Friday, February 26, 2010

Driscoll and Avatar

I can't help but agree with the lowly Baptist blogger who pointed out that if you talk about the evils of consumerism and then minutes later talk about your three Tivos and your two home theaters that .... maybe there's a problem there in the critique of other people being prone to consumerism. Who needs two home theaters and three Tivos anyway? I could see one home theater and a Tivo, maybe, but three and two? Are we sure that pastor has a basis for talking about the consumerism of other people here? I would feel sheepish telling parishoners they aren't tithing enough if I admitted in public that my family has two home theater systems and three tivos from the pulpit.

Now Avatar is certainly the same sort of namby pamby pantheism Western filmmakers like Camern like to embrace. I have already written about how Cameron is trying to have it both ways and Debra Dean Murphy pointed out that Cameron wants to have his cake and eat it, too, by having the Na'vi be the peaceful spiritual sorts who at the end still resolve their conflicts the same way the military does. Driscoll's negative assessment is a bit late in the game.

What is more, it's fair to ask what is meant by "satanic". As has been rightly said, Satan is a liar. Of course the lies can often come in the form of accurate citation (per my lengthy earlier blog entry about the temptation of Jesus in the gospel of Luke). lies can also come in the form of accusations that run counter to God's plan despite the accuracy of their accusation in (Zechariah). But to say that something is satanic is to say that there are two things at work. One is the deceptive nature of what is said either in terms of its falsehood or in terms of what the truth is used for. In this respect there are some films that Driscoll has spoken positively about that could be considered satanic films.

For instance, ten years ago he was discussing how the Matrix was a spiritual allegory even though the spirituality plugged by The Matrix could be considered Buddhist and a case could be made that the allegory is not about spirituality at all but about secularism, about how the world presented by the Matrix is a falsehood and once you discover the manipulation and unreality behind it all then it becomes simple enough to defeat the agents of the Matrix because you exist in the real world and you know it, while the agents are merely existing in a fantasy world.

Let's take Braveheart, which Mel Gibson recently said was a gross misrepresentation of a historical figure that relied on made up archetypal characterization to sell tickets it seems Driscoll should be more circumspect in lamenting a popular film being based on a lie since the director of one of his favorite movies recently admitted that the whole of Braveheart's narrative arc was basically just made up to sell a film. I doubt Driscoll is going to repudiate Braveheart as historically inaccurate and satanic for promoting lies about a historical figure because those lies are in the service of values he holds dear about whatever it is he holds dear.

Is Braveheart a great movie or a satanic one because Mel Gibson just invented a story around a historic figure to promote ideals he believes in, like freedom of the individual and masculine accomplishment? Does Driscoll consider that film less satanic because the lies Gibson told about William Wallace for the sake of fictional narrative promote values he finds more appealing than those James Cameron promotes in a film that is clearly a made up fantasy adventure with a few sci-fi trappings? Is Braveheart satanic because Gibson repudiated the accuracy of his own film and said he made things up or does that film get a pass because it promotes ideas Driscoll can get behind?

If Gibson is right now to say that William Wallace was a monster and a terrible man (which is also, in its own way a giant historical misrepresentation) should Driscoll repudiate Braveheart as a satanic film or say that because it was made by a Catholic guy who left his wife and remarried that it's satanic because it wasn't made by a real Christian? What, then, of showings of The Passion at Mars Hill a few years ago?

My criticism of Avatar was that it was a cheap watered-down version of pantheism with the sort of moral simplification that serious pantheists like Miyazaki avoid. Avatar also represents a chintzy simplified view of "native" spirituality of the sort American Indian writers have tried to debunk for years.

To say that something is satanic can refer either to the content itself or the means. Even when Satan tells the truth by quoting scripture accurately he lies. A false prophet was not just someone who made a prophesy that didn't come true. If a prophet made a prediction that came true but said "Let us also go after these other gods" that person was still a false prophet. Idolatry is not just about saying "no" to Yahweh but also about saying "AND let's add this other divine, too". As to the false messiahs and the like Driscoll talks about, comparative religion scholars have been noting that the more the so-called "ancient" texts of Wicca get examined the more it looks like refurbished Catholicism without the guilt of association Catholicism had for a lot of Europeans. A lot of Western neo-paganism is still people trying to have their Catholic cake and eat their neopaganism, too.

I only saw Avatar because someone else bought my ticket. It is, as with Cameron's last film, overhyped. Terminator 2 and Aliens are still Cameron's most effective films. Yet if Driscoll feels that Avatar is the most demonic film he's ever seen did he see Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki, which was shown at film & theology at Mars Hill around 2002? To say that a film is demonic doesn't say that the film deals with the subject of demons. After all, the Exorcist was shown at Mars Hill's film & theology around 2006 and that met with the approval of Mars Hill pastors (save that crucifix scene, which was skipped, which is a way to establish that I was there for that event).

I find Driscoll's commentary on Avatar hard to take seriously not because I don't see the cheap Western bargain bin pantheism of Cameron's film. Instead I find his comments hard to take seriously because a rant against consumerism when you have two home theaters and three tivos seems overcooked. I also find it hard to take seriously because the outrage is selective and isn't applied to falsehoods promoted in some of his earlier favorite films. He knows that something can be satanic in means and not merely in content. After all, even Satan can quote the Bible in context and accurately to promote something that is false.

If something being satanic is not just about the lie but the lie the truth may be forced to serve then it's possible for someone to even use the Bible to promote themselves rather than Christ. Driscoll is no less in danger of this temptation than people like Todd Bentley or Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen. If appropriating the Bible to promote your own agenda is a false gospel and satanic does that mean Driscoll should repudiate his entire sermon series on Nehemiah, which was basically treating a scriptural book as an allegory about himself as Nehemiah and Mars Hill as Israel? I think I share Driscoll's lack of enthusiasm for Avatar but I don't share his vitriol. To me Avatar is no less promoting a fraudulent idea of true humanity than Braveheart. I'm not saying Braveheart or Avatar are satanic movies as such, just that both films are overhyped mediocrities whose popularity has allowed people to pontificate on pet topics. That's part of what films are for, I guess. If Driscoll wants to be the evangelical Protestant pope he's welcome to keep trying. I just thought that that wasn't the point of Protestantism.


Pantheist said...

The continuing bigotry and persecution against pantheism and pandeism can only strengthen the resolve that there must be something to them, for such powerful interests to be seeking to squelch their message!!

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Yeah, must be tough for James Cameron having not even been able to make a film with his own money promoting pantheism, getting it distributed and marketed, or having it break box office records. If you want to be the pantheist Driscoll (who said that you'll go home tonight and eat chicken and not human because Christianity made the world a better place) then be my guest. :)