Avatar: What’s the Big Deal?

Travis Griffith

Travis Griffith finally buckles under pressure to see Avatar, and shares his reaction to the film and its implications on spirituality.

My brother called it a “life changing experience.”

My mom said it was “an amazing insight into spirituality.”

A friend said it was just “a remake of Dances With Wolves.”

The pope called it “simplistic and sappy.”

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said the film “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.”

Then Avatar won for best drama at the Golden Globes and now is a favorite at the Oscars, so I decided I had to experience the film for myself, make up my own mind and then share my thoughts with all my Relief friends. The overall take away: What’s the big deal?

James Cameron, the film’s director, said,

Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four and a half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate the miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that’s the wonder of cinema right there, that’s the magic.

Of course, that’s why the Vatican says the film supports a worship of nature and neo-paganism (which obviously is bad for business).

Here’s the deal: Avatar does indeed support a worship of nature. It also supports a love for one another and the importance of not judging other people, regardless of race or beliefs. In the movie, the Na’vi people have developed a vibrant, complex, and sophisticated culture based on a profound spiritual connection to their planet, one another and the encompassing spirit they call Eywa. The operative concept for the Na’vi is balance. Their lives express this balance in body, mind and spirit.

A review at movieguide.org said,

In reality, you are connected to the earth by gravity, not by spirit. The Bible tells us the earth will be burned up and there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness reigns. We are stewards of the earth and its creatures, not brothers. We are accountable to God for what we do with the resources He’s given us.

The spirit world is not something in need of balance. It is a war zone where evil spirits want to drag you into lust, greed, anger, and depression while the Spirit of God seeks to rescue you from darkness.

Who's the more enlightened one?

So the hard-line Christians blast the spirit world with their “reality” of fire, fear and brimstone while lauding heaven as God’s Kingdom. Pagans reject heaven and revel in the universal energy of the spirit world. Who is right?

What if the Christian heaven and the pagan spirit world turned out to be the same place behind the veil, just with different marketing here on Earth?

Yet, the Vatican tries to protect its stake in religion while belittling messages like the one in Avatar. It would have been great to see the Vatican lead a discussion towards a more loving and accepting version of spirituality instead of calling the film’s relevant message “simplistic.” Some might even call the type of spirituality portrayed in Avatar as more advanced when compared to the archaic beliefs and practices of Catholicism.

In the end, all Avatar asks us to do is love each other and our planet so humanity can evolve into a place of unconditional bliss. That, after all, is the same ultimate goal many of the world’s religions have, they just all seem to call it something different. Catholics call it the Kingdom of God. Buddhists call it Nirvana. Avatar called it Pandora. Same damn thing, just with different paths that lead there, all as valid as the other.

As long as beliefs are based on love, who’s to say who gets to claim the correct one? I say choose what feels right to you, without fear of being judged for your beliefs by someone else.

If you’ve seen the movie and want to share your thoughts, or care to challenge anything I’ve said here, I’d love to have a discussion with you.

Love… to all.

***

Travis Griffith, who left behind the corporate marketing world, choosing family and writing in lieu of “a comfortable life” financially, is a former atheist trying to define what leading a spiritual life really means. His children’s book, Your Father Forever, published in 2005 by Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc. captures only a fraction of his passion for fatherhood.

48 Comments / Add your own comment below

  1. I too, sat though the 3D, 2 hour and 40 minute movie. I’ve never been at a theater when, after the final scene and the credits were rolling, that all – 100% of the audience – continued to sit in silence for several minutes. People did not want to leave the theater. I heard more than a few comments about how wonderful it would be if there actually was such a place as Pandora and the Na’vi. I’d take that any day over any religion that exists anywhere on this place we call Earth. Way to go Travis, once again you have lead the way.

  2. “So the hard-line Christians blast the spirit world with their “reality” of fire, fear and brimstone while lauding heaven as God’s Kingdom.”

    “hard-line Christians” appear to be the ones who are actually referencing actual scripture. It helps if you read the whole Bible.

    The quote you have here doesn’t refer to Hell; no mention of fire or brimstone. Try sticking to the points you chose to publish.

    “Catholics call it the Kingdom of God. Buddhists call it Nirvana. Avatar called it Pandora. Same damn thing, just with different paths that lead there, all as valid as the other.”

    This statement is idiocy. First thing, a poorly written movie is not the same as a religion. Second, Nirvana and Heaven are not the same thing. Third, they are not as valid as one another. Christianity provides for redemption and forgiveness, all others offer far less. Your inability, or refusal, to discern the actual and obvious differences in favor of overreaching blanket statements exposes the thinness of your opinion.

    The movie – yes, it is a nice technical bauble. It is an amusement park ride. That’s all. Being moved by this is like being emotionally touched by a screen saver.

    So, which part of the film was your favorite part? The blatant racism? The slandering of the Marines? The poor writing?

    This is bad cinema.

  3. Hi Nehring-
    Thank you for your comment.
    I referenced ‘fire and brimstone’ because of this quote from the review at movieguide, “The Bible tells us the earth will be burned up…”
    Sounds like fire to me, but perhaps I am mistaken.

    Cinema is as much as an art form as poetry, paintings and books. One can be moved by those, so why not cinema? Or even screen savers? Like any art form, it’s the message the art conveys that moves people, not the form of art itself.

    Who knows, maybe if the Bible were written today, it would be a movie instead of a book. I’ll bet God loves the new art of cinema.

    To answer your question, my favorite part of the film was the message of acceptance and love it portrayed. In your mind, it was bad cinema, and that’s OK. In my mind, it was a reminder to love our fellow humans, take care of our planet, and revel in whatever form of spirituality moves us.

  4. Most of the religions, Christianity included, (my head will be blasted off in comments following) are fearing of anything else, everything new, they try and work hardly to keep their followers in the life-stereotype which they’ve created(Not talking about the original religion itself, but I’m referring to the fear of new things together with science, which was created, and now those ‘hard-line Christians’ truly believe that all the scientists are wrong when they talk about the universe, possible life in the space, or dinosaurs). I could write pages of statements why these people are wrong (even their own religion says so), won’t flood the site with useless things.
    Avatar made huge changes in some of the watchers’ lives, even though media and many others claim it to be plain stupid and fake.
    On a forum where you posted a while ago Travis, there are a few people, christians, atheists, and so on. We’re getting along well, and those christians there also state that the film was awesome, and it made them care more for the environment, and for each other. They aren’t true christians then, or what? I guess they also believe as much as other christians, and that’s the point. They might have watched Avatar with an open mind – and an open heart.
    “Third, they are not as valid as one another.” Yeah, comparing a scientifically possible world with a partially real ecosystem, to worlds which were referred to in books… But, seriously: claiming that the Christian heaven “offers more” and is more valid than Pandora (ok let’s say it doesn’t exist), but more valid than the Buddhists’ Nirvana? Ignorant, not caring person with an absolutely closed mind.

