Avatar’s Christian theme

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avatar.jpgHaving just returned from Avatar (something for Jews to do on a day like today), I’d like to pick a bone with the NYT’s callow conservative columnist Ross Douthat, who denounced director James Cameron a few days ago for soft-headed Hollywood pantheism. Yes, the movie does not lack for anti-colonialist, aboriginal people-loving tree-huggery. But strictly speaking, the Na’vi are not pantheists. They worship a Godness–a Nature Goddess, to be sure, but one who hears prayers and sometimes answers them. And in a way that kicks some Sky People butt.

Leaving that aside, however, consider the name of the scientist played by Sigourney Weaver: “Grace Augustine.” Is Cameron giving us a little hint that the film may have something more up its religious sleeve than the Gospel of Sustainability?

On first meeting our ex-marine hero, Jake Sully, the Na’vi princess Neytiri tells him that he, like the other Sky People (that’s us) is “like a baby”–and not in a good way. We’re greedy, thoughtless…unredeemed (uh, sullied). Did I mention that his life is spared and he is chosen to learn the ways of the Na’vi because the Goddess’ seeds alight on him? Later, he’s informed that the Na’vi believe every person can be “born twice”…born again. And, at the end, he is in fact reborn as his avatar. Throughout the film, Augustine serves as the Sky Person who pretty much understands all this, albeit (up to her dying moment) through a glass darkly. So without overdoing it, I’d say that Cameron has married some good old Christian grace-and-redemption theology to his eco-anti-imperialist parable.

Doesn’t that make you feel better, Ross?

Update: For some further, post-Oscar, thoughts.

  • Howdy
    A commenter on my blog pointed out this post to me. I noted some biblical parallels there that may interest you.
    Mike Bull

  • I think the primary message of the movie is the pantheist one, and here we see it winning for a change. This viewpoint, and that of its spiritual sister animism, makes rational sense once you fit a big missing piece back into the cosmic jigsaw puzzle. This is the conscious Sun, something intuitively recognized by every culture until the Church (not science) forcibly erased it. Dive deeper at http://www.sunofgod.net

  • I saw Avatar, loved it, but thought that its teaching was dangerous.

  • John

    Hi I am from Australia.
    Please check out these references from a REAL Avatar, with which the themes from the Avatar film have much resonance.

  • Hi there
    This movie is in no way Christian. Just because someone allures to the the name of Grace and Augustine and being ‘born again twice’ means absolutely nothing except that it was placed there for deception and millions of people are fallng for it.
    The tree of life in the middle is the goddess of ‘mother earth’ who has many many names. Call it want you want but it’s not God who’s ONLY Son is Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins – for those who want to believe and humble themselves before HIM and repent. Our King of Kings, Lord of Lords who will return to judge mankind of it’s wickedness.
    This movie instead elevates man to the level of God. The same thing the devil did in Genesis 3. The God of the Bible says YOU shall worship NO other gods BUT HIM.
    So Ross is 100% correct.
    Also ROMAN CATHOLICISM IS NOT CHRISTIAN. I am so tired of Biblical Christians, born again Christians being lumped into the same category as Roman Catholicism. ROME worships the goddess Mary, or Queen of Heaven, or Mother Earth call ‘her’ what you want, BUT she is NOT the GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    The tree in the centre is also the Tree of Life (Kabbalah or Eastern religion meditation and your Chakras or Westernised contemplative spirituality) that is nothing but satanic. God told Adam and Eve to NOT eat from this tree. If they were punished what on earth does mankind think is going to happen to them? God is a God of WRATH to those who disobey Him and do NOT love Him. He is however a GOD of Love to those who obey Him and accept and believe in His ONLY BEGOTTEN SON Jesus Christ. Chose another god or another false Christ and you are on your way to eternal punishment; of course turning around and repenting of ones sin and wanting to change your life through JESUS CHRIST brings instant forgivenes and salvation.
    This movie has this Tree at the centre, which is the Tree of KNOWLEDGE and the alien people worship the tree (mother nature) – they are connected to ‘her’ as one.
    This movie was released with perfect timing, and it has nothing to do with Christmas (and I am not referring to the Catholic SUN god 25th Dec births of false gods). It has everything to do with the Copenhagen meeting that flopped (as was planned).
    Two scenarios presented to the world: A world gathering to start the process of instituting Pantheism in the minds of the people and knowing certain people would disagree as the idea of world socialism and redistribution of wealth is ludicrous. Then releasing a movie that would blow people away with this concept of living in a world that looked like the garden of Eden. Who would not want that? An impossible task and nothing but a LIE because the Word of God tells us otherwise.
    What is going to happen is the ‘spirit’ of world unity and interconnectedness and an awakened consciousness will turn people against one another. As those who are now connected to the goddess are elevated to god level (which is nothing but a delusion of grandeur) and those who refuse to deny Jesus Christ the Son of God will not be on their level and will need to be ‘removed’ because we are nothing but a hindrance to their false plans that will NEVER come to pass anyhow.
    So prepare yourselves for what is to come which is nothing but HORROR unlike anything the world has ever seen. The spirit of happiness and joy that has spread over the world is a mental deception. And when I speak about the ‘spirit’ I am speaking about principalities of evil that are turning people’s minds into waste lands – removing the knowledge of the One true God and replacing it with a ‘new’ knowledge that you can be god and worship yourself instead along with creation.

