Avatar’s Technopaganism

Avatar’s Technopaganism

I don’t go to many movies on the premier night, but I went to see Avatar last week with my sons and a few friends.  It was an eye-popping 170 minutes of film.  Would I recommend it?  Hmmm…..

There are plenty of reviews out on Avatar, and I think they mostly agree.  James Cameron spent his creative genius on how he created the film rather than the story he told.  The story is as disappointing as the eye candy is delightful.  The plot is the worn-out retelling of the colonial invader versus the noble savage.  It is paradoxical that what makes this movie possible (technology) becomes the film’s villain.

What most reviews don’t mention is the overtly religious statement this movie makes.  It embraces technopaganism.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Science and mysticism are seamlessly interwoven
  • Pagan rituals are combined with scientific means to bring about healing
  • Naturalism leads to a worship of nature (rising to the level of “Mother Earth”)
  • A spiritual “life force” ties all living things together and ultimately gives life
  • The premise of the movie is that technology can transfer consciousness between living beings

It used to be that we liked our science fiction served up all nice and secular.  No more.  By combining tribal religions with technology we have created a new spirituality that is pagan to the core.

A basic belief of today’s scientific elite is that extraterrestrials are alive and well.  In a future post perhaps I can write about the complete fallacy that aliens will ever contact us.  For now let me simply state that little green men (oh, sorry, big blue men) are a cornerstone of a technopagan worldview.  Avatar makes us want to believe that we will someday explore Pandora – it looks cool!  We want there to be aliens!  We want to fly on giant dinosaurs.  We want there to be a life force that our pony-tails can tap into.  We want it!!

Are we so enamored with the incredible special effects that we fail to see the alluring worldview of Avatar?

Me thinks so.

8 thoughts on “Avatar’s Technopaganism

  1. Is this the plot, Ted? white culture oppresses and exploits minority culture / sends white hero to infiltrate minority culture / pure and innocent minority culture wins over white hero / white hero becomes most awesome warrior in minority culture and saves it

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Ted. I considered going on opening night at the invitation of several guys from church. But after reading another review, the spiritual aspects of the film disturbed me, yet I couldn’t quite peg it as to why. I’ve not heard the term technopaganism until reading your post, but it makes sense– it’s a pagan worldview repackaged in technology and science fiction. There also seems to be some native American beliefs there (such as the concept of Mother Earth)?

  3. I agree to a certain extent. As a person who went to film school, the movie was breathtaking and amazing to watch. What a cinematic feat! It’s hard to be able to say that you saw something you haven’t seen before in a movie, and I thought Cameron did just that.

    Now, about the story: sure the plot is worn out. In reality, what story isn’t? And, if it had been a “new” story, most people probably wouldn’t have liked the movie. It was simplistic because the movie wasn’t about the story… it was about the filming. It was all about the technology and the cinematics of the whole shebang that ran the show. The fact that the story was simple allowed the brain to sink into a rythme of just letting your eyes do the walking.

    As for the spiritual undertones, I found it interestingly compelling because I felt like it had an interesting view of America and missions. One of the things that the “corporate boss” guy says was something like, “We built them a school, taught them English, and gave them food and water… what do they want?”

    Cameron is a big fan of having a “corporate bad guy” (Paul Reiser in Aliens), and the idea of there being something that we can just give to people that will make them be like us is a very American idea. Although there was a STRONG push for the whole Mother Earth deal, I think the idea was more of the cultural changes that the “sky people” were trying to push onto the indigenous was right on from a historical standpoint.

    I came away from the movie more inspired about missions because of the movie. Which is interesting because I get what you’re saying too.

    I loved this movie. I saw it twice, and if money weren’t an issue, I’d probably see it again. Because in IMAX 3D… it was a sight for sore eyes.

  4. I saw the movie last night and agree with bman – I thought it was fascinating from a missions / anthropological point of view. I wouldn’t take the details of the pagan aspects too seriously, just as I would take the details of the “science” too seriously – it’s fiction after all.

    But it’s a story that does have a powerful message. People have commented on the pagan practices in the movie, but no one has yet complained about the worship of consumerism and greed in the “human” culture.

    I thought Avatar was a thought-provoking look at what can happen when two vastly different cultures mix, and the pitfalls that particularly the more dominant culture can fall into.

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