Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar & Another Gospel

My family and I strapped on the eye gear and saw the film, “Avatar” in IMAX 3D night before last. It was quite a spectacle, unlike anything I have seen before . . . unlike anything anyone has seen before.

There was a lot that was new, and there was a lot that was not. What was new was terrific, what was not was not.

Visually, it is mind-boggling. And audio? Incredible. Rocked my world. A+ on both counts.

Storyline? Nothing really new. It is essentially innocent natives threatened by a swarm of greedy bad people. This time ‘round the bad people are American capitalists (Oh, no!), arm in arm with equally bad American military types. And you know what they’re like—shoot anything that moves 481 times, ask questions later. “Hoo, rah!” I was distracted by derision of the Iraq War, as well as the Bush administrations’ war on terror. Fortunately, I’ve grown accustomed to having my economic, moral and political beliefs derided by Hollywood, and I don’t live by or for the standards of this world. So I’m used to quickly looking past a sour smorgasbord at the theater. It gets tiring though.

And because I have been collecting knowledge and wisdom and opinion for more than fifty years now, lots of things jab at my collection that might miss others not so encumbered. It might be more difficult for me to “get lost” in a film because I am distracted by the jabs.

But by far the biggest distraction (and jab) in “Avatar” was the re-packaging of God. The good creatures made every noble effort to convince the unknowing that God (“Eywa”), a mother goddess, was the unifying and life-giving force that could connect every life and bring harmony. Connecting to her allowed for connecting with everything else. Ultimately convinced, the lead character bowed in prayer to God, represented as a tree of life—no kidding. Late in the film, all the good creatures were drawn together in eager and highly animated worship (with uplifted hands) around the tree, and were led by a priestess, who undulated and beseeched Eywa. It was one of the most visually striking and emotionally driven moments of the movie.

I was uncomfortable. I had to work to stay involved with the film, something I really didn’t want to have to do. One moment I was enjoying a magnificent adventure, the next I was refusing to go forward at a meeting of pantheists.

I should say that I don’t normally get all worked-up by films or stories that weakly or wrongly portray God. After all, there aren’t many that accurately portray Him. But most films or stories that include a contrary reference to God do it only slightly and sparingly; the sting of the delivered slap on the face of the Christian doesn’t last long. That’s not the case with Avatar. While there were lesser lessons, like love of nature and the evil of greed, the theme of the film was God and uniting with her. If I had my way, I would have added a subtitle to the film: “Avatar: Goddess Of The Blue Beings”, or, “Avatar: Goddess of Pandora’s Box,” referring to the name of the planet.

In sum, I liked the movie overall, and I had a great evening with my girls. Sarah and I were mostly quiet on the drive home, while Ellen and Emma talked all about the wonder they had just seen. Neither of us believed we should rain on that parade, but wait to talk about it later—which we have. Our point was not, “Those lousy pagans in Hollywood!” but how people might be deluded from knowing the perfect love and stunning grace of God by a false portrayal of something else; another gospel. It’s the something else that dilutes the majesty of the gospel of Christ. And that’s what Avatar is—a visual delight carrying another gospel. The collision left me bothered.

Would I recommend it? Yes. And I bet you’ll have plenty to talk about after.


  1. Jonathan R. Palma12:08 PM

    Thank you! What a wonderfully balanced and clear description/opinion/warning.
    Seriously, I wish I could be so balanced when critiquing something Biblically or otherwise :-)

  2. Brent Harris12:08 PM

    Yep, there were many overtones with which I didn't agree, but I was able to look past them - "yeah, yeah, the usual Hollywood junk" - & enjoy the movie. Pat, however, couldn't.

  3. Jacque Belfiore Favre12:09 PM

    I'm sorry, but you recommend it on artistic merit?

  4. Kerry Walsh Wooten12:09 PM

    My husband tends to ignore most movie critiques. Yours he felt was EXCELLENT. Our pastor, Gary Richmond, LOVES movies, and I think will LOVE your posting. We plan on printing it and giving it to him-he'll love it. I agree with Jonathan-balanced and clear.

  5. Mike Mckinzie12:10 PM

    I loved it in the begining amd slowly about the middle started to to dislike it. The final nial in the coffin was the "goddess" choosing a side. She was a lessor goddess to begin with and that just really cheapened "her" to the point of being pathetic. Didn't feel the whole jab at God exactly, But i will reflect and might see it later, though.

  6. John Madden12:10 PM

    Thanks for sharing . Now I wont be caught off guard>

  7. Craig Snyder12:10 PM

    Thanks Ralph, what you said was what I expected. I will not be seeing Avatar, didn't want to anyway. Happy new year.

  8. Craig Snyder12:10 PM

    Thanks Ralph, what you said was what I expected. I will not be seeing Avatar, didn't want to anyway. Happy new year.

  9. Susan Lyneis12:11 PM

    Ralph...we felt the same..visually stunning, special effects amazing..but toward the end, we were very put off by the "tree of life", the chanting, etc. Fortunately we are at a stage where we can not be swayed, but many others may be confused.

  10. David Borum12:11 PM

    Are you still upset about the Trojans not going to the Rose Bowl? Is that what this is about?

  11. Victoria Thomas Gaines12:11 PM

    Ralph, this is a really thorough review of the film, which I appreciate greatly. Haven't seen it, but everyone I know who has...well, they're still raving about it and never mentioned the 'mother goddess' unifying stuff. Are believers blind? Sure, I'm able to let some stuff go & enjoy a story, but the content you've described disturbs me. If nothing else, maybe the movie provides good discussion material. I'm glad you posted this.

  12. Buck Buchanan12:12 PM

    Well written. I also took my daughter to go see it and we took some time afterwards to talk about it. I've heard it said that science fiction is a powerful medium to promote your particular worldview. How true. Anyways, thank you for your comments. I had my daughter read it as well.

  13. John Cook12:13 PM

    I suspect that James Cameron would reply that an Omniscient, Omnipotent unifying deity of love is just that and the protrayed gender of the deity is irrelevant, however I have had a few other pastors tell me that Satan's greatest trick is to appear as the benevolent feminine "Angel /Goddess of Light" with the explicit motive to deceive. I just read an article, in Wikepedia, about the religion Wicca. The cited belief structure and the beliefs presented in the movie, as described by Mr. Harris, are very similar, such as the triee of life and a unifying "mother deity." Perhaps this movie is not an attempt to "repackage God" but instead to preach a differency religion that is contrary to Chirstianity.

  14. Cynthia Fore12:13 PM

    I like when an experience like this brings about the open, honest dialogue.

  15. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Saw it and went away with the same feelings. Brilliant technologically, and pathetic in that it could have been so much more than a rehashed, Disney new age indoctrination. -Steve W.

  16. Ralph, you do have a way of getting to the spiritual heart of the matter. I have plans to see this, but I'm sure I'll have to resist....the gag. Not sure if it's worth all the big bucks, and this isn't a film I'll be "enjoying" with my wife and two 5-yr-olds, and so it's always with some hesitation that I venture forth like this.
    Here's a more indepth (but less spiritually astute) review by a Focus on the Family affiliate:

    "Love each other deeply, from the heart"