  • TheMiddle

    I understand what you are saying and how that means everything to YOU. However, what if there were 11 paragraphs from a Muslim or Mormon? Wouldn’t they be professing their all knowing truth and how would we choose the right one?
    Finally, I think it’s quite obvious the “people” of this planet are never going to come to some overall agreement. There will be nightmares ahead but there will be no Great Church that nearly ALL will follow.

  • netiri

    you really believe your ridiculous story of an angry, sacrificing God who punishes the world unless we love him? And you think Avatar is a fantasy!
    so nice to let your book of mythology define the world for you, how very scary when other myths aren’t the same as yours.

  • dayofwrath

    On that Day and it is near some people are going to curse the day that their mothers bring them to this world.To James Cameron it would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

  • yeshua

    as occult as witchcrafts
    as buddhist as budda
    as marian as J.P.2nd
    biblical? satanic-bible biblical is more close to the reality

  • violet92

    Gregory Sams.
    I agree with you on the movie’s pantheism
    -portrayed with a few flaws, however-, as the roman philosophers said (both immanent and trascendant deity with a “reason”).
    Jake praying-Eywa answering, though, convey a very Christian view of Eywa… which personally I didn’t like.
    Why did Eywa apparently side with the Navi in the end? Only to make it happy? Is it a strong similarity with God?…May be. I would rather think that She sent animals to fight only to restore the attacked balance of nature.
    Grace Augustine didn’t tell me anything about her as a Christian: she’s a scientist! Only after the movie I thought her name had an allusion to Cristianity, but nothing more.

  • broadsheet

    The “holy tree of souls” reminded me of the Christian doctrine of the communion of saints

  • As a born again Christian, I LOVED Avatar. It is now my favorite movie of all time. Jesus of the bible would have been on the side of the Navi and would have been against the invading killers. Since when is Jesus on the side of the rich capitalists? It’s time we take back Jesus from the right wing Republicans. By the box office of Avatar, I think that is happening.
    Dallas, TX

  • Paula

    Very well said, Mike. Too many radical Christians make God petty and vindictive. This is very immature black and white thinking. God of the Universe, the All that Is, is far beyond such small thinking. God is not puny, but many right wing radical religions condense God down into something they can understand and that can feed their hate and mistrust of others who don’t believe like they do.
    I like what Gandhi said when he was asked what was his religion and he answered, I am Christian, I am Buddhist, I am Islamic, I am Jew. Wherever the great religions overlap that is where you will find truth, and that Love, Forgiveness, Tolerance, Faith. The Bible and all the good books of all the religions were written by people who channeled their higher knowledge to the best of their ability, in their own time, through their own cultural customs, and through their own subconscious minds. All these doctrines contradict themselves and spin tales left over from pagen times–like a virgin birth, not at all a new concept to the Bible.
    Avatar is a VERY spiritual movie about listening to the energy all around us, which is God, which is nature, which is a part of us all. It asks us to not give into greed, but to love all that God has created.

