Mark Driscoll, a pastor on You tube began his sermon credibly, describing the world—people using people, disobedient to God, glory to man, consumerism instead of generosity– but then he jumped into an outrageous claim: Avatar is the “most demonic, satanic film I have ever seen” and defended himself: “don’t get me wrong, I love film. I have two home theater systems and three tivo.”
This makes me sad. I may have gotten over my fascination with Lord of the Rings, but now I love Avatar. Yes, they’re comparable: both blockbusters, both stunning/well done, both have Christian themes.
Hold up. What makes something Christian or demonic? Isn’t Christian art defined by our dark-haired blue-eyed portrait of Jesus? The cross with three nails? Words that spell out the gospel with no room for misinterpretation? As a writer and an artist, I sure hope not; these images have been mass produced, misused, forgotten.
It is important to first define what makes a story, song, or film “Christian.” It may be harder to share faith, hope, and Christ through the compelling medium of a story than you’d think.
Flannery O’Connor, Catholic author and literary critic, claims (in the book Mystery and Manners) that when it comes to making art that glorifies God, “the Catholic [Christian] in this country suffers from a parochial aesthetic and a cultural insularity” (144). That is to say, Christians appear to be in a holy and narrow-minded bubble, detached from culture. How, as Christian artists and speakers, can we reach the world when it appears we are on a different planet? Through concrete detail. O’Connor goes on:
“The concrete is [the writer/artist’s] medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them…By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliché and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene.”(147)
To skimp out on concrete details (observations through the five senses, sense of setting…) is to arrive at a pseudo sentimental innocence. Much like pornography. Porn is purely sentimental; it disconnects sex from its meaning in life, making it simply an experience for its own sake (148).Why desire to be saved if you don’t have a desire for a relationship with God?
It’s not that God doesn’t satisfy, it’s that humans are too easily satisfied.
Let’s remember: God transcends human minds, ideas, words. Absolute truth does not mean that everything is black and white, there are still many gray areas. This is why a relationship with Christ is essential, as opposed to following a book of Dos and Don’ts.
Christian writers have the best intentions. They intend to save the world through glorifying God by their
artwork, they are not consciously abstracting or sentimentalizing the gospel. They simply want to put the gospel out there with no chance of misinterpretation as quickly as possible to reach as many people as possible. After all, there is a heaven and a hell and one’s death date is unknown. After all, saving the world is a much nobler goal than writing a good story.
However, If this quantitative method was the only criteria for Christian art, Christian films and books would either appear “preachy,” “Cliché,” or at best give limited ideas about God.
Example: Faith Like Potatoes (great film): a man prays daily and sees results. Viewer interpretation: “if I just pray enough, I will get everything I want.” Bogus! They could misinterpret even the most passionate Christian character, remaining man-centered by a task (like just praying, without faith) rather than God-centered through a relationship.
It’s not about man getting what he needs, it’s about repentance, it’s about God. It’s about repentance and entering into a relationship with God through his grace.
The director of Avatar, James Cameron is not of an Eastern religious background. He was raised Protestant Christian. This is not to say that Avatar is Christian, but I argue that it does have Christian themes.
Avatar may not be the gospel, but it is not demonic either.
The Na’vi people are more than primitives, more than hints of Eastern religion. They are a group of people committed to a life of gratitude.
Do they use and consume each other and nature? No. They are respectful yet powerful, and they choose mates for life.
Are they wealthy, praising material? No, they don’t want anything from Earth. They are satisfied. The only true thing they adore is Ehwa…a name ironically sounding like Yahweh.
Ehwa, the tree of life, does not fully represent Yaweh or Jesus, the Christian God; Jake Sully is not Jesus–not even comparable. To worship this movie or the world it represents would be wrong (Romans 1:25).
But, this story connects to such a wide range of people because God created man in his own image. Avatar displays fruit of the spirit, ripe and luscious, through the fictional Na’vi people: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness.
This movie, for me, evoked passion for a purer lifestyle; we can learn from their gratitude, their personalities void of overly happy/zealous behavior that does not properly reflect the heart, and their passion to serve a being out of faith rather than themselves.
Hollywood, or James Cameron rather, I give you a pat on the back.
My heart coils when I hear Christians condemning this film. As with anything we choose to see, it should be digested as an opportunity to connect with others on a deeper level. Ruth, a responder to Christians preaching the satanic nature of Avatar says:
“Wow … I am ashamed that i ever bought into all the Christian BS. I have lived in that world for many years but now see so clearly how self righteous and ‘holier than thou’ Christians really are! Avatar is an AMAZING and inspiring movie. Too bad many christians have seen it thru such warped lenses to make the comments that are here … so very sad!” (http://www.examiner.com/x-32249-Portland-Atheism-Examiner~y2009m12d20-Christian-reviews-slam-AVATAR–why)
Jesus came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17). Why would mere humans then take on the task of condemning? Recognizing sin as a personal problem and a global problem is different than condemning. There is no joy, for me, in throwing stones at vague and controversial topics to defend worldly notions of capitalism or “evolving culture.”
Jake Sully represents the individual with a choice. Do we claim we know what is best and destroy what is valuable to others, merely for our “gain”?
He did not earn his way in to the Na’vi world, on the contrary– he destroyed part of their creation. He is accepted into their culture slowly, only by attitude of repentance and a desire to taste their lifestyle.
His opportunity for a new life was a gift from Ehwa, in cooperation of Neytiri agreeing to bestow grace on Jake, despite her justifiable desire to destroy him.
That decision, made by faith, resulted in one momentous love story.