Pantheism – Hollywood’s Religion of Choice for a Generation Now

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Pantheism – Hollywood’s Religion of Choice for a Generation Now


By ROSS DOUTHAT –   December 20, 2009 –  The New York Times

It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.

AvatarBut not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism – a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi.

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs – a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

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.

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.”

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward – or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it – a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

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Deborah (Discerning the World)

Deborah Ellish is the author of the above article. Discerning the World is an internet Christian Ministry based in Johannesburg South Africa. Tom Lessing and Deborah Ellish both own Discerning the World. For more information see the About this Website page below the comments section.

16 Responses

  1. Elmarie A says:

    Very good article. Thanks Deborah !!!

  2. Elmarie

    It gets worse… An NG pastor is upset that the movie Avatar did not portray pantheism in it’s rawest form and had too much of a fantasy story line. Oh my… I think his article deserves some attention.

    [Edited: Here is the link to article: Cobus van Wyngaard – Avatar Portrays Wonderful World of Perfect Pantheism]

  3. Michael Anthony says:

    From another source – “Al Gore wrote the script for “Avatar,” not James Cameron….”

    Ted Baeher is an excellent movie critic and has written a powerful statement as to the dangerous message contained in that film: ‘Avatar’: Pagan, communist, anti-American, insane.

    “If you think this sounds as if Al Gore wrote the script for “Avatar,” not James Cameron, you may be right. This theme of kill all the humans, especially the pro-American, capitalist humans, has long been an underlying message of the left-wing, environmentalist movement, beginning with Rachel Carson’s hysterical plea to ban DDT, even though, to this day, there is no evidence that DDT is harmful to humans or the environment, and even though the use of DDT can save millions of human lives from the deadly disease of malaria.

    “For hundreds of years, the pagan, communist ideas expressed in this movie circulated among a threadbare group of outcasts with dirty fingernails and greasy hair, who shared their obtuse, occult ideas amongst themselves with manic, alienated glee. Now, James Cameron has made these insane views the major bulwark of a very spectacular movie, but the spectacle does not make these Neo-Marxist views any more coherent, rational or uplifting.”

    [Edited: Just edited comment and moved url link a bit further down so it fits in the scolling comments nicely”

  4. >> Al Gore wrote the script for “Avatar,” not James Cameron


  5. Michael Anthony says:

    Watch this

    Qoute from an article:

    The Avatar, master over the elements, is really Lucifer, the angel of light. Just as the Avatar has power over the 4 elements, Lucifer has power over Satan (also known as the Demi-urge). According to the Illuminati, he will ultimately free us from the physical elements so that we can merge with him as one collective consciousness.

    Maitreya also claims the title of “Avatar”. He is admittedly the servant of Lucifer inasmuch as his movement’s founder, Benjamin Creme, is an admitted Luciferian. Just like Nimrod was a Luciferian- Satanist and his wife as well.’

    —- When I read this I thought ‘OK’… interesting insight but then look at the rest of the article

    These guys do a nice job on giving a plausible outline to avatar but then implode when they deny that Christ rose bodily from grave and completely distort the Nicene creed. More false teachers exposing false teachers.

  6. Yolandi says:

    Most Hollywood movies have some sort of evil lurking in them esp fantasy films …Harry Potter is about spells and magic any kind of witchcraft is unbiblical . Also animations like monsters inc for ex is another way for satan to come in and toy with our children’s minds.

  7. Michael

    >> Lucifer has power over Satan (also known as the Demi-urge)

    Oh yes I saw this in one of those sacred texts that never made it into the Bible. It was called the book of rubbish. lol

  8. cecilia says:

    went to see “Avatar”. want to go again, this time with a pen and scribbler. oh, what lingered with me is the group meditation … and the witch in control… with forefather worship.

    overall the film is about mass mind control. fullstop.

    but I want to go see it again and write down; for now I’ll read up about it and the writer etc.

    what it plain to see – it hit the movies at the right time…

    only thing worthwhile afterward: you can keep the nice 3D-glasses!

  9. C

    I did think about going to see it, but I’ll wait for it to come out on dvd. Actually maybe I should go see it, then I can get a really good idea on just how bad it is.

  10. David says:

    Avatar’s Christian theme – By Mark Silk from spiritual-politics blog

    Avatar – More Spiritual Than You’d Think
    You Can’t See Nothing If You Close Your Eyes – by Mike Furches

    The True Avatar by Lane Palmer

  11. David

    I went to check out the links and commented there. I am placing the same comment I made there, here:

    Note that I did not put in the comment on the above blogs:

    What I find unbelievable is these websites are supposedly christian and the authors are mostly pastors. Yeah, ok, I know I say it’s unbelievable when I write over and over again that this is to be expected. But still I am shocked on a daily basis because even I battle to come to terms with what’s happening in the world. Everyone has come out of their fake christian closets and are running after other gods. The problem is they took the label that was stuck to the outside of their closet that said ‘I am a Christian’ with them when they should have torn it up at the same time they tore up their bibles.