  5. So Nehring, you are saying that unless one believes in your Christianity, all others are unworthy of belief? You missed Travis’s point completely. It’s sad that you and those like you cannot see beyond your own limited horizon. Thank God we have the likes of Travis Griffith

  6. I’m sorry to hear that people actually sat in the theatre after the movie wishing that a place like Pandora existed, and a people like the Na’vi. A place like Pandora does exist- Earth. No matter how much we have forgotten of our past, the facts of reality don’t change. Once, ancient Europeans did view the world in terms of spiritual ecology- they did see it as an inter-connected webwork of living, sacred powers, and humans were a part of that. Primal peoples around the world from all ages, past or present, have kept a similar view. This isn’t new-agey dream world stuff; this is reality, our real origins. This is the first human spirituality. This is the primal core of what exists.

    Our modern amnesia of these facts, caused by centuries of revealed religious nonsense and spiritual totalitarianism, is just a temporary sickness that is lifting as we speak and type here. This is the post-christian era. The christian fairy tale is no longer the dominant spiritual story of the west. Movies like Avatar are only the tip of the iceberg of the emerging “remembrance.” People need to remember, because the spirit in us cannot be imprisoned forever, held back from its natural ecological relationship with everything else.

    It seems that you’ve already had a panicky christian come in here lauding his fading religion, and dismissing all other visions of reality. Here, at the end of his religion’s era, he and others like him will make an enormous amount of noise, express a lot of fear, hate, and frustration, as they cling to the tide going out.

    Their heavenly retirement plans, which they’ve invested so much in, aren’t going to get cashed in. They claim to offer “forgiveness and redemption”, but in the real world, they have offered only the seeds that separated humans from nature and established humans in a virulent and unwise “exceptionalism” story, which separated humans from each other and from the natural word- leading to the ecological disasters we face today. Their great “message” brought us spiritual tyranny, absolutism, censorship, blockages to scientific inquiry and progress, misogyny, homophobia, and a petrifying, unhealthy scorn for the sexual nature of our very beings.

    The only “redemption” they offer is from a story of sin that they created. No one needed their “redemption” before they convinced some that they needed it, on account of “sins” that these people somehow never realized they had. The time of this arrogance and idiocy is done. The world sees it. They know it. And it causes a terrible storm of lost dreams and panic as it blows by.

    But the original truth of our condition in this world and as entities remains, after the revealed religious overlay is finally dissolved. And thank the real Gods for that.

    I’m happy Avatar helped people to give words to their own desires and dreams. I think it is part of a deeper emergence. And I look forward to the future which it heralds.

  7. Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life. So, I think He gets to claim the correct one.

  8. Open your eyes and your heart, Angie. There is no correct one. It does not exist. Re-read Robins blog. You are indeed clinging to an outgoing tide.

  9. Travis Griffith

    I think I need to step in here again and (gulp) defend Christianity a little.

    Robin’s points are valid and I agree with most of them, especially about humanity’s ancient and valid spiritual connection to the earth. But to say Christianity is going away is just as arrogant as saying Christianity is the only real truth.

    Christianity may change over the next years and generations, but it certainly isn’t going to become extinct. The fear-based sin-filled part of Christianity may be an outgoing tide (I hope) but the love and overall good that Christianity provides will take over. It’ll be a religion of light, without the old archaic darkness that has plagued it. Many people will continue to find hope in the new Christianity.

    Again folks, we need to be loving and accepting towards all.

  10. Travis, good fellow, to quote a somewhat popular literary figure, I came here “not to bring peace, but a sword.” I make this quote to inject levity into this conversation, but also to show my partial agreement with you.

    The call back to the original core of human spiritual thinking and awareness- of the sacred dimension of nature and of the human person’s timeless involvement in it- is a sword, a call to arms, in many ways. without a return to this primordial awareness, we will certainly perish. For too long we have coursed in the “human exceptionalist” paradigm that is the true cause of nearly all of our miseries.

    Humans are not exempted from the laws that bind all life. And giving religious sanction to the notion of human “specialness”, allowing humans to think that they are above “creation”, as privileged rulers or minor godlings themselves, is deadly business. I will offer a single illustrative example from the pages of history- though many more such examples exist:

    Centuries ago, in Europe, European towns, cities, and villages believed (thanks to the Church) that cats were manifestations of demonic forces. Cats were associated in the medieval mind with witches and devils. As a show of godliness, every morning, when church bells rang, a basket of living cats was burned in a bonfire.

    This practice was very widespread, and resulted in a massive depopulation of cats all over Europe. Then, rats infected with the plague arrived in European ports- and owing to the very thin cat population, those rats- and the fleas those rats had- were allowed to rampage about and infect the human population. This resulted in the deaths of nearly half of Europe’s human population, including the deaths of many priests, quite a few bishops, and even one pope.

    Cats are living creatures in this world, locked in a system of recursive ecology with human beings. The web of life depends on harmonious co-existence; humans had no right to arbitrarily and brutally destroy an aspect of the web of life that they deemed, for superstitious reasons, to be evil. But they did. And what humans did to the web of life, as it turns out, they did to themselves. This law is universal, it cares not at all who violates it or who dies because of the violation. Humans can’t just do whatever they like. But for the longest time, and to a large extent still today, humans think they can.

    This “human exceptionalism” violates the true underlying and eternal sacred laws of our reality. And cats are not the only sacred living beings who have died because of it; many humans and non-humans have been unwisely and heartlessly destroyed, and the consequences have always been dire, on some level.

