No God But Nature?

I think Ross Douthat is a really smart guy. But I think he’s wrong to say that James Carmeron’s Avatar equates God with Nature. Douthat writes:

“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.”

But while Eywa, the Na’vi goddess, may live in the organic Internet of Pandora’s tree roots, the film makes it very, very clear that she can be prayed to, that she can hear prayers, and that she can bend the natural world to her will. She absolutely interferes in human affairs.

Further, Douthat writes: “But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.”

Maybe so. But in Avatar, the dead live on – Jake hears their voices when he logs in to the soul tree. And if voices, then intelligence, person. Individual existence that endures. In this, the film does contradict itself a bit – we get an earlier line about how all energy is borrowed, and eventually, we have to give it back. But there is supernatural life in Avatar.

Oh, and this is a very good review of the film.


  1. A fantastic review of the film. I think our reviewer nails it. And also rewards his reader with gems like this:

    "Sigourney Weaver, the drowned-out voice of science and of reason, bequeaths to Lang her robotic suit of armor from the climax of Cameron’s Aliens."

    You have to see the movie to realize how dead-on this is. No one rips off Cameron better than Cameron.

    To the Lickonas and all regular readers of my favorite blog, Merry Christmas!


  2. Matthew Lickona says

    And to you, Mr. Manhattan!

  3. Matthew,

    You really DID mean to say "logs in to the soul tree," didn't you?

    On another note, my oldest son wants to see this piece of flip – and I had to explain to him (vide: Mark Shea on today's Inside Catholic, although he said it better, I said it first, to my son, anyway) that Cameron is not just rehashing the always perverse liberal understanding of Christianity (bad guys) and pantheism (good guys), but he's also trying to show a sort of necessary reverse-evangelism (which Shea rightly points out is the one Inescapable element of Christianity which all religions that wish to survive must adopt).

    It's not Cameron's attack on imperialism as such that prevents me from seeing this pile of dogsqueeze – its the tripish rehash of Rousseau-meets-Hollywood. It didn't work in Dances with Wolves; it didn't work with A Man Called Horse (although I'd prefer seeing Richard Harris any day of the week over Costner and Avastar). You're right that Cameron's is a rehash – shoulda called it Dances with the Na'avi.



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