Do I think that movies like Avatar are too pagan for Christians to watch?

Someone emailed me with that question this week. I’m posting our exchange here in the hope that you’ll find my answer helpful.

Pastor Scott,

I, too, am a recovering fundamentalist. So I really have enjoyed your web sites and the focus of your church. I would like your take on a topic that has me in some hot water with some friends…. The movie Avatar.

How do you address blatantly pagan entertainment such as “Avatar” which, apart from its pantheistic theme, is a fun, exciting, interesting movie? Why should a believer waste his/her time with this? How, in light of Phil 4:8 and Romans 14:23 can a believer ingest a movie like this “in faith”? I do believe some things might be fine for one person and not fine for another (Rom 14). But with movies like this – which I place in the same category as pornography – I find it hard to see how it’s a good thing for anyone to partake of.

What do you think? How do you counsel your people, if asked, about such a film that finds itself in the cross hairs of not just fundies, but also folks like Mark Driscoll.

Resting in peace because of what He has done, (name withheld)

My answer:

Thanks for your email. I’ll try to answer you helpfully.

I’ve been pondering your question, as well as the appropriateness of entertainment such as Avatar for Christians, since it presents a portrayal of openly pagan elements. This really is an oft-raised question about the point at which it is appropriate to deem something “too pagan” for Christian consumption.

It seems to me that the question is one of degrees. Paganism has infected a great deal of today’s entertainment, so much so, that it is difficult to even notice it anymore, because it has become so common, and we’ve become so used to it, that we’ve become immune to it (which is a good thing).

For example, you could conceivably create a scale with TV programs and movies that use magic such as Bewitched or I Dream of Genie or Mary Poppins on one end of the scale, then you could move further up the scale from those lighter-fare shows (to which most people are immune to the paganism, and are thankfully able to be uninfluenced by the superstitions in them), to those programs containing a bit darker magic such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or even movies such as Avatar, which contains open praying to a goddess.

Honestly, different people would place these shows/movies on different points on the scale, depending on their sensitivity to such things, and the perceived blatancy of the movie’s attempt to influence the viewer to embrace ideas or practices clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching.

I know some people that condemn Bewitched and Genie, and even Disney’s Snow White and Aladdin, as being “too pagan” and therefore unfit for Christian viewing, whereas others I know actually came out of the theater after watching Avatar with a list of things in the movie that caused them to have moments of worship to Christ. They said things like:

“If the imagined world of Avatar is that astounding and beautiful and awe-inspiring, then what must the new heavens and new earth be like?”

“If a mere man can imagine that kind of beautiful world, then surely God has put eternity in our hearts, and what God has imagined, and will one day create, will be even more spectacular than anything man can imagine! God is beyond comprehension and full of glory!”

Also, Avatar was really nothing more than a future-looking take on the very well-known religion of the American Indian that most American school children are aware of (or used to be): a people primitive in weaponry, but skilled hunters with a sense of brotherhood with the animals, and communal worship of the “Great Spirit”, in Avatar’s case this was the goddess Eywa – who was strikingly similar to the American Indian concept of an all-emcompassing deity that is one with nature. It was all somewhat panentheistic. Pagan? Yes. More so than something we’d see in a cowboy and Indian movie? Not any more than ones I’ve seen in my day. Do the prayers to Eywa in the movie bother me? Yes, just like Luke using the force or Indians chanting and dancing for rain around a fire. But, I do not feel that my allegiance to Christ is threatened by those things, and can appreciate the imaginative value of the movie as an enriching experience, much like I can with Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

So, in my view, it is a question of degrees: where does it go on the scale of an acceptable vs. unacceptable portrayal of paganism? To what degree is it harmful to the souls of the viewers, or to the consciences of the Christians? (the latter is a question which falls within the scope of Romans 14). For this reason, I am unpersuaded by the comparison of this kind of exposure to pagan religious practices with exposure to pornography.

Being exposed to greater or lesser degrees of pagan religious practices can be withstood by possessing greater faith in the truth of Christ. But there are no degrees of exposure to pornography for which there is no defilement. Pornography does not call for an embrace of faith like false religion does, it lures one to indulgence of man’s carnal nature through lust. This is why a Christian can travel to an Islamic or Buddhist or Hindu nation and observe their worship in the streets and be unmoved by it, but cannot enter a strip club and be unaffected. There is a difference.