    It’s a sorry testimony when we have to look to books for our spiritual and moral guidance, and we can’t just look straight at the real “sacred tablet” which stares us in the face every day- the body of nature itself. You may say that Christianity has some value because it helps people to find hope and motivates them to be “good” in various ways. In a sense, you’d be right- but there is source for hope, goodness, and inspiration which is older than bibles and books, and whose source is not the creation of human hands, nor vulnerable to the manipulations of human beings, and again, that is Nature herself, both the nature we experience as “around us”, and the nature within us.

    For so long we’ve been fed lies about the “nature of nature”- been told that it was just a material after-thought of a great creator, been told that “worshiping the creation and not the creator” is silly or superstitious, but “nature” in the broadest, deepest sense has no creator. It needs no creator. It alone is lasting, eternal, and the common mother and father of men and Gods alike. Nature has been minimized, made out to be a lifeless pool of resources for humans to freely use as they see fit.

    I believe that you are correct when you say that the fear and sin-based aspects of Christianity may be fading, but without it, what “Christianity” is really left? One of the things that makes Christianity what it is IS the focus on the “blade edge” of life, the sweat-of-your-brow contest for the soul’s salvation against the unknown eternity to come. The story of Christianity is based on the pernicious idea of a “fallen nature”, including “fallen” humans who are desperately in need of help from an outside- and “supernatural”- source. The entire basic story of the faith is counter-nature, escapist from nature, and condescending to nature.

    And the basic essence of the story is one of soteriology- salvation from the great chasm of fallen danger that every human must find himself in. There has to be an element of a kind of “exciting fear”, the “fear and trembling” that one must work out their own salvation in. The story appeals to simple emotions, to the vain human contention that he is individually and universally important to something far greater and beyond nature- God. Without the tension of sin and the cheaply-inflated emotional high of supposed “redemption”, the sacrifice of Jesus means nothing. The central icon of Christianity- the cross- goes from a sign of a great miracle to a simple execution device.

    If you would do away with these things- and I certainly wish someone would- what would be left? The simple teachings about loving everyone? You don’t need Christianity for that. Many faiths and religions in the past and present teach that in some form. And they teach it without the endless baggage and problems that come from centuries of Christian influence, mistakes, deceptions, and bigotry.

    Whatever happens in the future, I hope that your tolerant vision is right; I wish we had more people like you within the walls of the Christian fortress.

  11. Talia Karaberis

    I have to say, Robin, that was written very well. Travis and Robin I must say for christians (that is what you are… no?) You have a great view on the world. I appreciate that more than you may know. I pray, as both of you said, that the evils of christianity leave. But… as Robin pointed out… what will be left? To watch such calamity over religion is terrifying. All I can do is meditate… and be apart of groups to help open the eyes of others. Fore it was once said, when you close your mind to other’s opinions the only person you’re hurting is yourself.

    May the gods be with you two! And everyone else!

  12. Hi Talia. No, I’m not Christian. I’m an animist, a polytheist and deep ecologist/renegade mystic with a penchant for annoying people.

    I hope that whatever is left over of Christianity, in the secular miasma that will be left behind, will be just enough motivation to finally love people- really love them, not just love them for the possibility that they’ll convert or come into agreement with someone else’s version of the “truth”- and not enough fanaticism to harm them or try to coerce them with either force or constant verbal battering. That may be a forlorn hope, but it’s my hope nonetheless.

    Focus on conversion is the worst sort of vanity. As an interesting aside, the book of Revelation presents a single criteria for those at the throne of judgment, a single factor which decides if they will inherit eternal life- and that factor is whether or not they were helpful and charitable to their fellow man when they were in need of help.

    That’s all. The “judge” of that scene in that fabulous work of metaphor doesn’t mention how many people they converted, nor their own religious choices, only the extent to which they were charitable and a true help to their fellows in need. I hope whatever’s left of Christianity is a focus on works and help to other human beings, and that’s all. Forlorn, as I said.

    I wish that charity lesson had caught on early. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

  13. I’m sorry, Talia, I have a correction to make. The final judgment sequence I was talking about is not found in Revelation, but in Matthew 25:31-46. I have Revelation on the brain because I was just debating with someone online about the symbolism of the Seven-Headed Beast. Not my usual sort of talk, but then, Bible talk isn’t my usual, either.

  14. Hello to all humanity (no matter their faiths or thoughts),

    I am a Christian, and loved the movie! And I’m tired of being put in a category by other groups. I have my love for God…and for people. All people! I could care less about what you think or why. I think there is a God and I’ll meet Him someday. But the truth is, every group out there, Christian and non-Christian, talk crap about the other group. No one is innocent in this.
    I enjoyed the love and spirituality in this movie, and can actually correlate it with my own faith in God. I was moved by it, and walked away feeling a little more appreciative for the Earth that God gave us. And, of course, the LOVE.
    Great post, Travis. It was very unoffensive yet opinionated ;)

    Shannon

  15. I linked my review of Avatar at The Master’s Blog. My view of the movie was very different. Although I thought the movie was visually stunning and the storyline universal and appealing enough for masses, I thought it was problematic for Christian writers. After reading this post I see more evidence of that fact.

    “So what’s the big deal?” Not that The hierology that parallels with the Na’Vi Way is closer to Hinduism than Christianity. But that so many will leave this movie longing for spiritual connection and we don’t have the wherewithall to support them because we don’t know the differences between major world religions…we don’t even understand our theology.

  16. Hey, good perspective, Travis. I appreciate it very much. My take on Avatar was that, stunning visuals and wonderfully rendered facial expressions on the blue people aside, the story was…well, pretty lame.

    Does a glowing ‘spirituality’ compensate for a lack of artsitic integrity? There was no nuance in this movie. Everything happened at entirely predictable moments. Hand to hand combat between the villian, and the hero and his squeeze. Knew that was coming. Knew that crusty ol’ Trudy would gravitate to the side of Good. It trundled out all the tired old tropes. The villian was so ludicrously villainous. The anti hero (of course he’s a white guy) was a pastiche of obviousness. The references to spirituality functioning as the Internet (some actually says something to the effect that the Na’vi “download” energy) was just embarrassing.

    With all the talent they pumped into making it, why couldn’t they have invested in a better script?

    Some of the details were nice, though. I loved those little jellyfish seed things that perkily pumped themselves around. (Someone had seen the Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek, I think.)

  17. I’m with Angie. Christ is it–as Christians, we follow Christ and we try to have Christ-like behavior. Do we always succeed? No way.

