“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Avatar, Christianity, and Pantheism

Spoiler alert.

Some Christians seem to have dismissed Avatar because of its Pocahontas-like pantheism. Isn't it blasphemous to worship nature as if it were God?

While the Na'vi deity Ehwa is certainly intimately connected with nature, it is not clear whether Ehwa is a powerful being, or some spiritual force, or just an emergent biological phenomenon of the Pandoran ecosystem. Ehwa does answer Jake's prayer, though, and when Jake first comes to the Na'vi, the seeds of Ehwa land on him, as if to give a sign that he is chosen to become one of the people. When Grace Augustine breathes her last, she whispers, "I'm with her, Jake, she's real." This suggests that Ehwa is something more than highly developed plant life.

The religion of the Na'vi shares some important similarities with Christianity. For the Na'vi, all of nature is intricately and beautifully interconnected, and Ehwa is the force or power that ties everything together. Similarly, the Bible says of God, "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) and "in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17). For the Na'vi there is a deep purpose for everything and beauty to be found in all living things. Christians ought to affirm the same about God's creation; indeed, the wonder and respect that the Na'vi give to their world is something we can learn from if we are to honor God with a right attitude towards the world he has made. Also, each Na'vi is born a second time when he becomes fully one of the people; being "born again" for Christians means becoming part of the body of Christ, the community of God's people.

None of this should be taken in any allegorical sense - God forbid. I am only saying that some qualities of the Na'vi and their beliefs about Ehwa are similar to Christian beliefs. C. S. Lewis described pagan myths and religions as blurry shadows and partial reflections of the truth; in Christ the myth becomes fact, and the reflected light finds its source. This, I think, is the best way to think about the Na'vi religion. One might even imagine that just as God revealed himself to Israelites on this planet as "Yahweh," so he might reveal himself to the fictional Na'vi on Pandora as "Ehwa." The beliefs and way of life of the Na'vi are, I think, consistent with this. And just as the Israelites only saw God in a fuzzy and incomplete way (until Christ came), one would imagine that what the Na'vi see in their deity is only a shadow of the full reality.*

One more point needs to be made: Avatar is the story of Jake Sully, a man who becomes one of the Na'vi by taking their bodily form (the word avatar means "incarnation") and living among them, and essentially saves them from destruction by their enemies. At the end Jake's old body dies and he lives fully in his avatar body. Whether or not James Cameron saw the parallels, the story is similar to Christianity, in which God's Son becomes a man, lives with humans in their world, and saves them from ruin. (Of course the analogy does not go very far - Jake is just a man, not the Son of God.)

Avatar is just a fictional story, and in all these things, it only gives a partial reflection of the truth. Like most stories, there are some things about it that garble or confuse the truth rather than reflecting it. On the whole, though, the positive far outweighs the negative. And in addition to the great story, the jaw-dropping visual presentation of Pandora and the beautiful and majestic music make it an absolute must-see.

*In the chapter "Christianity and Religion" of his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis points out the flaws of pantheism. It is "not utterly wrong, but needing correction." The Na'vi beliefs about Ehwa share some similarities to the pantheism Lewis addresses, but not, I think, most of its shortcomings. In any case, Lewis helps to highlight the incompleteness of any kind of pantheism in comparison with a more concrete understanding of what God is like.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just want to comment in general. I think that what you are doing on hear is great and just wanted to encourage you.

    ReplyDelete