“Avatar” is [James] 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. . . .
Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi. . . .
Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.
At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.
Pride of gifts robs us of God’s blessing in the use of them. The humble man may have Satan at his right hand to oppose him; but be sure the proud man shall find God himself there to resist him, whenever he goes about any duty. God proclaims so much, and would have the proud man know wherever he meets him [that] he will oppose him. He ‘resisteth the proud.’ Great gifts are beautiful as Rachel, but pride makes them also barren like her. Either we must lay self aside, or God will lay us aside. (“The Christian in Complete Armour,” Banner of Truth Trust, 2002, 1:193)
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr.:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. … And if America is to be a great nation this must become true.”
Not too many things raise my eyebrows in these days of through-the-looking-glass America, where I fully expect up to be down, left to be right, and right to be wrong. It’s not that I’m a pessimist — just a realist. And this is why hearing mainstream-media newsman Brit Hume recommend Christianity over Buddhism on FOX News Sunday — well, made my eyebrows say “bonjour” to my hairline.
In case you missed the story, Hume was addressing Tiger Woods’ womanizing woes and recommended that the golfer seek his answers in Christianity. . . .
Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution asserted that “faith is a private matter between that person and God, and is not a matter to be judged by some pompous TV anchor.” In case Hume was misunderstood, Bookman subsequently called him “rude and crass” and guilty of “bad manners.” MSNBC anchor David Shuster maintained that Hume had somehow “denigrated” and “diminished” Christianity. Even knowledgeable religion writers were nonplussed by Hume. USA Today religion writer Cathy Grossman asserted on her blog that the Fox commentator was “talking trash”. . . .
But let’s cut through the nonsense here. I’m always amused when people object to others’ efforts to convert them, especially since it’s a daily occurrence. What I mean is that conversion is the business of most of the world — and it’s especially the business of the commentators criticizing Hume. Democrats want to convert others into Democrats, liberals want to convert others to liberalism, Muslims to Islam, Coca-Cola to Coke-drinkers, Ford to Ford-drivers, dairy farmers to milk-drinkers (it does a body good), and the United States Golf Association to golfers. . . .
You see, playing the “I’m offended!” game is a lot easier than actually thinking. . . . What is far more offensive — at least, to any discerning intellect — is the profound stupidity and prejudice reflected in a double-standard that denies only Christians (and perhaps a few other groups) the right to advocate their beliefs.
Yet something must now be asked about this notion that “faith is a private matter.” If secularists are so adamant about it, why do they never admonish the Richard Dawkinses and Christopher Hitchenses of the world to mind the principle? Hitchens wrote a book titled God Is Not Great and makes a lot of money and waves parading around the country and spreading his anti-theist (as he puts it) message. And there is no shortage of liberal journalists echoing his sentiments in their effort to convert others to their way of thinking (or, I should say, feeling). Am I to understand that faith is private when you want to spread it but public when you want to condemn it? The contradiction here is so thick that were I as intellectually sloppy as those I criticize, I’d call them hypocrites. But they’re too philosophically juvenile to embrace their contradiction with full knowledge. So I’ll be kind and just call them ignorant.