    Are there hateful Christians out there? You bet.
    Do they embarrass me? Absolutely.
    Am I one of them? I pray not.

    I’m not commenting for the purpose of getting into a theological sword fight. I was Catholic. I was atheist, I was a fundamental born-again Bible beater. I’m a Christ follower now.

    Religion and legalism are not cool. And relationship with Christ is very personal and individual. However, being a Christian relies on one principle–that you believe Christ. And that means you adhere to His way. Which is not the way of other world religions. And there is no room for argument within those confines.

    Does that mean I blast people who believe different and beat them down with my beliefs. Do following Christ mean I treat others with different beliefs badly? I don’t think so. I agree we need to be loving and accepting towards all. Period. But we do so through Christ.

    I don’t agree with all of the fire and brimstone teaching out there. One one point, I agree with Robin–that if you take away redemption then the cross and sacrifice of Jesus means nothing. You hit that nail on the head, friend.

    While I don’t agree with some of the ways that are taught by the fire and brimstone crowd, I lay my entire faith on Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. Because, when boiled down, that is what sets me apart from other religions and there is now two ways about it.

    That doesn’t mean I get to destroy earth. In the Bible, God created the heavens and the earth before humans and He told humans to take care of it. Have we listened? About as well as we listen to anything else He says, I suppose. God has a lot to say in the Bible about earth. And we are supposed to be taking care of it as well as loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

    Robin, you are correct that as Christian we will be judged on the extent to which we were charitable and helping, but that is not the only judgment we face. Also in Matthew Jesus points out that not all who have used His name in ministry will be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (my paraphrase of Matthew 7:13-23)

    And, Robin, on a side note and totally not related to this conversation, but based on your comment about the Seven-headed beast, I think you might be interested in a documentary I watched recently. It’s called The Star of Bethlehem. http://www.bethlehemstar.net/ This is not a “witnessing” tool, I promise and you have my word.

    The website doesn’t give the information I think it should (how dare they?! LOL!) It is a documentary based on one man’s interest in finding out more about the star of Bethlehem. It’s a little dry and slow-going at the beginning, but there’s an enormous, thought-provoking ending. I don’t do well explaining it, but it seriously puts a whole new idea of what those symbolisms in Revelation mean.

    This man’s study of the Star of Bethlehem led him to the study of constellations and to use a program that could take the night sky back to the time of Jesus. He didn’t speak directly about the seven-headed beast, but the woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head? She was in the sky–for real. And after watching that film, I have all kinds of thoughts in my head about Revelation. I would love to know your thoughts after watching and taking in the information! (That goes for anyone reading this, not just Robin!)

  18. My typos are horrible. Please overlook them. It is early and I’ve yet to drink my coffee!!

    “Do” following Christ = Does

    “One one” point = One point

    hat is what sets me apart from other religions and there is “now” two ways about it. = NO two ways about it.

    as “Christian” we will be judged = Christians

    Wow. LOL Sorry!

  19. A. Trevor Sutton

    If one were to look up ‘post-modernity’ in the dictionary, this blog would be cited as a sterling example. We are certainly a product of our times.

  20. Travis Griffith

    Michelle-
    Thanks for taking the time to post that comment, typos and all :) I’m interested to check out that documentary.

    Talia-
    Thank you as well for your comment. To answer your question, no, I don’t consider myself a Christian simply because I don’t accept Christ as the one path to truth and love. I believe he existed and taught humanity valuable lessons, but I do not believe in his divinity for very personal reasons (some of which I’ll discuss in later postings on this blog).

    That said, I have nothing but love and respect for the people who do believe, and simply hope to open up respectful and passionate discussions here between people of all faiths.

    My purpose is not to convince anyone to change their beliefs, just to openly talk about what those beliefs are without fear of judgment; even when some pretty controversial, even scary, topics come up. Which I guarantee they will. :)

    Thank you all for participating, and I look forward to hearing from you again. And of course, your questions are always welcome.

  21. @Robin, Christianity’s a fairy tale? Would you say the same of all world religions? Ancient spiritual traditions? If so, nice non-judgmental inclusiveness and love there. If not, flip the sarcasm switch on the word “nice” back there.

    According to the Biblical tradition, the original God-man relationship was God hanging out with man. Whether literally in the Garden or metaphorically (as in ancient spiritual traditions), I don’t know, and I can accept either. But something severed that relationship. Sin? Disobedience? Hubris? Prometheus? It’s got a /s/-like phoneme in there, whatever it was. Even after that, though, the Biblical record allows for God walking and talking with those who were willing (Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek) and giving mercy to those who turned their hearts to him, post-Patriarch (Abimelech, the Ninevites).

    If ancient spirit-worshipers were non-aggressive ruminants whose eco-friendly composting and nickel bottle-return policies were all that they’re made out to be, then I could buy that Abram made a bad choice to fill out the dba Abraham paperwork. But it seems to me archaeologists have found arrowheads and spear tips countering that notion (unless they were primitive toothpicks made by tree-friendly Gaea-worshipers, in which case I concede the point, pun intended). That said, recycling’s cool.

    Is Jesus the way, truth, and life? I believe he is. Is Christianity synonymous with Jesus. Heck, no. In the passage you cite, Christ himself said there’d be God-fearing ass#@!es in hell, so I’m open to being pleasantly surprised to see kind, gentle, loving atheists welcomed into heaven. If someone wants to pursue peace, love, and understanding under their own or Elvis Costello’s shingle, excellent. Can’t say it’ll keep ‘em from an eternity with God, can’t say it won’t. For me, I’m following Jesus’ example. Poorly, at times, to be sure, but that’s why I’ve got My Aim Is True and Spike on my iPod.

    Shalom, Shaloub, Chaka Khan, Peace.

  22. Chris: I never claimed that the original spirit-worshipers were totally peaceful people who never had violent confrontations with one another. And the fact that primal peoples might have had battles or killed one another in competition from time to time doesn’t invalidate their spiritual or ecological ways of life, not one bit.

    Nor does it necessitate the creation of new, revealed religions that teach triumphalism, fallen nature, human exceptionalism, or anything of the kind. I don’t know what you meant to suggest by your statements, but you missed the justification you were trying by a longshot, I think. Violence is also a part of this world- on nearly every level- and humans are not exempt from that. It’s just that there are times and ways that violence can be lawfully engaged, and times and places when humans should not engage it.

