I confess that I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, but the truth is that I watched the complete series of Avatar: The Last Airbender and loved it (thanks again Netflix). I always swore that I would never like anime and Asian-style cartoons. I have since learned that this is to my shame. But what I loved most about this particular cartoon was the gripping story and endearing characters. I loved watching the story of Aang unfold as he attempted to restore balance to the world.
At some point during the series, however, a thought arose in my mind: there are some Christians who would be ardently opposed to watching this cartoon because it is rooted in Asian religions. How could a Christian, and a pastor no less, justify watching a cartoon that is rooted in a falsehood? My answer: Good art helps us to understand better both the Biblical and un-Biblical aspects of our world and selves.
Even though The Last Airbender is rooted in Asian philosophies and religions it is not an exact model of one. It’s not strictly a Buddhist cartoon, though it clearly contains elements from Buddhism. It is a collection of elements and themes from various Asian religions and philosophies, but not one singular representation. But what’s most interesting for me is that in many cases the show reflects Christian concepts, particularly love and self-sacrifice.
Take for example Aang’s self-sacrifice. I recognize that love of thy neighbor is not exactly isolated to the Christian religion, but in Buddhism, at least (and Aang, after all, is a Buddhist monk), the highest ideal is spiritual enlightenment. Spiritual enlightenment cannot be attained by killing another. Aang is instructed by previous Avatars that this is what he must do. He must forgo the attainment of Nirvana in order to save the world. It is a beautiful, if clearly nuanced, picture of the work of Christ.
All religions are not equal. I am distinctly orthodox on this point. There is only one way to heaven and only one name for salvation: Jesus Christ. Yet my appreciation of art is not limited to only those that blatantly represent this truth. I can enjoy all art that reflects the truths of Scripture, and I can still learn much about my world from those who disagree with my faith. And Avatar: The Last Airbender, Christian or not, is good art!