By now a lot of people have seen the new blockbuster movie, Avatar. It is indeed a stunning visual film, but it also contains some interesting spiritual themes. There is the big one – good versus evil. But there are also themes about self sacrifice, connection to creation and honesty. This got me thinking about some possible comparisons to Christianity. I’m not saying Avatar has a Christian message – it clearly is communicating its own story and whatever underlying spiritual message writer/director James Cameron intended is there for us to interpret. But as the scripture saying goes, "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear" (Matthew 13:16).
In the movie humans have traveled to the planet Pandora to mine an extremely valuable mineral. This beautiful and lush alien world is hostile in many ways to humans. They can’t breathe the air and encounters with plant and animal life can be lethal. And the greatest supplies of the desired mineral lie underneath the sacred home ground of the Na’vi, the alien humanoid race.
These 10-foot tall blue-skinned and yellow-eyed beings are catlike in appearance, complete with long tails. They live in harmony with their world and believe in an energy force that connects all life and they worship a deity, Eywah, who is the mother goddess of all life. It’s all very similar to Native American spirituality (many reviews have remarked about the similarity to the film, Dances with Wolves), and the love for creation and the oneness of all living things is a message that Jesus proclaimed. His prayer in John 17:20-21 was that all would all be one and that we who believe would share in the same unity as Jesus and the Father.
Connecting to life and creation is something the Na’vi can do both spiritually and biologically. Their long braided hair has at its ends tentacle-like threads that literally connect to similar appendages of horse-like animals they ride, flying reptilian creatures and trees that hold the souls and voices of their ancestors.
We connect to God through the Body of Christ – a spiritual union that has the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and working through and with us. It’s a powerful mystery and as the scientist played by Sigourney Weaver in Avatar remarks about the energy in the “tree of souls” on Pandora, it’s real.
The incarnation of God in the human/divine union of Jesus Christ – the Word made Flesh (see John 1:1-4 and 1 John 1:1-3) – is mysterious to us. But I find the idea of humans inhabiting biologically-engineered avatars to interact with the Na’vi to be a similar concept (albeit not a divine incarnation). It’s easier to relate to someone of our own kind, and even though the Na’vi know the avatars are a creation of the humans, they eventually accept the main character, Jake Sully, as one of them after he passes an initiation into their ways.
How we “link” to God is personal to each of us, but Christianity teaches us that with belief in God’s son and living the way he taught his followers, we will become something new. We will be born again. Our rebirth should be such that we, like Saint Francis of Assisi, will see the sacredness of all creation. The Na’vi have a saying for this – “I see you”.
A lesson from the movie Avatar that we should take to heart when evangelizing is that we should not try to force or manipulate other cultures and peoples into believing the Gospel. We should simply live among them and treat them as God’s children. This is the way of Jesus. And that unconditional love, even to enemies, is the greater message and better way that Avatar doesn’t exhibit. Although the Na’vi call upon their god for protection, the movie still has the stereotypical battle with violent fighting between the humans and the natives. It’s harder to battle in a non-violent way, trusting in the power of a God who calls us to peace and forgiveness.