The Ethics of Avatar

I recently remembered that I meant to write something about Avatar.  The reason I forgot?  Well, its Avatar, how much time can you really spend thinking about it?

When I saw the film I pretty much had the reaction I thought I would.  I was entertained, impressed by the special effects, annoyed by the stale dialog, bored by the plot, and rather embarrassed by the moments it started channeling Pocahontas and Fern Gully. Unlike many other Christians I have very little venom towards the film’s goofy pantheism, maybe I would if I felt it was nefarious or compelling.  But it was about as seductive as a spell cast in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, minus the cool 90’s appeal. I think our kids will be OK. Is it a sign of the times that such values are considered “stock” and fit for mass consumption.  Sure, but that’s not really news.

What I thought was most interesting and avant garde about the film, was the means by which it sought to compel you to root for the Na’vi and the divine energy upholding Pandora: Beauty. All you have to do is go on Cameron’s magical mystery tour of the forests of Pandora and the right thing becomes self-apparent.  There’s no argument, just jaw dropping grandeur. Sure the human scientist types may flap their gums about the precious opportunity they have to study the Na’vi culture, but the science and PC agenda sounds (as I believe it’s meant to) hollow and naive.  Platitudes and platforms are dismissed– just come and see.

It’s about beauty, not diversity.

Once the viewer has sat awash in sci-fi splendor of Cameron’s wood, the right way is not wholly lost and gone, but clear as a Pandorian river.  How should we then live?  In a way that loves the Beautiful and participates with it.  David Hume torqued philosophers for centuries by claiming that the state of things has no bearing on how things ought to be: that you cannot move from is to ought.  Sure if I don’t feed my pets they will die, so?  That is the case, but how does it follow that I ought to feed my pets, or myself for that reason? At a time when people are allergic to oughts Cameron proves Hume wrong by showing us something beautiful.

If only he hadn’t cluttered it up with the rest of the film.

“Vintage Church” vs. “Pagan Christianity”

The Emerging church movement (if you want to call it by that name) raises some good questions, and give the question “What is the Church?” new life.  For this I really appreciate the Emerging movement. Though it suffers from the unfortunate problem of being wrong, it has — much like the Reformation — the virtue of reacting against something that deserving of reaction.  While the reaction is against  the standard Ol’ Megachurches in particular, at its root the reaction is against Protestant ecclesiology.

Observe the battle between Reformed Protestant Megachurch leader (though in some ways “Emergent” himself) Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill church (author of “Vintage Church”) and Frank Viola and Co. and their recently published “Pagan Christianity”.  A fun, quick read of this is a review that Driscoll commissioned.

The aforementioned review refers early and often to Methodist NT scholar Ben Witherington’s responses, which are certainly worth the read.  He aptly takes on many of the falacious and provocative claims of the book, and replaces them with (gasp!) the historical truth that the ancient Church was a kind of institution.  As an Orthodox Christian, I have nothing else really to argue for; Witherington has done the heavy lifting for me.  Viola and Barnes have stirred up the curiosity, and to those who do their homework the question is posed: What do I do next?

…in an effort to bait you into reading Witherinton’s responses…

My point in the above critique is simply this— calling more high church worship ‘pagan’ is not only a tragedy which impoverishes the soul. It’s a travesty. And saying over and over again that there is not a shred of Biblical evidence for sacred buildings, particularly church buildings reflects both historical myopia and bad theological analysis of a theology of holiness and worship. Such a view is narrow where the Bible is not narrow, and it fails to grasp the great breadth of ways in which God can be truly, and Biblically worshipped and served, and is indeed worshipped and served around the world every single week. We do not need to be liberated from holy worship—we need to be liberated in and by it, in whatever form it may legitimately take. And that’s the Biblical truth.