Hollywood’s Rampant Pantheism

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 22, 2009 — 76 Comments

The New York Times conservative columnist (and blogger) Ross Douthat seems like a fairly smart guy, but he tends to lose his cool whenever his theological buttons (he’s Catholic) get pushed. Remember his “living in Dan Brown’s America” freak-out from May? Now he’s wound-up again over James Cameron’s new CGI opus “Avatar”, and how it’s symptomatic of a deep-rooted commitment to pantheism amongst Hollywood’s elite.

“It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James. But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world. In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing. If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now.”

Douthat pokes pantheism saying it romanticizes nature instead of acknowledging the “suffering and death” of our world (with just a pinch of the conservative environmentalism = pagan religion meme, and a dash of despair over America’s syncretism added for spice). That it offers no transcendent literalism as the dominant monotheisms do, instead damning its adherents to simply being “dust and ashes”.

Smelling chum in the waters, Beliefnet’s conservative blogger, Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher, decided to join in on the anti-pantheism pile-on. Bemoaning how Hollywood has suffered a “creative defeat” by “trading in its sentimentalized version of Christianity” for a “sentimentalized pantheism”, (he also seems to misunderstand the concept of panentheism in relation to Orthodox Christianity, but that’s a different topic) and linking to Weekly Standard neoconservative commentator John Podhoretz’s review of the film.

“…one would be giving James Cameron too much credit to take Avatar-with its mindless worship of a nature-loving tribe and the tribe’s adorable pagan rituals, its hatred of the military and American institutions, and the notion that to be human is just way uncool-at all seriously as a political document. It’s more interesting as an example of how deeply rooted these standard-issue counterculture clichés in Hollywood have become by now.”

So I guess the conservative intelligentsia has spoken (David Brooks must not have gotten the memo). Pantheism is bad, Hollywood is bad, Americans are foolish eclectic-syncretic Eckhart Tolle-reading dupes who love pantheism, and we (and our souls) are all in big (I assume) trouble. Of course this reading of Hollywood’s output is a tad skewed, and relies on a rather scatter-shot selection of films (“Dances With Wolves”, Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Lion King”, “Star Wars”, and, well, “Fern Gully”, I guess) to convince us that pantheism is the with-it thing in Hollywood and beyond. But it just doesn’t seem to line up as well as they seem to think it does. I mean, isn’t Harry Potter supposed to be all stealth-Christian underneath the spells and hexes? Is the Dan Brown gnosticism panic over and done? What about Star Trek’s secular rationalist populism? Where’s the outrage there?

It seems to me that this is all just a big excuse to write about how America’s going to heck in a hand-basket because Christianity isn’t being treated like the cool kid at the pop-cultural lunch table in a few films. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Cameron’s “Avatar” (which I haven’t seen yet), from claims that it’s visually repetitive of his past work, that it peddles old white-guilt fantasies, or that it’s filled with clunky “godawful” dialogue, but pantheism? Really? That’s the awful thing that really stands out? Just wait, after “Hypatia”, the “Clash of the Titans” remake, and the “Percy Jackson” adaptation hit theaters in 2010, it’ll be polytheism, not pantheism, that’s the real problem. I look forward to the forthcoming Ross Douthat column on the subject.

For more Pagan commentary on “Avatar”, check out Chas Clifton’s musings on “creeping pantheism”, Adrian J. Ivakhiv’s review that notes the “pagan mythology with a sledgehammer” aspects of the film, and Kvond’s philosophical and multiple-hyphenated take on the whole thing. Have you seen “Avatar” yet? What do you think? Creeping pantheism? Popcorn-munching eye-candy? Something else?

Send to Kindle

Jason Pitzl-Waters

Posts

  • http://kvond.wordpress.com/ Kevin

    I like that quite a bit "multiple-hyphenated". I wonder about that creeping of pantheism, like a dis-indigenous vine or weed I suppose, running up into our Catholic (universal) garden. Insidious invasion of both Nature and ideas, where is the Garden of Eden when we need it?

    I do actually agree that there is something repellant about "soft" pantheism, if we read this as the unthinking kind, just as there might be about soft Christian, the sense that we are changing or clinging to values unconsciously. But Hollywood is the place of such "soft" thinking, is it not. From patriotism to outer space spiritual renewals.

  • Crystal7431

    Oh Kevin, you know the Garden of Eden was carefully cultivated. They pulled weeds and trimmed the hedges every saturday.

    • kevin

      Well, its easy to pull the weeds when you have given everything a "name". What is the name for pantheism creep, (I think I have answered my own question).

