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Filtering by Tag: kingdom of god

Worshiping Nature, Exorcisms, and a Retort… of sorts.

Ian David Philpot

Clare Gajkowski-Zajicek responds to Travis Griffith's post "Avatar: What's the Big Deal?"

May I begin by saying that I have never seen Avatar nor heard about the Vatican’s remarks on the film before reading Travis Griffith’s blog post. Though I agree with Travis’ overall theme of love and embracing those of other faiths, races, religions, etc., let’s not hate on the Vatican, just to hate on the Vatican, shall we? What if they have… dare I say… their reasons?

Since people are so eager to talk about their spirituality these days, let’s talk about the spiritual realm on this Earth. There are believed to be two parts to this realm, the supernatural and preternatural. The supernatural is manifested by visible acts and the preternatural is manifested by unseen acts and forces. Miracles can fall under both categories. Evil, however, also falls under both.

“Not to believe in evil is not to be armed against it. To disbelieve is to be disarmed. If your will does not accept the existence of evil, you are rendered incapable of resisting evil. Those with no capacity of resistance become prime targets for Possession.” –Malachi Martin

When was the last time you heard about an exorcism? Do you think they don’t occur? Do you believe that people are just mentally ill and it’s just another crazy old Catholic ritual? (That argument never really made sense; the possessed has to go through a thorough examination and agree to the exorcism. It cannot be forced upon them.)

Dr. Malachi Martin is one of the hundreds of priests who have witnessed an exorcism- but he also wrote one of the most profound books on the issue: Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. He followed and studied other priests who had performed exorcisms, finding them years later as broken and hollow shells of human beings from the stress of the ritual. Most of the occurrences had themes or similarities - the subjects who became possessed were obsessed with the Earth and its elements, “the mystery of nature,” they were cynical of religion, or they attempted to “transcend” this Earthy realm. In one way or another they opened themselves up to the supernatural and the preternatural. In their particular cases, evil snuck in.

During my years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I finished my major early and studied Comparative Literature with a Franciscan priest. It was around this time I read Malachi Martin’s book, after randomly picking it up at a used bookstore. I mentioned this book to the Franciscan, and he became extremely somber. He told me to be careful, and that he himself had performed three exorcisms in his lifetime. (It took him months to actually explain these events, and when I heard them I understood why. This is also a man who has probably never told a lie in his life.)

“Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth.” – James Cameron

An excerpt from Malachi Martin’s book, the case of a young priest being possessed in 1964:

His yielding [control] at Mass had immediate and far-reaching effects. In baptizing infants, he changed the Latin words, which were unintelligible to the parents and bystanders. When he was supposed to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said, “I baptize you in the name of the Sky, the Earth, and Water.” In Confession, he stopped saying “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; instead, he said, “I confirm you in your natural wishes, in the name of Sky, Earth, and Water.”

My first point is: I don’t think the Vatican was only worried about the worship of nature and neo-paganism in Avatar- they’re worried about what those practices can lead to.

“As long as beliefs are based on love, who’s to say who gets to claim the correct one?” –Travis Griffith

My second point is: let’s be careful what we worship. I agree we need to embrace everyone, of every faith, with love. But it’s a fine line when worshiping the Earth- we need to see the danger in this. Jesus came to this world to build the Kingdom of God. Since that was impossible here, why worship such a place?


Clare Gajkowski-Zajicek is a graphic designer and videographer who graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in Communication. She currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband and pet snapping turtle, Roger. She spends most of her time watching movies and eating starchy foods. (Mostly potatoes.)  Clare's poem "Church Fathers" can be found in Relief Issue 3.2.

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 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.

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.