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.