Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Avatar," Homo Religiosus, Sensus Divinitatis

Jonah Goldberg of the LATimes has a nice article on "Avatar" - "'Avatar' and the Faith Instinct."

Highlights include:

  • James Cameron rips off movies like "Dances With Wolves" and "Pocahontas" and inserts their religious cliches into "Avatar."
  • Goldberg agrees with James Douthat, who calls "Avatar" an "apologia for pantheism."
  • Goldberg quotes John Podhoretz, who says that Cameron made "Avatar" "not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people." ("Avatarocious")
  • What would have been controversial would be something like this: "a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts."
  • What turns out to be "pleasing to the greatest number of people" is "unapologetically religious" (Cameron's metaphysical utilitarianism).
  • So - watch "Avatar," and behold the current state of Western religious culture.
  • Goldberg uses Nicholas Wade's The Faith Instinct to explain this surprising discovery:  "Humans are hard-wired to believe in the transcendent."
  • Goldberg quotes philosopher Will Herberg: "Man is homo religiosus, by 'nature' religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living."
  • The faith instinct is "baked into our genes."
These findings, if they are true, surely will disappoint today's evangelical atheists, because God-belief will not essentially be something "irrational" that can be logically and empirically argued against.

The thought that now comes to me is that Wade's thesis can possibly fit into the noetic framework of Christian theism. It would here be instructive to read Michael J. Murray's essay "Belief in God: A Trick In Our Brain?" (in Contending With Christianity's Critics, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig). Murray concludes his essay with:

"For the moment it seems perfectly acceptable for the Christian to hold that God created the world, human beings, and human minds in such a way that when they are functioning properly, they form beliefs in the existence of rocks, rainbows, human minds, and God...  This discovery echoes the claim made four hundred plus years earlier by John Calvin that 'there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity." (Copan & Craig, 57)