Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Avatar Anti-Christian?

Last Saturday, a neighbourhood park in Northeast Portland featured the film Avatar for its "Summer Movies in the Park" series. I went with a church family that I'm good friends with. I did not expect such a film to already make the "free summer movies in the park" circuit. We can thank piracy for this! How so, you ask? Well, because of the piracy selling of illegal copies of movies on DVD while they are still playing in theaters, this has cut the time between theatrical and DVD releases to as little as three months in some cases (during the VHS era, the time was between six months and a year). I personally do not buy illegal copies of movies because I have a low opinion of people who make money off of the creative output of others. James Cameron and all the people he employed to make this fantastically, visually gorgeous film deserve every freaking dollar this movie earned at the box office. The pirates who sell illegally copied DVDs only know how to steal to earn easy money. I have never understood why people buy illegal copies. Why give financial support to thieves who made no creative input into the film?

Anyhow, off my soapbox. While I don't support the piracy of illegal DVDs, I am glad that it has forced Hollywood to release films on DVDs a lot faster than in the past. There is a stigma for a film to be called "direct-to-video", because a theatrical run gets movie reviews and earns money, with a chance of finding audiences and earning a nice gross. However, because of the high price of movie tickets, even I don't go to the theater as much anymore. If I had a family of four, you're already talking almost half a Benjamin Franklin for a family night out. Ridiculous! And that's before you buy any concessions, which are ridiculously overpriced. So, yeah, I usually wait to see most movies when they hit on DVD.

I had no intention of seeing Avatar when it was first released because I thought the trailer was boring. It looked like any number of brainless action flicks with a sci-fi angle to it. It was only after I heard Baby Boomer woman after Baby Boomer woman rave about this film that piqued my curiosity enough to see it. Plus, I had been wanting to see a movie in 3-D and figured that this was THE MOVIE to see in 3-D. So in February, that's what I did. I walked out of theaters, stunned by the visual beauty and the storyline. Many people dismissed the storyline as a retread, but I thought the film was different enough that it felt original. There are only so many storylines out there. Every movie is a remake of another movie.

Seeing the film for the second time, though without the three-dimensional effects was a different experience. All I can say is that 3-D spoiled me. If you did not see this film in 3-D, you truly did miss out on something incredibly amazing. Its simply not the same in two dimensions.

The family I went with had not seen this film yet. As we waited for the sun to set, a local covers band played some 80s songs by Billy Joel, the Eagles, and other bands. As I listened to them, I mentioned to the family that I wished they would sing a Huey Lewis and the News song. I was in the mood to hear a cover version of any song by my favourite band of the 1980s. Well, a few minutes after I made my wish known, the band started singing "It's Alright", a doo-wop song that Huey Lewis and the News had remade in the mid-1990s. They followed up with "The Power of Love" and "Walking On a Thin Line". Awesome!

Another cool surprise was that some guy was walking around giving free ice cream to people. He looked familiar, so I asked him if he was the locally famous Jefferson Smith, the founder of the Bus Project and a state legislator. He admitted that he was. I asked if he planned to run for higher office someday. I bet elected people hate that question! He said that he didn't know, but I hope he does. For those who don't live in the People's Paradise of Portland, the Bus Project is a non-profit organization devoted to getting younger people to vote (the critical 18-to-35 year old demographic). Each election year, the Bus Project has the excellent "Trick-or-Vote" event in which volunteers go around in Halloween costumes handing out flyers telling people to vote (they don't tell you who to vote for). According to Charles, who founded his own non-profit organization a decade ago and was the candidate I volunteered for two years ago, both of them were at Harvard University at the same time and the non-profit organizations they both founded were part of their Master's Degree program. Portland is such a small community, which is why I love this city (crappy jobs notwithstanding).

Since I already gave my review to Avatar in a February post, the main topic of this post is about Megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle (its on my list of church services I want to experience someday, but I can't seem to find anyone who shares my interest in visiting a megachurch). Earlier this year, a friend of mine posted on his blog a video clip of Pastor Driscoll just ripping apart Avatar in a sermon to his megachurch congregation. The young evangelical pastor called the spiritual, science fiction movie: "the most demonic, satanic movie I have ever seen!" Really? Seriously? Even more than the Saw movies? Or the countless Omen or Exorcist movies? Someone really needs to get out more!

So, after the movie finished (right at midnight), I asked the church family I was with if they saw anything inherently anti-Christian in the film. The couple said, "not at all." They called it a standard "mother earth film." A generic spiritual movie that preaches a universal spirituality that is currently in vogue in the Hollywood of Kabbalah, Deepak Chopra, and Scientology.

