Seeing Avatar

Perhaps like most of you, I saw the new film, Avatar, over the holidays. Actually, I saw it twice. Once at Forum and a second time at Hollywood Theatre. I think the showing at Hollywood was brighter and overall a better audio/visual experience than Forum.

The big deal about Avatar is its being filmed in a newer, better 3-D technology, which to me took a little getting used to before I could relax and enjoy it. You have to wear those special groovy sunglasses to see the 3-D. But it reminded me of when I first started wearing my transitional bi-focal lenses Jeff Gamble recently prescribed for me. It takes time for your brain to interpret and adjust to seeing images. It took me about a week of initial frustration, but then they started working for me. Same with the 3-D of Avatar. Certain peripheral objects remained out of focus no matter how I spanned or angled my 3-D glasses. But mostly, after the first 30 minutes of the film, I could comfortably enjoy it. Mostly. There’s a little ways to go I think.

But it’s not just the 3-D that’s made Avatar over a billion dollars worldwide in just a couple weeks. It’s the computer-generated tall, lanky, blue humanoids with tails called the Na’vi that make this such a technologically/artistically stunning film. They looked so real, and to me compellingly attractive to watch.

I admit that the storyline of James Cameron’s Avatar is very predictable, blatantly political, and stereotypically cheesy. I’ve heard some refer to Avatar as “Dances With Wolves in Space.” And for good reason. But like “Dances With Wolves,” and like Cameron’s previous billion-dollar-plus film, “Titanic,” it’s the beautifully stunning visuals that make Avatar so gripping to watch. The mesmerizing images make you feel.

And the first two-thirds of Avatar made me feel, well, …like I was sentimentally watching my life the way it should be. It had a very Perelandra-esk feel to it to me (Perelandra is one of my favorite books, by C.S. Lewis, that fictitiously portrays a world as God created and intended before sin entered it). It resonated with something inside me—in my latent hopes and desires—that feels that this is kind of how God’s world was meant to be—how human beings were meant to be—the loving and caring rulers over the earth in a way that joyfully and respectfully interacted with and exercised dominion over the world of animals and plants and nature. They were made for their world, and their world was made for them. A perfect fit. They were the humble, glorious masters of their world. While the Na’vi were not without sin (and so in that way very much differed from Lewis’ Perelandre people), there was, to me at least, a higher dignity about them specifically recognized in their dominion over nature that was, at the same time, always subject to their world’s spiritual Deity. And this concept gets far closer to the Bible’s view of the kingdom of God than most Christians’ theology does.

But this also gets to what ruined Avatar for me. What could have been a kind of tree-of-Life motif instead became a tree of pantheism motif. More specifically, the philosophy/religion of Avatar is not God but Gaia. Gaia comes from the ancient Greek word for earth or land. Gaia was/is the primal Greek mother/goddess that personified the earth. It’s kind of like the term Mother Nature, but it is meant literally.

Gaia-ism is making a comeback in our culture today, actually since the 1970’s. But in order to be taken seriously, like in the film Avatar, Gaiaism is being given scientific foundations. Here’s what Wikipedia states, as of this writing, about modern Gaiaism (my term, not theirs)—

Gaia philosophy (named after Gaia, Greek goddess of the Earth) is a broadly inclusive term for related concepts that living organisms on a planet will affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life. This set of theories holds that all organisms on an extraterrestrial life-giving planet regulate the biosphere to the benefit of the whole. Gaia concept draws a connection between the survivability of a species (hence its evolutionary course) and its usefulness to the survival of other species. While there were a number of precursors to Gaia theory, the first scientific form of this idea was proposed as the Gaia hypothesis by James Lovelock, a UK chemist, in 1970. The Gaia hypothesis deals with the concept of homeostasis, and claims the resident life forms of a host planet coupled with their environment have acted and act as a single, self-regulating system. This system includes the near-surface rocks, the soil, and the atmosphere. While controversial at first, various forms of this idea have become accepted to some degree by many within the scientific community (See Amsterdam declaration on Global Change). These theories are also significant in green politics.

If you’ve seen Avatar, you’ll recognize the above as the science and politics and religion that drives the story. But Avatar makes it clear that the Mother of their planet (actually it’s a moon called Pandora) is an actual, spiritual being that hears prayer and can answer it. It is the message of the film.

It seems to me that Avatar is a sort of double entendre, in that it’s underlying message is that we are all avatars—we are all a life-energy “soul” temporarily borrowing a body. But we are all part of the greater Energy of Mother Earth’s Collective Soul. Pretty clever title.

The pantheism/Gaiaism of Avatar is not a reason to avoid seeing it anymore than it was a reason not to see the Star Wars films. Quite the contrary, it’s a good reason to go see it. This is becoming more and more the popular, unwritten, common mythology of our postmodern day. It is in the philosophical, spiritual, political, and societal air we breath all around us.

Which to me raises an important question—Why is it easier for moderns to believe in a kind of earth mother/goddess than it is for them to believe in a Supreme God who created the universe? Think about that. The answer cannot lie in rational thought formed from scientific models or philosophical syllogisms. I believe the answer lies in the human heart. For a Supreme God who is our Creator must also be our Judge and our Authority to whom we are accountable for our lives. He is a God who defines truth and reveals his will in history and in a text. A Mother Earth only cares about the balance of life on earth. Not personal morality or religious absolutes. And that’s very attractive today, especially to Hollywood.

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