Saturday, January 09, 2010

Does Avatar Promote Pantheism?

I’m not into movies much, but my interest has been piqued by all of the talk about Avatar. As of January 7th it has grossed over $380 million. I’ll say right up front that I haven’t seen it, but have been reading about the story and I have been especially intrigued by the philosophy or “religion” the purportedly underlies the action. As a Christian I’m always interested in learning what cultural message is being promoted in films and other media and what the public reaction is. That fact that so many people view these films tells me that the philosophy is being embraced by more and more people.

It’s my understanding, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that Avatar puts forth a pantheistic view of the universe. That is, the planet and everything on it is god or part of god. Often the media produces films that say that people are at their best when left in sort of a primitive state. In that condition they are more in tune with nature and things are more harmonious. But when you bring the modern world, and especially modern western human beings, into contact with this pristine environment it brings about destruction and degradation of what otherwise would have been a wonderful place. Some of these same ideas where put forth in movies such as Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves.

My caution to Christians, and especially Christian young people is to be aware of these messages which fly in the face of Christian teaching. Christians believe that the world was created by God but the world is not god. God created mankind and made us stewards and caretakers of the earth. This is the reason we should not pillage and destroy the planet, not because it is somehow alive. On the other hand, God gave the earth to us as a resource to provide for our daily needs. It provides us with our food, air, and energy. And therefore we should not be afraid of using it wisely for the good of mankind. We take care of the world and use it properly but we don’t look at it as sacred. God made mankind distinct from the rest of creation and gave him dominion over it. So even though we share the planet with other creatures, they are not on the same footing we are.

The Christian message is that men and women, in their natural condition are born in sin and are therefore lost and without hope. There is no salvation in the planet itself. Salvation comes from God and is brought only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the Gospel doesn’t reach a particular group of people, they can’t be saved. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God. God tells us that if we leave people alone in their natural condition they will be lost forever. We are to love people as we love ourselves and we are to respect others because all of us are made in the image of God. But that love and respect requires a concern that will bring the Gospel to them and not just leave them to their own fate.

So, as you watch movies and read magazines, don’t leave your Christianity outside. Think through everything you watch, hear and read and compare it to what you know to be true. Don’t be mesmerized by special effects or sentimental arguments. They may be fantastic and powerful and they may draw you into the story, but guard your heart from absorbing the underlying philosophy.

Here are a couple of links that may help as you think this through.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/opinion/21douthat1.html?_r=1
http://www.worldmag.com/webextra/16243
http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/04/avatar-rambo-in-reverse/

I would enjoy hearing your opinion.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really like your posts and everyting that you do in your ministry. The movie may promote pantheism, or atleast present it to the audience.

Additionally, the movie tells at story that seems to be a modern day architype; trusting natives allow another nation into their land and are exploited because of it. These alien people believe the world is alive and sacred, but that doesn't mean that they should be victomized. The goal of the humans in charge was to taken advantage of their naivety. It almost retells the story of the native americans and other cultures that were exploited in the past. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I sympathized with these people because their story was very human.

Roger said...

I agree with what you said. Just because the people were pantheists does not make it right to exploit and victimize them. It shows the depth depravity, even when depicted in a movie. I didn't see the movie, but does it give the feeling that the natives were somehow innocent and perhaps righteous?

The philosophy that seems to abound these days is that people in their natural state in touch with nature and the land are somehow closer to God than the evil invaders. But God says that all men whether invaders or peace loving are lost and doomed unless saved by Christ.

After a horrific bombing we often hear of the innocent people that were killed. They were innocent in the sense of not doing anything to cause the attack. However, when Jesus was told of a bunch of people killed by the Romans, he said to them, "Unless you repent, you will also perish." This is from the loving Jesus. He knew that apart from the salvation He gives, we're lost and without hope no matter how good or "innocent" we are.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with Pantheism. It is as legitimate as any other religion. It is the world's oldest religion and the most relevant to the modern world. As we humans deplete the oceans of life, destroy the rainforests, drive countless species into extinction, and even alter the climate, we need to return to a sprituality that values the natural world that sustains us.

Unlike Bible religions, Pantheism embraces modern scientific discoveries that we humans are related to all life through hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Every time you take a breath your life depends on the combined metabolic activity of millions of species of plants and animals.

Nature spirituality offers a beautiful perspective that will allow us to live fulfilling lives without destroying the Biosphere that keeps us alive.

Roger said...

It may be the world's oldest religion. I don't know about that. But each one of us needs to ask ourselves about any religion is, "Is it true?" Is god everything and is everything god? How do we know? What is god anyway?

I choose to believe that the Bible's account of the origins of the earth and mankind is true. I believe that the creation account is what actually happened. There actually is a God who exists in three persons the second person of which took on human form and paid the penalty for sin.

Others choose to believe other things. We need to know if what we believe is true.

There is no question that mankind in his selfishness and greed has done great damage to the earth. But the evil of this is not that nature has been damaged, but that we have disobeyed the God who is there in that we have not managed carefully what He has given us to manage for Him. We will answer to Him some day as to how we have managed the earth and how we have managed our bodies and everything else He has entrusted to us.

It is appointed for men to die once. After that comes the judgment.

Jain said...

Pantheism is not the oldest but it is close. I would hope Christians are good people and I would hope the same for practitioners of Pantheism. I know I could find bad people in both. If you want peace of any kind just concentrate on your own house or temple. Create peace within before you attempt to take over the world. A new age is apon us my friend. Its not that people dont want to believe in God it is that the people who claim to be doing Gods work have left only tears of sadness behind. Be the teacher through possitive action. Do not try to expose issues with a religion you probably know nothing about.

Roger said...

I hope both Christians and pantheists are good people too. I'm just not sure who gets to define what good is. If we say, "Everyone just knows what 'good' is", I'm not sure that's true. There are people who think rape is good. There are people who think exploiting the poor is good. Somehow we need to know where to find the definition of good. I would say that definition is in the Bible. Others would look elsewhere.
It's sort of a broad generalization to say that people who claim to be doing God's work have left misery behind. Some have. Some atheists have left pain and misery in their wake, i.e. some communist regimes.
A new age is upon us? How do we know that is true? I may claim a new age started 247 years ago. I think we need to examine the claims of any teaching, religion or practice to see if it stands up to the truth test.