Feature

Avatar: Another paean to pantheism?

<em>Avatar </em>joins such films as <em>Stars Wars, </em><em>Pocahontas</em>, and <em>The Lion King </em>in its pantheistic celebration of the natural world.

Behold “the Gospel According to James,” said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. That’s James as in Cameron, the director of this season’s Hollywood blockbuster, Avatar, which has already grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Cameron’s gospel, however, is anything but Christian. Avatar is a “long apologia for pantheism—a faith that equates God with Nature and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.” It’s set on the planet Pandora, whose native race, the Na’vi, is “threatened by rapacious human invaders” seeking to exploit Pandora’s natural resources. The Na’vi are saved by their faith in something akin to Mother Nature—“described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.” This sort of gooey pantheism “has been Hollywood’s preferred religion” for years, permeating such films as Stars Wars (remember “the Force”?) and Disney animated cartoons such as Pocahontas and The Lion King. But pantheism is antithetical to Christianity, turning man into just another animal and replacing the promise of personal salvation with an unsatisfying mysticism.

Sure, Avatar is pantheistic, said Gus di Zerega in Beliefnet.com, and “wonderfully so.” Its message is that “completeness is achieved in connection with others, that harmony is the basic value and its loss the basic failing of the modern mentality.” That’s far better than believing in a vengeful God who stands apart from nature and man, crushing all those who fail to bow to him. What this world needs is more pantheists, and fewer religious fanatics and “narcissistic armchair warriors eager to see others fight in endless wars.”

Nice summary of the film’s anti-American message, said Martha Bayles in The Boston Globe. “The corporation ravaging Pandora is clearly American,” and the human aggressors might as well be reciting the Bush Doctrine as they drop incendiary bombs on the innocent, tree-hugging Na’vi. Ah, but when this conservative took her teenage son to the film, said Suzanne Fields in Real­clearpolitics.com, neither of us cared about the silly plot. The movie is “breathtakingly beautiful” and entertaining as hell, with astonishing flora and fauna blossoming “in a gorgeous electrified Eden” filled with astonishingly realistic creatures. Besides, who else but an American could spend $400 million making a heavily computerized movie that condemns modernity and capitalism?

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