    While you appear to be a cool guy, and have an open enough mind and heart to welcome atheists into your vision of heaven, you still can’t let go of the whole jesus myth. I don’t expect you to, but I wish you could, because you already have half the natural sanity of a true human being; the other half would restore you to full communion with yourself and this sacred world.

    I call jesus a “myth” because, regardless of what may or may not have historically happened- and we have no reliable evidence outside of the bible, which is not considered by academia to be a reliable source for history- jesus is a religious figure, a mythical one. he has taken on proportions of power and miraculous aura that he never had in his possible earthly life.

    Understand that “mythical” to me does NOT mean fake. Myth is a sacred, precious thing in my way of seeing it, and I have my own myths which give my world meaning. There is a jesus of myth, and, unfortunately for you, for every one good thing that luminous figure says, at least four bad things are in his mouth due to biblical writers, and churches have greedily and perniciously used those words to commit harm beyond measure in this world.

    For me, the taint is too much. I refuse to put myself in a situation where I tenaciously cling to my own liberal, loving vision of jesus, while nearly the rest of the christian world is hateful, judgmental, and venal. I refuse to be that “one nice guy” who thinks he has the “real” jesus while the rest of the world associates me with hateful morons. The institution of christianity was wrecked by human beings, and that’s me being charitable and suggesting that it ever had value at all.

    It wasn’t needed, from the start- humans never needed yet another brutal desert religion promising them salvation in exchange for common decency in their behavior to other human beings, or some eternal happiness just for proclaiming that they love the tribal God of an obscure people. All of this is madness, clearly madness. It is a departure from the greater religious sanity of organic ways that existed long before.

    Someone invented the idea that the lord of the universe was unhappy with human beings- that we were not good enough the way we were- and used it as a convenient explanation for life’s miseries. It’s a terrible thing to think about humanity and the world, an unbelievable negative perspective, but it does conveniently explain a lot of hard questions, and humans love easy explanations, even if they must see themselves in a negative light.

    Tradition is why people cling so tenaciously to it- tradition and a large measure of fear. Even those, in my experience, who claim that their love for jesus totally excludes any hint of fear, have to cope with the fact that this man-god they love will sit in judgment of them AND their loved ones one day. Where I come from, real authentic love doesn’t contain fear or judgment. But I suppose “God’s ways aren’t our ways”- just like the Bible says, giving instant sanction and justification in one line for any deviations from common decency and morality that God shows.

    How much longer must I pummel through this jungle of social life meeting otherwise cool people who can’t extricate their minds from the twisted forest that their religious traditions have secluded them in?? When you see a vision of authentic sanity, it becomes difficult to watch the descent of your fellow man into madness- especially a madness that is going on 1800 years old.

    It’s twice as difficult to meet people who can SEE the issues in the religious madness clearly, but who, instead of breaking free, try to apologize for them and justify the religion in new ways, and persist in the error.

  23. Michelle: Thank you for your civility. Despite your tenacious clinging to this figure of “christ” that you have in your head, I know that the spirit in you- as with nearly every other human being- is a good one, and I look forward to the day outside of time when that spirit is free of the shallow words and symbols and fears that currently cling to it like hooks and claws.

    When I look at people like you, I see good people who know no other way to be good, to express their natural good, without focusing that good through the symbol of a god-man like jesus christ. It’s like you’re either unwilling, or afraid, to let the natural goodness in you just emerge, fly out, as big as the sky or the ocean. You can’t let it come out unless it comes out looking and sounding like jesus.

    And why? Because if you believe in sin, then you believe that it isn’t good that comes out of you naturally, but sinful ways. The natural state of man, in your religion, is a sinful one, not a good one.

    When water emerges from the deep ground, is cold, clear, and clean. I’ve sat on the stony corners of natural springs emerging from the ground in Sligo, Ireland, and drank the most powerful of healing waters in the world. If you taste that water once, you understand that the origin of things is not fallen or disgraced or sinful.

    Goodness wells up like water from the ground that is common mother to us all. Marcus Aurelius said that within each of us was a well of goodness, and that we would find it if we dug down deep- and that well of goodness would continue to flow if we would continue to dig.

    The category of “goodness” that I’m talking about isn’t the sort of “good versus evil” moral talk that maybe you’re used to. I’m talking about a separate category, a primal goodness that has no opposite, which contains everything that grows or flies or walks, and everything that lives, or dies, or kills or gives birth.

    Human “isolation evil” is another matter. We only become “evil” in the sense of actively harmful to the world and to each other when we become alienated and isolated, literal rogues and thieves, vagabonds, outcasts from our real homes and our real bonds with the rest of the living world.

    And our brilliant minds can supply us with all the reasons we need to isolate ourselves, or to bring ourselves home. Nature, for her own reasons, designed us with the sort of mind we have- a mind that allows us to dream up amazing things, or nightmares, to use technology for compassionate uses, or to build city and nation-destroying bombs.

    This type of mind makes us a huge “question mark” within the body of nature- we can’t be predicted well. Some of us will dream up nightmare scenarios, colored with fear or greed, and make entire societies and religions around them; others will do differently. Where are you in the great question mark? This is your test as a human being.

  24. Robin–Because this is the internet and because we can’t sit face to face and look into each other’s eyes while we speak, we lose a connection I think is important in conversations like this.

    When I was atheist and believed in no gods, I still knew good and evil. I understood it was within my own power to choose which side of the fence to jump off onto.

    I also know it was completely within my own power to choose, at the moment I chose, to believe in Christ. It wasn’t because someone told me something. It wasn’t because someone scared me into it. It was because I had a personal experience that brought understanding to me. It’s not like that with everyone, I realize that.

    It’s much like ghosts (using a very generic, wide-sweeping term) not everyone believes in the spirit world. Not everyone has seen, nor spoken to a spirit. I understand from experience that there are evil spirits and there are good spirits. And I didn’t need a class or a book or a mentor to teach me which was which.

    I think I understand this category of “goodness” that you’re speaking of.

    I understand things in their purest form are most powerful. I understand the dilution that has most likely happened though the centuries in regards to the Bible as we now have it in our hands. And please don’t mistake me, I do not worship the Bible. I worship the trinity of God the Father, Christ the son, and the Holy Spirit.

