It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.
But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.
Pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
2. Next, also from the Times, is the review of the James Tissot exhibit currently being held at The Brooklyn Art Museum, entitled “Jesus Illustrated: Tissot’s New Testament”. Once the snow melts, that’s stop number two!
The close-up of Salome gloating over the weirdly illuminated head of John the Baptist is wonderfully grotesque; the image of Jesus being carried aloft by a shadowy Satan is hair-raising. The scene in which Jesus stands alone before Pilate in an expansive stone room has a terrible pathos. That of Joseph at his workbench, mooning over his pregnant fiancée, is touching. You don’t have to be a devout Christian to get caught up in the story and its sad inevitability.
3. A moving testimonial/editorial about original sin as it relates to giving lectures and giving money, from Stanley Fish over at, yes, The NY Times (ht SMZ). He finishes with the priceless William James quote, “The trail of the human serpent is over everything”.
4. Then, at Salon we have “I Am A Closet Christian”, which speaks insightfully (albeit somewhat condescendingly) about a phenomenon that many of us have encountered.
5. Slate has compiled a guide tracking all the “Best Movies Of The Decade” features that are being published. As we begin to think about our own list, we’d love to hear your picks.