When I saw the trailers for Avatar, the first thought that went through my head was “I gotta see this one.” But when I read the early reviews (which can be summarized as “all effects and a predictable story”) I figured I’d save my money. Then after it opened I started reading some other reviews attacking its “religious content” and I knew I had to see it for myself. So Cathy and I went to see it today.

It was awesome. Visually, it was beautiful. The effects were great, but they were woven into the story – they didn’t overwhelm it. Yes, some of the characters were stereotypes, but they were plausible. Yes, it perpetuated the “noble savage” myth, which has largely been disproved. But the central theme of the movie – that all living things are connected – is both powerful and highly appropriate for our world and our time.

That’s the extent of my review. Now I want to talk about some of the other comments.

Gus diZerega keeps a Pagan blog on Beliefnet. He calls Avatar “a very Pagan movie” – and I totally agree. He also says “how people react to it enables the movie to serve often as a Rorschach of their soul.” If they’re offended that corporations and mercenaries are the villains, then maybe they need to look a little deeper inside themselves and their values.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times whines that Avatar is another case of Hollywood promoting pantheism, citing Dances With Wolves, The Lion King, and of course, the Jedi of the Star Wars movies. He says “Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them.” You think there might be a reason for that, Ross? You think maybe people feel a call to Nature, since our modern world has done such a good job of alienating us from her? Douthat uses the Problem of Evil to claim that pantheism is an inferior religion, ignoring the fact that the form of Christianity he promotes simply claims that whatever their god wants is by definition “good” and therefore he’s not responsible for evil.

And Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times uses the movie to clamor for victim status for the majority religion of this country. He says “We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers.” No, Jonah, if the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics the movie would be pointless and no one would watch it.

There’s a reason why Douthat, Goldberg, and others are complaining about Avatar – they feel threatened. In the “marketplace of religions” conservative religions (despite the noise they make, and the very real damage they do in some parts of the world) are losing and liberal religions – including the ever-popular “spiritual but not religious” – are winning.

And that – like the movie Avatar – is a very good thing.

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  • "In the “marketplace of religions” conservative religions (despite the noise they make, and the very real damage they do in some parts of the world) are losing and liberal religions – including the ever-popular “spiritual but not religious” – are winning."

    Really? Then I guess that Unitarian*Universalism can't be much of a liberal religion since its membership levels are tiny to begin with, stagnant if not declining, and few Americans are "buying" what The U*U Movement is "selling" in the religious "marketplace of religions".

    Am I wrong?

    Is UUA President Peter Morales being "less than truthful" when he describes Unitarian*Universalism as a "tiny. declining, fringe religion"? I am all for liberal religions winning in the religious marketplace but I just don't see that happening with Unitarian*Universalism. Do you?

    And just how *liberal* are U*Us anyway? When U*Us behave in ways that justify me referring to them as Totalitarian Unitarians one has to wonder. . .

    Sorry for the "rant" but please consider it a reality check.

  • Did I forget to mention that ever so "liberal" Unitarian*Universalists do very real damage in *some* parts of the U*U World?

    Interestingly enough, indeed (in) appropriately enough. . . the Google Word Verification Code for this comment is – soiling

    Yes, quite regrettably U*Us are doing their fair share of *soiling* the U*U World and the real world in various ways.

  • Liberal religion IS gaining "market share". Unfortunately for Unitarian Univeralism (and others, including mainline Protestants), many people are bypassing these churches for do-it-yourself spirituality. It remains to be seen if organized liberal religions can reverse this trend.

    It also remains to be seen if do-it-yourself spirituality can provide the guidance and support of established religious organizations.

  • Robin, in another thread you pointed out that I still accept your comments, where many UU bloggers have banned you. I don't get that many comments (I write what I find interesting, not what I think will get a response), so as long as your comments are more or less on-topic and aren't obvious attempts to hijack my blog for your crusade, I welcome them.

    Your first comment, though obviously anti-UU, raises a valid point. Your second comment comes dangerously close to "off topic hijack attempt".

    Personally, I think your crusade is unhelpful in general and unhealthy for you – but that's your business. What's posted on my blog is my business.

  • Is it "anti-UU" to try to get U*Us to wake up and smell the stale Bridgehead Coffee by pointing out to them that they are not quite as "liberal" as they claim to be? I am very much in favor of aka pro the claimed aka *purported* principles and ideals of Unitarian*Universalism so I am hardly "anti-UU". I am esimply xposing and denouncing U*U injustices, abuses, and *hypocrisy* and various other problems of the U*Us. It's called "speaking truth to power" and *prophecy* in most people's books* although *I* call it speaking truth to mediocrity. . .

    I in no way disputed your point that "Liberal religion IS gaining "market share"." I just pointed out that *unfortunately* aka quite *regrettably* for Unitarian Univeralism many people are bypassing U*U churches for any number of reasons. Indeed people are not even "bypassing" U*U churches so much as passing through them after finding them to be "less than welcoming" or otherwise *unsatisfactory*. The don't call The Tiny Dec,lining fringe Religion "the church of the revolving door" for nothing U*U know. . .

    My second comment is very much on-topic. It points out that U*Us are guilty of causing very real damage in the world.

    * Even most U*U's books. U*Us just don't like it very much when the prophetic finger is pointing back towards them, or engaging in a free and (ir)responsible cavity search for the truth and meaning of The U*U Movement. 🙂

  • Some years ago, AM-910 in Dallas was occupied by Air America, the ill-fated liberal attempt to counterbalance right wing talk radio. I gave it a button on my car radio and listened occasionally. When Air America died in Dallas, AM-910 was taken over by Catholic Radio.

    I kept the preset. I figured I'd learn a little about Catholicism and I could practice my responses to some of their more troublesome beliefs and practices.

    All was well until the 2008 election. That's when Catholic Radio became "all abortion all the time". What about poverty? "We must stop abortion!" What about the war in Iraq that the Pope has condemned? "Abortion is murder!" What about health care reform? "Nothing until we outlaw abortion!" While I am pro-choice, I respect the Catholic position on abortion. But the single-issue programming became tiresome, and I mostly stopped listening.

    Robin, you're the UU equivalent of Catholic Radio. Whatever the topic, whatever the question, you turn it into a pulpit to preach the sins and shortcomings of Unitarian Universalism. It became tiresome long ago, and I'm getting close to reprogramming that particular radio button.

    Taken individually, your comments are, at least, not wrong. But taken as a whole, they paint a picture of Unitarian Universalism that is very different from my own experience.

    Like most bloggers, I started this blog to talk about what I think is important. Your on-topic and proportional comments are welcome. Your crusade is not.

  • I think Gus di Zerega's point that an individual's response to Avatar is a Rorschach test is very insightful.

    I've read various responses in the blogosphere amongst pagans and I'm a bit taken aback by some of the negativity. I guess what they are being negative against could be looked at in light of Gus's idea.

    I don't know what my response will be – I haven't seen it yet. Yeah yeah, I know. 😉