I know that that’s not a simplistic answer, but I hope that it gives you at least some helpful insight. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think out loud with you. These are good questions to wrestle with. Keep thinking through how to practice your faith in Christ. May God be glorified in us!

Blessings,

Scott Kay

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8 Responses to Do I think that movies like Avatar are too pagan for Christians to watch?

  1. Davide says:

    Scott,
    I think you provide a balanced, Scriptural answer in this matter. However, I am often disturbed by the sheer amount of “exposure” to godless world-views, humanistic philosophies, and unscriptural ideologies that Christians willingly subject themselves to via media, entertainment, etc.

    Undoubtedly, avoiding any kind of worldly ideology is oftentimes impossible in today’s culture. Ironically, exposure to some objectionable elements is actually helpful, in that it coerces us Christians to exercise discernment.

    However, in my opinion, the greater problem of the modern Church today is not in its tendency to legalistically avoid venues of entertainment because its’ perceived quality as being “sin.” I think the opposite is true. Too many Christians (including myself) needlessly expose themselves to so much “empty and vain philosophies” through Hollywood, Pop culture, TV, etc.

    I certainly would not judge a Christian for watching Avatar; as I went to the theater and watched it myself; (then I walked out in the middle of the movie, because blatant paganism that overshadowed the entire movie made me sick to my stomach).
    I guess my point is this: “Lot vexed his righteous soul” by exposing him and his family to a vile culture. Although it wasn’t necessarily a “sin” for him to abide in that environment, it certainly was not spiritually conducive. I often wonder if I’m vexing my own soul as Lot did when I continually expose myself to worldly thinking. Would not biblical wisdom tell us to avoid ungodly media and entertainment as much as possible, even though it is not necessarily sin?

  2. Rae says:

    How on earth is something “Too Pagan?” Pagans put up with your Christian movies; we enjoy them because they teach history. These “Pagan” movies are just teaching love for our Earth. Not only that but you have to accept that not everyone’s a Christian, and doesn’t God teach you to be accepting, or at least tolerant? If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. If you discriminate a Christian for watching something with Pagan themes, then that’s just rude and hateful. You say Pagan themes disgust you (even though they normally just are things like loving the earth and maybe a little magic), but your article disgusts me. I can’t believe someone could be so intolerant.

    • Larysa says:

      Exactly! I stumbled across this searching for something else and I feel entirely offended by the way this article refers to Paganism. If they were saying that kind of thing about Judaism the ADL would be up in arms don’t you think? I’m sick of the way Christians think they can throw this kind of hatred at Pagans. I don’t have a problem watching Book of Eli or any other kind of movies that have Christians in them why the problem with Paganism in movies?

    • Chelsea says:

      I think it’s hilarious. Pagans watch Christian movies all the time and our faith is not threatened at all. I hear talk of Christianity..of “God” and not once has my “exposure” to Christianity made me fear for even a second that I was any less Pagan. If anything..seeing other religions in practice, STRENGTHENS my love for my own. This makes it sound like too much exposure to Paganism will cause Christians to waiver on their path. If the only way to stay Christian…is to be as ignorant as possible of religions like Paganism…then I think it’s pretty obvious you aren’t a true Christian..and you shouldn’t be. I agree..this disgusts me, and is completely intolerant.

  3. messenger says:

    I found this post while searching for more movies like Avatar, and I felt the need to respond.

    1. First of all (according to the actual biblical testaments written in their original languages), there is no deity whose name is pronounced “God.” There is neither a son whose name is pronounced “Jesus.” So I ask: who are you really praying to when you intone those words?

    2. Do you really think that the omniscient/omnipresent/omnipotent creator cares so much about what vocalizations you use to pray? Do you really think that the creator, having created the anatomical structures that we use to speak, cares what name/s we use? I do not believe such. I believe that the intent behind the prayer is what is important.

    3. Let’s think back to the Councils of Nicaea. Essentially, a group of fallable humans took it upon themselves to designate what was/is the word of the creator. Do you really want to put your trust in a group of fallable humans to interpret the will of the creator?

    4. What is so wrong about Ey’wa?
    a. That she is referred to as “mother?” (mother seems more appropriate, considering that males do not give birth)
    b. That she is the conglomeration of the biology of the planet? (the creator is omnipresent, so it makes sense biologically)
    c. That her name is different from the name that we Christians use? (once again, there is no Jewish deity named “God,” and there is no Jewish messiah named “Jesus”)

    The creator is far beyond anyone’s understanding.

