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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Vatican hates ‘Avatar’ so much it pretends to forget it’s pro-environmentalism

Item: Vatican Radio has trashed Avatar for its “wink towards the pseudo-doctrines which have made ecology the religion of the millennium” (via the Telegraph).

Item: L’Osservatore, the Vatican newspaper, complains that Avatar “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature” (via the Associated Press).

This is funny because: In 2008, the Vatican added “ruining the environment” to its list of seven deadly modern sins (via the Times of London).

Apparently, though, environmentalism is a sin if you don’t do it in precisely the way the Vatican wants you to. And downloading yourself into a 10-foot-tall alien body and psychically communing with Eywa just goes too darn far.



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  • Keith

    Vatican: “Those damned nature loving Pagans. We thought we oppressed their ideology centuries ago, but now it’s making a comeback in major motion pictures. Be afraid, be very afraid.”

    They definitely seem to have a hierarchy of sins. Ruining the environment is bad, but anything that even hints of not putting God (certainly the way they believe in God) first is worse.

  • doa766

    you know you’re doing something right when the Vatican is against it

  • Spencer

    I’ll probably get mis-quoted/understood/heard by saying this, but here goes anyway:

    The Vatican is against Avatar for its (alleged) worship of nature, not its depicted protection of it. Here’s a quote: “Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship.” The Vatican can easily be against “ruining the environment” and at the same time against pantheism without any contradiction.

    To be sure, the Vatican has limits to which they will go in their support of protecting nature and the environment: pantheism in support of that goal seems to be one. But to imply hypocrisy because they do not conform to an all-inclusive definition of “environmentalism” is misguided.

  • Jim Mann

    I think that the Vatican stance here is silly, and that they worry about issues in movies that they shouldn’t. It reminds me of the right wing protestant sects that thought Harry Potter promoted witchcraft.

    That being said, I think there is a distinction between being strongly pro-environment and worshiping nature as if it were some kind of mystical force. I think the new age Gaia worshipers hurt the environmental movement as much as they help it, both by focusing on irrational ways of looking at the problem and by being a convenient target for those on the right who try to paint all environmentalists as being like that. (Or, put another way, I’m strongly pro-environment, but I think the new-age mysticism some folks wrap it in is a bunch of crap.)

  • MaryAnn

    The Vatican is against Avatar for its (alleged) worship of nature, not its depicted protection of it.

    No, the Vatican is against *Avatar* because Cameron dared to invent fictional aliens on a distant, fictional planet who don’t worship the Christian god. There are no humans worshipping nature in this film: it’s only Pandorans who worship an entity — Eywa — that actually exists! And yet the Vatican has the audacity to condemn this.

  • MaryAnn

    worshiping nature as if it were some kind of mystical force.

    But the Pandorans are not worshipping a mystical force: they’re worshipping a *real* force!

    I think Gaia works as a metaphor a lot better than God does.

  • Bluejay

    I don’t understand why the Vatican doesn’t just say “Aaah, but who created Eywa?” and claim Eywa/Pandora itself as evidence of Intelligent Design. I mean, every living thing there has a USB port and all!

    Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t be giving them any ideas…

  • Bluejay

    There are no humans worshipping nature in this film

    Well, unless you count the Sigourney Weaver character’s “deathbed conversion,” and Jake Sully plugging into Eywa and basically offering up a prayer for help…which is answered in due course when Eywa sends in the cavalry.

  • Spencer

    I get the sneaking suspicion that I’m reading too deeply into snark, but oh well.

    No, the Vatican is against *Avatar* because Cameron dared to invent fictional aliens on a distant, fictional planet who don’t worship the Christian god. There are no humans worshipping nature in this film: it’s only Pandorans who worship an entity — Eywa — that actually exists! And yet the Vatican has the audacity to condemn this.

    I won’t pretend to speculate on the Vatican’s motives apart from parsing out what they actually say.

    I grant you, I used the term “pantheism” improperly in the context of the movie. In the terrestrial language game of philosophy of religion, pantheism refers to the Ultimate Being as nothing more or less than the sum total of existence. Eywa may or may not be the Ultimate Being to the Na’vi, and so the term is probably misapplied.

    But the parallels are too strong to ignore completely, and I think it’s fair to say that the mass of people are minimally concerned with philosophical parsing of definitions and can readily conflate the religion of Eywa with the religion of Gaia (or similar).

    And all this seems quite outside what seemed to me to be the original issue: alleged hypocrisy on the part of the Vatican for being (supposedly) pro-environmental and yet decrying a film with vibrant pro-environmental themes. Since that was in the title of the post, I assumed that this was a more salient issue than the Vatican feeling threatened by divine competition.

  • MaryAnn

    I still see it as hypocrisy. The Vatican wants us to be pro-environment but *only* within its very precise dictates.

    It’s as if the Vatican told us to be anti-greed, but then hoarded riches for itself and forced poor Catholic schools to hold bake sales to cover their expenses instead of sharing the Church’s wealth with its own parishoners.

    Oh, wait… the Vatican *does* do that.