    And maybe it is because of my past experience with spirits that I choose on an ongoing basis to commune the Holy Spirit I believe is a part of the God-head. Not the generic word “God” but YHWH of the Hebrew people.

    And this is quite possibly a different point of view than you’re used to hearing from the group you’ve lumped me into?

    I’m not clinging to a symbol nor do I speak with shallow words despite what you’re used to hearing from those who use the same kinds of words I chose in my last comment.

    The ability to commune with spirits did not pass with my relationship with Christ. Nor did the dreams stop. However, it is different now. In a way that I’m not adequately equipped to explain or convey.

    In the “typical” Christiandom, the Christians that you have experienced–I have experienced as well and I’m an outcast. Their judgment is cast upon me (as it is everyone they judge) just the same. I’m not a strip-mall, churchy, white-picket fence, Fish-symbol-on-my-car kind of girl. I’ve succumbed to the evil spirits out there understand full well I do not have the wherewithal to be alone in that world. I chose Christ as my Shepherd.

  25. Would you care to express to me, the best way you can (owing to the difficulties of this medium of communication) what this “personal experience” you had was, that convinced you this understanding you have? I would love to understand as best I may.

    As for the rest: you’d be surprised what you can learn from people about the spirit world. It’s an immense layer of reality, and it has more in it than just “good spirits” and “evil spirits”, just like there are more than just “good humans” and “evil humans”. The spirit world is full of a diversity that is mind-blowing. It’s not an over-simple matter.

    The fact that you worship the tribal god of a tiny group of ancient people is precisely one of the problems with your chosen expression of faith. Why in the world could you ever believe that the YHVH of a bunch of dirty-footed desert nomads from the Bronze age is the supreme and one and only true god of all people? Do you understand what this looks and sounds like? It sounds like your brainwashing from an early age took very deep and very well. You refuse to see a larger picture, staunchly so.

    That is my “lumped category” for you, sadly, because I’ve met so many people who say exactly the same things as you, who use the same words you do, use the same names you do, use the same theological principles you do. And each one of them also claimed a special personal experience that convinced them of the truth of it all. From top to bottom, you are lumped with them for a very obvious and finite reason.

    You claim to be able to communicate with spirits. Has Christ appeared to you? Spoken to you? How? in what shape? What was it like? Tell me about those experiences as best you can. As a person who does utilize trance-states to experience the reality of spirits- of non-human persons that lack a physical form- I am interested in understanding this.

  26. For the sake of this good conversation here, I’d like you to answer me here. But, if you feel this is too personal- or if there are aspects of it that you’d rather not go public with, please email me. Click on my blue-hyperlinked name and go to my website, and mail me at the contact address there.

  27. You choose to see problems with my faith, I choose to discuss it with you without pointing out what I think are flaws in your thinking.

    Have you ever communicated with a spirit? Because it seems, according to your supposed knowledge of the spirit world, that you have. Though in all of my experiences in the spirit world, none have been in a trance-state.

    My experience is extremely personal and I don’t typically discuss it with those whom I’ve yet to trust.

  28. @Robin thanks for the reply and the allowance I may be a cool guy. I’ll give you credit for being cool, too.

    Why should I let go of the Jesus myth, if what you’re offering doesn’t deliver anything I don’t already have? If the ancients had a propensity toward “isolation evil,” your arguments against Christianity become a red herring. Even if we all pursued a nature-based faith, humanity would still have experienced the same “spiritual tyranny, absolutism, censorship, blockages to scientific inquiry and progress, misogyny, homophobia, and a petrifying, unhealthy scorn for the sexual nature of our very beings” whether or not anyone believed in the deity “of a bunch of dirty-footed desert nomads.” Billy Graham went to China, but I don’t think he’s responsible for their problems. (And is it the dirty feet or the desert nomadicism you take exception to? The Vikings wore boots and lived in permafrost, but Odin for some reason lacked staying power. They did have better hats than the Israelites, though.) If I can pursue a harmonious life despite the excesses of those corrupting the Christian faith, why is a faith that has the same hang-ups among its adherents a better path? Does being older make it truer? If so, I’d like to go back in time and use that argument against my younger sisters when I was a teenager; then again, my older brother could trump us all. (But it would explain why dad always won….)

    I concede there is no scholarly evidence to back up my faith. If only faith were an academic proposition. I’d be interested in receiving your scientifically-vetted/peer-reviewed animistic/polytheistic/mystical literature, though.

    Am I being snarky? Yes. Not Jesus’ fault and not Lucifer’s; I take full blame. I haven’t even seen the Cameron flick, and here I am shooting my mouth off, so I’ll bow out now. I do hope your spiritual path takes you where you envision it leading. Sincerely. Should one or the other of us be right, I hope we meet on the other side as friends. If there is no other side, I hope neither of us is so bitter we upset the pH balance of the soil we’re buried in.

    Shalom. Shaloub. Chaka Khan. Peace.

  29. I see problems not with your faith specifically, but with a massive group of people who share some variation of that faith, the presence of whom have caused enormous problems for our world, for many reasons. I’m looking at this from a global perspective, primarily, and from a spiritual-ecological perspective as well.

    The final line of that “faith” you are discussing places you in an uncomfortable position against nature and the natural world, seeing it as both a created and a fallen thing. The human exceptionalism story occupies a deep place in your thinking, even if you have managed, on some level in your personal life, to fight off some of that vain thinking, while still keeping your jesus intact on some level. I applaud your efforts at being a better human while keeping the jesus story, and I doubly applaud you for getting “judged” by the other christians (a sign that you are doing something right) but in the end, you have no choice but to stop short of entering into a full communion with me, or with the ancient and sacred powers of this world.

    There’s a wall between us, and we’ve never met; there’s so many beautiful and powerful things I can share with people (not that I think people have to have them, but because they are an important part of me, and all people long to share parts of themselves with others) but 90% of people that I will meet would reject those things as devilry and contrary to God. There is an invisible barrier in our sharing, between our spirits. And this runs deeper than you imagine. It’s hurtful and useless.

    I have had subjective experiences that I can and would qualify as communication with spiritual beings- and by “spirits”, I mean non-human persons who lack physical forms.

