Monday, May 23, 2011

Repost | The Utopian Myth: Avatar and Pandora Blues

In response to our discussion last night regarding the highest grossing movie of all-time Avatar (Original Theatrical Edition), I thought I would repost the following article I wrote shortly after its theatrical release.  The updated and edited version of this article is available in my book Logizomai: A Reasonable Faith in an Unreasonable World.

I have not seen Avatar. Apparently I am among the few in the world who haven't. When it is released on DVD perhaps I will take the time to watch the film. But I'm in no hurry. I have nothing against the film, the director, the actors, or anything, I just haven't gotten caught up in the Avatar praise. Millions have seen it and it has grossed more than a billion dollars. A movie with such a vast appeal should be considered carefully. Having not seen it, I can only comment on people's reactions to the movie, not the movie itself.

CNN have reported on a trend among many who have seen the film that should surprise us at first, and yet be expected. Many have left the film depressed. The depression is based, not on the films appeal or let down for most have really enjoyed the film, but because of the Utopian world director James Cameron created made up of the nature-loving alien race. The depression is not in the movie itself, but in the reality that the world so brilliantly depicted on screen may never be realized.

The depression is centered on the confusion over reality and fantasy. Those suffering from "Avatar Blues" wish that the world depicted on film was actual reality. I must confess, though having not seen the film, that I too wish for such a world. Don't we all? A world of pristine nature populated by a race of beings intelligent and living in peace with one another. Families remain unified, crime and natural disasters never enter our vocabulary, and our Utopian hopes are realized.

Man has always craved such a world. Though Pandora is the creation of writers and movie directors and producers, the ideal-world they created is not. Utopia is the dream of everyone born in this world. We all know that things are not as they should be. Crime, injustice, suffering, natural disaster, war, poverty, famine, death, destruction, hatred, violence, bigotry, lust, rape, inequality, cowardice, brokenness, betrayal, hardships, dirty politics, broken promises, loneliness, illiteracy, discontentment, depression, anxiety, and disease. This world is a mess and we wish it weren't.

Discontentment in such a broken world has led to countless attempts to bring about such an Utopia. Various kingdoms in the ancient world tried to conquer their way to Utopia. The belief in racial and national superiority (not to mention the lust for power and wealth) led many political and military leaders to conquer, pillage, and wipe out inferior nations believing that if they were in complete control, there would be peace, tranquility, and Utopia. Peace through dominance was their mantra, and it failed.

Then came philosophy and Western ideals. The rise of the Greeks and Romans with the belief that they were superior to those uneducated and uncivilized. But rather than solutions and Utopia, it brought about more death, destruction, chaos.

Then came religion. Christianity ceased being about repentance once it became the official religion of the world. Religion breeds legalism and tyranny. But Christianity was not alone. The rise of Islam (600's) and other faiths thrived on the eve and through the Middle Ages. Instead of Utopia, forced conversions and heresy trials brought about continued death, disease, and the cry for a better world. Utopia remained far off.

Then came the Enlightenment and secularism. Many saw imperfection and sought to remedy it by running from faith. Many believed that the new world of scientific investigation and breakthroughs along with medical advancement would rid the need for war over endless theological debates and bring about a Utopian world free of disease and war. Instead, we discovered that for every disease cured, a thousand replace it. As science advanced, so did the necessity to push the limits. Science, and the Darwinian worldview that replaced it, led to the practice of eugenics, population control, and racial superiority which led to more death, more violence, more disease, and more war.

Secularism also gave rise to economic theories like Marxism that promised Utopia once everyone was equal and everyone (was forced) to share their wealth. Instead of Utopia, the 20th century proved that communism breeds tyranny, death, corrupt power, and economic disaster.

In less socialistic, secular society's the failed experiment of religion was countered with a cry to break from tradition. The rise of the sexual revolution, radical feminism, and racial dominance became the new voices of Utopia. "If only we would break from old traditions and be liberated and free," the logic went, "would we have peace, love, freedom, and Utopia." The hippie's wanted Utopia and sought it in experimental drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and peace rallies. Instead of Utopia, it brought about broken homes, a less free government as the result of an emboldened government, STD's, unwanted pregnancies, and the deaths of millions through abortions. Instead of Utopia we got more chaos. And now many born in such a world roam the halls of Congress.

Now we've moved on to postmodernism. Modernism failed and so we look for more Utopian promises. They too have and will fail. The cry for tolerance and the demonization of those who affirm doctrines without apology or fear promises to bring about peace and tranquility. Labeling criminals as victims and belief as bigotry has only encouraged added bigotry and crime rather than remedy it. Utopia remains far off.

No wonder people see a world so real on the screen become depressed when they watch the evening news.

The cry for an Utopian world is part of our makeup. As Christians we understand better than anyone why this is: we were once there.

The Bible begins with God who created the world in which we live, but not as we see it today. After creation, God declared the work of His hand as "very good." He day of rest was not the result of exhaustion, but of self-gratification for the glorious work of His hands. All that He had done and created was in fact "very good." A part of this creation was man who alone could enjoy the creation of God in a unique way. Man for a period of time (we do not for sure how long, but likely a very short time) enjoyed the Utopian, perfect world that God created: no crime, no natural disasters, no poverty, no inequality, no despair, no depression, no broken homes, no disease, and no death. Pandora was the handiwork of God.

And then it happened. Rather than God celebrated and worshipped as Creator, man sought to be the center of control. Out of open disobedience and rebellion, man sought to be the center of the universe by dethroning their Maker. Utopia was destroyed.

The story of the Fall (Genesis 3) helps us understand why we long for such a world. Paradise was lost and we want it back. At the same time, it also tells us why we, on our own, will never create it. First, we never created paradise in the first place. Scripture is clear, only God creates perfection. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to duplicate the handiwork of God. The Garden of Paradise in both the beginning (Genesis 1-2) and ending (Revelation 21-22) of Scripture are the results of God's handiwork. Secondly, so long as man remains self-centered, paradise will forever remain lost. The spark that led to this chaotic world was the belief that God can be ignored and we can be worshipped. By rebelling against God, our first parents decided to live for themselves and for their own pleasures. Pride and self-centeredness created and sustains our fallen, depraved, pathetic world.

The Old Testament is a rather sad, yet familiar story. Every page reveals how man continues to seek peace and Utopia and yet fail under their own ignorance and self-centeredness. Genesis reveals how man turns to himself, seeks answers in himself, and fails miserably. The giving of the Law created a people of legalists who believed they were perfect enough, but in reality remained just as depraved. Judges and Ruth reveal the utter chaos that liberty and anarchy create. Samuel through Esther show how power and corruption inherent in politics destroy lives and any hope of Utopia. The poetic literature cry for peace and the end of injustice. The prophets warn of coming doom as the result of man's actions.

It is a pathetic story that we all know too well. We, like those of old, have sought for Utopia in the same ways as they with the same results. Politics, unchecked liberty, legalism, tyranny, war, and cries for peace have all failed. We continue to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

If the Old Testament was the story of the failure of man, the New Testament tells the story of the triumph of Christ. The Gospels tells of the triumph of the cross and how on account of His death, man finally has hope, if only they would give up their self-centeredness and repent. Acts shows the triumph of the cross-centered Church where love, real love, was central and unifying. The Epistles show us how to live such a cross-centered life. And Revelation returns us to Paradise. Paradise was lost, but it will be regained.

The central character of the Old Testament, one could argue, isn't God, but man. The central character of the New Testament isn't man, but Christ. The Old Testament is a book of man's failure in his attempt to create paradise. The New Testament is the hope of Christ triumph to bring about Paradise once again. Man failed, but Christ has triumphed.

Stories about "Avatar Blues," though at first surprising and almost laughable, shouldn't be so shocking after all. The world created by the film makers is a world we have all craved and the depression that we are so far from creating such world remains. Yet only Christianity explains why we all feel this way, and provides the answers on how a world like Pandora can be created.

Utopia will never be the product of man because of his self-centeredness and rebellion against God. A being bent on rebellion will never create peace. Paradise is solely within the creative hand of God. He must, and has, intervene. He must, and will, recreate Paradise if it is to ever become a reality. Our hope is in God and His gospel. Repentance shreds us of any self-reliance and self-centeredness. We cannot, but God does and will. Hope is not found in man, but in God alone. Will we continue the same failed cycle of turning to politics and politicians, unchecked liberty and promiscuity, legalism and tyranny, economics and science? Or will we turn to the place we refuse to go: our Creator who gave us Paradise in the first place? Only time will tell.

For more:
Psychology Today - Avatar Blues
Russell Moore - Avatar: Rambo in Reverse

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