Avatar: Chicken Soup for the Lost Souls?

The only thing worse than a bad sore throat is a nagging, unfinished thought. As I sit here sick in my apartment, I can’t stop thinking about something one of my professors said yesterday.

One of my courses this semester is called Religion and Film. It’s a cool class. We basically watch movie clips and analyze the themes (specifically religious ones, of course) and agendas behind them. The main professor of the class is really funny and extremely intelligent, but unfortunately he can be a little abrasive in his sarcasm and will subtly bash various religions, including the one with Jesus as the center. It is a little tough, because the inner bear inside me desires to leap out at those moments, but that is also fraught with the difficulty of the multitudes of enlightened, oh-so-tolerant college students also in the room who, for one reason or another, are quite hostile to the idea of God (Now, there are a number of people in there who are Christians or believe in God in some shape or form. However, many of the comments students have been stating in class are some of the biggest stereotypes laden within Christian circles, thanks to the phony preachers who don’t love Jesus enough to turn away from their personal problems).

Yesterday the main subject of the lecture was Avatar. Most people have seen Avatar, and most people enjoy Avatar. Who doesn’t want to be a blue giant and have a strange plug behind your head that connects to anything except your iPod? But when you actually analyze Avatar, it doesn’t take long to see there are a TON of themes throughout the movie: religious, historical, political, social, etc.

One theme my professor, who actually made fun of the movie in an amusing manner, pointed out was the fact that people in America are turning away from conventional religion (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) for more less structured, new age-like spirituality. This is why so many people loved Avatar – the deep connection with nature was quite appealing. After briefly discussing why Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) may not emphasize nature as being super important, he stated, and I quote, “People are now looking for a deep connection with nature.” He then went on to talk about some of the historical American themes for the rest of the class.

Did you catch that?? “People are now looking for a deep connection with nature.”

I wish he would have discussed his quote more, though! We are in a humanities class. I wish we’d actually talk about human behavior more (Calm down, inner bear)!!

His quote is so crucial because it doesn’t deny the fact that humans are always looking for a deep connection with something. I don’t think this is worth a shrug, nor do I think this is a coincidence. When I say a deep connection I mean a fulfilling connection that completes the innermost needs of the human existence and gives it purpose.

And what is so interesting about humanity is that for our deepest desires and thoughts, we have a sense of spirituality. Why else would there so many religions and “ways to God”? Some people turn to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. Some people simply become non-religious and declare themselves as agnostics, atheists, or something else. Because of our industrial level and growing modernity, more and more Americans are becoming non-religious (satisfying technology has a way of making us forget God).

What gets nasty is when our sin mixes into this hole in our hearts. We try out different religions, try out different stuff, and when our consumerism kicks in we move on and on until we find what best fits us. And we stay there. No surprise everyone wonders what their purpose is. Some people wonder until the day they die. I think everyone would agree that an individual’s entire life purpose is bigger than their present moment. Why then, do we chase after instant gratification so hard when deep down we want to be apart of something bigger that actually matters?

What’s ironic is that as civilizations and peoples move on to accept different ideologies, the people themselves are largely left unchanged. Yay, Republican policy!! Our economy sucks. Yay, Democratic policy!! Our economy still sucks. End world hunger? I definitely support that. Most people don’t donate a significant amount of money consistently. Avatar was amazing! Yay, unity with nature!! The large majority of people are still not environmentalists or donating activists.

Because of our sinfulness, we idolize ‘feeling good,’ and consequently we’ll gravitate to whatever makes us feel good and just put a new slogan on it. One cannot escape that the heart’s deepest desire is still not satisfied in merely ‘feeling good,’ and the human condition of brokenness is still not fixed.

And we become despaired. When our idols and objects of worship fail us, it destroys us. Our plan of satisfaction gets stopped shortThis points to the fact that our deepest yearnings for intimacy and significance are too heavy for material things and other forms instant gratification. As human beings our expectations are too big. But not to God. Not to Jesus Christ.

“Nothing can bear the weight of our expectations except for God.” – Mark Driscoll.

God is the only one who can carry us and give us purpose and significance because he designed it to be that way. You are hungry, because you were designed to eat. You value family and friends because you were designed to be in relationship with others. In the same way, you want to find out your purpose because you were designed to have one. As I said before, none of this is coincidence. It points directly to God being our sustainer and redeemer forever.

In 1 Samuel 2:2 we hear, “There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.” And there really isn’t. In other religions, you have to do something to get into some sort of afterlife, or there is some set of rituals in order to please Krishna, Allah, etc. Not so with Christianity. There is nothing you can do to earn salvation. Even if you had to appease God, you couldn’t. Your sin blocks you from him. Instead, a God of love gets glory from himself, and he delightfully offers us the gift of love and grace in the person of Jesus Christ. In the end, he gets delight and glory when we accept his gift and love him back. We find purpose in him as we grow to know him. Lastly, it’s not about what we get from God. It’s about who he is, and the fact that he loved us first (1 John 4:19).

Can you tell me of any other religion that is like that?

Often people get offended when they hear that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6), but if that statement is true what does that mean about other religions and other gods we find? None of them will ever grant you salvation, and none of them will ever love you first and come through your mistakes and vices to give you true life.

Some people have found satisfaction in another religion or something else. You might be one of them, and you might be quite comfortable and complacent where you are. You are in a dangerous position. Let me ask you something: Do you believe what you do because of what it does for you? Satan may have persuaded you to put this veil over your eyes so you don’t see the truth. Jesus, on the other hand, is where worry ends, and he is where purpose begins and continues.

Are you satisfied in where you are in life, or are you searching? If you’re a Christian, are you satisfied solely with who God is, or are you hiding behind the label to chase after your own wants?

Check out what Moses said to the Israelites one time: “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.” Deuteronomy 4:33-35

I know this was a long post, so thanks for reading!

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