    As an animist, I believe that an enormous variety of spirits exist, within their own hidden ecology, co-existing with humans and other creatures in our world. One non-human person was granted to me, ten days before my 23rd birthday, while in a trance-state; a helper and guardian who has been with me all these years since, and who has inspired both my written works and my own spiritual life, empowering me to further acts of communion with that hidden world. This is the core of my own spirituality, as it was the core of the spirituality of human beings back to the dawn of our time.

    The sorts of trance states I am talking about are induced by rhythmic drum-beats, and immobilization of the body, so that the mind is unfettered and allowed to experience the non-ordinary aspect of our reality. This is not a fiendish or evil practice; it may be the oldest of human spiritual practices, and it yields a vision of reality that is beyond the comprehension of modern minds. The wonder of it is beyond description. The simple direct experience of our place in a community of sentient life- seen and unseen- it burns away all lesser stories of reality.

    If you don’t want to share “extremely personal” things with me, I fully understand, and have no grudge. Be well in all that you do.

  30. Post number 29 was for Michelle.

    This is for Chris:

    I don’t understand how you can say that if Christianity had never arisen, we still would have experienced “spiritual tyranny, absolutism, censorship, blockages to scientific inquiry and progress, misogyny, homophobia, and a petrifying, unhealthy scorn for the sexual nature of our very beings”. Animistic societies around the world lasted from the dawn of cultural time to the time they were disrupted and corrupted and destroyed by Western christian imperialists, largely or completely without those things. Spiritual absolutism isn’t possible without revealed, organized religions like Christianity, as history has shown. Organic religions have no boards or panels of authority, no popes.

    Billy Graham went to China, but he wasn’t responsible for their problems? Christian missionaries in China and the interference, imperialism, manipulation, and aggression of western powers in China have most certainly harmed their culture and the shape of their people now. A western idea, born in reaction against Christianity and the unfair vertical economic system promulgated by medieval christianity- Communism- came to China from the west and destroyed their culture completely. So yes, insofar as Karl Marx wouldn’t have been who he was without Christianity, China can lay the blame for many of their problems on the west.

    Odin didn’t lack staying power. He’s still worshiped by a hell of a lot of people today. Check into the Asatru movement worldwide, and the Asatruarfelagid in Iceland. And the Pagan Germanic peoples gave you the names of the days of the week you use, the concept of trial by jury, and the rule by elected assembly- not just the Pagan Greeks. The Pagan Germanic people also allowed women to divorce their husbands at will, a right women lost when Christianity came to “enlighten” their cultures.

    Yes, something being older- when the older faith is an organic faith, born from a people’s experiences with Nature itself and the Gods and spirits- does make it truer than a made-up revealed religion which for centuries has done nothing but grab power and frighten people with stories of hell, while marginalizing gays, women, and non-christians.

    No, I don’t have western scientific evidence for the existence of spirits, nor many of the claims I make (and others have made) in the name of spiritual ecology. Like your faith, mine operates at a largely non-rational level. And I have no trouble with this, just as you don’t. But I do believe that some of my beliefs make more natural sense, and that can be demonstrated to most reasonable people. I don’t expect people to believe that a dead man got up and walked away, and then floated up to the sky, for instance. I don’t believe that the body has any immortality, but I do believe that the spirit does. This list could go on.

    We WILL meet, don’t worry. We’ve already met, as two living beings in a chain of life and existence that didn’t come from anywhere and isn’t going anywhere. Our destinies are entwined, no matter how little we are aware of it from time to time. And “friendship” won’t be the issue; the issue is now, and will be then, our mutual joy at being parts of a sacred whole.

  31. Robin–out of curiosity–why is it you think that I would be willing to partake of your sharing when all you’ve done from the start is criticize what I know to be true in my life?

    What makes your experience with the spirit world more valid than mine?

  32. Michelle: I don’t think you would be willing, and that’s fine. Many people aren’t willing to share after they face criticism of things that mean a lot to them. They take it as a personal offense and close up. It’s natural and normal, and I’m totally okay with it.

    I never made claims of “greater validity” anywhere for my personal experiences versus yours.

    But theoretically, an outside observer could point out that there are two people here both claiming to have some knowledge or experience of an unseen world, and one of them is saying “I’ve seen spirits, talked to some, and they’ve shown me an amazing world of inter-connected sacredness” and one is saying “I’ve seen good spirits and evil spirits, and one big spirit named Jesus who I believe is the one true spirit-god for all people, and who uniquely has a claim over the lives of all people as their savior, whether they know it or not.”

    I don’t know about you, but most reasonable people, if they saw that and heard it, would say that one person’s report is a touch less dualistic, less absolutist and less invasive; that it makes less claims about the ontological status of people and the world, and less dramatic claims. Now, depending on who you are, you might be more inclined to think that one person actually talked to spirits, and the other was largely parroting centuries of Christian doctrine.

    Of course, you might not see that at all. If you’re Christian, you’d love second person’s claims. If you belong to an organic spiritual tradition in which spiritual contact is more commonplace, and not feared or hated, you would be more comfortable with the first claim.

    We live in a world of perspective, not facts, right?

  33. Robin: First–and again–I’ve yet to criticize you and you continue to belittle me with your choice of words.

    Second–I can obviously face criticism of things that are important to me. This conversation proves that in more ways than one. :)

    Third–you put a lot of words in my “mouth.” Never once did I say I thought Jesus was the one true spirit for all. What I said is that I, alone, chose Him. I did not ask you to choose Him. I never insinuated you should change your beliefs (even though you continually point out that my choice is “in my head,” and inferior, and you make it clear that you belief your is better by the way you choose to express your disbelief in what’s “in my head.”)

    You also assumed that I was indoctrinated from a young age, as if I was brainwashed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I was raised to go to a Catholic church, but I did not believe any of it–which is why I chose atheism. But that didn’t jive with my spirit-world experiences. Anyway, the point is I allowed you assume wrongly without argument and without splitting hairs for the sake of the discussion, hoping that at some point you would choose to be civil. You aren’t choosing that, though. Which means I’ve made a wise decision to not share with you those things I hold dear.

    By falsifying my beliefs, you have, indeed, made claims of greater validity. Read over your last response to me. That in and of itself proves exactly how you think and feel about my experience in the spirit world.

    So, unless you want to carry on this discussion in a more tolerant manner, I’m bowing out.