    Comment made: 3 Jan 2010, by Discerning the World on the following blogs:

    * spiritual-politics
    * hollywoodjesus
    * youthministry

    This movie is in no way Christian. Just because someone allures to the the name of Grace and Augustine and being ‘born again twice’ means absolutely nothing except that it was placed there for deception and millions of people are fallng for it.

    The tree of life in the middle is the goddess of ‘mother earth’ who has many many names. Call it want you want but it’s not God who’s ONLY Son is Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins – for those who want to believe and humble themselves before HIM and repent. Our King of Kings, Lord of Lords who will return to judge mankind of it’s wickedness.

    This movie instead elevates man to the level of God. The same thing the devil did in Genesis 3. The God of the Bible says YOU shall worship NO other gods BUT HIM.

    So this article by ROSS DOUTHAT from the NTY is 100% correct.

    Also ROMAN CATHOLICISM IS NOT CHRISTIAN. I am so tired of Biblical Christians, born again Christians being lumped into the same category as Roman Catholicism. ROME worships the goddess Mary, or Queen of Heaven, or Mother Earth call ‘her’ what you want, BUT she is NOT the GOD of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    The tree in the centre is also the Tree of Life (Kabbalah or Eastern religion meditation and your Chakras or Westernised contemplative spirituality) that is nothing but satanic. God told Adam and Eve to NOT eat from this tree. If they were punished what on earth does mankind think is going to happen to them? God is a God of WRATH to those who disobey Him and do NOT love Him. He is however a GOD of Love to those who obey Him and accept and believe in His ONLY BEGOTTEN SON Jesus Christ. Chose another god or another false Christ and you are on your way to eternal punishment; of course turning around and repenting of ones sin and wanting to change your life through JESUS CHRIST brings instant forgivenes and salvation.

    This movie has this Tree at the centre, which is the Tree of KNOWLEDGE and the alien people worship the tree (mother nature) – they are connected to ‘her’ as one.

    This movie was released with perfect timing, and it has nothing to do with Christmas (and I am not referring to the Catholic SUN god 25th Dec births of false gods). It has everything to do with the Copenhagen meeting that flopped (as was planned).

    Two scenarios presented to the world: A world gathering to start the process of instituting Pantheism in the minds of the people and knowing certain people would disagree as the idea of world socialism and redistribution of wealth is ludicrous. Then releasing a movie that would blow people away with this concept of living in a world that looked like the garden of Eden. Who would not want that? An impossible task and nothing but a LIE because the Word of God tells us otherwise.

    What is going to happen is the ‘spirit’ of world unity and interconnectedness and an awakened consciousness will turn people against one another. As those who are now connected to the goddess are elevated to god level (which is nothing but a delusion of grandeur) and those who refuse to deny Jesus Christ the Son of God will not be on their level and will need to be ‘removed’ because we are nothing but a hindrance to their false plans that will NEVER come to pass anyhow.

    So prepare yourselves for what is to come which is nothing but HORROR unlike anything the world has ever seen. The spirit of happiness and joy that has spread over the world is a mental deception. And when I speak about the ‘spirit’ I am speaking about principalities of evil that are turning people’s minds into waste lands – removing the knowledge of the One true God and replacing it with a ‘new’ knowledge that you can be god and worship yourself instead along with creation.

  12. cecilia says:

    mmmm DTW, i’ve every now and then I allow myself to “remember” what I saw in the movie. I want to ‘highlight’ two things:

    the way is to “connect”, or “to tap into” – in plain common words: to become one. notice the object you “tie” youself / your spirit to, has an immediate effect on you. It might seem that YOU have the control, but in the end this object has the control.

    in the same breath: this (poor) guy was “sent” / “Planted” to get to know this other culture – (like some wants to get to know other religions eg Islam – and end up becoming one with it (her) and defending it (her) to death.

  13. C

    >> the way is to “connect”, or “to tap into” – in plain common words: to become one.

    Yes that’s it.

  14. Amanda

    Cecilia said: >> the way is to “connect”, or “to tap into” – in plain common words: to become one.

    Is that the ‘Singular’ Answer you were looking for hehe

  15. Amanda says:

    Not me! The emerged, now mainstream ones! My dualistic thinking – truth vs lie – is working just fine.

  16. cecilia says:

    yip, agreed! truth lie

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