Monday, December 28, 2009

Hollywood pantheism

Here's an interesting review of the SF movie Avatar. It suggests that the religion of the natives is pantheism, "Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now". The review reminds me of something C. S. Lewis wrote in Miracles:

Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance. ... And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back -- I would have done so myself if I could -- and proceed no further with Christianity. An "impersonal God" -- well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads -- better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap -- best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband -- that is quite another matter.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Sabio Lantz said...

3 Marketing points come to mind as you compare a pantheistic deity to C.S.Lewis' deity:

(1) It makes you feel very important and significant -- probably more that the pantheist god. That would be a good market tool

(2) It could also pursue you if it doesn't like you. Bad market scheme unless taught from an early age. Guilt works wonders.

(3) Pantheist god demands personal responsibility. Tough to sell.

Knowing Thomas said...

On the bright side, Avatar was an awesome movie.

Karl said...


I am not sure if it makes you feel important and significant is a valid comparison; just about all personal belief systems tend to do that. Even pantheism; Jim's post makes that point clear: The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance.

As for Number 2, if I followed your logic I suppose police forces and governments would be a tough sale.

And Pantheist god demands personal responsibility. Tough to sell; is just plain odd. I think the story of Adam and Eve and the entire Biblical concept of free will shows that C.S.Lewis' deity, as you refer to Him, holds the individual human being as being ultimately responsible for his/her own actions. In fact, the Bible is full of passages that drive that point home:

Sabio Lantz said...


Thanks for your concern. After posting, I realized that I was sloppy in labeling what belonged to what. My bad. So here it is hopefully more clearly.

Lewis' God: Pursues and punishes, not only pursues in love
Avatar God: Leaves you alone unless you have enough personal responsibility to engage.

Lewis' God: Pursues so you feel important.
Avatar God: Cares not about your personally, so one has to feel important without a god.

I have written about this contrast in my Monkey vs. Cat God post too.

Thanks for helping me clarify. Hope that was better.

Karl said...


People can punish other people out of love. When a child does something wrong what does the parent do but punish the child; that doesn't mean that the parent doesn't love the child. The Christian God is also referred to as our Heavenly Father and like any good parent He will punish his children when they misbehave.

Also, the Pantheist God is beneath human beings; in other words it is subordinate to human will. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap -- best of all as Jim put it. The idea that you are superior to God and can bend his power to your will would make anybody feel important. On the other hand, the Christian God is traditionally depicted as a king, a sovereign, an emperor. A peasant can ask the king for a favor, beg him to do something; but the king is under no obligation to acquiescence to the request or to even give the peasant an answer. And if the peasant tries to force his will on the king, well let’s just say there will be repercussions for the peasant. In other words: Pantheism = mold the universe to your will; Christianity (and most other religions for that matter) = mold yourself to the will of the universe. Follow?

Also, the king and the peasant is a much more accurate analogy then the cat metaphor; unlike a baby cat that does nothing the average Christian has duties they are expected to perform. Like a peasant farmer is expected to till the land of his landlord we are expected to spread the faith; like a soldier sworn to defend his country we are expected to defend the faith (just to give a couple of examples). And just like a peasant has laws to obey and taxes to pay the average Christian has Divine Laws they are expected to adhere to. They are expected to tithe; I could go on but I am sure you get the idea. We are not a cat religion. We are a monarchical religion; a social contract that was forged between God and Abraham and all those that followed in Abraham’s wake.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Karl

(1) You "good parent" model doesn't take the scary away when Yahweh makes it clear that he plans for the vast, vast majority of all his little children (humans) to burn and suffer for eternity. But I may be mistaken, you may be a Mormon Christian or a Universalist Christian and give your scriptures a very different twist.

(2) In Pantheism there is a bit of a caveat, I think, for bending the will of the divine in the "wrong" way. I think those traditions often often have preferred direction that the divine let's itself be used. So I do follow, but I think you over-shot your simplification a bit too much.

(3) Concerning the "duties" of the "average Christian" has. I guess that depends on your flavor of Christianity too. Many species of Calvanism see no duties that come from free volition. But you are right in that the faith-works tension is big in Paul's religion because of how strong the total grace issue is played up. -- You are right that the bible is filled with the monarchical metaphor -- an outdated political system, seen as corrupt for centuries. Odd, that ! Smile.

gregchaos said...

Pantheism actually begins to make rational sense once you fit a big missing piece back into the cosmic jigsaw puzzle. This is the conscious Sun, something intuitively recognized by every culture until the Church, not science, forcibly erased it.

What brings life to our bodies is energy. Stars make their own energy fields as they release the light of life to the likes of us. Everything from an atom upwards has an energy field. Dive deeper at

Karl said...


And I suppose Hitler or Stalin deserve a slap on the wrist for their actions instead? Or if you want a more pertinent example, suppose a parent knows that their adult child is a serial killer. Now should the parent cover this fact up or report it to the police? If they cover it up the child keeps doing evil; if they report it there is a very good chance the child will be executed. Which action would make them a good parent, in your opinion?

So you say that you think those traditions often often have preferred direction that the divine let's itself be used. That still means Pantheism views God as beneath and subordinate to humanity. The point still stands.

An outdated political system? You say this despite the fact there are several fully modern countries that still have a monarch (Saudi Arabia, Britain, Japan, these are just a few that spring immediately to mind)? Seen as corrupt for centuries? Well, no surprise; most human governments tend to fall to corruption one way or another. Democracies and Republics can be just as corrupt as any monarchy, if not more so (case in point, the Roman Republic). But anyway, this is not a human government we are talking about. In this case, the sovereign is not a fallible human but the ultimate good and just being, God. And yes there are some Christians that feel they don't have these duties, just like there are a bunch of people who feel like they don't have an obligation to obey the speed limit.

Blythe said...


This is my first post on this blog--if I transgress community norms, please let me know and I'll not do it again.

Avatar struck me as preoccupied with the problem of embodiment in a way that pantheism is not. In fact, it seems that pantheism, with its attribution of pervasive anima demands a certain equality of existence that dissolves the "problem of the body."

But there may be no "pure" practioners of pantheism; the lizard brain insists on survival and the rest of the fancy brain adds a layer of self-importance. Given that, living in a *particular body* is a very high stakes deal and all sorts of magical thinking comes in to play.

Still, I think Christian tradition is very salient in Avatar--that, and the other (non overlapping) magesteria of the west, science.

I'd actually be grateful for any advice or instruction, since I'm not that well versed.

Jim S. said...

Re: the claim that Theism or Christianity makes the believer feel important.

Traditionally, Christianity has taught that the only significance humanity has is derivative. God loves us not because we are lovable or lovely but because he is Love. Thus, the earth was located in the most degraded part of the universe (its center), and didn't move, unlike the heavenly bodies. I've mentioned this before here and here.

Volpeculus said...

@Sabio Lantz:

Fixed this for ya.

Lewis' God: Pursues and loves, pursues and refines you through chastening (like any good parent).
Avatar God: Guilty whites' ripoff of Eastern monism.

Lewis' God: Pursues you to bring out your true potential.
Avatar God: "Cares not..."

Christian God demands personal responsibility. Tough sell!