  • Avatar was a great movie, I just watched it a few day ago. I don’t usually go to the theather because I get nervious around a lot people but I think I’ll give this one a shot because people are saying that it’s even better on the big screen, I think it might be in 3D. You can watch it at my new website.

  • Josh

    I personally feel like the movie was far closer to being Christian than demonic/atheist/pantheistic…etc. Here’s why:
    God is love. Which side portrayed more love? The side who took in the outsider, or the side that tried to destroy a civilization(*cough* holocaust *cough*) that was in the way of their greedy pursuits. Last time I checked, Jesus championed the cause of the widow, and sought justice for the outcast.
    Secondly, Jesus said the following: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Remember the braids that each Avatar had that connected to each other and the world around them? Love is, by definition, “other-directedness” and therefore…community. The navi are a community that “literally” connects with each other and their God, so that they can act in unison as one “body”. Perhaps this is a stretch, but imagine Jesus as being symbolic of that braid…that “connection” or “way” by which they connect with life, with each other, and with Eywa (symbolic for God?). And consider their interconnectedness as one “body” as being symbolic for the “body of Christ”. I believe this is a beautiful way to illustrate how the body of Christ “should” function.
    Thirdly, this movie (to me), is a conversation about identity. Sully was born into a hopeless condition in a wicked and depraved world (sound similar?). While he could simply accept this and act in conformity with the wicked and selfish world around him, he chooses to go through a “conversion” (baptism?) experience to identify instead with the life-giving community of “foreigners and aliens” he encounters. These “aliens” end up showing him his true identity, thus forsaking his former identity, and chooses to live with them in their community of worship and love.
    If there is one primary fault in the Christian allegory, its that the Na’vi people are not evangelical whatsoever, while Jesus was. But otherwise, I feel like the movie can successfully be interpreted through a Christian lens. I do wish the message were a tiny bit clearer, as I do fear that people may miss the symbolism by taking everything literally. I am also worried that the seemingly postmodern and new-age “format” of the movie may be the primary message that gets sent. If it was meant as a Christian allegory (probably not), it was somewhat ineffective in that nobody seems to be getting the message clearly.
    Religious people tend to take things way too literally, being distracted from any symbolism by focusing on minor details. The same thing would happen if you take the parables of Jesus too literally, and missed the message underneath. For example, its like taking the parable of the mustard seed to imply that all good Christians should only plant mustard seed plants.
    Nevertheless, I feel like there are several Christian themes that can be taken from this movie, and I feel like it illustrates them beautifully.

  • Cindy Incorvaia

    To the above writer: WHO created the world in just seven days?! And more importantly, who gave imaginations to men to make movies, poetry, governments, music? Avatar was a creative plunge into a familiar theme of humans taking what belongs to others, judging their religions, their differences, their worthiness, and redeeming an “unschooled” yet very worthy soldier to fulfill a destiny. Avatar had as many messages in it as there are colors of people’s skin in the world. Capiolist’s have a spot, New Age, Buddhist, Christian. Avatar encompased them all. To say it has no Christian themes is limiting. I would not say it was Christian, I would not say it was not. I think its time the conservative element begins to see the very nature of God, CREATOR, in the arts and begin to open their mind to LIFE not just death, hell, and condemnation.

  • Geo

    Your angry words speak of someone who delights in the thought of the suffering of sinners. Your language seeks to degrade and ridicule, rather than to comfort and heal. May God send peace into your heart. Wrath is an altogether unwholesome habit.

  • awcmon

    Josh- “If there is one primary fault in the Christian allegory, its that the Na’vi people are not evangelical whatsoever, while Jesus was.”
    Christ on Earth was not an evangelical.

  • anonymous

    With all due respect I think you are 100% wrong. I am a strong Christian – and a real one. Not “oh I grew up Catholic or my parents sent me to Sunday School (which they did) but am someone who developed a relationship and had my life changed when I discovered a relationship with God and found Jesus. My boyfriend “made” me watch this movie and about 20 minutes in I quickly saw it as potentially a Christian allegory. If viewed correctly I fully believe there are several lenses through which it definitely is. I plan to blog about it in fact and you can read that separately http://www.sixyearsinthecity.blogspot.com