    What I DO know is that the best way to understand the creator is to interact with what the creator created.

    The creator did not creat gas stations, nor roads, nor malls, nor movie theaters, nor computers, nor the majority of the items and environments that we modern humans engage every day. However, the creator DID create the forests, mountains, hills, jungles, fields, plains, rivers, oceans, animals, plants, and many other wonderful places and rhythms.

    How is it that we humans have come to believe that we can know the creator’s will, when we have spent so little time within the creator’s creation? Instead, we spend our time within OUR OWN perverted rhythms and creations.

    At the end of the day, I can say only this: the closest I have ever felt to the creator was not in a church, nor in a park, nor in a mall, nor on a road, nor any of the other things that WE created. It was during a few wonderful minutes of quiet contemplation deep within the natural rhythms and environments that the creator, in infinite wisdom and beauty, created.

    Why do you think “Jesus” retreated into quiet contemplation and fasting within the desert?

    Remember: the clergy around “Jesus” persecuted him. Think about whether or not we are any different from them.

    -messenger

  4. Sebastian says:

    Hello Scott,

    Actually I’ve been searching for similar movies like Avatar, and have stumbled upon your blog. Excuse my typos and bad grammar please, English is not my first language.

    Anyhow, i am quite impressed by your statement about this (and similar) movies. I am not used to hear (what they claim) “faithful” christians talking about this matter in an open minded and thoughtful way. Mostly they are just labeling those films and books as work of the one who reigns in hell.

    Even tho I am an atheist, I think your answer to this question was very interesting to read and that your open mind is very refreshing. Keep your Faith, and make sure to keep up the good work as well!

    Sebastian

  5. Qaton says:

    Oh great, the atheists are comfortable with your position. Like the saying goes one can be known by the company they keep.

    You said, “I do not feel that my allegiance to Christ is threatened by those things, and can appreciate the imaginative value of the movie as an enriching experience…”

    That is wrong. God commanded Israel to utterly wipe out any vestige of the heathen wicked worship practices when they came into the land. God hates the false lying religions of the world so much that I commanded Israel to not even desire the gold on the idol. The idea that Israel could have told God that they were just appreciating the imaginative value of the heathen and enjoying an enriching experience is nuts. You do not know God if you entertain yourself with sinful things.

    Furthermore, the movie contains instances of using God’s name in vain, as indicated by ScreenIt.com. And you allow that to be your entertainment? That is wicked.

    Some scriptures:
    Romans 1.32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    Do you see that you cannot take pleasure (an enriching experience?) in those that do evil? The indication is that you will suffer the same judgment.

    Isa 33.15 He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;

    Do you get that? Your ears should be stopped from hearing of blood and your eyes should be shut from seeing evil. So how is it that you entertain yourself with evil and advocate the practice to others? And then go on to call it an enriching experience. How utterly perverse.

    Psm 1.1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

    Psm 26.4 I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers.

    Psm 26.5 I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked.

    Psm 101.3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

    Do you understand? Entertaining yourself with what God calls evil is standing in the way and sitting in their seat. Also, there should be no wicked thing before your eyes! A true Christian would hate the work of the evil, and they will not hang out with them and their evil works.

    As Jesus said “..Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

    All your thoughts indicate you are a hypocrite. Repent and believe the gospel. Don’t’ be like Chorazin, Bethsaida or Capernaum who heard the Word of God, but didn’t repent and were condemned by Jesus. All your sweet talk about Jesus will do you no good if you do not repent of your sins and your love for sin.

    Mat 7.21-23 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    Repent or you will be cast out. You and all your “good” works into the Lake of Fire.

  6. Davide says:

    Please excuse me for interrupting.

    You said: “Furthermore, the movie contains instances of using God’s name in vain…and you allow that to be your entertainment? That is wicked.”

    Quite frankly, you are falsely assuming that people are enjoying those sinful elements in that movie. As a personal testimony, I am often entertained by movies that have objectionable content, even though I am not particularly pleased nor entertained by some of the sin that is portrayed.

    Furthermore, even the Bible contains engaging stories that record sinful acts.

    But sir, I encourage you to judge yourself before you judge others. Do you ever watch any Hollywood movies? If you do, you are a hypocrite. Because, every movie has sin portrayed in it. According to you, it is sin to view unkindness in a movie, because you are being entertained by it. If you don’t watch any movies, I commend you for that as long as you don’t judge others who do. God bless.

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