  • http://www.silverbranchgoldenhorn.org Gaarik Hamr

    It's a fun adventure story with a blatant (though in my opinion, welcome) "we are all connected" message. I've always hated the tendency of pseudo-intellectuals to read too much into a good story, which is what I think they're doing. The pantheism is a plot device, when it comes down to it; the focus of the movie is much the same as the Last Samurai – outsider falls in love with the native culture and way of looking at things, fights against former culture in order to stay within it. Does this basic premise really require pantheism? No! But then, they wouldn't be complaining if it were an Abrahamic (sic: "Christian") culture being venerated; heck, I don't think Christianity's the bad guy in this one, it's not even mentioned or portrayed.

    The honest fact of the matter is, it's already been said. The association only brings the idea to the fore, for people to love or hate as they desire. Just enjoying the movie as a pleasant fiction would do more for their supposed cause; though I suspect their real cause is to stir up a bloody hornet's nest.

    That said, I say again, fun adventure story. Worth seeing, worth getting when it comes out on video. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece so much, but taken as a whole, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

    -G

  • http://www.druidkirk.org Kirk Thomas

    I found the film great fun, and sad at the same time. The lines Jake had to Eywa, the world-tree earth mother, "The Sky People….where they came from there is no green. They killed their Mother" hit me quite forcibly. Some scientists believe that we are totally capable of killing our own Mother, or at least pissing Her off badly enough that She just shrugs us off, which, for us, is the same thing. If this film makes even one person re-examine their relationship with the world and with Earth, then it will have been an unqualified success.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

    Pantheism? We don't need no stinking Pantheism.

    Almost two thousand years before Spinoza, Plato wrote that the entire Cosmos is a single, living, conscious Being. He also wrote that this Being is ensouled, immortal, rational, and Divine.

    • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

      Yes, I tried that argument on my classmates at Loyola. Their answer? "Yes, but Robin, Plato's vision wasn't complete, because he didn't have Jesus…"

      My response? "I have been sent here to destroy you."

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

        "I have been sent here to destroy you."

        T-shirts, anyone?

  • http://www.blackrosecoven.com/?q=node TeNosce

    This adds credence to the theory that James Cameron invented Wicca.

    • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

      Hahahah! For the win!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lokisgodhi Lokisgodhi

      Now I'm confused, I thought it was Al Gore who invented Wicca?

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Erynn Erynn

        Nah, that was the intarwebs.

        • Juliaki

          So then technically doesn't that mean that Al Gore invented Neo-Wicca? ;)

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Erynn Erynn

            That sounds like a resounding "yes" to me. Oh, and global warming, too.

            Powerful guy, that Al Gore.

          • Lynn

            I personally LOVED the film and am recommending it to all my pagan, tree-hugging, earth-loving friends. I thought it would be just another "video war game" and was surprised beyond my wildest expectations. Everything about it was amazing and I don't care whether James Cameron calls himself an "aging hippie", a nature lover, or a Pagan hight priest, this creation has an amazing message for anyone to see it. If only one person "gets" the message, it is well worth it. Everyone in the pagan community should support this film and take a friend.

          • http://www.lizzclements.com Lizz

            Agreed.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

            This film might really have some serious subversive potential. A friend of mine who lists her religion on facebook as Christian is telling all of her friends how wonderful Avatar is.

            The more popular Avatar gets, the more snarktastic whinging we can expect from the Ronald-Hutton-wannabe crowd.

          • Cole Gillette

            I saw the film last night in IMAX 3-D, knowing nothing more about it than what I had heard when, within the past week, someone described it to me as an “environmental allegory”.

            I was conscious of the often unimpressive dialogue, and the painful clumsiness with which the film beats viewers over their crowns. But after some time, the realization dawned on me: the film is intended primarily for American audiences, who, by-and-large, require nothing less than the most vigorous beating a director can muster.

            Avatar was practically fine-tuned to arouse in conservative critics a maximum of annoyance, scorn, and perhaps even plain, unmitigated hatred; throughout the film’s three hour run time it plunges its gargantuan blue fingers into every historical soft-spot to be found on the anatomy of the American rightist movement. Displacement, mistreatment and genocide of native populations, militarism, colonialism and expansionism, wanton environmental destruction, industrialism, paternalism, corporatism, state-capitalism, even religious bigotry are the subjects of the grand, Hollywood-style (no political doublespeak intended) appeal to the hoi palloi that is James Cameron’s Avatar.

            Students of history will recognize that the film’s lackluster delivery of critically important messages does not detract from the truth of those messages, and Pagans will see Avatar for what it is–a line of demarcation between the modern cultural and religious right, and all that our own religious traditions hold sacred.

