Mark Driscoll on Avatar
Please post your considered theological reflections on this clip. Please keep your comments kind. Mark Driscoll is a Christian brother whose heart is to walk God's way in God's world. Please keep that in mind when you offer your reflections on his views here.
I've been following your blog for a while now so it's about time I commented on something. Thanks for so many interesting and humourous posts!
It's encouraging that Mark Driscoll embraces the arts, but a shame that he does so in what I regard as such an unimaginative way. Primarily I'm thinking of what appears to be his reduction of story to ideology and worldview. The film is, in his words, nothing more than 'a sermon preached'. To my mind, this refelcts an approach to the arts that is fundamentally a misidentification of genre. One that allows no room for the imagination to be exercised. One that sees fantasy as inherently demonic.
Despite what I've just said, even engaging the film on Mark's own terms doesn't have to yield the same theological critique. Many of his charges against Avatar seem to be against it's non-literal representation of what he sees as biblical types. The 'false mediator witch', 'false resurrection', 'false worship', false 'divine' in whose eyes we're not sinners but 'disconnected'. Perhaps the most startling comparision is his charge of a 'false incarnation where a man comes in to be among a people group and to assume their identity. It's a false Jesus.' (That sounds pretty Chrisitan to me, albeit when one sets aside the Christological problems of trying to take the symbolism of the human-Nu'vi Avatar too far. If one were so inclined!)
By his own logic I would estimate that Mark holds 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' as even more demonic because of Lewis' 'worldview' that a big lion will one day save us. Yet somehow I suspect Mark values highly The Chronicles of Narina. In contrast it seems to me that, by Mark's own account, this film touches on numerous biblical motifs and that all the above could be taken in a very positive light.
It doesn't seem clear to me that the film denies our cultural mandate. Certainly it highlights a contrast of cultures, but the Nu'vi are not cultureless. They have technology too. Rather, Cameron seems to present the negative potential of technological innovation for our relations to the 'other', be that environment, species, races. That scores of millions of dollars were spent developing the latest cinematic technology, and powering the machines behind the film's production is ironic, but surely something Cameron was well aware of, and we should be too before we assume he is criticising what Christians believe to be their 'cultrual mandate'.
Granted, the film does probe the boundaires of the creator-creature distinction. But it seem to me that Eywa is distinctly 'other'. She is interceeded to, and ultimately acts to save the people that cry out to her. This is clearly presented as the climax of the film and is a distincly non-pantheist moment. Millinerd has blogged well about this and written a helpful review: http://www.millinerd.com/2010/01/eywa-saves.html
Avatar is full of metaphor (albeit that they are a bit patronising). Taking literalistc meaning from them is taking them too far. The Narnia example that theologyaesthetics quotes summarises the problem Driscoll has made for himself.
in terms of an analysis of his argument there is another issue in this neighbourhood:
The discussion of Avatar is introduced to illustrate that the world system draws us towards selfishness, using people for our glory consumerism, etc. (note the link: "If you don't believe me, go see Avatar")
However, it is not clear how any of his observations on Avatar serve to demonstrate the main point. They list things he is concerned about in the movie but not consumerism, selfishness, using people, etc.
Not sure how to change my OpenID but it's Daniel Cooling here. You may remember me from the 'Beyond Paley' conference, and recommending Jensen's 'Face to Face' to me. I've been keeping a low profile for a few years but have decided to start a little bit of blogging. Pop over to my site sometime.
I take more of a middle road. I enjoyed watching AVATOR in 3D while I held some caution. I enjoyed the action, plot and special effects. I also clearly saw the Hindu and Native American religious themes, which falls into the category of paganism and classical pantheism. Some of those religious themes were extraordinarily dear to me during my childhood and adolescence. In my extreme case, my adolescent paganism helped to lead me to psychotic delusions with audio and visual hallucinations before I got saved.
Various points of Hinduism include: Avatars are incarnate Hindu deities; Krishna, the greatest Hindu avatar was blue; lack of a personal almighty creator. And the reverence for animals slaughtered for food comes from some Native American religions. And the US displacement of Native Americans was also a dominant theme in the movie, and I'm not suggesting that such criticism is unwarranted.
I struggle with this at various levels. For example, satanism and witchcraft is a real life problem while accusations during the 1980's and 1990's including accusations against the entertainment industry went overboard, while earlier times in history also saw hyped accusations of witchcraft. And these hyped accusations along with the escalating American culture war instigated many Christians to veer of course of God's priorities in the Great Commission.
Another problem is drawing the line with science fiction and fantasy. For example, many Christians like Star Wars while nobody I know denies that the science fiction universe in Star Wars smacks of pagan New Age and classical pantheism. However, for many of us, Star Wars has enough good about good and evil that we remain fans. And many Christian Star War fans say that "Harry Potter movies would never show in my house", presumably because of too much blatant pagan witchcraft. And then there's the Chronicles of Narnia, which included one "good wizard scene" while awesome dominant Christian symbolism encourages most Christians including myself to blind an eye to a scene one scene I prefer never existed. And then there's Gandalf in The Lord of Rings, which many Christians embrace. I also like The Lord of Rings. So were do Christians draw the line?
I'll focus on cautiously dialoging about the movie Avatar instead completely condemning it. And I wish Mark Driscoll would incorporate various details in the bigger picture about science fiction and fantasy.
That said, I'm concerned that many Avatar fans suffer blues because they don't live in the fantasy called "Pandora". See the article below:
The ambiguity you mention is interesting. Christians do tend to enjoy C.S. Lewis and Tolkein because they were Christians but both of them very overtly drew on pagan myths in constructing their fantasy works.
Two thoughts for further study (note to self).
1. Several previous comments rightly raise this point - that there is an issue to do with understanding genre here (and the fantasy genre in particular). Grappling with how that genre relates to 'the real world' requires some sensitivity and nuance. NOBODY thinks that it is trying to offer a realistic vision of reality. Yet it is clearly seeking to engage our reality. Lewis and Tolkein (and George MacDonald) wrote on this issue.
2. A wider point on paganism: all people live in God's world and all people are in God's image. NOBODY is completely wrong about everything. There are genuine insights into God's world found amongst all cultures and faiths. Witness the way that OT scriptures feel free to draw on pagan myths and ideas in setting forth their own vision of reality.
So Christians do not have to reject every aspect of pagan religions even if we wish to be very discerning and to only appropriate insights 'through Christ'. Such appropriation requires great care but it is, nonetheless, not wrong in and of itself.
This was the approach of Lewis and Tolkein to paganism (as well as the biblical writers and early church fathers).
So even if we grant pagan influences in Avatar that does not require that Christians reject the baby with the bathwater.
In a nutshell - I am with you.
I don't know why this particular video of Driscoll's is going round the web, he has said some pretty scary stuff in the past.
What strikes me is the misreading of what a 'Mars Hill' church might be. Paul's sermon in Athens uses the language, imagery, literature, spirituality and even the mythos of his host culture, and doesn't even mention Jesus by name.
Instead, Driscoll sets up a confrontational relationship with the world. I would much rather see the movie as a rather adolescent rage against the machine (as you rightly comment, the movie appears to be much more against 'homo consumens' than Driscoll is), which is a great place to start a conversation.
Is technology good or evil? Are we destined to destroy earth? How can we have a more balanced relationship with our planet? And where can we find the motivation to make the necessary sacrifices? I'm sure that Paul would see the positive in this and leap off from there.
Keep up the good thoughts,