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Avatar - Earth Worship?

Q. What did you think of the movie "Avatar?" I heard it promotes earth worship, pantheism and Hindu gods and is a bad influence on viewers. It even names the primary life-giver tree force as "Eyweh," which is close to the name YAHWEH. Do you have any opinions on this matter?


Fear God - not Men

If we tried to listen to all of the opinions about this movie we would get a massive headache! Many religious criticisms we read concerning Avatar might also apply to the books and movies of C.S. Lewis or J.R. Tolkien. After all, Lewis and Tolkien loved and embraced myths and legends that inspired and enhanced their well-loved children's stories.

In our opinion, many so-called Christian novels do more to alter the true Biblical message than any secular movie. Maybe we should fear the Lord first rather than seek to uncover all those conspiracies hidden everywhere. Isaiah said,

"Don't call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don't live in dread of what frightens them. Make the LORD of Heaven's Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe" (Isaiah 8:12-14, NLT).

Learning to Enjoy Stories

My goodness, can't we just learn to enjoy myths, legends, science-fiction and enchanting stories? In fact, if we just think a little about the story of Avatar we might find shades or hints of Eden, the tree of life, empowered new bodies and a love and yearning for freedom and fun!

Causing Others to Stumble?

The Christian life is filled with choices. Our ability to choose is founded on the concept of liberty in Christ. We are not to do things that can cause another brother or sister to stumble (Rom 14&15). Yes, we can find Scripture references to reject false gods and the practice of other faiths - this much is clear.

So what do we do? Some things are not negotiable - sexual immorality, murder, theft, worship of false gods, etc. But do we honestly seek the Biblical definition of these things? Or, do we impose our own definition on them by using one or two verses in the Bible to prove our point of view?

There is clearly some room for individual conscience and judgment in these matters. Paul states in Romans that Christians have the freedom to make choices in this world within the Biblical framework of living a Godly life. A careful study of Romans chapters 14 and 15 is very helpful here - more on this point later. OK, back to the movie…

Tree of Life

Avatar is a magical, enchanting story about the Na'vi, creatures who live in harmony with nature. Their deity is embodied in Eywa who is found in a life-giving tree. The tree is a gorgeous, weeping-willow form that creates a paradisiacal umbrella of shimmering light-fronds over those it protects.

New Empowered Bodies

The Na'vi are lovely, lithe feline-type creatures who tower over man at approximately 9-10 feet tall. Surprisingly, the ratio of their height and size to man's is similar to the Nephilim we read about in Scripture. (For example, see 1 Sam 17:4, Num 13:32, Deut 3:11, 1 Chron 20:4-8). Point that out to your children. They will be fascinated by it.

The Avatars - Incarnation

To communicate with the Na'vi geneticists grow Na'vi bodies modified by human DNA. These "avatars" become inhabited by human consciousness. In fact, note that the word Avatar means "Incarnation" according to Webster (2001, p. 35). Incarnation into Avatar bodies is accomplished by downloading pre-selected human minds into these DNA modified forms.

In the case of hero Jake Sully this is a godsend since he was paralyzed by a disabling war injury. In his Avatar body he can ride the colorful birds to wild heights and tame ferocious beasts, scale floating mountains and swim deeply in lavish, refreshing waterfalls.

Downloading Human Consciousness?

"Ridiculous, impossible technology," you think? Not so fast…Christian physicist Frank J. Tipler notes that "human downloads are another current dream of computer theorists that would be made possible by the development of quantum computers"…through "nanotechnology." This can be done by mapping "the entire contents of the human brain, including the location and state and connections of every neuron, into the memory of a computer."

In fact, Tipler says, "map the entire human body and a suitable human environment into a computer…" …"Such would be a human download: a complete human being converted into a computer simulation" (Tipler 2007, 74). In other words, the "Avatars" are fiction but downloading human consciousness may not be.

Hmmm… Let's use our imaginations. Do you see shades of our future glorified bodies here, too? (See 1 Corinthians 15:35-55).

Wow! Now this is exciting!

God the Avatar

Let's not miss a major point. In a sense God became an "Avatar" to save mankind from death and sin. God implanted himself in embryonic form in a womb so that he would grow up to become a man just like us. That way we could hear what He said and not be afraid of Him (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19). This is the incarnation.

In the case of the film we see men assuming the form of the Na'vi to communicate with them. Men became "avatars."

A Racial Memory

Maybe this is a good time to remember our own origins, too.

We have a racial memory of our own paradise granted to us once by a loving, devoted Heavenly Father. God prepared a stunning and breathtaking garden just for mankind to enjoy and tend: "Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:8, NASB).

Early Earth Majesty

A few scientists point out that our earth reveals evidence of 100 foot tall trees, and the possibility of butterflies with 4 feet wide wing spans among other astonishing biological entities from early earth. It must have been overwhelmingly beautiful. That garden was even filled with gleaming precious stones: …"The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there.." (v. 12).

