So I went to see Avatar on Monday. Again. This time in IMAX and with running buddy Robert. With the better resolution and a reasonable seat I enjoyed it quite a lot. It was certainly a spectacle and just fun to get absorbed in the visuals. But eventually I had to descend into thinking and where else should I go with that but here?
I had heard some rumblings a few weeks back that Avatar has not been all that popular with Christian organizations around the world. The Vatican for instance. And I wondered why. I found many themes that mesh at least with my version of Christianity. Doing a quick search I found that I am not alone. But the ideas I found out in the tubes were a bit different than mine.
Aside: I've got a "current state of my theology" series in mind and a few notes written. But it's going to take some research and editing to really get going. Oh, and I'll need to finish up some books I'm halfway done with. Nonetheless, I'm going to call this post the start of the series.
Oh, and there will be spoilers.
From a recent meeting of mine - these are not found in nature. But they are still pizza, yum!
Avatar's Christian Themes #1: Dualism
While the Vatican fretted about the movie's pantheism, I saw the glass half full and enjoyed its depiction of dualism.
Dualism is the philosophical view that mind and body are distinct things. Co-dependent, but distinct. In other words, we as people have a soul and it is not a physical thing. Dualism of course suffers from the fact that it is unprovable unless we can communicate with the dead and ask them. Since all communication that we know of is matter-based that looks like a long shot. So dualism is unpopular with scientific types like me.
The opposing view is materialism which holds that the only thing that exists is matter. Thus your consciousness is a result of your brain alone. To me, that leads to the loss of free will. (I'd be interested to know if anyone thinks otherwise.) Since most people (even scientific types like me) believe they have free will, I wonder why materialism is so popular. But I'll save that topic for another day.
If you've seen Avatar, it's obvious that dualism is an essential part of the story so I don't have much more to say in this segment.
Avatar's Christian Themes #2: Harmony of Physical and Spiritual Knowledge
My origin theory of choice is theistic evolution. (That too is another story for another time.) I contend that if I see a conflict between my religious views and accepted scientific thought, then a mistake has been made on one side or the other. Both are views on the truth and must reconcile if enough can be learned to flesh out the view on one or both of the sides.
I saw this concept play out many times in the movie. One that I remember best is when Sully tames the giant dinosaur-bird. The mystical legend was that a great warrior proved his worth by imposing his will on the animal during a ceremony just as is done with the smaller birds. But that's not what Sully did. He used his military/tactical mindset to sneak up on the giant and gain an insurmountable advantage via surprise. Thus he used his logical/book knowledge to achieve a spiritual end that he would not have been able to by the spiritual book.
Avatar's Christian Themes #3: Understand Your Fellow Man, Friend or Foe
A lot of the plot in Avatar was driven by misunderstandings. The merchants didn't understand the work of the scientists. The military didn't understand the culture of the natives. The natives didn't understand the motivation of the humans. On a smaller scale, the Navi didn't understand Sully's noble spirit and the corporal didn't understand Sully's "betrayal."
Another thing I could point out is the leaders of both sides failed to gain understanding of the others and look where it got them.
It's been said that the majority of disagreements between people are actually just misunderstandings of each others' position. The older I get the more I find that to be the case.
Does it go without saying that understanding of your fellow man is a Christian value? Just in case it doesn't...
- 1 Cor 9:20 - When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.
- Gal 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Matt 7:4 How can you think of saying to your friend, 'Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?
- We could go on
Avatar's Christian Themes #4: Our Understanding of the Divine is Imperfect
This is probably more "Todd" than mainstream Christianity. In Avatar, Neytiri tells Sully that the great tree does not take sides. But she was wrong. Sully prayed to the tree and in the end the tree took action.
Similarly I take our understanding of the Divine with a large hunk of sodium. I don't want to get to far ahead of myself on this topic because it will be a major point later. So we'll just leave it at that for now.
As I said, I enjoyed Avatar quite a lot. On the other hand, I paid about $35 for the two visits and also sustained a minor knee strain while on a bathroom run during my second visit. (It's better now.) So all-in-all, not really worth it. At least I got my longest blog post to date from it!