‘Avatar’ and the faith instinct

You probably don’t need a long synopsis of James Cameron’s half-billion-dollar epic “Avatar,” in part because even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve seen it. As many reviewers have noted, Cameron rips off Hollywood clichés to the point you could cut and paste dialogue from “Pocahontas” or “Dances With Wolves” into “Avatar” without appreciably changing the story.

In short, “Avatar” tells the tale of a disabled Marine, Jake Sully, who occupies the body of a 10-foot-tall alien so he can live among the mystical forest denizens of the moon world Pandora. Sully is sent in mufti, like a futuristic Lawrence of Arabia, to further the schemes of the evil corporate nature-rapists desperate to obtain the precious mineral “unobtainium” (no, really). Jake inevitably goes native, embraces the eco-faith of Pandora’s Na’Vi inhabitants and their tree goddess, the “all mother,” and rallies the Pandoran aborigines…

The film has been subjected to a sustained assault from many on the right…as an “apologia for pantheism.” The most relevant point was raised by John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard. “Cameron wrote Avatar,” says Podhoretz, “not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people.”

What would have been controversial is if — somehow — Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts.