Now that most of the world has taken the chance to see the movie Avatar, it can be examined in a more thorough way.
Most people know by now, that Avatar while a novel experience for the viewer, is not a novel or unique story… at least at it most basic premise. It is the age old story of cultures clashing, of invaders gaining an appreciation for the new, of individuals deciding that there are better ways of viewing reality than they have always considered. In that sense it is Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, and every other Native American story of the past twenty years.
However, where as most of those stories are thinly veiled attempts of liberal ideology to critique and condemn western culture, this film takes it to a whole new scale. This is not one “culture” encountering another “culture” and discovering a new perspective. It is humanity discovering the perspective of another creature. We are also used to this story having seen it in War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Signs, and so many other alien invasion stories. We are just not used to looking at our own humanity in this light.
In this sense, it is much more like the C. S. Lewis novel “Out of the Silent Planet.” That story uses a similar premise to explore the sinful nature of humanity, and what creatures would possibly look and act like if they had never turned against the creator. (Sully's experiences as he learns to live in another culture with another language are also especially fascinating to anyone who has gone through that experience for real.)
The spirituality is where the analysis falls apart for the Christian viewer. The aliens of Pandora are keenly in tune with their god and live according to its established order. It is not a religion as we see in our fallen existence, but rather a relationship with their god. Unfortunately, the film’s idea of reality is not one with a rational creator personality, but rather a mindless Gaia, a Mother Earth (Pandora?); it is the planet that is god in this story.
As Christians, we can agree with many of the ideas this story presents: there is a God, spirituality is a more valid perspective on life than materialism, creatures should live as the creator designed them to, there are things worth fighting for, imperialism is wrong, and so is pacifism. However, we need to be able to point out the differences between nature worship and a relationship with creation’s creator.