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The Theology of Avatar

Much has been written about James Cameron’s new epic Avatar… regarding the impressive 3D visuals, the big budget, etc., but I haven’t seen much written about the theology or mythology behind it. There seems to be a subtle, perhaps sophisticated, theology behind the story.

I noticed a few things and wanted to jot down some ideas:

o How does Pandora represent a prelapsarian (before the fall) world in which Nature and Grace have not yet separated from each other? How does the god Eywa represent the unbreakable bond between Nature and Grace? (and the Holy Spirit?)

o Are the Two Sacred Trees, the Tree of Voices (or Souls) and the Hometree, an allusion to the two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life?

o The name of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dr. Grace Augustine, is it an allusion to St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Grace?

o What does the Second Birth of the Na’vi tribe say about Baptism?

The 7th day of Creation, the Sabbath, serves as a sign of the covenant – the marriage – between nature and grace. In the beginning, God’s creation was perfect: “And God saw how good it was” (Genesis 1:12). Saturday was a day to marvel at the goodness of creation. all our days were meant to be Saturdays. Mankind, however, did not fulfill his covenant. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the original grace of nature was marred by the will of man.

In the movie Avatar, however, a day in Pandora is not a Saturday. There’s no time to admire the beauty of Pandora with all the massive, angry animals stalking around. Corporal Jake Sully takes a moment to admire the beautiful flora of Pandora, the collapsing “Helicorandian,” at the beginning of the film, and ends up running for his life and jumping over the edge of a cliff to escape a “killer”.

But the Na’vi people live in graceful harmony with nature in two related ways:

o First, the Na’vi are capable of a neurological connection with animals through the “tail”. The Na’vi can actually join their wills with those of animals by physically connecting their neural networks (with mutual acceptance).

o Second, Dr. Grace Augustinos discovers that the bio-botanical connection between all living organisms on Pandora is far more extensive than anything known on Earth. Tree of Voices finally reveals the extent of this.

It is as if humanity has stumbled into a second Garden of Eden, only to fall all over again. Only this time our sin is not so “original”. The Corporation, which mines Pandora’s rich natural resources, acts as a representative of humanity in the same way that Adam did. The Society desires, above all else, the fruit of the Na’vi’s sacred tree, the rich deposit of “unobtainium” beneath the Hometree, which also – it is said – happens to be the only thing that can keep Earth from dying .

Because of Original Sin, however, mankind cannot freely eat from Eden’s Tree of Life. “Lest he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life”, man is excluded from the Garden (Genesis 3:22). The road is closed and guarded. Because of our fallen wills and tainted motivations, there is no easy, painless way to bring forth life. We must suffer to bring forth life, as with childbirth or the paralyzed Jake Sully or the Suffering Servant, dying on the cross.

A mineral like the one that can be found by looting Pandora can only delay the inevitable. It is a temptation that destroys the relationship between humans and the Na’vi, who hold the truest hope for a post-Earth humanity. Did you notice the name of the trucks that collect this rich mineral, “unobtainium”? Did you notice the name of the human colony on Pandora? Hell trucks. The gate of hell. It begs the question: which side of the gate is Hell really on?

Also, did you notice the name of the mineral: UNOBTAINium? And so it is unattainable, like the fruit that Tantalus spends an eternity to reach. It is the illusion, the false pursuit, that will gain you life while impoverishing you. It’s the road to hell.

The union of the Na’vi with nature proves that their nature has not fallen in the same way as humanity’s. The story of Avatar is a story of the reunion of grace and nature. [THESIS]

The story presents this contrast between human and Na’vi in ​​three ways the characters interact with the world around them:

1. Greatest Union of Grace and Nature: The Na’vi Communion, in which the Na’vi connect with nature and souls directly through the “tail” (ie through a biobotanical neural network).

2. Transitional Union: The Avatar, the greatest union that man can accomplish in his own strength and power, a union that only the Tree of Souls can complete.

3. Dis-Union, or Hollow Union: The military’s AMP (Amplified Mobility Platform) suits, which only mimic the animal-human union found among the Na’vi.

Dr. Grace Augustinos

So what does a name mean? Something must be going on with the name Dr. Grace Augustine. The combination of the words “grace” and “Augustine” is an unlikely coincidence. With the Doctrine of Grace, Augustine, Doctor of the Church, has ensured that his name will always be associated with grace, the fall of man and free will.

But what does it mean for Sigourney Weaver’s character to be named Grace Augustine? Dr. Grace is portrayed as a clearly brilliant woman, with many natural gifts and talents (not unlike Weaver’s character in Gorillas in the Mist, Dr. Diane Fossey). As a xenobiologist, who studies extraterrestrial life, she dominates her field. He has advanced further into Na’vi culture than any human alive. But! She eventually fails to transport herself to the Tree of Souls and dies before her soul can be incorporated into Eywa. It is Eywa’s free gift — it is grace — that enables the incorporation (ie redemption) of a soul. It cannot be won. it cannot be won no matter how far we go.

The Second Birth & Baptism

The Na’vi are initiated into society by rebirth: their “Second Birth”. This is the Christian Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we are sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our fallen natures are perfectly united again with grace. we are born again. That is why Baptism is the basis of the entire Christian life (CCC 1213).

Christians, like the Na’vi and their “tail”, also have a direct connection to the life of this world: the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of Life” (Dominum et vivificantem, from the Nicene Creed). Eywa represents the Holy Spirit, with whose power Jake Sully can fully transition into his avatar, and Pandora’s animal life is called upon against the forces of Colonel Quaritch.

Natural Wonders

For me, this biological representation of the Holy Spirit is the most powerful part of the Avatar story and its greatest contribution to science fiction. This part of the story, more than any other, fires my imagination. I guess I’m always looking for a biological basis for God’s miracles. I do not intend to dismiss miracles with physical explanations. I hope to see the whole natural world as a wonder. As Einstein said,

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

Biology and all science is God’s work and His laws. In the case of miracles, God does not violate His own laws, His very essence. He displays the full potential of His Creation. Isn’t it fantastic to ask how?

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