Bonnie and I rented Avatar last night. It’s a cliché-filled (but still fun) Cowboy and Indian movie set on one of Jupiter’s moons. Instead of the U.S. government, you have a huge, nature-destroying cooperate interest; but other than that it’s Dances with Wolves on a new planet (well, moon actually). For the natives, the deity is the conscious being of all the moon’s beings. This deity does not take sides, but only brings balance–Yin and Yang, you might say.
The Good Guys are the ones with the religion. Have you ever noticed in movies that the Bad guys never have religion unless it is fundamentalistic Christianity or Islam (or the dark side of the Force)? And when the Good Guys are religious, it is seldom as devout believers in a monotheistic religion. Of course, I am not one to talk much about this topic. I don’t see many movies. Maybe I just don’t see the right movies.*
In Avatar you have obvious links to Buddhism mixed with heavy doses of Native American nature worship. It’s all fine and good, if you ask me. After all, Christianity is a matter of a revealed reality above nature–not separate from nature, but within, through and yet above and beyond nature. Those who have not known this revelation (or those who have rejected it because of the terrible state of the church they have been exposed to), are thrown onto their own resources to figure out this Unknown Creator and do their best to patch together some systematic understanding of what they see and experience. Science, it seems to me, is a kind of nature worship (sans many of the gritty rituals, but with rituals enough of its own–ask anyone who has earned a Ph.D.).
Some people reject Christianity because they don’t want to change their lives. For many of these people religion–both the kind with blue body paint and erotic rituals or the kind with white lab jackets and a peer review process–becomes the means of justifying their passions. “It’s only natural, after all. There is no good and bad.”
Others, however, have never encountered Christianity–at least not a Christianity that looks like Christ. What they have rejected is a caricature, not Christ. They have not seen Christ yet to reject Him. For some of these people, religion (of any sort, even the scientific sort) is a means to cope with the pain, to make sense of a sick, fallen world, a world in which the hawk feeds it’s babies with the babies of the bunny. Beauty and harsh death are mixed. It makes no sense without a revelation.
So to a certain extent, I appreciate the nature worship of the native people (in Avatar). At least they seem to be trying to connect with what is beyond themselves; even if, in the words of the Prophets, it is a vain (empty) endeavour–after all, their deity is not personal; it doesn’t care, doesn’t take sides; it only brings balance. Revelation of the personal God and Creator comes from above; and like the sunrise, you must be awake and watching to see it. At least these creatures seem to be watching. There are many sincere scientists and even practitioners of Wicca (I imagine) who would love to see the Sun rise. May God grant that I would become a real Christian, and that some day when others look at me they will see what is beyond nature and come to know the Creator who is a person, who loves, who takes sides, and who gives Himself so that we may live.
* A romantic exception that Bonnie and I like is Return to Me in which Carol O’Connor plays the devout Catholic father who asks for St. Michael’s help when his daughter receives a heart transplant.