Monday, January 04, 2010

Heaven, Nature, & Hollywood's Religion

Recently, when I got to the end of an op-ed piece in the New York Times, a sense of "there's something missing from this argument" filled me.

The author had been talking about Hollywood's religious preference as expressed in the movie, Avatar, which he argued was pantheism. Pantheism was contrasted unfavorably to Christianity and monotheism. Humanity's participation in the biosphere's life-and-death-cycles was painted as a midway-point between Nature and God, requiring the transcendence of God to be borne. Pantheism -- "atheism sexed up" -- was portrayed as a way to drop out, a regression from the human state to a animalistic pre-consciousness.

After some reflection, I concluded what was missing from the piece were the flip-sides of the author's arguments. The first assumes that there is a Great Chain of Being stretching from Earth (Nature) to the Deity. In mediaeval and renaissance times this great chain was sometimes depicted as a ladder with -- in ascending order -- an ape, a man, the Perfect Man, and Angel, maybe an arch-angel, and Deity at the top. The other flip-side of the argument is the assumption that because we are self-conscious we are somehow apart from Nature and Deity.

It seems as if the author is stuck on the mid-point of his monotheistic ladder. He neglected to speak about an important aspect of pantheism: Deity is immanent in the material world, not transcendent to it. The entire Great Chain of Being is flattened -- God is the ape, God is the ladder, God is humankind, God is....

Yes, certainly every living thing needs to metabolize, and everything dies. Welcome to the second law of thermodynamics; there's no such thing as a free lunch. But our self-awareness demands a transcendent God to help us deal with it in order to be fully actualized as spiritual beings? I guess I prefer pantheism because using my conscious awareness to commune with universal processes reminds me that I am here, now, in body, mind and spirit.

And, hey -- it's only a movie.
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