Zoologists, Botonists&Gardeners

Mankind was designated to be loving botanists and gardeners who were to tend for and care for the earth's original, pristine beauty: "Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it" (v. 15).

Just think. It is even possible that man communicated with animals in those prehistoric days. After all, no surprise is indicated by Eve when the serpent spoke to her (Genesis 3:1-4).

Earth's Caretakers

We were entrusted with sorting out and caring for all biological life forms in this lovely garden. We were zoologists with deep appreciation for our connections with huge varieties of animals: "Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name" (v. 19).

Destroy those who Destroy the Earth

After this tantalizing description of mankind's interconnectedness with the earth and its creatures, we find a corresponding curse in the final book of the Bible:

… (The Lord will come) "to destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev 11:18).

Military Industrial-Complex Evil?

Just like the giant, military industrial-complex that almost wipes-out Pandora's beauty and the Na'vi's homeland, earth's men have destroyed and polluted the earth, too, and will be punished for their transgressions.

Is Avatar's message anti military or anti corporate interests? If so is it against what Scripture teaches? Surprisingly, let's look at what Isaiah says:

"The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned and few men are left" (Isaiah 24:5-6, NASB).

You decide.

Pandora's Beauty

In a similar manner we find these themes interwoven throughout the story of Avatar's Pandora, the earth-like moon hovering over the planet Polyphemus in the far away Alpha Centauri star system. Do we condemn the Bible for teaching us that we must show respect for the earth and its biological life forms? Of course not. Then why should we condemn Avatar's author for emphasizing the same thing?

Do We See the Danger?

We did, of course, recognize the pantheistic overtones in Avatar. Webster defines "pantheism" as "a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe" (Webster 2001, 378).

In contrast to pantheism, Judaism and Christianity view God as separate from and outside of His creation. This is called "Transcendence." It means "above and independent of the material universe" (Miethe 1988, 208). But, that did not prevent us from seeing the film.

Pantheism vs. Transcendence

Frankly, we see pantheistic overtones in just about everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Wizard of OZ. and Star Wars. Instead of running from it we suggest that you teach your children about pantheism such as found in the "New Age" movement and other world religions because they are exposed to these every day of their lives.

Even more importantly, show them why you believe the biblical viewpoint is the correct worldview. This could be a wonderful teaching opportunity because it is only through the grace of God and the study of His Word that we can discern what is truth and what is not.

Our final Advice

As you can tell, we both enjoyed the movie. We saw it three times just to be sure! Today, we own the DVD and watch it frequently. (Ok…ok…it's fun, and escapism from everyday troubles). But, in the final analysis can we say that it honored our Lord? Do we feel confident that it did not damage our spirits? From our perspective the answer is, "yes!" We have seen other films and TV shows that made us feel "soiled" and regretful that we wasted our time… but not this film.

Causing others to Stumble

This does not mean every believer will agree with us or experience the same thing we did. To the extent that this movie may cause a believer to stumble, we advise you not to see the movie or to recommend it. This is the same advice we try to give to our brothers and sisters in all matters concerning living in this imperfect world.

Respecting Strengths&Weaknesses

We are all weak in some areas and strong in others. Some cannot walk into a lounge or restaurant where alcohol is served. Yet, others can drink a glass of wine and not feel they have sinned. Some can watch certain movies while others will not even go to a movie theater. Some can dance the night away while others believe they will sin if they do.

None of these "strengths" or "weaknesses" are right or wrong in themselves. But we Christians must be mindful of the consciences of our fellow Christians.

"Now we who are strong ought to bear the weakness [i.e. sensibilities for conscience sake] of those without strength and not just please ourselves" (Rom 15:1).

Paul also says this: "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this - not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way." (Rom 14: 13)

The Wonders of Escapism

Yes, in a time filled with home foreclosures, job losses, the threat of terrorism, grief and worry, Avatar may be just the right medicine to escape from the ordinary bleakness of daily life. For those of you who can, go and enjoy a fun, enchanting story filled with new sights and sounds.

And don't forget those new, high-tech 3D eyeglasses that seem to bring images almost into your lap. Awesome technology! You may also find that this movie includes a touch of the "divine" in its shades of biblical imagery and metaphor. Challenge your children to make the connections. They may surprise you.

Beam me up, Lord. I'm ready to visit a new universe (1 Thess 4:17).


Sources Cited:

Miethe, Terry L. 1988. The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House.

Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody.

Tipler, Frank J. 2007. The physics of Christianity. New York: Doubleday.

Webster's New Dictionary of the English Language. 2001. New York: Federal Street Press.

Fair-use of Image Statement:

This image used above is of a poster, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the publisher or the creator of the work depicted. It is believed that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of posters to provide critical commentary on the film, event, etc. in question or of the poster itself, qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image, may be copyright infringement.

Description: This is a poster for Avatar. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, 20th Century Fox, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.

Source: Wikipedia - The cover art can or could be obtained from ComingSoon.net or 20th Century Fox.

Avatar: (2009 film) - The movie Avatar was written and produced by James Cameron and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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