Even more amazing, Pastor Driscoll claims that Satan was behind this movie and its success, as a way to "trick" Christians into thinking that the "pantheism" presented in this movie is a good thing. He asked his audience how a Christian could go see this film and NOT SEE the "overt demonism". In his sermon, he reiterates the standard Christian dogma about God needing to save humanity from our sins, through the blood sacrifice of His literal son. Anyone who does not believe in "the Creed" is therefore not considered to be a true Christian. In Pastor Driscoll's world, Christians constantly need to be vigilent to all of Satan's attempts to trick us into accepting "the world system" that Satan supposedly runs.

Below is a clip from that sermon at his church. That he finds this movie threatening to his spiritual beliefs is an interesting insight into his mentality. He can't understand how a Christian would see this movie and think about the message its conveying through the filter of Christian dogma. Maybe he's just pissed because he identified with the muscular military leader and is in favour of annihilating a planet for its precious resources, but the movie made these into the villain. Pastor Driscoll does, after all, advocate a "muscular Jesus" and thinks that the standard image of Jesus is too effeminate to ever appeal to any hypermasculine man with hangups about gender roles.

Driscoll needs to get a grip on reality. Here's the message I took away from the film: authentic spirituality is the ability of a being to realize the interconnectedness of all life. There's a reason why EVERY religion (as well as Wicca, Satanism, and even scientific atheism) has its own version of The Golden Rule. If I hurt you, I ultimately hurt myself. There is no separation between you or I in a spiritual sense. The problem comes when disconnected people don't act from a level of awareness, but from a level of ego. In Avatar, the humans have decimated planet earth, so they have to travel 9 light years away, to a planet aptly named Pandora to extract an energy source that is far more valuable than oil ever was. No amount of sacredness is enough to get the military operation to question why they are willing to destroy something. All that matters is the energy source (unobtainium, I think its called).

If there was a Satan, why would he want a movie like Avatar to be successful and popular? The story runs counter to what Satan is supposedly about. If we are to believe that the highest human ideal is to love another being more than oneself, to the point where we would give up our own lives for the other person, how can such a view be demonic or satanic? Satan represents a selfish kind of love, where it doesn't matter who you hurt in the process. The ego's need is more important than the other person. Think Mad Mel Gibson demanding that his girlfriend blow him before bedtime and beating her up when she refuses. That's an ego demand, not a loving act.

One of the biggest problems I've had with evangelical Christianity is the obsessive need to find Satan in everything and blaming Satan for all that is wrong with our world and with our lives. When someone becomes a scapegoat, my sympathy naturally grows and I don't want to ever have "sympathy for the devil"! I'm no rolling stone. If we truly want to know God's intention for our lives and for the world as a whole, we need to ask ourselves which option looks best from a spiritual perspective. Do we side with the exploiters of the environment, which only cares about what we can get from the earth to maintain our lifestyles? We have the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a perfect example of where our greed has led us. Seems to me that a Satan figure would be loving the actions of BP executives. They are doing his bidding by cutting safety measures to save a few bucks so that they can line their pockets with larger salaries and bonuses. Meanwhile, innocent animals are screwed by this greed.

Or would we rather have a society in which people see their connections to others, to the environment, and to animals, and act in accordance with the highest respect for all concerned? This is more than just a battle between a primitive, pagan culture versus an "advanced" culture with technology and power on their side. Given the two choices, I don't think anyone should be surprised if Jesus himself found a spiritually interconnected world to be far more spiritual than the souless extraction of precious resources to fuel one's lavish lifestyle.

Jake Sully made the right choice. He chose a beautiful Na'vi woman over his own race. The great spirit Eywa resides in all things. This is why I love New Age spirituality. There's complete freedom to explore any idea without fear or threats of hell. What resonates with you at your deepest level of being?

At the church congregation I go to, someone a few months ago showed clips from various movies over the years that featured God or discussed God. I loved the clip used from Avatar, in which the Na'vi greet one another with the simple, but beautiful: "I see you." This was borrowed from many Asian languages, in which their version of "hello" is actually a simplified translation of the more complex: "I see the god [or divinity] within you." This kind of greeting would be excellent to use, because it forces us to see the spark of the divine in every person we come across. This saying would remind us of it each time.

Please click below if you wish to hear the megachurch's pastor in a rant about a popular movie that he does not get. My advice to him would be, "stop using Satan as a weapon." Scaring people into your religion is not a good way to gain converts. Our world would be a better place if more people practiced a spirituality like the Na'vi. Its time to live life each day aware of the connections we have to each other, to our ancestors, and to the spiritual mysteries.


Jarom and Rachel said...

I think this has been the best post of yours that I have read.

Rachel Mills

Julie said...

" If I hurt you, I ultimately hurt myself. "
Truth in that. yes.