          • Pingback: The Wild Hunt » A Pagan’s Guide to the Oscars()

  • Pitch313

    I'm wondering what Holly-ideology-wood poses the loomingest menace to the Christian America conserve us way of life as we never ever lived it.

    Sex.

    Communism.

    Drugs.

    Body modification.

    Fashion.

    Gossip.

    Communism.

    Pantheism.

    Money making entertainment.

    If nature is so threatening, put foil over all your windows and keep it out!

    • http://www.lizzclements.com Lizz

      That's funny, because conservatives are into everything on this list (except pantheism, apparently, though the Roman Catholic Church describes the Trinity as being a form of pantheistic worship).

  • Mathias

    Even better (IMHO) is Kvond's latest deconstruction on Avatar: http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/avatarship-

  • Crystal7431

    Saw it last night. I really loved it. I plan on seeing it again with my husband. The audience last night really loved it to. Several clapped when- well, I don’t want to spoil it. But I was eavesdropping on some as I left the theatre just to gauge their reaction. One group of teens “totally want to be blue cat people.” Even the adults viewed it favorably.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Teaa Tea

      Sounds like a good movie, but I have to see The Fantastic Mr Fox first.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    Cameron helped design new paradigm busting visceral 3D immersion technology while already including what could bust social, political, and religious reality bubbles.

    Most people cannot tolerate both impressive dialogue/plot and having more than one paradigm buster at hand.

    Cameron helped his interests as an inventor (Avatar’s digital 3D system), auteur, director and capitalist, all of them, by not overwhelming the masses with too much dialogue or complex plot. He knew open dialogue would follow and those not up for the task would be the losers, something not entirely missed even by many of the most casual observers.

    That little bit of K.I.S.S. genius is likely to take Avatar into the memetic stratosphere, thus enhancing both long term profits and societal impact, which in turn gives rise to more open dialogue, which lends towards more profits on an international scale for many years to come. He did it again. It's not a fluke.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    Saw it. Loved it.

    Green Pluralism vs. Genocidal Imperialistic Exploitative Planet-Ravaging Corporatist Ideologically Unsound Paramilitary-Loving Capitalists

    That's pretty specific, nobody needs to act like or be defined by the latter — Avatar is not anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-technology, anti-human, anti-military or anti-capitalist. Instead, it suggests spirituality and any ideology may have **their place in the scheme of things.** That message contrasts sharply with religionist "Green" = Paganism and Forces of Good™ vs. The Forces of Evil™ dualism modes that leaves some movie critics spitting vitriolic alarm words like communist, anti-human, greasy, dirty, pagan and bestiality. Some Christian movie reviews went as far as to view the movie as a call to kill humans, Americans, specifically, and got themselves into particularly perturbing Christian Nationalism waters.

    By extension, the movie should help underline the difference between religion and religionism and busts any false idealism vs. materialism dichotomies.

  • Pingback: The Wild Hunt » Disney’s Bad Voodoo and other Pagan News of Note()

  • Jenn

    OOOoOOooo Pantheism bad James Cameron. What still shocks the heck out of me is that we didn't get this same mush when Beowolf came out. I heard nothing about the obvious anti-Christian lines in that movie. Nope it's all secret agendas and hidden meanings for these people. Ignore the obvious and go after what you MIGHT assume by reading between the lines.

  • Auberon Draenen Wen

    I'm looking forward to rants on Polytheism in the nearish future. It's about time we got recognized as a legitimae threat to Western Society!

  • Pingback: The Wild Hunt » A Few Quick Notes()

  • Pingback: The Wild Hunt » Our Dark Green Religious Future?()

  • Sarenth

    I saw Avatar, and though it has points where the dialogue or message clunk, I felt it was an impressive film. Its sins and faux pas are, to me, overtaken by its messages. At its heart, I saw just a few of Avatar's big sweeping messages as communion with nature and not domination, the interconnectedness of all things, colonialism's ugly face, the destructive faces of militarism/corporatism, and self-redemption.

    Yes, there are traces of "white guilt" or "noble savage" if that is what you are looking for, but I saw it more as the main character coming to truly understand that this culture is really NOT like his own, and that he wanted/needed the connections it provided as much as they wanted/needed him in their turn. Throughout a good portion of the film he is called "baby" because he, in their terms, understands nothing. If anything this, to me, is a kind of slap in the face to American culture, or at least consumerism and imperialism, because connecting to and having communion with oneself, the natural world, and one's place in it is something that American culture and consumerism tend to do poorly.

    As for creeping panentheism or pantheism, it is there, but I think that more people looking at themselves as part of this system, as part of the continuity of Nature rather than apart from it, would be healthy. I don't look at this pantheism in the movie as a negative, but a positive.

    Even if all this film does is push people to think about their place in society, their ecosystem, etc., differently, then it is good. Questioning where you are shouldn't, in my view, put your faith at risk unless the bedrock of your faith relies on humans (or your brand of religion) being above all others.

    I'm quite impressed with the film and would talk more about it, but I'd rather not ruin parts of the plot for those who've not seen it.

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    Frack Douthat and all of the idiots that attack something as simple as a nature-oriented message in Hollywood. The Na'vi religion is made up just like the Na'vi are, but their religion is more impressive, better thought out, more humane, and better for this world than any form of Christianity or Islam.

    It "romanticizes" nature? It ignores "suffering and death"? Let me get this straight, being respectful to and comfortable with our world, in all its natural beauty and its power, is "romanticizing" things? Accepting suffering and death as a natural part of things means "ignoring" it? If THAT'S the case, I'd rather be a romantic, ignorant made-up alien pantheist than a world-hating, enlightened real Christian monotheist. Any day of the week.

  • http://howlfromthenorth.blogspot.com Joseph

    I thought the anti-colonialism/anti-military aspects of the film were rather ham-fisted, but they were completely overshadowed not only by the super-impressive special effects (I saw it in IMAX-3D), but also in the characters. You can have all the special effects in the world, but if your characters aren't believable and draw sympathy from the audience, your movie will fall flat. Avatar avoided this, and I loved the film.

  • Rayna

    I've seen Avatar and while its has a few faults (too long, plot utterly predictable, etc) the visual appeal of the film is amazing and the pantheism/paganism is super cool. What Would Eywa Do? James Cameron has chosen to portray humans and their penchant for war as dull, unenlightened and hopelessly retro, while the Na'Vi are enlightened, genuine, and love to chant to raise healing energy! Noble savages? Yes. But tuning in to Nature as the Source is a message that still needs to be conveyed, and given the responses of the crowd when I saw it Sat night, the muggles may not realize they are embracing pantheism but they like it.

    Rev. Rayna Ardren Owens

  • Lori F – MN

    "equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world"
    And this is a bad thing?
    Oh if more people would realize this is actually truth. When did Abrahamic beliefs forget this? It's right there in Genesis. Adam may have named all the beasts and things on earth, but God created them. So shouldn't it follow that 'communion with the natural world' would equate with worshiping god?

    Sound to me like Avatar is a sci-fi remake of Dances With Wolves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stormcoder Storm Coder

    I found the movie inspirational. I saw it Non-3D in a regular theater. I was more focused on the characters and the message rather than the special effects. For me the special effects just enhanced the story.

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    Frack Genesis! We don't need monotheistic fairy tales to prove the truth or the desirability of religious origin through and communion with the natural world. And Genesis doesn't quite offer a comprehensive package deal; it posits a creator and created things, but not an intimate link between the two, and it posits human exceptionalism. It's bullcrap made up by ignorant savages to justify their exploitation of the natural world and their anthropocentric exceptionalism.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AlexPendragon AlexPendragon

    I haven't seen the film yet, but do they have the standard Baptist chaplain pleading with the General to please let him take a shot at bringing those heathens to Christ before they kill every last one of them for DARING to exist in the way of superior, God blessed human capitalists?

    I wonder if we ever get a visit by an alien missionary, is that the signal that WE need to just kiss OUR butts goodbye………

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baruch Baruch

    I don't recall any such flap over The Force in the original Star Wars movie, which was the same notion more intellectualized. Maybe the conservatives just didn't get it…

    Baruch Dreamstalker

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    I'm sure that, after a quick survey of modern religions on our planet, the alien missionaries will mark our planet as anathema and pass us by.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BryonMorrigan BryonMorrigan

    AlexPendragon stated, "I wonder if we ever get a visit by an alien missionary, is that the signal that WE need to just kiss OUR butts goodbye………"

    As soon as they see the fact that a good portion of the planet worships the icon of a gruesome dead prophet, his malnourished body hanging from an ancient execution device, and preaches eternal damnation for all those whose belief in that mythology is less than literal….

    …the aliens will conclude that we have many centuries of growing up to do, and move on.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BryonMorrigan BryonMorrigan

    BTW, I'm suddenly wayyyyy more interested in seeing this movie now. Thanks, right-wing Christian Dominionists!

