“It’s only a movie,” that’s what I kept telling myself Sunday night as I gazed on the fifty-foot IMAX screen. Sunday night my husband and I went to see Avatar in 3D. Avatar is currently the #1 movie worldwide and has already broken box office records.

Avatar is everything they say it is: a technical masterpiece, a cinematic marvel with relatively interesting characters, and a passable story. I really enjoyed the movie. It attempts to engage almost each of your senses and nearly succeeds in doing so. I’ve never experienced a film in quite this way before.

Caution: minor spoiler alert from here on out.

And while Avatar is just a movie, it is a movie with one overarching theme, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” It is not a subtle theme nor does it pretend to be. Amid the stunning visuals and the familiar plotline is the idea that the creatures which inhabit this mystical land called Pandora exist in a symbiotic relationship with their earth. Avatar and indeed the creators of this metaphor champion the notion that the indigenous peoples must seek peace with Pandora and will find answers to their prayers by communing with her.

While this movie introduces spectacular new technology, it presents nothing new in the way of subject matter. Over the course of time folk tales as well as books and movies have portrayed the idea of man’s duty to Mother Earth as well as zeroed in on man’s selfish and destructive nature. Our society is ripe for this type of mystical persuasion with the pervasiveness of radical environmentalism afoot. We have witnessed this reality in mainstream media, if you repeat something long enough and loud enough people will believe it – and act accordingly. Notice how much of this radical ideology has taken root in our society environmental and otherwise.

I could almost leave Avatar alone to exist solely for its entertainment value except for three things. James Cameron, the creator of Avatar, has heralded it as a metaphor for the way that humans treat the Earth today. A couple of lines from the movie sum it up nicely, Jake Sully, a Marine/Avatar tells Na’vi Princess, Neytiri, “There is no green anymore on our planet, we killed our mother.” One of the final scenes finds Jake Sully, now a Na’vi initiate, narrating, “The humans went back to their dying planet.”

Secondly, it has become tiresome to see military men and women, in this case Marines, portrayed as those who would destroy a people and an ecosystem to capture resources, and do so with no sense of responsibility or remorse.

Finally, but possibly most disturbing, were the scenes in which the indigenous peoples, the Na’vi, gave themselves unreservedly to worship of their earth deity Eywa whom they also refer to as All Mother. This draws a distinct parallel to religious environmentalism which insists that humans owe Mother Earth a similar respect.

While I recognize that this is a movie dealing with mythical creatures, I cannot help but consider the spiritual implications. Avatar, as Cameron intended, did a good job at playing on my emotions. I became emotionally involved with the characters and wanted to see them ride to victory, still I couldn’t help but twinge with the knowledge that these peoples were worshiping and calling for aid from a pagan god. Yes, it is a movie, but images and ideas which are set in motion don’t necessarily disappear when the movie ends.

Though I don’t think this movie will be responsible for a flood of people streaming to worship Mother Earth it succeeds in toeing the environmental line and making us more comfortable with the suggestion that our treatment of Earth is the source of the problem, and that humans owe the Earth a debt.

This is, however, absolutely contrary to a biblical worldview. I would agree that we are a part of the problem – sin and the fall have brought much destruction to humanity and creation, and we do owe a great debt, but that debt is to God and to Him alone. Amazingly, God, in His sovereignty has satisfied that debt through the blood of His son, Jesus – our first response must be to turn to Him and allow his blood to cover us.

14 comments
  1. Nicely put and may I say refreshing. I would agree that the fall of man has brought about bad stewardship of this wonderful planet, but it is ludacris…no, agrogant to think that we could somehow destroy God’s gift. But I digress, good review and analysis. Can’t wait to see it on IMAX with my family. Take care.

  2. Ecc 1:9 The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. -Same as it has always been. Neopaganism. All we need now is our government to openly support skyclad handfasting since they’ve bought everything else, hook line and sinker.

  3. In the movie, when Jake explains that the people of his planet have killed their Mother, he’s right. It’s also right there in our Bible. How do people miss this? That the writers of the texts demoted and demonized the female divine and elevated the male (even incorporated other deities—some from enemy tribes into one. We read “God” but try reading all the names in the scripture for God—many are “pagan” and the writers combined them all into what we read in English as “God.”
    And the female is left out. The female is not adequate metaphor for the Divine.
    How sad. No wonder we worship a warrior god who has no female beside him—yet the writers did include, “It is not good that man be alone.” Wonder how “God” knew that? Indeed Western culture and religions have killed the Mother and the results have been tragic. Not intended in a Wiccan way nor a New Age, but a very ancient way that shows up right in the Bible. Clear as day.

    1. @Sara, It is an interesting point that you make. I’m trying to understand the parallel you are drawing. I’m not sure it represents the point of view of the movie – but an argument can be made. Additionally, I would suggest that the God of the Bible exists as an uncreated entity and though he is seen and described as a masculine figure, he, in the Trinity, embodies both male and female characteristics. His bride is not a warrior princess but the church consisting of both male and female.

      I would agree to a point that Western culture has belittled the natural role of a woman, so that many women feel underappreciated and unsatisfied in the role of homemaker, nurturer and Mother. It is tragic that this role is not held in higher regard.

      At the same time the oppression of women, as you mentioned, is age-old and spans each and every culture. This makes me even more thankful for Jesus, who came to earth as God in the flesh to reconcile not only God and man but man and woman.