  • Paul

    Compared to other Vatican hypocrisies, this is just them being silly. Sure, they want environmentalism framed in a context of Christian stewardship of nature instead of Wiccan/Pagan stewardship, but damning a movie because it might promote New Age religion, which is tiny religion compared to other competitors such as Protestantism and Islam, is, as I said, silly. Are they going to start condemning movies that promote Protestantism and Islam, too? Does anyone know if they protested “The Left Behind” series?

  • I like neither na’vi nor klingon as the future global language. Especially when you have to dress up for it :D

    We also need a future international language. One which is easy to learn, as well !

    And that’s not English! Esperanto? Certainly yes!

    Please look at http://www.lernu.net

  • Paul

    An International language might be half English anyway, because so much technological development since 1700 originated in English speaking countries. The scale was tipped ever further in English’s advantage because the Nazis drove so much of Europe’s intellectual talent out, and they went to England and America.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    No, the Vatican is against *Avatar* because Cameron dared to invent fictional aliens on a distant, fictional planet who don’t worship the Christian god.

    Or, the Vatican is against Avatar because a) it relates to their traditional anti-nature-worship, b) having an opinion on the most popular movie in a while gives them a sense of cultural relevance (YMMV), and c) they had to give some kind of response to the media questions on their stance on the most popular movie in a while.

    But the Pandorans are not worshipping a mystical force: they’re worshipping a *real* force!

    That’s incidental. Applying a veneer of sciencey-whiencey stuff (“Ten to the fourth connections”? Should I be impressed?) to an obnoxiously blatant deus ex machina does not make Eywa any less of a supernatural entity.

    The Vatican wants us to be pro-environment but *only* within its very precise dictates.

    But, they’re allowed to do that, aren’t they? That’s like condemning Al Gore because he doesn’t think humans need to go back to living in caves and foraging for seeds in order to combat global warming. And the Vatican’s past hypocrisies do not taint every stance they take on everything.

  • MaryAnn

    does not make Eywa any less of a supernatural entity.

    Eywa is clearly a *natural* aspect of Pandora — therefore, by definition, it cannot be supernatural.

    But, they’re allowed to do that, aren’t they?

    The Vatican can say whatever it wants. That doesn’t make it immune to criticism for saying it.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    Eywa is clearly a *natural* aspect of Pandora — therefore, by definition, it cannot be supernatural.

    Well, if we’re both going to be pendants about it, Eywa’s hivemind-like set of “connections” doesn’t conform to known rules of biology. Furthermore, it allows for the fantastic ability of Eywa and the Na’vi to control the non-sentient creatures of Pandora. To put it another way, saying that dragons have a gland in their throats that produces a flammable liquid secretion, and another on their chins that produces a small electric spark, does not make fire breathing dragons into “natural” creatures. :-)

    That doesn’t make it immune to criticism for saying it.

    Certainly. I just don’t think this particular criticism is fair. You seem to be criticizing the Vatican for not holding your views on environmentalism. Views which apparently include – or at least do not preclude – worshiping “the environment” as a deity. Not only do I not think you old that view, based on what I’ve seen you write in the past, I also feel fairly certain that, based on their history, when the Vatican opines that groups are treating something like a religion, they mean it literally.

  • Paul

    SF has often straddled some fine lines concerning telepathy. That is why, in order to remain SF instead of fantasy, they often have either the alien be telepathic (allowed because they came from a different evolutionary line so have a different nervous system) such as Mr. Spock, or have the brains of humans altered by scientific experiments, such as on Babylon 5 or Firefly. If you have humans having telepathy without one of these semi-scientific excuses, you end up with science fantasy, such as the original Star Wars trilogy.

  • Bluejay

    To put it another way, saying that dragons have a gland in their throats that produces a flammable liquid secretion, and another on their chins that produces a small electric spark, does not make fire breathing dragons into “natural” creatures. :-)

    Get it right, Dr. Rocketscience. Dragons consume limestone, whose calcium content mixes with their stomach acid to produce hydrogen that they can then release at will. The electrically charged “Thor’s Thimble” at the roof of the dragon’s mouth is what ignites the hydrogen to produce the flame. Duh! :-)

  • Dr Rocketscience

    You must mean Hungarian Horntails. I, of course, am referring to the Welsh Green. ;-)

