Like many others, I was deeply affected by the movie Avatar. The lush beauty of Pandora’s glow-in-the-dark forests and floating mountains, coupled with the interconnected relationships between the Navi and the planet along with its myriad of inhabitants, evokes in us a sense of longing to be a part of it all. How many of us, after watching the show, wouldn’t like to be one of the Navi?
According to an article on CNN’s website, a large number of viewers came out of the cinema feeling depressed after being yanked back into reality, with some even contemplating suicide. What is happening? Why do so many of us yearn for a world like Pandora, while feeling disillusioned about our own? Even without the movie, this feeling has been prevalent in our culture for some time.
There is a hunger abroad in our time, haunting lives and hearts. Like an empty stomach aching beneath the sleek coat of a seemingly well-fed creature, it reveals that something is missing from the diet of our rational, secular and affluent culture. Perhaps we feel an emptiness that leaves us restless for a larger meaning and purpose in life. Perhaps we sense that we are sailing through life in a rudderless ship. Something is missing. Something is out of balance. But it remains nameless. ~ Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
For one thing, our urban lifestyles create a disconnection between us and the natural world. When was the last time we looked up at the heavens to marvel at its beauty, unspoilt by street lamps and bright city lights? When was the last time we stood in the middle of a forest, closed our eyes, listened to its sounds, and smelled its fragrances? Have we lost our connection with the rest of creation, of which theology tells us we are a part of; with the natural world, of which science tells us we were formed out of through billions of years of evolution and natural selection? Does this longing for the natural beauty of Pandora point us to something else – perhaps another world? Perhaps, we long for the world as it was meant to be; or as it will be someday in the new heaven and new earth?
The Internet, hailed as the tool that would connect the world together, has only led to further isolation. Not only are we disconnected from the natural world, but also from the rest of humankind. City life – millions of people being lonesome together ~ says Henry David Thoreau. Could it be that this longing to be connected, just as the Navi are intimately connected with the rest of Pandora’s creatures and even the planet itself, point us to the fact that we were created for relationship?
Most importantly, has post-Enlightenment rationalism also robbed us of a huge chunk of our lives? Have we lost all sense of spirituality and of the sacred? Why do we yearn for meaning, purpose and to be a part of something greater than ourselves? These are themes that permeate the culture of the Navi. Do these yearnings point us to a higher purpose, a broader view of reality that includes the spiritual and the sacred?
Rationalism makes reason the highest authority in determining what is true. Its expression in the modern scientific mind has little sympathy for anything that cannot be measured, quantified, and categorized. Invisible realities that do not yield to scientific inquiry are generally dismissed from the realm of possibility. Consequently, we have suffered from the loss of a sense of sacredness in life. This reduction of life to narrow and mechanistic categories of reality is no longer adequate for many people. ~ Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
Are such yearnings encoded in our genes? Possibly. Does natural selection favour such traits in Homo sapiens? Or could it be a fortuitious by-product of enlarged brains? Maybe. Are they pointers to a transcendental reality? Perhaps.
C. S. Lewis once argued that just as hunger and thirst point to the existence of food and drink, spiritual hunger could point to the existence of the Divine.
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. ~ Blaise Pascal, Pensees
You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You. ~ Saint Augustine of Hippo