      1. @JP Murie, Hi, JP, what is the parallel you don’t see? The female divine is present on Pandora (or in metaphor) in the minds of the people. A major theme. In times past (on our planet) this has led to sanctity of the Earth, sanctity of the animals and less hierarchical modes just based on sex, race, whatever. In Greek and Roman times we see highly dualistic thought (which is with us still) where the female is connected to “nature” (and demoted, literally—not talking about the mother, the housemaker, etc.–although yes, your points above are true but not what I was getting at)—I’m talking about the dualism between male and female (male being seen as closer to the Divine; female as connected to Nature and seen as chaotic, uncontrollable and very often evil. Check out your Bible—it’s right there. Old and New Testaments. The last temple of a Goddess (you can read about it in Ephesians) is that of Artemis and is closed down by imperial degree. It’s politics. Constantine had an empire that was falling apart so he thought one god, one emperor and thus Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire by vote of committee (and the story of that is brutal indeed—check out the book, When Jesus Became God.) Read some of what the church fathers said about women. It’s astonishing. There was even a council held to vote if women had “souls.” All men voting of course, and the verdict was yes—by one vote. How we imagine the Divine, how the writers write their stories, shift and change them give enormous clues as to what is going on in that culture re: who holds the power, the respect, the control and who is held in control (or even feared really.)
        I’ve taught Religious Studies in a major university and God of the Bible is clearly male. I tried for years to do as you do as you—to see “God” as both mother and father. It doesn’t work. It’s as if saying that my father is both my mother and father. It leaves my mother out. Which is exactly what Athena was made to do by the writer in the Orestes Trilogy seen by the rich and poor alike.
        To test this out, stand in a pulpit (even liberal ones) and say (exclusively—even for one Sunday) “She” instead of “He”. It doesn’t work and there is an outcry even in the most progressive churches. “God” is male and as Daly says, when God is male, the male is God. And quite often a warrior god, or son of a warrior god who submits to his father’s will (Christianity is not the only one with this story—it’s ages old.)
        I suppose going to the caves like Lascaux in southwestern France and others, seeing the cave paintings of around 20,000 years ago that seem to indicate a very deep connection to the animals as brothers and sisters (as opposed to something to mindlessly be exploited—as well as anything else.)
        Near the caves with the polychrome paintings, there were ritual shelters that had figures of the female form, carved into the rock face (these have been removed and placed in a museum in Bordeaux.) We later know from texts that the female WAS adequate metaphor for the Divine, but in our Western tests, She is demoted, and really obliterated. Whether in OT or NT. “God” as the “Father” of Jesus really seals the deal in terms of the over-riding masculinity of that which is valued most over all else. It’s one reason why Jake could not understand the upset over the killing of the animals at the beginning that were attacking him. He just did not get it. And I think that’s very much a parallel to now. (No, I’m not a vegetarian either.)
        I differ from you in thinking that the oppression of women is natural and age-old. I don’t think it has always been that way. I think the lack of oppression in many areas of our world have simply been forgotten, lost and there has not been even the interest in researching this via archeology–really until recently (and I am talking about the past—no New Age stuff at all.)
        Sara (minister’s daughter—mainstream, but my parents allowed and encouraged me to study and learn of other cultures, always saying “our” way was not the only way. To think such is the ultimate hubris and usually leads to destruction (ie, God told me to do this—notice in the movie, the Goddess—and I take it as metaphor—for either male or female divine—does not “take sides.” She is far deeper, connected and profound than that. Which makes all the difference.
        Thanks.

  4. As a Christian, I had absolutely no problem with the movie,easily skipping rocks over the surface of the New Age romanticization of the Earth.

    Hey, I’ve got street creds. . .I lived and went to school in Berkeley! I “sat in” (no pun intended) on many a ‘dance’ lesson with fuzzy footed Birkenstockians celebrating their world view, so confident of the steps required.

    I LIKED the moment in the movie when the statement was made (paraphrase) “Gaia does not take sides, She is interested only in Balance”. This posed no challenge to me as a Christian. Of course this is how it works. God made the world so marvelously as to render it endlessly self-correcting, not entirely dependent upon the baser motivations or actions – or the ‘taking of sides’ – created by Man.

    In fact, if you think about it, this one ‘statement’ entirely obliviates the stance of the Earthers: We Alone Know What Is Right. Man can never be as wise as God, nor can we entirely comprehend the totality and the perfection of His Creation.

    Additionally, to me the Old Testament focuses on ‘husbandry’ not necessarily “domination” (don’t know the original word from which this is taken; my legs may get shot out from under me here. . .I always look forward to that part. . .)

    ”Husbandry” to me means much like the relationship between husband and wife. . .separate roles, yet a communion. . .a tension, a responsibility, a mystery, even. Not a human certainty.

    Human certainty. Don’t find a lot of that in the Bible. Except in Christ.

    1. @T Mackenzie, Nice commentary on the relationship between husband and wife. It’s interesting that we find the issue of domination and the struggle for control between man and the earth, and man and woman is not what God intended and only comes into the equation after sin and the fall.

      Genesis 3:16-19
      To the woman he said,
      “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
      with pain you will give birth to children.
      Your desire will be for your husband,
      and he will rule over you.”

      17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
      “Cursed is the ground because of you;
      through painful toil you will eat of it
      all the days of your life.

      18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
      and you will eat the plants of the field.

      19 By the sweat of your brow
      you will eat your food
      until you return to the ground,
      since from it you were taken;
      for dust you are
      and to dust you will return.”

      Thanks for the Input.

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