The film has been subjected to a sustained assault from many on the right, most notably by Ross Douthat in the New York Times, as an “apologia for pantheism.” Douthat’s criticisms hit the mark, but the most relevant point was raised by John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard. Cameron wrote Avatar, says Podhoretz, “not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people.”
What would have been controversial is if — somehow — Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts.
What the hell? Jonah is Jewish. Why on earth is he proselytizing for Christians? What does he think will happen to people of his religion if the right gets its way and makes Christianity a state religion? Would synagogues lose their tax exemption? Would Jewish holidays no longer be respected? Or would he simply have to suffer the public slights from a people who identify themselves through the exclusion and persecution of others?
Of course, that sounds outlandish and absurd, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers.
I’m certainly one of those cranky right-wingers, though I probably enjoyed the movie as cinematic escapism as much as the next guy.
But what I find interesting about the film is how what is “pleasing to the most people” is so unapologetically religious.
I suppose he is trying to say that when the savage converts the Christian the left is happy, but when the Christian converts the savage, only a few noble, pure souls like Goldberg care. It's amazing that a Jewish guy ignores the forced conversions, outlawing of others' religions, and scapegoating those of minority religions but after all, this is the man who mitigated Hitler to try to make the left look worse.
Jonah's point, which he reaches eventually after digressions into philosophy, cartoons, Darwin, and, of course, Al Gore, seems to be that the right has moral unity but the left is in moral chaos. They need traditional religion to pass on morality and even to survive. Therefore Avatar is stupid and the left is immoral and the Right is right. And all this fake scholarship and pontificating is in the service of an essay on a movie.
The Corner mocks analysis of pop culture but also revels in it, eager to repackage everything in their own brand, an imaginary world of uniformity and conformity. They hate the real world because most of the people in it refuse to play along with their delusions.