I have not seen James Cameron's latest mega-movie Avatar, but I'm sure at some point I will. Not because I love science fiction but because I am the the mother of a 13-year-old boy who loves science fiction. I can do a mean Yoda impersonation thanks to many viewings of Star Wars with said son. So I was intrigued when I saw Ross Douthat's op-ed piece, "Heaven and Nature," on Avatar in the New York Times yesterday.
At first I was nodding in agreement with Douthat as he pounced on the "capitalistic excess" and Cameron's "apologia for pantheism," but by the time I got to the end I had switched sides. Douthat's argument doesn't fully hold up. Sure, I can see how Avatar with its blue-skinned beauties living in an idyllic world could make the Hollywood types swoon -- a semi-religious experience minus the religion. And yet, aren't we all, even we Christians, meant to be in some sort of spiritual communion with the natural world around us? I'm not talking about worshiping a tree, but you don't have to look too far off the beaten Catholic path to remember that one of our greats -- St. Francis of Assisi -- often waxed poetic about the wonders of the natural world, of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. I know St. Francis. St. Francis is a friend of mine. And let me tell you, St. Francis was no pantheist.
I'd even argue that Douthat's take on the "mystical Force" in Star Wars being of a pantheistic vein is off the mark. As mentioned above, I've seen my share of Star Wars and I don't get pantheism. I get good vs. evil, which inevitably brings me back to Judeo-Christian religious beliefs, not sun gods and water fairies. Same goes for Douthat's take on The Lion King, which was my son's all-time favorite movie when he was a preschooler. Yes, it focuses on the "circle of life," but there is a circle of life, whether we worship the One True God or are dabbling in New Age niceties. In fact, when I wrote my first book, Parenting a Grieving Child, I suggested parents use movies like The Lion King to help their children understand life and death.
Maybe after I view Avatar for myself, I'll see Douthat's point, although I tend to doubt it. As I see it, we are created by our Creator to live among all His other creations. We are connected -- spiritually, physically and otherwise -- whether we like it or not.
Toward the end of his column, Douthat states:
"Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.
"This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.
"Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.
"But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back."
Ah, but there's the rub. Nature does take us back as dust and ash, and we become part of the circle of life.
To read Douthat's full column, click HERE.