Christianity and Avatar
John J. Dwyer
by John J. Dwyer
Recently by John J. Dwyer: America
and the Christian Theory of Just War
Right-wingers always relishing someone with whom to fight – here
and abroad – are responding to James Cameron’s epic, Oscar-favored
film Avatar with disgust, as I suspected they would.
I concur, meanwhile, with the view of a mature and theologically
sound evangelical campus minister friend: "I was rooting for
I can understand why some non-Christian conservatives would not
like the messages of Avatar. But Bible-believing professors
of Christ are another matter. Do I believe Cameron is off
base with the pagan animism he evinces in Avatar, and headed
for hell personally unless he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ?
Yes. It is tragic that so gifted and passionate an artist
is not imbued with the love of God; his talents could create an
enormous platform for him to deliver Christ-honoring messages.
But alas, God does not usually choose to work through such folks,
does He? "Not many wise…powerful…noble," and all that.
So I support discussions of Avatar that enfold Cameron's
"religion" and its flaws and dangers. That being said, recent
attacks by professing believers – some of them Christians working
in or around the motion picture industry – accusing the film of
being "Anti-America, Anti-Military" announce the speakers’ own cultural
and nationalistic idolatry, if not their ignorance of the gospel
itself. Of course, if a Christian chooses Fox News, Sean Hannity,
Ann Coulter books, and National Review magazine as their
primary news sources, they'll be surprised to learn that our country's
"military-industrial complex" – to use the famous words of that
war hero and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower – has for generations
acted as Cameron depicts it in Avatar.
Conservatives who deny the undeniable truth of our (often "well-intentioned")
violent, rapacious, money- and power-fueled imperialistic behavior
all over the globe are – well, they need some good teaching of the
true "Christian history" sort. We should be thankful Cameron did
not make Stephen Lang's villainous character in Avatar a
Bible-spouting fundamentalist, as so many of our "noble warriors"
actually are. (I was particularly struck by the recent story
of a leading American arms manufacturer engraving Bible verses inside
the barrels of the guns it made to kill people with.)
Christians moan and groan over the Church's ineffectual impact
on the world in general and our country in particular. Christians
who make (tax-deductible) money off other Christians moan the loudest
about it. But why should a holy God honor the efforts of fools?
(The biblical sense of a fool is one who refuses to learn.)
Those spouting "Anti-America, Anti-Military" epithets about
Avatar – and other recent films that criticized our tragic
attack on Iraq – behave as stubborn, stiff-necked fools, and place
themselves in the perilous role of opposing the Christian gospel
of peace, humility, gentleness, purity, sacrifice, suffering, repentance,
reconciliation, and redemption. So far as they labor in that
direction, they act as enemies of Jesus – not because they criticize
non-Christian films, but because of the unbiblical views they hold
that animate this portion of their criticism.
Let us criticize those aspects of James Cameron's work – and anyone
else's – that fall short of Scriptural precepts. And let us
learn from such work when it casts light on our own blindness.
We Christians who elect and re-elect warmongering politicians; who
sacrifice our sons to serve as hired killers for Caesar; who confuse
and terrify a watching world of unbelievers as we baptize our brutal
military colossus with Christian symbols, imagery, song, and emotion;
who cow our own pulpits into silence when they should be aflame
with holy zeal and jealousy for God over such wicked idolatry –
we are the villains of Avatar.
Christians should be men and women enough to own up to our shortcomings
and assess where we need work to become more conformed to the image
of Christ (Isn't that what we teach our children and grandchildren?),
even when God chooses to use His enemies and ours to teach us some
of those lessons. After all, He was no friend of the Assyrians,
Babylonians, Persians, or Romans, as is evidenced by "Where are
they now?" But He used them all in His sovereign, Providential
plan for sanctifying His people.
As I wrote seven years – and a couple of wars – ago, it is past
time for the followers of Jesus Christ to put down our M-16s and
to go forth into all the world with John 3:16 as soldiers of the
cross and not Caesar.
J. Dwyer [send him mail]
as Adjunct Professor of History at Southern Nazarene University
and Oklahoma City Community College. He is former chairman of history
at Coram Deo Academy near Dallas, Texas. He is author of the historical
War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War. His
website includes a five-minute preview video about the
book. He is also the author of the historical novels Stonewall
E. Lee, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort
Worth Heritage newspaper. He is currently working on the comprehensive
history The Oklahomans: The Story of Oklahoma and Its People.
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