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Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Time Event
Heaven and Nature
I read with interest this article by Ross Douthat: http://pewforum.org/news/rss.php?NewsID=19306

He writes:
It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.
But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.
He goes on to say:

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
He concludes:

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.
My comments:

I have three unrelated comments. First unrelated comment: it is difficult to separate the author's intent from the needs of story telling. While I have not even the slightest particle of doubt that the film-maker here is playing out his liberal leftwing white giult-trip fantasy power-trip, I will point out that such fantasies elegently serve the needs of story telling, especially in that niche of genre writing known as Planetary Romances.

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Did I Ever Tell You About The Christmas I Killed A Man?
Doings on other blogs: Over at the Wonder Cabinet, James A. Owen tells about the time he killed a man at Christmas. http://coppervale.livejournal.com/258662.html?nc=30
Chinese Paladin 3
Here is a link to the wuxu soap opera I found in China, fansubbed into English.


I hope it comes out in a real version in America at some point. It runs like a D&D game for most of its length, but there is an episode near the end where the Taoist monk starts to lose his faith, and a taunting demon grown from his own thoughts (like the Glebbeth haunting Sparrowhawk in Ursula K Leguin's A WIZARD OF EARTRHSEA) shows him the futility of life and the endless suffering of the wheel of reincarnation. The demon grants shows him the hidden thoughts of men and their evil deeds-- his only way to defy the demon is to preach compassion to the evildoers in the crowd, which causes a disturbance (because he also knows the secret thoughts and the evil deeds of the magistrate). He get thrown into jail, where he speaks to the imprisoned, who mock him, but agree to turn over a new leaf if he releases them. He uses his Taoist martial arts magic to break the lock. He waits in the cell meditating, and when confronted by the angered magistrate, asks to have all the punishments of all the freed prisoners heaped upon himself. 

This is just one episode of many, and I thought it a particularly touching one. There is another episode where they fight the Monkey King, who appears in the form of a giant ape and blasts them with fart-gas from his bowels. I never claimed this show was all high drama -- there is plenty of low comedy in it as well.

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