  • http://witchschool.com Ed Hubbard

    Great Movie, very enjoyable. Glad it is driving conservatives nuts. Anyone who thinks Hollywood moves by principles has never been involved with them. It's all about money, ego, and creativity, and in that order. This movie is spectacular visually, and has a familiar and classical story. Nothing new, but beautifully told around our pixel-driven electronic campfires.

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    Nah, the conservatives then weren't facing a society as diverse and rapidly changing as it appears to be now. It was just a movie, then. Now, crikey oh golly, a man and a man is gettin' married down at town hall, momma! Hellfire and tarnation, a black man's president!

    The Death Star blew up, then…

    A massive conspiracy of Satanists, cleverly using roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, indoctrinated an entire generation of dorks into diabolism and managed to create baby breeding factories in rural trailer parks, to create more of the innocent human sacrifices demanded by their dark, dice rolling master. A closer inspection (read: the first and only inspection by an outside agency) showed that none of this ever happened, but when have fundies ever been known to let facts stand in the way of a good, money-making and congregation-swelling story? Then, Nancy Reagan (guided by her far-seeing psychic) told us all to just say "no", and a guy with an egg said "this is your brain on drugs" on TV, and music really sucked around that time… but it was a golden age for TV Evangelists who made a hell of a lot of money off of the knuckle-draggers who make up the general population of the Christian USA.

    Later on, Kiss was reborn as Marilyn Manson and kids everywhere started saying "fuck you and your churches". Wiccans got some spotlight. Some asshole kids shot up a school in Colorado, and then the gays FINALLY decided that one weekend of decadence in New Orleans a year wasn't enough, and they got really organized. A couple of oil wars happened, and a few bridges in the Balkans got bombed. Clinton banged some chick who totally wasn't worth the media circus, and some terrorists, following in a well-attested and predictable pattern inherent in their ridiculous religion, brought down the world trade centers.

    Now, forced to face a country that was plural, diverse, and out of their control from the top level down, the KKKristian Right decided that pop culture was to blame for spreading non-Christian values. Disney was targeted first (Think abouts them kids, boys! And the white women!) but the Southern Baptist Convention boycott on Disney didn't last. Next, it was a boycott against the Military, but that really didn't work, because let's face it- what other employer in the world do 99% of the kids from Fundy Christian households have to look forward to hiring them? Zilcho. Then it was Harry Potter- a clean and easy target, no controversy there- fuck, the Brit woman has kids on BROOMS for petesake! But that didn't last either, because HP is just WAY cooler than JC. And Emma Watson's WAY hot. And the marketing machine behind HP is just better financed than the marketing machine behind the Gods-cursed SBC.

    And so it goes. The Force wasn't a threat back then because things were calmer, racism and discrimination were more acceptable, the minorities and gays were kept in check better, and American market dominance and apparent security were better. Things made more "sense" back then, don' t you get it? White American Middle Class Values were not being shit upon at every turn. As God intended.

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    You too, huh?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JarredH Jarred Harris

    And I think that's a very good reason to cheer whenever the right-wing Christian Dominionists get uptight about something. This seems to be a very common response.

  • http://www.lizzclements.com Lizz

    The movie contains blatant (not creeping) pantheism, though the human invaders never discuss pantheism so it's unlikely that innocent movie goers who know nothing about the variety in religious belief will make the connection. If anything, the conservatives are only doing pantheism a service by associating it with the film.

    In Kurt Loder's embittered review, he reminds us that Cameron considers himself to be an aging hippie. While I don't disagree in that Hollywood is only really concerned with profits, the fact that Cameron is responsible for writing it and considers himself a hippie does indicate in a small sense that he believes in the context of the film if just a little.

    Commenters have a point when it comes to other sci-fi movies. Perhaps it's because the Na'Vi claim that Ewya is sentient as opposed to being a non-godlike Force that has them unnerved. But conservatives have also rebuked Star Wars, claiming that no "religion" can have morals or values without a higher being.

    I plan on writing about this film in the future, but for now I will say that it did make an impact on me personally. As a Pagan, the themes were obvious. The film can also be considered a work of historical fiction (or science fiction) as it REALLY shares a lot with the suffering of indigenous people on Earth. The sad part is that the natives here never win. Furthermore, where these conservative writers imply that the "savages" live in communion with nature but don't tackle Ewya's ugly side they must have clearly missed the scene that introduces the female lead. Neytiri saves Sully from a tribe of predatory animals. Having to kill them was "sad" and "didn't have to happen." He is "like a baby" in his knowledge of the balance of life. The Na'Vi are quite obviously not vegetarians nor gatherers only. They have warriors and an aspect to their pantheistic beliefs is the honoring of their kill. There's no "romanticizing" of it and "suffering and death" are acknowledged. She also laments on a time during which the tribes of Pandora were not united, implying that war has existed within their community.

