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Friday, April 23, 2010

Dominion Over the Earth (or Nature is for Panthies)

It’s been a few months since I’ve watched Avatar. I have to say it was a pretty amazing experience and the movie provoked a lot of thought and conviction.

Being a part of the Evangelical Christian world I know there have been mixed reactions to the movie, especially concerning its spiritual themes. Let me just say as a Christian I do not believe we should worship the creation rather than the creator, and in this sense I don’t feel that the Na’vi offer a flawless example of how I ought to revere nature. But despite this, I feel the movie speaks a very powerful message. Since I have yet to see Christians racing to present so vividly and successfully their perspective on the value of nature to the general public, I will make no apologies for admiring the allegedly pantheistic threat to Christianity that is Avatar.

I also realize some may argue that without the special effects and visuals the movie would not be nearly as good because the story wasn’t the greatest. And it is true that the story wasn’t all that original, the acting wasn’t exceptional, and the plot had some holes in it. However, I would argue that the imagery and effects used in Avatar serve as a major component of the story, and at least help to deliver some of the powerful messages found within the story.

The amazing artistry and special effects coupled with the strange, intriguing new world of Pandora helps summon the awe, wonder and respect we’ve lost for our own world. One of the most impressive things we notice about Pandora is how everything in its natural state provides for the Na’vis’ most basic practical needs as well as for their leisurely enjoyment. We are also reminded that this provision only continues in conjunction with the Na’vi treating Pandora with respect and care. However, this seems to come naturally to the Na’vi, for they have not lost their sense of awe and wonder towards their natural home. With that awe and wonder comes respect; and in this they find great contentment and joy relying on their planet and it’s abundant, timely provision. Why seek to replace or outdo such an amazing, faithful source of life?

As our respect and wonder for our planet wanes, rather than gratefully partaking of its natural system of provision we seek to replicate and/or replace it through our own technological advances.

As the big screen swoops us through Pandora’s spiraling forest, oversized leaves, and sideways tree trunks, we are in unspeakable awe of the planet’s beauty, majesty and design. In reality, that should be our reaction to our own planet in everyday real life. The natural planet we reside on ought to fascinate us and inspire in us a deep sense of reverence and loyalty.

For those of us who were overtaken with horror as the troops recklessly plowed through the Na'vi forest to uproot their source of survival and sustenance, we must ask ourselves: do we feel that same sense of horror when we see comparable injustices carried out in our own planet? Does it ache us at all to know that much of our daily life and experience is the result of such injustices-not just towards others, but towards ourselves? When we enjoy the privilege of being amidst unadulterated nature do we wonder why there isn’t more of it? Do we deeply mourn at the sad reality that there once was much more but we did away with it?

I’m not suggesting we pray to trees or find some means of spiritual connectivity with plants and animals. I’m suggesting that as a Christian I ought to see the Earth as something precious, something my God thoughtfully crafted with all of His infinite wisdom and creativity to sustain itself so long as we allow it. And I ought to wonder why we systematically take such crappy care of it all. And maybe as we explore these ideas it will change the way we see everything...or even better, we will change the way we do everything.

I actually plan to blog quite a bit more on the subjects of nature, modernization and Christianity. I'll throw a link here when I get it going. 


Mike said...

This is a great post Dave! I honestly don't understand why some Christians are up in arms about the movie's themes. It presents no threat to Christianity -- it's a movie! You don't see Hindus and Buddhists and American Indians and Taoists rising up in outrage that their beliefs are being threatened every time in a movie somebody prays in a church. It does present a different worldview, but it's always been my view that if something presents a good enough view that it pulls one away from something else, then that original thing just wasn't good enough. So in that sense, Christianity should have nothing to worry about, just as I don't worry about my beliefs, nor question them, every time somebody prays to a god I don't believe in in a movie.

Ok, enough of my ranting. :) Seriously good post. I especially like your point where you say, "Do we feel that same sense of horror when we see comparable injustices carried out in our own planet? Does it ache us..." My answer: YES! I think you pulled that theme out very nicely, and I really look forward to reading your future posts on the topic.

On a related Happy Earth Day note, I'm working on (translated: have thought about and really want to write) a piece in honor of Earth Day. Hopefully I'll get that written sometime soon and be able to share it with you all.

Ryan said...

