Avatar and the Faith Instinct
You probably don't need a long synopsis of
In short, "Avatar"
tells the tale of a disabled Marine,
The film has been subjected to a sustained assault from many on the
right, most notably by
What would have been controversial is if -- somehow -- Cameron had
made a movie in which the good guys accepted
Of course, that sounds outlandish and absurd, but that's the point, isn't it? We live in an age in which it's the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na'Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers.
I'm certainly one of those cranky right-wingers, though I probably enjoyed the movie as cinematic escapism as much as the next guy.
But what I find interesting about the film is how what is "pleasing to the most people" is so unapologetically religious.
Wade argues that the Darwinian evolution of man depended not only on individual natural selection but also on the natural selection of groups. And groups that subscribe to a religious worldview are more apt to survive -- and hence pass on their genes. Religious rules impose moral norms that facilitate collective survival in the name of a "cause larger than yourself," as we say today. No wonder everything from altruism to martyrdom are part of nearly every faith.
The faith instinct may be baked into our genes, but it is also profoundly malleable. Robespierre, the French revolutionary who wanted to replace Christianity with a new "age of reason," emphatically sought to exploit what he called the "religious instinct which imprints upon our souls the idea of a sanction given to moral precepts by a power that is higher than man."
Many environmentalists are open about their desire to turn their
cause into a religious imperative akin to the plight of the Na'Vi, hence
What I find fascinating, and infuriating, is how the culture-war debate is routinely described by antagonists on both sides as a conflict between the religious and the un-religious. The faith instinct manifests itself across the ideological spectrum, even if it masquerades as something else.
On the right, many conservatives have been trying to fashion what might be called theological diversity amid moral unity. Culturally conservative Catholics, Protestants and -- increasingly -- Jews find common cause. The left is undergoing a similar process, but the terms of the debate are far more inchoate and fluid. What is not happening is a similar effort between left and right, which is why the culture war, like the faith instinct, isn't going away any time soon.
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Avatar and the Faith Instinct | Jonah Goldberg
(c) 2009 U.S. News & World Report