  • giordao bruno

         I read with interest, the internet piece saying that the catholic church disapproves of 
    the movie Avatar.  I’m surprised that they didn’t remain silent about this, because the movie was an allegorical equivalent of white man’s holocausting of the native american first people, during the settlement of the Americas.
    I mean, the church was the main motivator, and church doctrine was used to rationalize the killing off of the native americans in the US. The same reason was used to kill the aborigines of Africa and Australia. The church called them godless heathens, and enslaved them, because it says in the bible that it’s OK to keep slaves as long as they’re godless heathens. That was Leviticus 25: 44-46… Timothy 6: 1-4 says: Slaves obey your masters, especially xtian masters. Do you really think that the settlers read these pieces in church, and looked at each other and said: We can’t do that to the blacks, or the indians, because someday they may produce a president of the US!
    In Joshua and Jeremiah, god told his followers to kill all of the enemy, men women and children, and this includes babies, because they are godless heathens. This was genocide. The xtians think that they are the center of the moral universe and that their beliefs are more important than the lives of others. That means they are ego centric. It’s destructive and insane to believe that way.
    Remember the part in Avatar, when the Shaman mother told the hero that she has to first drive the insanity out of him? That was the insanity that the xtians show us, with their egocentric, ethnocentric beliefs. The belief that they own the world and can rape it any way that they please.
    These kinds of stories are the reason that the white people took their cue from the bible, when they tried to kill off the native Americans and took away their children, to raise them in white families so that they would forget their language and culture. That particular effort didn’t stop until some time in the nineteen seventies. The xtians did this because they thought they were the moral center of the universe, and because they thought that their religion is “the one true religion”. I would say that it is ego centric to say the least.  
         If you read the history of the xtian religion, you’ll find that the brutality didn’t stop with the native americans and it didn’t begin there either. Before the time of Charlemagne, xtian priests were killing anybody that tried to pursue any kind of scientific reasoning. This created the dark ages, and if we hadn’t done the dark ages, if we hadn’t stopped scientific endeavors back then, we may have been a lot further ahead in life now, in other words, we might have been exploring the stars by now. The xtians set us back five hundred years with their ignorant and superstitious beliefs!
    Then came Charlemagne, who lived in the eighth century swept through Europe with his righteous armies and cut the heads off of anybody who refused to accept jesus christ as their saviors. So the xtians aren’t just ego centric, the brutality defines them as something beyond that. 

        After Charlemagne, there were a series of brutal inquisitions and Pogroms. In 1492 the xtians, including King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, decided that the jews in Europe were not xtians, and harboring them there was causing god to do bad things to the Europeans, so the spanish inquisition, headed by Father Tomas de Torquemada, expelled the entire Jewish population from Spain. They allowed them to take only what they could carry, and confiscated everything else. Unfortunately, many were killed for what they had on them, and ship captains were known to charge them huge sums of money to be taken form Spain, only to throw them overboard when they had gotten out to sea. That was the very same month that Columbus was given the order to take his ships to the new world, where he began the subjugation of the natives of those continents.
    In 1609, King Philip III of Spain, on advice from his mullahs, Forced the Moriscos, the moslems in other words, out of Spain. They only allowed them to take what they could carry on their backs, and they confiscated everything else. They did this because they thought that by harboring them, god was punishing Spain. Superstition rears it’s ugly head again. Turned out that they shot themselves in the foot though, the Moriscos were hard working and helping the economy.
    The Church however, and the king of spain made tons of money by doing this, because they confiscated the land and money from the Morisco people that they forced out of Spain.
    In around 1572 The king of france decided to kill all the Huguenots, the protestants in other words, and had the St Bartholomew Massacre, in which thousands of Protestants were killed. The Anglican Church of England wasn’t any better, they did the same thing to Catholics. Do you see where I’m going with this? Not only were they setting the scene to kill off native americans, but they were also making it so miserable for the pilgrim settlers in Europe and England, that they had to get into little boats and cross the ocean that was trying to drown them, and live with indians who were trying to kill them, because it was a better deal than living with the xtians in Europe and england.
    Oh, this was about the time that the Catholic church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake for telling them that the earth revolves around the sun. So much for Catholic infallibility… They jailed Galileo Gallilee for telling them the same thing. These people just looked into telescopes and saw reality, and told people what he saw, and the church practiced Odeum theologicum on them. Theological hatred. It’s the reason so may books were burned throughout history. Books and people.
        Voltaire wrote a lot about that. one of my favorite quotes from him was: I may not like what you are saying, but I’ll fight for your right to say it. The founding fathers of the USA liked him too, and with all that killing going on, they knew it was best to write a strong separation of church and state into the constitution of the USA.  
    You know what? I’m getting tired of writing, here are my refs, read them and weep:

    Will and Aerial Durant: Age of reason begins.
    Will and Aerial Durant: History of Europe in the time of Voltaire
    Hyemeost Storm: Seven Arrows.
    The bible
    Wikipedia, the History channel, life in general.

  • giordano Bruno

    Oh,
    I forgot to mention that in around 1600, Giordano Bruno told the Vatican that there may be space aliens out there who worship god just like any other mullah on earth, and the Vatican burned him for that.

    GB

  • Spencer

    I still see it as hypocrisy. The Vatican wants us to be pro-environment but *only* within its very precise dictates

    Hmm… I can’t see either how 1) this is hypocrisy, or 2) these qualify as “very precise” dictates.

    Hypocrisy, I’ve always read and been told, consists of someone putting forth a position, and then reneging on that position later (usually with a words/action disconnect). The Vatican has always been very clear on its position — was there ever any serious question that “pro-environmental” would trump the First Commandment? Thus, this stance is being consistent, not weaseling out of an earlier held position.

    Related to that, it seems that the limits are very simple and broad: protect the environment, don’t worship it. It’s precise in the sense that it makes a clear distinction; it is not precise in the sense that it creates a set of (likely ad hoc) restrictions that one must follow. And I think the latter is needed to uphold an understanding of this as “hypocrisy”.

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