Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Avatar and Pantheism

 I was reading an acquaintance's Facebook page recently and he had commented on how he had some problems with Avatar, in how it was pantheistic.  And while the thought crossed my mind, as it would yours when you watch the movie, there are deeper, or perhaps shallower interpretations which are far more valid in this case.

When I saw the movie the first time, rather than jump straight to pantheism, I, being vastly more educated on environmentalist philosophies than the average Arkansan, jumped rather to the Gaia Hypothesis.  Part of the Gaia Hypothesis states that the sum total of the organisms and processes on the planet act as a large organism in itself.  

Pantheism on the other hand is the view that the universe and God are identical.  They are the same thing.  Everything is God, God is everything, God is in everything and everything is in God.  More or less.

Avatar is most definitely not an example of pantheism, just as the religion of the Watchtower Society is not monotheism.  The first half of the movie or so, you get the view of the humans for the most part and this is where you'd get the idea that there is a pantheistic philosophy in the movie.  Jake says something to the effect that when you want someone from someone, you make them to be the enemy so you feel justified in taking it.  In the same way the humans made the Na'vi to be terrorists or whatever, they also derided their "religion" calling Eywa their "deity."  The poor primitive savages still believe in a god, how silly and delusional they must be, let's sweep them aside so we can have their unobtainium.

However, Eywa, unlike in pantheism, is not simply everything, is not imagined or part of a religious system, and is not really a deity.  Eywa is a sort of a neural network made up of every tree and plant on the planet acting as neurons and synapses in a brain.  Additionally, most organisms have a way of directly connecting to Eywa through their tentacles (or whatever you call them) in a sort of computer/peripheral sort of relationship.  Instead of Eywa being a philosophical ideal of God, it's a living brain, a living computer which stores information in the form of downloaded thoughts and feelings from the living creatures able to connect at access points such as "The Tree of Souls."

There is really no religious tone whatsoever in the minds of the natives, those actually experiencing it.  The humans, unable to understand the true nature of the system only deride it as such.  Eywa is a real living thing. 

So how do people get the idea that this is pantheism?  Firstly, they start out with their preconceived notions of what the "Hollywood liberal elites" are trying to communicate and ignore the things that actually take place in the movie.  Secondly, they are not very well educated in religion, that is to say, they haven't studied religion much, either their own or others'.  It's very unfortunate that there is a lack of religious education in this country and no, I'm not talking about teaching creation in class, I'm talking about teaching about religion in class.  There is absolutely no prohibition in the constitution or anywhere else that says that there shall be no education regarding the nature, history, existence, or tenets of religion.  But those willing to argue on either side of the issue always want their own propaganda inserted into said education and thus the war goes on between the secular progressives and the religious fundamentalists.  We, like countries in Europe need rounded education that tells us about world religions.  Without it, we are just asking to make more worldwide political blunders because we don't understand the people.

I'm here to say, I'm a religious progressive, but it does depend on your definition of religious.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post on what religion really is.

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