feel as if I was running across the rim of the world after having been in a wheelchair for years, as if I had learned to ride a flying creature past the floating mountains. It was beautiful, stunning, exhilarating. It was an experience.

    Which brings me to what I as a writer learned about this movie. Reading should be an experience. Through story, characters, setting, the writer should transport the reader somewhere else.

    But not having the benefit of 3D or first-time technology, writers can’t afford to have flat characters or a warmed-over plot (and certainly never both in one story!) Nor can we afford to be heavy handed with our themes.

    Still, the goal for the novelist is the same—take the readers somewhere. Into the lives of your characters, into the world you’ve created, into the high-stakes issues you care about. Let them experience—beyond the adrenalin rush, beyond the tear-jerk moment. Transport them Elsewhere and keep them there to the last page.

    In the end, I have to believe such a book is more powerful, influential, timeless than Avatar can ever be.

    Now if I just knew how to write like that …

    Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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    The Na’vi, the Borg, and the Church

    On Sunday Avatar won the Golden Globe best picture award, an amazing accomplishment considering the thin plot and two-dimensional characters. (If you haven’t seen this short spoof on the formulation of the plot, you’re missing a good laugh 😆 ).

    Interestingly, writer/director James Cameron put to bed all the questions about the message of Avatar in one of his acceptance speeches (he also received the award for best director):

    Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four and a half light years to another planet to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that’s the wonder of cinema right there.

    This movie is not the first to depict this interconnectedness. Star Trek: First Contact, a 1994 movie based on the TV program Star Trek: The Next Generation, featured an enemy known as The Borg, which also exhibited a unitary oneness.

    The Borg … organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind …. They operate solely toward the fulfilling of one purpose: to “add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to their own” in pursuit of perfection. This is achieved through forced assimilation, a process which transforms individuals and technology into Borg, enhancing, and simultaneously controlling, individuals.


    The hive mind rather than individualism. Assimilation rather than freedom to choose. The pursuit of perfection at the expense of others. Add to this their oft repeated warning, “Resistance is futile” and you had one of the truly terrifying antagonists of contemporary fiction.

    And yet, fifteen years later the Na’vi show up on the big screen with many of these same components and they are the heroes. Rather than enjoying the “hive mind” at all times, it seems they can “plug in” at will. They also don’t assimilate, but they resist all who are not part of the people. Clearly their pursuit is perfection though they find their path through their connection to nature, not through adopting and adapting technology as The Borg did.

    In both these groups, I see echoes of the Church universal. The Borg had a queen with central control over the collective, and the Na’vi had a goddess who was their god beyond the god of everything. Christians are part of the body of Christ, with Jesus as our head.

    The Borg had one mind, the Na’vi could plug in and experience a oneness with creatures, and the Christian has the mind of Christ which allows us to be united in spirit and intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:2).

    Finally, The Borg sought perfection through assimilation, and the Na’vi experienced perfection in nature. The Christian has regeneration and sanctification with the expectation of glorification—a life free from sin at last.

    Are these parallels happy accidents? Could the humans behind the creation of The Borg and the Na’vi be expressing a heartfelt need that can only be satisfied in reality from the relationship God intends through His Son for His people? Could Satan be exploiting this need to do what he so often does—make a poor copy of God’s greater design? Hence, panentheism, a religion that offers unity and peace.

    Last week I discussed connection points between Christianity and the philosophy espoused in Avatar. Why wouldn’t there be? Humans all have the same basic needs. The Truth will meet those needs, whereas the lie will promise more than it can deliver (e.g. Satan: “You surely shall not die”).

    For a discussion about Avatar from a writer’s perspective, see “What I Learn About Writing From Avatar.”

    Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 10:19 am  Comments (3)  
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    Connection Points between Avatar and Christianity

    I said last time I see a couple connection points between the religious beliefs espoused by James Cameron in Avatar and Christianity. These are not places in the movie where someone can put a Christian spin on elements unintended for such, such as the line about a second birth.

    One of the fallacies of trying to find connection points without understanding what exactly the other person is saying is that words may mean one thing to one person and something quite different to another. Consequently, some Christians hear “god” and think “the one true God.” Or they hear “second birth” and they think “born again.”

    The truth is, language is less important than meaning. Just because Cameron, through the Na’vi, referred to god, we should not conclude he is talking about the one transcendent person from whom all else derives its existence. Rather, he would dispute the idea that god is a person, that He brought all else into being, and that He is transcendent. In other words, Cameron is talking about something else entirely when he refers to “god.”

    In understanding this, I can now look at the views espoused through the film and see what things are consistent with a Christian worldview.

    One obvious point is spiritual awareness. Jay Michaelson said in his article “The Meaning of Avatar: Everything is God (A Response to Ross Douthat and other naysayers of ‘pantheism’)”

    “God” is a series of insufficient explanations of the Absolutely Unknowable, a collection of projections and dreams and who-knows-what-else whichspeak to the core of who we are as human beings. (Emphasis mine.)

    That panentheists recognition that “god” speaks to the core of who we are as human beings coincides with the Christian belief as explained by Blaise Pascal, that humans have a “God-sized vacuum” in our hearts. Here’s Pascal’s actual statement:

    What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

    This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. [Blaise Pascal, Pensees #425]

    I see another point of connection between Christians and panentheists—nature is beautiful and precious. While our motives differ, our attitude toward nature should be similar.

