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'Avatar': The Vatican and Neo-Paganism

Sam Worthington, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore in Avatar
Sam Worthington, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore in Avatar (Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox)

Right-wingers criticize it for its anti-militaristic and anti-imperialism stance. The politically correct accuse it of being racist. Anti-smokers cry foul because of a chain-smoking character. And now comes the Vatican media accusing it of promoting paganism and nature worship. Really, you can't please everyone, but this?

In addition to referring to Avatar as “bland” and “sappy,” L'Osservatore Romano complained in its review that James Cameron's sci-fier “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature,” while Vatican Radio pointed out that the film “cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium,” adding that “nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship.”

Pope Benedict XVI, who just yesterday called gay marriage an attack on “creation and the natural order” (Portugal has become the latest country to approve the legalization of gay marriages; a gay couple got married in Argentina last week), has already proclaimed against the dangers of turning nature into a “new divinity.” The pope also denounced the “supposedly egalitarian vision” that human beings and other living creatures should be placed on the same plane of existence, adding that such a worldview would “open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms.”

Last year, the Vatican lambasted Angels & Demons and a couple of years earlier it lashed out against The Da Vinci Code. Both films were based on Dan Brown's novels; both were directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks; and both went on to become worldwide blockbusters.

Avatar opens Friday in Italy. Expect huge grosses.

Quotes: Associated Press

Sam Worthington, Laz Alonso in Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)

Avatar earned a solid $5.1 million yesterday, Jan. 11, according to data found at Box Office Mojo. After 25 days in release, James Cameron's sci-fi epic has grossed $435.9 million at the domestic box office. Compared to Monday last week, Avatar's earnings dropped by 37 percent.

In second place was Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, with $1.2 million, closely followed by the vampire film Daybreakers, starring Ethan Hawke, which took in $1.1 million. The Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin-Steve Martin romantic comedy It's Complicated held on strong, with more than $900,000, while the Amy Adams-Matthew Goode romantic comedy Leap Year earned close to $580,000. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel took in a little over $655,000.

Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side, George Clooney's Up in the Air, Michael Cera's Youth in Revolt, and Disney's The Princess and the Frog rounded out the top ten Monday films.

Slightly behind Rob Marshall's Nine and Clint Eastwood's Invictus, the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Taylor Lautner drama The Twilight Saga: New Moon added nearly $130,000 to its coffers. By tomorrow, the vampire-human-werewolf tale will have reached a total of $291 million. New Moon has been out for 53 days.

And if things continue as they are, by Friday Avatar will have added another $15 million to its take. Written and directed by Cameron, Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Laz Alonso, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, and West Studi.

The film has received nominations from the American Cinema Editors, the American Society of Cinematographers, the Writers Guild, the Art Directors Guild, the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild, and it's up for a Best Film (drama) Golden Globe.

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16 Comments to 'Avatar': The Vatican and Neo-Paganism

  1. Jason

    I am a devoted Christian and saw parts of this movie while at my parents' house yesterday for Mother's Day. I have to say, I don't understand the controversy over the film. I didn't see any political or religious tones in the film. The blue aliens did have their spiritual rituals, which reminded me of Native Americans. The “bad guys” were some greedy political big wigs and a greedy general. I've seen plenty of movies portraying these types of characters. For all my brothers and sisters in Christ: Avatar is just a movie, not doctrine. If you are swayed by the things portrayed in the movie, I would submit there's some serious prayer needed on your part. To non-believers: I do apologize if any of y'all feel attacked by Christians for your beliefs. Our hope and prayer is that yall would come to Christ, so we can all be in our Father's House together in Heaven one day. We care for y'alls eternal destination and we don't want it to be in hell. Jesus Christ came to save all, and since He has ascended, Christians have been given the task of sharing the Good News of Christ. If y'all haven't done so(or ever done so), I will encourage yall grab a Bible, ask God to open your heart and eyes, read starting in John, and prepare for your life to change! - in Christ, Jason

  2. Minda

    I'm surprised the pope would have something negative to say about such a beautiful movie. Why are some Catholics so threatened by the Life Force? Why are so many Christians hateful of other religious beliefs? It's funny to me, when you say “love thy neighbor” and then if your neighbor doesn't believe in heaven, hell, or that man was “created in God's image” it's ok to openly speak out against your neighbor and condemn them for their beliefs. Don't Christians believe that only “God” can pass judgment? If that's true then why do so many Christians pass judgment on others? I'm so glad to finally have a movie that reflects my spiritual beliefs. I only wish Christians would show me and others like me respect and stop trying to condemn me for not believing in what they believe. It seems to me that there is a lot of evil and sickness that goes on within the Catholic and Christian churches as a result of their leaders condemning others and setting that type of example.

  3. James Cameron is a genius - on many levels. Word on the street is that he flew to Rome and worked out a great deal re: the “Papal/Pagan pox on your movie campaign”. Win Win for the coffers of Rome and revenues for Avatar.
    Catholics flocked to Avatar and ticket sales soared
    and we loved the movie.

  4. Linda

    I worked for HALLIBURTON in Iraq, and honestly, I saw more politics in the movie, than religion overtones, and I'm a pagan! I don't know a single pagan who WORSHIPS anything. If you believe that we are all inter-connected, then why would you worship anything? You accept it, nurture it, heal it, and allow it to die and be reabsored for the good of all. So what is the Pope afraid of? Losing POWER. Halliburton/Pope. . . .hmmmm I see the similarity.

