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Avatar: Environmentalist Manifesto, or Retelling of the Gospel?

So, I realize I'm a bit late to be getting on the Avatar train, and as such, probably someone else has addressed this and potentially done a far better job than I will. Still, Story is kind of my life; and though I've been immersed in a great number of stories over the last two months, I feel that Avatar provides a unique opportunity to engage in some story analyzation. Which, if you know me, is one of my most favorite activities in the world.

I went to see Avatar yesterday with my parents, who came into to Austin from San Antonio to hang with me, since all three of us are STILL looking for jobs in Texas. (Curse you, economy!!)
Anyway, we debated on a few options, but went with Avatar, and I have to say, I really didn't know what I was in for. I knew that there were blue people, and the premise of humans using Avatars to communicate with the Na'vi. (Btw, let me insert this sidebar here, before I get too immersed: Navi is actually the Hebrew word for prophet [and one of about ten words I remember from my semester of intro to Biblical Hebrew courtesy of Dr. Bolger.]) But I wasn't quite prepared to have it invoke such strong reactions in me, even knowing that I tend to be a little more sensitive to stories than some people.

Afterward, I scrambled to make sense of why I got so drawn into the movie. Was it because it was visually stunning? Was it because it appealed to the greenie in me? Or was it something even a little deeper?

Eleven years ago this April, I attended a convocation at my college where the speaker used another James Cameron epic as an illustration that would change my life. He used the movie "Titanic" to explain the gospel, and the Gospel to make sense of the success of "Titanic." I had never heard anyone do anything like that before, and it shaped the way I forever looked at stories. Now I'm going to do the same thing for Avatar. (**Incidentally, if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the story spoiled, you should probably stop reading right here.**)

According to that speaker (John Eldredge), the gospel can be broken down as a four act play. I've heard of others using five and six acts, but I'm going to stick to JE's four for now:
Act One, Eternal love. Act Two, The Entrance of Evil. Act Three, The Battle for the Heart. Act Four, The Kingdom Restored.

Act One isn't just about Eden. It's about a world that was created out of the love and community of the Trinity. So for Avatar, it's not just about how Pandora echoes Eden. It's about the Na'vi and their connectedness. I don't want to overchiristianize a story that was probably never intended to be understood as a Christian story. But I think here are spiritual truths to be gleaned, as well as some amazing spiritual imagery.
On Pandora, the Na'vi care about each other, they care about the other creatures, and they care for their world. There's something about the way they live which hearkens back to the charge given Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Act Two was what really got me agitated. There's always a villain in our epic stories, because there's a villain woven into our own Story as well. Just as Satan tempted Eve and brought about the destruction of paradise, Pandora has it's villains also. And oh, how I hated them. Parker Selfridge was the calculating company man after the bottom line, and Colonel Miles Quaritch was the militant head of security bent on crushing any opposition. They both profess to be willing to try diplomacy first, but their tactics and habit of depersonalizing the Na'vi as "savages" and "blue monkeys" illustraated their true motives.
I really, truly hated Quartich in a way I've not hated a villain in a long time. Often bad guys are complex, manipulative, selfish, and even crazy; Quartich was simply evil. He was single-minded in his purpose and committed to his worldview that taking the mineral "unobtanium" was his job, his right, and took delight in destrying anything that got in his way. As such, he embodied a description of our Enemy as given to us by Jesus: "The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy." Yep, those were pretty much Quartich's objectives, and he enjoyed it.

Act Three is the battle. It's also the part of the story we're all in right now in our larger Story. In Avatar, it took Jake Sully sacrificing his place with the humans to rally the Na'vi. It was a people united to fight together. The battle was fierce and brutal. And perhaps you noticed as I did that like many epics, there was a tipping point. There's always a moment where everything looks lost for the good guys--heroes are dying or on the brink, and it looks like good will be defeated. It is only then, when everything is darkest, does the tide turn.

Act Four is the Kingdom Restored. In other words, the good guys win. Things go back to being good again. This is really a crucial point of any epic. Perhaps not all heroes live to see the kingdom restored. But their deaths were not in vain; much good comes of the battles they fought and the lives they gave. In Avatar, the mercenaries are sent packing and Pandora once again belongs to the Na'vi. And Jake, the hero, dies in his human form and is reborn as one of them.

I feel like I could draw so many more spiritual parallels from Avatar than environmental ones. I mean, yes, the message could be boiled down to "you can't take whatever you want, just because you want it," which is something every two year old ought to be taught. Though the religion of Pandora was denounced by the Vatican recently and certainly isn't Christianity, there were some interesting symbols. There was the Tree of Souls, of course--a holy tree to that people; and the way Jake's avatar was covered in the "seeds of Eywa" was akin to a baptism.

Let me end by saying this: "Avatar" is by no means a Christian film. That said, if you or someone you know enjoyed it, you can certainly draw spiritual parallels and truths from it. As Arthur holms said, "All truth is God's truth." If you have friends who need to hear (or be reminded of) the gospel and who like Avatar, don't be afraid to use the story to point to Christ, and our place in the larger Epic we're all in.