Agreed, Mike. I think this is a much more valuable discussion to be having than attempts to argue against differing belief systems; because we all know how productive THAT can be.

I do agree, Dave, that the visual effects really carried the movie and created a real sense of wonder. However, being the English major I am, the lack of originality in the story was still a sticking point for me and hard to overcome. Plus, I felt like Cameron had a chance to create some really unique life forms that could still be relatable to the audience but push the limits of our concepts of alien life forms. Instead, with the Na'vi, he wussed out; giving us tall, sexy smurfs.

But all that aside, I do agree that the sense of beauty and respect that this movie engenders for the planet of Pandora is something that is altogether possible on our own planet, as it's teeming with wonder after wonder. Dating a marine biologist certainly opened my eyes to how dizzyingly complex and interconnected life is, and how overwhelmingly beautiful it is that we have this thing called life.

While we may disagree about where that life comes from, the fact that Christians, Buddhists, and atheists can agree on the necessity for good stewardship is, to me, the greatest sign of hope for our continued future as a species. Cooperation and a recognition of common problems that affect us all, regardless of creed, is absolutely necessary.

And it all begins with that feeling of awe that Cameron helped create. Whether it be admiring a creator's handiwork, or standing breathless under the expanse of the night sky for the sheer beauty of it, that awe can help lead to greater good.

Ryan said...

P.S. Great post, Dave.

john slaten said...

Hey guys, long time listener, first time caller. I just had a few thoughts.

After reading these posts, I clicked the link for Mike's art and marveled at the photograph from April 24th and the way it speaks to the subject of this discussion.

I see a great example of humanity's disregard for nature and it's beauty. My eyes were drawn down to the corner where a cigarette butt floats beside that petal. It reminds me of the omnipresence of humans; the fact that any beauty discovered is forever altered by human intrusion. I think about Discovery Channel camera crews carefully making their way through rainforests and the like, conscious of their impact, but making an impact nonetheless.

I really enjoy the photograph and find the cigarette haunting; a subtle reminder to take care of the earth and all that shit.

Amy V said...

Well, I'm sorry guys for invading your manly circle of thought sharing. I guess it's kinda like someone bringing their wife to boys night out? Anyway, I also thought the most memorable part of Avatar that will probably motivate me to see it again (even though the storyline line failed to move me) was the beauty of Pandora.

Sometimes when I'm on a road trip through Utah staring at the red sand and freakishly sculpted mesas, I pretend like I'm actually exploring an alien planet for the first time. The landscape just looks so unique and fanciful and unlike anything I grew up with.

Whenever Dave visits my parents in California, he likes when we drive through a particular mountain pass where smooth stones the size of football fields seem to jut straight out of the earth in no consistent direction. They're called the Mormon Rocks. Honestly I never really noticed how bizarre and otherworldly they looked until I noticed how fascinated Dave was with them. I've seem them my whole life.

I wonder if all creative depictions of other planets and alternate worlds are just an attempt to express something Earth has inspired in us. When I sat watching Avatar, especially the floating mountains and the bright colors of the forest, I thought to myself, "why can't our world be this beautiful?" But that's just because I hadn't been out of the city in a while. I read somewhere that Cameron said our earth was his inspiration for Pandora! Pandora is really just a man-made attempt to capture the beauty and originality of our own planet. Happy earth day everyone. It's kind of a bittersweet day.

David said...

To Amy: all the landscapes in the Calvin and Hobbes/Spaceman Spiff outer space fantasies were inspired by Utah. And speaking for myself, any gender is welcome on this blog as long as they think critically.
To Dave: I've had similar thoughts, but not necessarily about Avatar/environmentalism. Christians were in a similar outrage over The DaVinci Code, and before that, the Exorcist (except for Catholics, whom I understand thought the movie was great). I am also right there with Mike; if your faith cannot handle something as accessible as a movie, you are likely to be blown by the wind in all of your beliefs. I remember a story about my great grandmother. In 1934, the movie Cleopatra came out and the Church banded together against it due to unprecedented risque imagery. My great grandmother drove several towns away to see the movie, because she didn't want anyone at her Church to know she had seen it.
Movies can be powerful, but they are 'common'. We should view them as opportunities to really understand our own beliefs and why we believe them. We Christians have tried censorship before; it doesn't work.