  34. So, Chris, Michell and Robin, after all this great banter, did you like the movie?

  35. Scott–you rawk dude.

    Haven’t even seen the damn thing. Can’t say that I will. It’s a crap shoot.

  36. @scott, I haven’t seen it yet either. The wife gets a headache at the 3-D, so I doubt I’ll see it at the IMAX.

    Robin, didn’t know when I made the comment that you were Ásatrúar (saw your name come up while Googling; you’re famous on the ‘nets). I always dug the Norse Mythos back in my AD&D days.

  37. Chris, as a point in fact, I am Ásatrúar, proudly so, but in keeping with organic religious traditions and sub-cultures of that kind, I don’t always make it a point to wear that up front. Ásatrú is my way of honoring my own European ancestors in the context of the animistic worldview I espouse. But unlike revealed religions, Ásatrú is very well integrated into my daily life, a matter of personal practice and the sharing of a small group of family and kindred.

    I find that coming into religious debates of this nature waving the banner of a particular faith gives people wrong impressions of you, and leads them to try and pigeonhole you. I’m not just Ásatrú- though it is the only formal “religion” I happen to engage in my personal life.

    My animistic leanings and practices (like trance work, and deep ecological beliefs) are broader than the borders of a religion, any religion. Ásatrú simply fits into that larger framework well. And I don’t know how famous I am; most of that stuff on the internet, unless it comes directly from me, is greatly exaggerated. Sadly, the online world of paganism and nature-oriented type faiths is a largely childish and petty one, which is to be expected in the dehumanizing sphere of virtual life.

    Michelle: If I have mis-judged you, including the extent to which you embrace the traditional all-encompassing importance and necessity of the Christ for mankind, I sincerely apologize. Bow out of our conversation if you like; I think we’ve both said what we have to say, and discerning viewers will see enough of you and I’s perspectives and beliefs (and our merits and flaws) to get a full taste of the juicy debate we enjoyed.

  38. Scott: I haven’t even seen the movie yet, but I’ve heard loads about it and read about it. After all of this trouble the movie’s caused, I will certainly see it.

  39. So, all three of you have not seen the movie. Isn’t that what started this entire discussion? Hmm. Here is your assignment for the weekend…promise me you’ll see it.
    Make a date and all go together, wear the goofy 3D glasses. Do not sit in the front row, get at least half way back and be in the center Then go to a bar, have a few cold ones and discuss the experience. Then get back here and post your thoughts and feelings.
    By the way, seriously, Avatar women are hot.

    Just kidding, Ha!

  40. Well then. If the women are hot…

  41. Smart AND a sense of humor. Nice. Now, go see the movie.

  42. As an avowed naturalistic pantheist, it was truly inspiring to see that worldview depicted so beautifully and in such stark contrast with the answer to question “what would humans do.” When the world is seen as our enemy, we take refuge in the juvenile hope of a better, friendlier world, and dream of escape. But the fact that we are here at all belies the supposed malevolence or indifference of the cosmos. We did not come into this world. We came out of it, and it is our home. We are only victims of a tough love showered upon us by the cosmos.

  43. So, Thomas, you liked the movie, huh? Told you so. Did you not just want to sit there in the afterglow and wish it was so here on Earth?

  44. Pingback: Worshiping Nature, Exorcisms, and a Retort… of sorts. « Relief: A Christian Literary Expression

  45. Pingback: The Spectacle and the Spirit (Another blog on Avatar) « Relief: A Christian Literary Expression

  46. I saw it and must say it was one of the most poorly written movies I’ve ever seen. superficial and tedious. The 3-D effects were amazing, but the story was quite tiresome. It might be alright for a child or as a cartoon but too simplistic for thinking adults.

  47. Wow, am I ever glad I found this blog… I know I’m a little late, but I had to add my impressions. I find it hard to label my spirituality – I’d call it Shamanism modeled on the belief system of the Native Americans. For someone coming from this perspective, Avatar pretty much aligns with what I believe almost perfectly. This to me transcends religion; it is about a direct link to our Creator – our God – without the need for dogma or intercession or intermediaries. Why should I not be able to speak directly to my Creator? Why should I not be allowed to discover the truths of the universe for myself? Why should I not see all of nature, our whole Mother Earth, as God’s great cathedral? God, the Great Spirit of the Native Americans who existed in all things, did not create cars or cities or pollution or wage wars or foster hatred; these are all human inventions and talents. God created nature, the animals, the plants, the rocks and streams – these do not know hatred, only the true ways that the Great Spirit gave to them. They are pure, and we are the ones who have lost our way. While the goals of organized religions such as Christianity are noble, the methods have become clouded by ritual and dogma, to the point where most followers are no longer able to communicate directly with the reason we are here in the first place. THAT is the spiritual message in Avatar. It’s really not hard to see, at least for me – it just confuses me why so many others have missed this message.

  48. Having found this blog whilst looking for reviews of ‘Avatar’ I feel I ought to put my twopennyworth in to the debate.
    I am a Christian (please don’t skip to the next post!) and it’s very real to me and has been for 40 years if it is a fantasy as some people believe then it’s a fantasy that like ‘Avatar’ helps me to put life into perspective.
    I have to say that I think that the Christian church is dying and it’s sad as all death has an element of sadness in it, yet it’s exiting in a way … Jesus himself said that unless a seed dies it can not produce fruit.
    Although Christianity if likened to a plant has now become deformed and unlovely one cannot deny that at times during it’s history it has borne beautiful fruit that has changed many lives and laws and whole nations for the good. So why is it dying ? because it has become old and decrepid and out of touch with the changes in our cultures . It has lost it’s sharpness in being able to speak wisdom and the reasoning of the Holy Spirit to the inhabitants of this world who are desperately looking for real answers to both political and spiritual questions.
    How will it be reborn ? God only knows but I hope I’ll be around to see it.
    This is what I hope for the Christian church in the future….
    When a plant dies all the rotting folage falls away and only the seeds that contain it’s ‘essence’ of life remain.
    These seeds carry the truth and wisdom and spiritual hope of Christ’s teachings… these teachings will live on in a new form that will again bring hope to mankind in a truly loving way devoid of racism, religion, bigotry and the desire to control and have power over others.
    It will be a movement of the Holy Spirit that will transcend all our expectations.
    A careful reading of the Old & New Testament prophesies seems to indicate this….the story is not over yet…in fact it’s probably just beginning.

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