Have you seen "Avatar," the movie?
Here is an essay I wrote sometime ago right after seeing the 3D version of Avatar. Since then the movie has gone to DVD, HBO, Netflick, and other formats, yet, I find now months later, that there is a message in the public response to the movie of anthropological interest. I think it touches a deeper nerve for our time, a message about our underlying beliefs about religion and art as cultural expressions.
I found the 3D version of the movie to be beautiful and impressive. The story line is predictable, as sci-fi goes. It deals with the question of technologically driven civilization verses the "primitive" world of sentient beings living in harmony with their world. On this simplistic level, it is pure entertainment. The battle scenes remind me of the final battle in episode 6 of Star Wars, albeit the CGI is generations more realistic and engaging.
I really enjoyed the nearly 3 hours of escape, as did my fellow audience members. Therefore it surprised me that the Vatican would get all upset by the movie.
Vatican says 'Avatar' is no masterpiece
Yet, this is a good example of super-organic (or institutional) competition. Religion vs Art, Religion vs Science and Art. The Roman Catholic church is one of humanity's great institutions with a life of approximately 1500 years, over a billion human cells world wide, and which has demonstrated an ability to survive many changes in its environment. It has both influence that environment and has reluctantly adapted to it. But it is also a example of one entity in the species of religion.
At one time in Western Europe, the Church was the patron of great art as well as the source of inspiration of great art. Religious art and religious themes have and do serve as a core of much of art today. The themes of art and the themes of religion overlap and complement one another. The nature of humankind, the reasons for suffering, the conflict between Good and Evil, mankind's place in the Universe, love and hate, judgment and forgiveness, death and resurrection, are universal themes which challenge all societies and cultures. They are part of the human condition.
The Church, which has both fostered and repressed scientific inquiry over its life time, is one institution of many that attempt to address these issues. Today it is attempting to act as the censor of the science that is leading to human spiritual progress, even when offered as a entertainment.
Science has added tremendously to our understanding of these issues, especially in the 20th century. Art, especially Sci-Fy, as a superorganic species made up of individuals and their corporate entities translate science into images and metaphors that bring these discoveries and understanding to the masses.
Today, we are in the middle of a great debate about mankind's future and its responsibility for the planet. Global warming and its consequences for humans and the global ecosystem are really important issues. Human technology and human institutions (the superoragnic manifestations of human inventiveness) are the source of much of recent change. Global pandemics, droughts, flooding, weather changes, pollution of all kinds, extinctions, are both the results of human superorganic activity, and the planet's response to that activity.
If Avatar has a spiritual message, it is just this. Technology, once a human tool for survival, has become a sentient super-organic life form in which individual human are but functional cells carrying out the will of the super-organism.
We see the short term greed represented in the "Corporation" and humans who inhabit it such as Colonel Miles Quaritch and Parker Selfridge, representative for the Resources Development Administration. The creature's need to feed off the much-desired natural resource, the mineral Unobtanium. According to Parker it can save Earth from its present energy crisis. This brings the moral conflict between harmony and chaos into focus.
Pandora, an apt name, is a living planet (actually a satellite of the planet of Polyphemus) whose dominant species, Na'vi, live in harmony with the other creatures who make up the organic structure of this super-organic entity.
The Pope apparently fears that this movie would lead to a neo-paganism. One thing is for certain by opposing the movie, he will generate even higher revenues for the film. He might also help to draw attention to the central moral problem of human existence and purpose.
But then his is but one voice and one opinion, for others check out the Wikipedia section on Avatar Critical reception and judge for yourself.