At the Movies

I was there in 1977.

I remember it like it was yesterday. The first weekend in June, Memorial Day weekend had come and gone. A college friend home for the summer vacation, a chemistry major. He asked me if I had seen that new movie. I had vaguely heard of it. I didn’t hold out much hope. Since the moon landing, guys like me of the Sputnik generation had seen it all come and go.

I agreed to go that Saturday. It was playing in one theater by us, about thirty minutes away. When I pulled in the parking lot was full and a long line stretched out front. I thought I had left plenty of time, funny that. Got my friend in line, got the tickets. Was told the time we wanted was already SOLD OUT. We were in the line for the next showing. Two hours plus waiting outside. This never happens. Then a rush, we’re in. Seats. A huge thousand-seat theater of the old type now all gone. Every seat is filled. Previews… 20th Century Fox… Then,

“Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

Star Wars.

It changed the way we saw movies. I went back to see it four times on four successive weekends that summer. I did that while I was in a conservative bible college where I signed a covenant forbidding going to the movies. It was the beginning of my walk away from fundamentalism. Thank you, Luke Skywalker!

It has happened again. It’s 2009 but it feels like 1977 all over again. This time it is Avatar. If you go and see it you must see it in IMAX 3D. We went the first day of release and have seen it again a week later. No lines now, just booked it through Fandango on my iPhone.

Avatar is being just as controversial among Christians as Star Wars was. It is controversial because to those who follow a Gospel to the right it feels pagan and pantheistic to them. But I wonder if it is because the nature religion represented in it is just plain strange to the more materialist and rationalistic perspective of post-Enlightenment-formed Christians. We are just plain uncomfortable with the feeling-oriented religion of the Pandorians. (I suspect Pentecostals will be more amenable to this type of spirituality.)

Actually, I found the worldview much closer to what a biblical understanding of Creation is than the rationalistic, utilitarian, one we currently hold. It is very, very Third Way. Anyone who doubts this should read C.S. Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. For me, the movie evoked the imagery of these amazing books (particularly Perelandra) all the way through. We have become blinded to our own doctrine of creation – we call it strange.

There are elements of paganism in the movie for sure. I would rather call it panentheism (God-in-all-things) But whatever threat this represents to Christianity, it is certainly far less dangerous to discipleship than the idolatrous love of money, violence, and gratuitous sex that go unchecked in our lives right now. Let’s hear the critics raise their voices about greed and materialism and they will have credibility. At least Avatar’s form of panentheism cultivates a love of creation and a respect for living things. It certainly is more spiritual than that ole greed and lust.

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