  5. Heather J

    I am far from religious, in fact some of my friends have called me the atheist of the group. But if a movie is made weather it be about Christian's or Pagen's or in-between…Who cares? I mean come on. If a movie was made and the Pagen's thought it was to “Pro-church” they wouldn't go on about it! This is stupid. The Da Vinci code and Angles and Demons both happen to be great movies and I hear this one is to but why can't the Pope just understand that no matter how hard he tries he will never be able to stop Pagen beliefs, because to me that is what it looks like he's trying to do. I don't have a religion because I do not believe in a higher power but that we make our own choices. I hope I have not offended any one because that was not my intention. Has any Catholic here seen any of the three movies mentioned and found them offensive? Angels and Demons to me was a great movie to me because of the Science, not the Anti-religion. Another book that the Vatican would not like is the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. I am hoping to see Avatar and if there are pagen views I will be sure to inform you as to my views.


  6. Cameron


    This needs not turn into a religion bash of any sorts. And if they really have become irrelevant how come so many people call themselves Christians? Further more your assertion sums up our arguments and irrational and pointless. Does the Catholic Church have a point in what it said absolutely. But the conclusion they drew from the movie I feel is incorrect or taken to much on face value. If the Church, spirituality didn't matter nobody would posted anything on this blog. I guess what I am really asking is what exactly do you really mean?


  7. Graham Weir

    Yet another example of why the Catholic Church ( as well as others) have become more or less irrelevant to the majority of the population. The philosophy that ideologies can be maintained forever is well outdated and has been discarded by many who prefer to think for themselves rather than be told by a bunch of old fellas in frocks..

  8. Shelly

    Hmmm, from a Heathen and historical standpoint, looks like yet another knee-jerk reaction on the church's part when presented with a threat to their power.
    -“The pope…proclaimed against the dangers of
    turning nature into a 'new divinity.'”-
    First off, Nature was worshiped thousands of years before the church was even thought of. Secondly, it is now known that the early church converted thousands by absorbing the old pagan beliefs of the country-folk over the centuries. In closing, returning to our Ancestral Folkway is a good thing, not something to be feared and admonished. We must find our own way to the Gods and Ancestors and walk tall and proud, not live on our knees to be shepherded like the other sheep.

  9. Miriam

    Thank you for your view Cameron… I am pagan and I saw pagan symbolism and correlation. You saw your belief and a correlation there. It would be great if everyone can look at someone elses religion and actually “see” that there is more than one way to look at something, that there is not one path and everyone else is wrong. And yes Citana - we should all work together for the good of our planet which would be for the good of us humans.

  10. Burtan Lafleur

    I can understand the points of view from Stephanie and Citana. However, if the Pagan community had raised objections about “Passion of the Christ” or said anything derogatory about it, the Christian community would be up in arms against us.

  11. Stephanie

    I grew up Roman Catholic but converted to Paganism in college.

    The Vatican is the guide for millions of Roman Catholics and I think they should take a stand on things in the popular media, I also think they should clean house first and truly become the model for Christianity they claim to be.

    To paraphrase the old saying, Father, heal thyself. Once you do, you'll become relevant in the modern world and you won't lose believers at such an alarming rate.

    While I understand the points of views for and against the movie, I think everyone missed the real point: it's a MOVIE and as such is only entertainment.

  12. Citana

    I absolutely fell in love with this movie, and I hope people take away from it more than the good visual effects, or the religious controversy, but to see the big picture, that destruction of a culture in favor of such a short-sighted goal as profit is real, is out there, and real people are affected by it. The imperialism shown is a mirror-like reflection of what is happening still, every day around the world, including in the United States.
    On a side note, I too am Pagan, and I do not expect an apology from the Pope (for several reasons, 1.it is un-Pope-like, 2.he would get nothing from it, 3.would a Pagan apologize for criticizing a blockbuster based on the rapture? etc.), and I think that an ecological seed planted in the public's psyche has been made over the last several years already (with the Green movement and all), and that this is far short of creating a new promotion of a Neo-Pagan way for the new millenium (though it may be healthier than the all-out destruction of peoples and environment we have seen over the last several hundred years).
    All in all, I agree with Cameron above, and that this film can be used by any and all religions as a promotion of mutual respect and brotherhood among humans together as a species. We are all in this thing together, whether we like it or not. We may as well make the best of it and enjoy each other.

  13. Cameron

    I happen to be a very devout Catholic and was a little disappointed when I read the review by the Vatican. I feel that this movie taken does nothing but support exactly what the Church is teaching and that of supporting religion itself. For example take Jake Sully's character. He became one of the Navi and saved them. Jesus Christ became human to save all humans from death. In my opinion a direct correlations. Ewya is a direct correlation to God the Father. The voices of the ancestors they can listen to through Ewya is the Communion of Saints. I feel like the Vatican is taking the film too literally on face value. I think the Vatican missed a great opportunity to use this as a tool in a sense. I'm not saying that James Cameron intended this interpretation or that of neo-paganism that the Vatican describes but this film how so much theological reflection in it no matter what your faith background. It not telling us to worship nature but more so protect and sacrifice our lives for what we truly care about. I am interested in what you all think about what I have said.

  14. kenneth

    The Vatican clearly fears its days are numbered. It feels threatened by a race of giant smurf-like digitally produced aliens!

  15. Burtan Lafleur

    I demand an apology from the Vatican on it's statements. I am a Pagan, and I do worship nature. I have every right to my beliefs, and NO organization, no matter how large or how many followers has the right to dictate if my religious basis should be allowed to be viewed in public media. I have considered launching a formal protest and suing for damages, however, a public apology from the Vatican to the Pagan community will suffice.

  16. Cory M

    The Vatican would rather us go back to the good old greco-roman child orgy days

    The theory that we are all connected by a singular consciousness is not as much of a threat as sexual deprived priest experimenting with our children(fact)…