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    If you take the Suprasystem of life itself- the sum total of all forces, organic and inorganic- you can stop with a non-sentient totality which still operates according to some harmonious rule or condition, or you can go further, and posit a sentience for the whole itself. That the Na'vi call Ewya sentient is perfectly legit; what qualifies as sentience? How do we know if something is sentient or intelligent, or anything of the kind? By behavior, by action and reaction to environment, etc.

    If the environment seems (as it does) to act and react intelligently to change (causing change and integrating it) then anyone has a basis to ascribe sentience of a very high order to our natural environment.

    I think it's bold of Cameron to have the Na'vi think of Ewya as sentient. It's a thrust back to some of the earliest conceptions of divinity among animistic peoples. The final trouble with a "sentient" environment is simply that you have nothing to compare it to- it is the totality, so you can't say whether or not it is an agent "acting or reacting" to a larger environment. You (we) can only see it from within, and never see the whole. But If I were forced to guess, seeing as much of it as I have seen, I'd say that some sort of amazing intelligence certainly was at work. This, of course, is not a transcendent "god" idea, at all. This is a notion, as ancient as the hills, that Nature is alive and sentient on a level beyond our ken. Take away even one leaf or one stone, and it would all come to naught- this divinity cannot be separated from the parts.

  • http://www.lizzclements.com Lizz

    You are perfectly correct; I'm not saying that this is "bad" (though it is to them) and when compared to Star Wars, however, you can see the difference. The Force is not alive and it can be controlled by the Jedi whereas Ewya exists so that the Na'Vi can come to understand Her, themselves, and the rest of Her creation.

  • http://www.ardantane.org/ Amber K

    Saw it in Imax-type 3-D, loved the CGI and effects, loved the message even more. Yes, the take on American-style capitalism/colonialism/militarism was heavy-handed, but guess what? There are genuine dangers to our species and the entire Earth, and they need to be exposed in stark terms.

    Yes, I'm a tree-hugging pantheist, and I would love it if every child and young person on the planet saw this movie.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baruch Baruch

    "their dark, dice rolling master"

    You a Fritz Lieber fan?

  • Liz

    Actually this is, according to Star Wars canon, incorrect. The Force is living and translated through mitochondria-like organisms, some consider it sentient (a number of Jedi talk about the "will of the Force"), and the Jedi think of themselves more about doing the will of the Force than using it like a tool– the Sith are more of the "it's a tool" mindset, seeing it more like magic than some kind of pantheistic religious thingy.

  • http://www.robinartisson.com Robin Artisson

    Yeah but most people ignore that "mitichlorian" nonsense that came out in the latter three films. And rightly so.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lokisgodhi Lokisgodhi

    Either that or suck them all up and grind them up for fertilizer or protein meal for use on some other world. Maybe the Christians confused rapture with rat catcher?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lokisgodhi Lokisgodhi

    I did too. Interestingly enough Percy Jackson and Clash of the Titans were two out of three trailers shown with it. Jason, you missed the Robin Hood remake starring Russell Crowe.

    The movie was also more than a bit derivative of Starship Troopers, Alien 2, The Last Samurai, and Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels.

  • Souris

    Hear, hear. I was very pleasantly surprised, and would watch it again, even without the 3d.

  • Sarenth

    It's made of people! PEOPLE!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

    Me, three. In fact I talked to a friend yesterday who urged me to see this "Buddhist movie"! He hadn't heard anything about the "controversy" and when I told him his response was, "what's 'pantheism'?"

    He especially encouraged me if possible to see the IMAX 3-D version, he said it's worth the extra $$$$!

  • http://www.lizzclements.com Lizz

    Hahahahaha.

  • Robert

    Is there something wrong with the idea that "Avatar" was produced solely for entertainment? Do we HAVE to 'read things " into it to enjoy it or declare the time spent watching it was worthwhile? I went to see it, enjoyed it asd a good story, and am happy with that. That it touches on some of my basic beliefs was merely a bonus…

  • Pingback: Breathing In 2010 « Pagan Godspell()

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    People who are in more of a right brain mode while watching a movie may require more time to shift to things analytical and may not want to read reviews and spoilers either before or too soon after the movie…or at all. I use my left and right hemispheres in a nearly 50/50 manner with only a very slight right brain preference and enjoyed both the physical-emotional 3D immersion experience and an analytical experience at once.

    200 watching the same movie…how would you experience the movie if you were a color-taste synaesthete, someone who just wants to see blue boobies, an Einstein-Morrissey-Carroll aspie, a hemispherectomy/split-brain/agenesis of the corpus callosum patient (Kim Peek, a famous example of the latter, died Dec. 19, just days ago, by the way), a mostly left brain person, a very right brain person, a card carrying liberal, a particularly toxic Christian Nationalist, someone who doesn't realize that the whole concept of seeing things through race lens is (reverse racism) racist…

    The movie was for entertainment. It had intended messages. People got different things out of it for very different reasons. It doesn’t all boil down to a right or wrong movie experience.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/RobTaylor RobTaylor

    Also Douthat is not describing Pantheism, but a new age-i-zation of monist theology (like Taosim) with a hefty sprinkling of White folky (no offense) imaginings of how awesome primitive societies are. The real criticism here is that we live in a country where supposed intellectuals don't know what pantheism means, and pantheists (many Wiccans are Pantheistic) don't know that what he's describing doesn't even apply to them. I blame the teachers.

    Pantheism refers to traditions in which there is one supreme god who manifests as multiple deities or beings. The idea that there's one universal principle or energy that animates all life is monism. Douthat was too lazy to pick up a phone and consult a reputable scholar and that's the worst part of his writing.

    As for Avatar being Pagan … really? What tradition that you held sacred was seen in a cartoon that claims humans are evil and deserve to die? What Avatar presents is post-modern Christian nonsense, a morality in which goodness can only be achieved outside of sinful man. Sorry but this is just a anti-human fantasy for misanthropes.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    Atheism – there are no Gods
    Pantheism — the physical world is divine
    Panentheism — the Gods are everywhere
    Polytheism — there is more than one God
    Animism — everything is alive
    Monism — everything in existence is one being
    Monotheism – there is the one and only true God
    Theism — God(s) exist(s) and is/are at least somewhat of a focus
    Nontheism — God(s) exist(s) but the religion is not God(s)-centric, e.g. Buddhism

    Racism — seeing everything, even alien life forms, through earthnocentric race lens

    Gods may be defined inside the parameters of the hard vs. soft polytheism false dilemma (the dilemma is false, not paths) or more broadly.

    Monist-Pantheism is a form of Pantheism but Pantheism =/= Monist-Pantheism.

    Avatar, despite the planet's design, Eywa and all, never limited itself to Monist-Pantheism. Whether it was or wasn't is left up to interpretation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    Avatar is not anti-American, anti-Christian, specifically pro post-modern Christian, anti-technology, anti-human, anti-military or anti-capitalist. Morality wasn't achieved outside of sinful man but included participation of humans of different colors/backgrounds, Pandorians of all sorts, Pantheists, possibly Monotheists, possibly Polytheists, possibly Nontheists, the technology-friendly, the ecology-friendly, military, scientist, and capitalist. They refused to have either their world or world view defined by genocidal imperialistic exploitative corporatist paramilitary-loving parameters. Instead, they choose ecologically sound pluralism rather than dysfunctional ideology gone mad.

    The movie reminded me of Bonewits's switchboard theory (everyone and plants were plugging in, even having appendages specifically designed for it), Indra's Net, hub theory…but the beauty of Avatar was that people from different paths, yes, even post-modern Christians, could see the better parts of their philosophies and theologies in the movie.

  • kvond

    RT: "Pantheism refers to traditions in which there is one supreme god who manifests as multiple deities or beings. The idea that there's one universal principle or energy that animates all life is monism"

    Kvond: I'm unsure how you have arrived at this definitive distinction. Spinoza someone consistently (and historically) has been described as a Pantheist AND a monist, without a sense of contradiction. There is of course debate about what exactly his position was, but rather explicitly he stated that God exists and acts through the modes (which are the world as we know it).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

    Speaking of false dichotomies/dilemma's, creating the category of "nontheism" for "e.g. Buddhism" is at the very least misleading:

    (1) All of the earliest known Buddhist Temples and Stupas contain images of the Goddess Lakshmi.

    (2) The Buddha himself prayed to the Vedic Earth Goddess, Prthivi, just prior to his Great Awakening (and She answered his prayer by dispersing the Demon Armies of Mara).

    (3) Deities are central to Mahayana Buddhism (including but not limited to Tantric Buddhism). In particular, the distinction between Bodhisattvas and "Gods" is completely artificial and not recognized in practice by the vast majority of Mahayana Buddhists.

