Definition of Religion: Avatar
The movie selected for this essay is the 2009 American movie called Avatar. A movie based on a story that occurs in the future in 2154 when a huge corporation moves to a different planet named Pandora to establish a mining colony (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). A review of the spiritual beliefs of the tribe living in Pandora, the account of their spiritual rituals and an analysis of key terms used in the movie clearly illuminates the definition of religion as Mary Pat Fisher gives it. As a religionist, Fisher (2013) explains that “All of religion shares the goal of tying people back to something beyond the surface of life – a greater reality, which lies beyond, or invisibly infuses, the world that we can perceive with our five senses” (p. 6). In this movie, the spiritual beliefs and acts of the community living on the fictional planet provide a clear understanding of the definition given by Fisher.
To begin with, the producer’s use of the terms Pandora and Avatar in the movie has a strong significance in the Fishers definition. In the Hinduism, Avatar refers to the manifestation of a Hindu deity in human form and it is derived from the word Sanskrit, which implies descent. In this case, it is possible for those who practice Hinduism to have a god who takes the form of a person. In relation to the definition of religion mentioned above, the use of this term in the movie depicts a number of issues. First, it is possible for a god to appear in the form of man and the only distinction of this man from an ordinary man is his or her ability to engage in or display some supernatural acts. It is clearly seen in the movie how the avatar was a creation of man who had the capability to do extraordinary things. Second, the existences of such supernatural beings that cannot be perceived by humans own understanding. The avatar in the movie has been able to accomplish certain things that even scientific evidence cannot prove. Jake, the avatar is a crippled soldier who leaves his body is in the human colony and moves to Pandora to exist among the Na’vis and interact with them subconsciously. In addition, a name was given to the Na’vis’ planet, Pandora, is significant to the ancient Greeks, and it is comparable to what Eve meant to Christians. This has a relationship with the definition of religion because it provides a kind of explanation of how the world came to be based on certain stories of the past. According to Christianity, Eve is the woman who was the main source of humans problems and responsible for causing endless suffering to humankind. In a similar manner, Pandora was a Greek woman who could not resist the temptation to open a jar that she had been given filled with evil gifts from the gods. When she closed the jar again, only hope remained trapped in it. In the movie, the interruptions caused by the humans who moved to this planet led to a lot of misery implying that they opened a Pandora box on themselves as well as the planet. The use of these terms brings out a clear understanding of religion because the religious beliefs are linked to the names. Moreover, it is a symbolic way to depict religious beliefs as per the definition (Fisher, 2013).
Another depiction of religion in the movie is concerned with the spiritual beliefs and acts of the tribes in Pandora, the avatar, and the other humans. The inhabitants of the fictional planet, the Na’vi, believe in a goddess referred to as Eywa or the Great Mother to whom they pray and worship. The existence of one Supreme Being, who every tribesman prayed to shows that their everyday decisions and actions were determined by how strongly they believed in their deity and the teachings they had from her. The peaceful life they had before the humans interrupted shows they had a great commitment to this goddess. Additionally, the plants and animals in this movie are depicted as not belonging to the natural ecology only but the spiritual one too. Therefore, violating them was considered as a spiritual wrongdoing and not only a physical one (Cameron & Cameron, 2009).The presence of magical plants and the notion that Na’vi had the capability of creating physical bonds with dragon-like creatures is not a usual thing to happen on any planet. Thus, the presence of a deity in their lives had a great impact on them, as Fisher mentions, the objective of religion is to bring people close to a certain kind of life. A life that is beyond ordinary person’s expectations, and in this case, Eywa had managed to influence the lives of the Na’vi people in a big way. The holiest place for the Na’vi’ is in the Tree of Souls where they come together for two rituals that could be described as their healing and worship services. According to Fisher’s definition, religion connects people with something that does not exist in their midst. Having a specific place that was considered holy and which could be used for various rituals helped in strengthening and creating connections with a supernatural being (Fisher, 2013). The belief in supernatural things also happens to the airborne seeds of this tree, which are named as pure spirits while the branches are used in prayer rituals.
In one of the services, prayers are held to heal the wounds sustained by Augustine during an attack, through a spiritual leader of the tribe. Here, the wish is that Eywa would transfer her human body to her avatar, and she recognizes the power of this goddess by commenting during the prayers that Eywa is real (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). This shows the conviction obtained from observing the rituals as well as the belief that the Na’vi had in their deity. In the second ritual, attempts were being made to convert the avatar of Jake to a Na’vi. The two rituals clearly describe the kind of power that Eywa was perceived to have, a power that was strong enough to accomplish what had taken years of research to accomplish. To create an avatar, a human had to be genetically engineered to the body of the Na’vi in order to survive in this Pandora and interact with them. During the services, the tribe stays seated and engages in a form of praise by undulating and ecstatically chanting (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). These forms of praise are associated with only a supreme being, one who is considered to demand respect and praise more than any other person. It is also a form of prayer performed on supernatural beings expected for the purpose of gaining favor and blessings in their lives (Fisher, 2013).
The Na’vi people also believe in the involvement of their departed ancestors in their lives and at other times, they listened to their whispering voices. Although the belief that people can communicate with ancestors and even their ghosts, appearing cannot be proved. Apparently, only religion gives the idea that ancestors can communicate to the living in various ways such like in dreams or various forms like ghosts. At a funeral service, one of the tribes’ men reflects that the energy that every living thing possesses is borrowed, and everyone will have to return it at one time. Additionally, they believe that after the death of a person, a second birth takes place where one lives again in the midst of people forever (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). This kind of reasoning is based on the definition of religion; this is because many biological reasons can show where the body of a person gets energy. Moreover, the death of a person marks the end of their life, and there is no scientific prove that a person has a second birthplace.
In one of the attacks targeted at destroying the Tree of Souls, Jake, who now supports the Na’vi prays to Eywa for assistance Neytiri, a Na’vi mentions that, Eywa will not assist because she does not take sides and only protects the balance of life. However, in the final battle, the creatures of the Planet rescue Na’vi people and Neytiri rejoice because Jake’s prayers were answered (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). This indicates that no one can be able to explain the actions of a mighty being, and no one has the idea how will react to various requests. The only steps people can take are pray and hope that they will get a positive response to their prayers. One of the leaders of the Na’vi refers to the avatar of Jake as a demon that has taken hostage of a false body (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). This shows that just as the people believe in a supreme doing that does only good, and they believe in the existence of another evil being. It also tells that no one would expect a good thing from a bad being and all good things are derived from the good. Col. Quatrich refers to the vicious environment of the Pandora to be comparable to hell depicting that hell is a bad place, which would be impossible to survive (Cameron & Cameron, 2009). This is only perceived to be true, but no one has ever actually been in such a place to give its exact description. This is because the existence of hell is only based on the religious beliefs that people have that hell is the place where all wrongdoers will end up going after they die. The depiction of the religion definition in this movie has been done in various ways including the use of key terms that are symbolic and the spiritual beliefs and actions of the communities in the movie. They help in describing in what religion entails in relation to the definition provided by Fisher.
Fisher, M.P. (2013). Living Religions (9th Ed.). New Jersey: Pearson.
Cameron, J. ( Producer), $ Cameron, J. (Director). (2009) Avatar (Motion Picture). United States: 20th Century Fox.