The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide


    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)

mud_poolI’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.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

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This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.

Seeing Worldviews behind the Art – Should Fiction Be Safe? Conclusion


So today I learn that in a recent sermon Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hills Church called Avatar “satanic”. Well, actually, he called it “the most demonic, satanic film I’ve seen.”

I don’t know what Pastor Driscoll’s point was in his sermon, and I’m not bringing this up to discuss whether or not he was wise to voice his opinion in such a strident way. Rather, I want to return to the discussion about safe fiction.

First, one more news item related to the “safe fiction” topic. It seems Barnes & Noble has added reviews from Common Sense Media Web site, and this has upset some writers: “The way the book reviews seemed to suddenly appear on BN.com and the fact that they seemed to emphasize negative subjects like sex, violence, drinking, and drugs over subject matter, raised a red flag for some readers” (excerpt from “Common Sense Raises Issues at B&N” by Judith Rosen — Publishers Weekly, 2/23/2010).

I think these two articles illustrate in real-life settings the problem with seeking after “safe fiction.” For one thing stories are layered. On the surface are the behaviors we can readily see such as sex and violence and bad language—things the Common Sense reviews would flag.

Below that, however, lie attitudes characters might espouse. As one commenter noted over at Novel Journey in a discussion about Avatar, a movie like Twilight shows all kinds of unhealthy attitudes toward love. Yet it’s gotten a pass from many Christian parents because the characters don’t have sex.

But there’s another layer—that of the worldview espoused through the story. As Brian Godawa says in his book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment (IVP Books), we need to look behind the art to the worldview.

Given all the ways in which a movie or book can go astray, can we ever really confidently say a story is “safe”? Here’s a part of Godawa’s conclusion:

The fact is, there is nothing perfect in this life. We live in a fallen world. Everything and everyone is tainted by sin, even those with whom we agree. Even Christian media are not exempt from imperfection. No Christian sermon, book or movie is completely unstained by our fallen-ness.

In other words, there really is no such thing as “safe fiction.” And by declaring a work of art “safe,” we are basically telling the audience they can turn off their discernment radar. No need to think about this book or movie or TV show because Someone Important has pre-approved it as safe.

From where I sit, picking up any book or viewing any movie with my brain in neutral because what I’m about to consume is “safe” puts me at the greatest risk of undo influence.

An author maybe withheld all the cuss words in a story, and there’s no sex or violence, but is there greed? Snobbery? Bullying? If so, then those books aren’t safe. Teens who long to fit in can get all the wrong messages about what it takes to be a part of the In Crowd from such a “safe” piece of fiction.

We Christians need to be thinking about the stories we consume. We need to compare the values and worldviews with those of the Bible. And we need to teach the next generation to go and do likewise.

Fantasy and Emergent Thought


For those of you looking for a CSFF Blog Tour post about Andrew Peterson‘s book North! Or Be Eaten, second in the Wingfeather Saga, you are actually in the right place. However, you’ll find much more information about the book from my fellow participants listed below or from my earlier review and thoughts about the book posted in conjunction with the Children’s Book Blog Tour.

What I want to do today (and the rest of this week) is to tie in the current discussion here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about emergent thought with our CSFF selection.

You might be wondering what one has to do with the other. Quite a bit, actually—an entire worldview.

This series of posts began last Friday with an article discussing a provocative piece entitled “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” In the ensuing discussion there and spilling over to Monday, some of those associated with emerging thought made it clear that they do not believe in one or more of the following: original sin, Satan as an actual enemy, hell, God as a righteous judge meting out deserved punishment.

In fact, a number of these visitors ascribe to a panentheistic worldview, or non-duality. In other words, they don’t believe in the basic fantasy motif: good versus evil.

It’s a little hard to imagine speculative fiction without duality. Avatar tried to pull it off, but good fiction is built upon conflict, so evil capitalists and military-ists were cast in the role of antagonist. As author and blogger Mike Duran has pointed out, the panentheistic people in the movie were at one with nature, even revering the animals they had to kill by way of preserving human life, yet they were not at one with the evil humans. No thanking them for giving up their lives. No reverential ceremony acknowledging their contribution to the cycle of life.

North! Or Be Eaten gives an entirely other point of view. There is an enemy bent on destruction—not of the body alone but of the soul. The threat is real, imminent, far-reaching, deadly.

My first question is, which of these two views most accurately squares with Scripture?

From first to last, the Bible is about conflict. Jesus’s parable in Matthew about the landowner who went on a journey gives a thumbnail sketch of the entire Bible.

After a time, the landowner sent reps to collect the proceeds from those he left to work the land. Instead of paying up, they beat and killed these reps. At last the landowner sent his son, but he too was killed and thrown out of the vineyard.

The parable ends with the landowner coming back. Jesus asked this question: “What will he do with those vine-growers?” Jesus didn’t toss out that question for thought. He spelled out the answer: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper season.”

So does North! Or Be Eaten present the same struggle, good against evil? Let me answer that by quoting these lines of poetry Oskar recites about the protagonists father:

    All children of the Shining Isle, rejoice!
    A hero strides the field, the hill, the sand
    With raven hair and shining blade in hand.
    The wicked quake when lifts the Warden’s voice

    So fleet his mount and fierce his mighty band!
    So fair his word and fine his happy roar
    That breezes o’er the Isle from peak to shore!
    So tender burns his love for king and land!

Good fantasy like North! Or Be Eaten is full of conflict, mirroring the good/evil struggle in the world—the very struggle the Bible addresses, ending in Revelation with a picture of the answer to Jesus’s question: what will He do when He comes back?

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I promised you links to the other participants. Hope you take some time to peruse their reviews and other thoughts about North! Or Be Eaten.

A check mark provides a link to a specific post.

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.

- Wikipedia

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!) :lol: 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 :lol: ).

    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.

    - Wikipedia

    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. :lol: )

    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.

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