    (4) Buddhists (including South Asian Theravada Buddhists) seamlessly incorporate Deity worship into their religious lives, and very often they do this "as" Buddhists. It is completely artificial (and also circular logic) to insist that whenever Buddhists are praying to our Gods this is not done "as" Buddhists or that this is not "central" to Buddhism.

  • http://nakedwoadwarrior.wordpress.com Bjorn Odinsson

    Hmm maybe my family was a conservative minority, but my mother never let me watch Star Wars as I grew up, she went to all sorts of conventions that taught her that Star Wars was demonic propaganda, the New Age movement was channeled from evil spirits and "Saved by the Light" was a satanic scripture meant to convince people that they would go to heaven without Christ. Lol, so my mother has always been crazy, probably what sent me running to Paganism.

    It is sad, but it seems that the fundies are always going to be spouting reactionist hate-speech. . .

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    Buddha didn't deny that there were Gods, differed with others regarding definition of deity, and choose a nontheistic focus anyway. Buddhism is a nontheism in that it does not concern itself primarily with the God(s) of the theistic religions, and as far as Gods or gurus go, well, if you see Buddha on the road…

    All that doesn't negate theistic strains of Buddhism. No. of adherents or yrs. theistic Buddhist practice cannot manage to define all of Buddhism as either theistic or nontheistic.

    The Buddha usually replied to questions about the existence of God(s) with silence but told the story of a man shot by a poisoned arrow.

    As the doctor moved to pull the arrow out of the wound, the man grabbed his hand and asked:

    "Before you treat me, tell me, who shot me with the arrow? Was he of a warrior or some other class, tall or short, young or old, dark skinned or light skinned?"

    Ignoring the question, the doctor pulled the arrow out, answering the question in doing so — the patient would have died without pulling the arrow out.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    Beyond that, you're welcome to your differences of opinion. There are more appropriate places to dicker about the nature of Buddhism. Perhaps you'll find someone willing.

    And now, back to things Avatar…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baruch Baruch

    Buddhism so readily soaks up the indigenous pantheon wherever it takes root, the world religion of Buddhism clearly does not hold any *one* deity or pantheon as central, a marked contrast with the Abrahamic religions. Clearly it harbors the *idea* of deity, and space for local associated rituals to be central to the local practice of Buddhism.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

    Don't you see the circular nature of your logic? You arbitrarily "define" Buddhism as nontheistic, and then proceed to ignore or explain away of minimize everything that is theistic in Buddhism.

    What is the Sanskrit or Pali equivalent of "non-theistic"? Why apply a label to Buddhism that Buddhists have never themselves dreamed up. Buddhists have dreamed up lots of terminology, but it never occurred to them to coin anything like "non-theistic".

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sari0009 KarenAScofield

    The circular logic and false dilemmas are yours…and you ignored multiple points in my replies!

    1. I said, “Buddhism is nontheism in that it does not concern itself primarily with the God(s) of the theistic religions… that doesn't negate theistic strains of Buddhism.

    I then offered the story that should more than hint why theism vs. nontheism or this theism vs. that theism are false dilemmas and not the focus in Buddhism (even if some choose them to be).

    Nontheism — God(s) exist(s) but the religion is not God(s)-centric, e.g. Buddhism

    2. Go discuss Buddhism on a Buddhism board with a willing person.

    I go make cookies. Gingerbread. I have a page on marzipan and gingerbread, if anyone's interested.

    Happy holidays!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Apuleius Apuleius

    The title of the film is, after all, "Avatar". Therefore discussing the relationship of the film's "theology" (such as it is) to the spiritual traditions of India hardly amounts to "dickering".

    And the fact that Buddhism is not "non-theistic" is far from being simply a personal opinion of mine. According to Buddhist scholar Miranda Shaw in her book "Buddhist Goddesses of India":

    "The Mahayana pantheon features several powerful protectors, such as Marici, goddess of the dawn; Sitatapatra, guardian against supernatural dangers; and Janguli, protectress against harm by snakes and poison. A range of divinities address specific areas of human need. The most important among them are Parnasavari, a healing deity; Vasudhara, bestower of wealth and abundance; Sarasvati, patroness of learning and the arts; Us nisavijaya, who confers long life and a fortunate rebirth; and Cunda, who inspires and supports spiritual practice. Tara, the subject of the last chapter in this section, is the most beloved goddess of the Mahayana pantheon and a savioress of unlimited powers. She is the focus of an immense theological enterprise proclaiming her metaphysical supremacy and, uniquely among the Mahayana cohort, her Buddhahood."

    From here:
    http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i8235.html