    On the one hand, the panentheist sees god in everything. Hence a hedgehog should be appreciated and cared for as much as a horse and nearly as much as a human. The Christian often reacts negatively to that ideology, but I think we have more in common than first meets the eye.

    God put Adam in charge of His garden, gave him dominion over the animals, and after the Fall gave them as resources for mankind’s needs. As near as I can tell from Scripture, God did not rescind this first charge. Man is still to be in charge of nature. But being in charge hardly means “indiscriminately using.”

    Scripture is full of counsel and commands about being good stewards. It seems clear we as believers can advocate for proper care of nature because God has made us stewards over His creation.

    Should we worship nature or put the well-being of the titmouse over the well-being of humans? No. But we might need to rethink what the “well-being of humans” means.

    Details aside, our treatment of our world ought to be more a connection point than a division when it comes to Christians talking with panentheists.

    For further discussion, see “The Na’vi, The Borg, And The Church.”

    Avatar and Religious Discussion

    No doubt Avatar has stirred up some “interesting” discussions, including some dealing with the religious aspects of the movie.

    Phyllis Wheeler over at The Christian Fantasy Review gave a good review which in turn brought a comment from author Eric Wilson. In part he said:

    All this to say, instead of focusing on differences, I believe we can take this opportunity to redeem faulty ideas from the film and turn them into beautiful examples of God’s love. That seems like the way Jesus did things, and I think we’d get a lot further in promoting the Gospel by taking that approach.

    Or at least that’s the way He calls me to approach it.

    I’m glad Eric qualified his statement with the last line. God does call His body to function in different capacities from one another, so any time we make a blanket “all Christians should” statement, unless we are quoting from Scripture, we’re probably about to step off the high dive.

    However, I have to take issue with Eric’s characterization of idolatry as “faulty ideas.” I also take issue with the idea that Jesus preached a “can’t we all get along” message.

    Speaking to the latter first — I just read Matthew 10 as part of my church’s 89 Chapters in 89 Days program, which includes Jesus’s instruction to His disciples for their upcoming missionary trip. He told them, in part, to take back their blessing of peace from any house that proved unworthy and to shake the dust off their feet when they left a house or city that didn’t welcome them or “heed their words” (Matt. 10:13-14).

    That’s just one passage that shows Jesus did not teach a gospel of peace among men. His true gospel of peace deals with man’s reconciliation to God.

    As to the “faulty ideas” in Avatar, I do not see anywhere in Scripture that idolatry is treated as “faulty” (“working badly or unreliably because of imperfections” [Oxford American Dictionary]).

    And lest anyone thinks that perhaps the Na’vi were actually worshiping the true God but were ignorant about Jesus, take time to read Jay Michaelson’s post on the religious position espoused by Avatar. (I mentioned this article a week ago in “More Avatar.”)

    Michaelson has no problem identifying the core beliefs writer/director James Cameron was espousing. The key philosophical/theological belief undergirding it all is “nonduality.” The idea is that dichotomies such as self/other, good/evil, male/female, mind/body are illusions. From Wikipedia:

    A nondual philosophical or religious perspective or theory maintains that there is no fundamental distinction between mind and matter, or that the entire phenomenological world is an illusion.

    Hence, Michaelson says

    “God” becomes seen as one of many ways of understanding Being. Sometimes God is Christ on the cross, sometimes the Womb of the Earth. Sometimes God is Justice, other times Mercy. This is how sophisticated religionists have understood theology for at least a thousand years: “God” is a series of insufficient explanations of the Absolutely Unknowable, a collection of projections and dreams and who-knows-what-else which, neo-atheists notwithstanding, speak to the core of who we are as human beings.

    To me, this is more comforting than old school theology, not less. It allows for multiple paths to the holy, radical ecumenicism and pluralism, and a bit less constriction around our favorite theological myths. God as Friend, Father, “motion and spirit that impels all things” – all of these become dances, tools of the inner life which are available when needed, and enriched, not lessened, by being increased in number.

    Speaking as a dualist, I believe this line of thinking is opposed to Scripture, not merely “faulty.” It calls into question everything God has revealed about Himself and about His creation, about our nature and relationship with Him, about our sin-sickness and need of a Savior.

    In saying this, I am not slamming the door on James Cameron or Jay Michaelson. In fact, I think it would be fascinating to dialogue with them. I’d like to see a debate between one of them and a Christian apologist such as Ravi Zacharias.

    What I’d expect would be much disagreement, not unkindly so. But the two positions cannot both be true.

    Take just one issue: good and evil. James 1:13 says

    Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one.

    God clearly separates Himself from evil. He didn’t cause it, create it, or participate in it.

    Duality exists. Time and eternity; mortality and immortality—these are issues central to the Bible.

    So my question is this, What are the connection points between Christianity and this panentheistic worldview? I can think of a couple, and maybe Eric Wilson is right to say that we should find those common points.

    However, I don’t see us doing so if we don’t actually understand what others believe and what movies like Avatar are truly saying.

    For further discussion, see “Connection Points Between Avatar And Christianity.”

    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.”

    The Christian View of Culture

    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.

    – The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

    I’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

    However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

    Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

    On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

    In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

    But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

    Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

    I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

    I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

    In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

    Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

    While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

    For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

    So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

    Or I might be convicted to commit myself to God … Or willing to mentor someone new in the faith … Or whatever.

    You get the idea.

    Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

    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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