Anawim Theology and Avatar

Anawim theology is the biblical theology of God’s salvation of the poor and outcast. It is strongly linked to anabaptist theology. “Anawim” is a Hebrew term that means “the poor seeking the Lord for deliverance”, is used in the Psalms extensively and is referred to in the Magnificat and the Beatitudes. If you are interested in reading a popular theology of it you can read the book Unexpected News: Reading The Bible Through Third World Eyes or check out this website:

But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Avatar.

I understand that some feel that there is some racism in Avatar, and I can see their point, but it would be deeply embedded and certainly not obvious to the masses throughout the world watching it. However, I believe that part of the reason that Avatar is so popular is because of the open Anawim-like theology involved. There is a general morality throughout the world that the underdog should be supported and that God is on the side of the oppressed. Avatar not only supports this, but has a pretty strong morality/spirituality. As I sat and watched it a couple times, I wrote the following principles down that I think describes Avatar’s basic support of Anawim theology:

There is a empire, ruling the world, and its focus is to increase the wealth of a limited few, even if that hurts others. Everyone within the empire is a part of this system of greed, even if they superficially attempt to oppose it.

There is an alternative system which focuses on relationships, community and spiritual power.

The secret of the spiritual community is empathy. It is the sign that one is a part of the spiritual community, the unifying principle as well as the power. One has empathy with all life. Even if one must kill to survive, empathy requires that one feels the death of the other, and give it the respect that one would demand. The minimal amount of empathy is treating other’s life as one would be treated.

All empathy begins with understanding, with listening. Eventually, one can “see” another, deeply understanding the other, placing them as an equal in importance to oneself. Those who do not have the ability to understand, to empathize, are insane and cannot exist in the spiritual community.

But some relationships have deeper empathy, a full bond. In those relationships, two share their minds, their lives, their souls. And once bonded, the bond cannot be broken except through death. This is love.

The opposite to empathy, to bonding, is fear. To fear the other is to separate from the other. To listen to the other, one must receive the other; to accept the other, one must trust; to bond with the other one must unite.

Those of the empire cannot empathize. Yes, they can understand intellectually the other different from oneself, but they cannot truly see them as equals to themselves. They are so caught up in building their own empire for those like themselves, that they cannot see the other. So they outcast those who truly empathize, because the desires of empathy is opposite to the greed of the empire.

The evil empire wants the resources of the spiritual community and will ignore all the concerns of the spiritual community to get it. On the surface, the evil empire is more powerful than the spiritual community, and the spiritual community is in threat of extinction.

For the spiritual community to survive, there must be a mediator–one who knows what it is to be spiritual and one who has lived amidst the empire. He or she must be born of both worlds, but the Mediator does not straddle the fence. The Mediator must be on the side of the spiritual community, the weak, the oppressed, if they are to survive.

In the end, there will be conflict–disasterous conflict–between the empire and the spiritual community. And although the empire seems to have the greater power, the fact is that the spiritual community has a source that is at the core of all life. The only way to connect to that Source is through prayer. Thus, though the Mediator may use many different resources, the true power is found in prayer. Prayer is what changes the course for the spiritual community.

One must recognize, however, that the Source does not take sides between the empire and the spiritual community. The Source is on the side of all life, of order and balance. However, as long as the spiritual community is on the side of the Source, then the Source will act for them. And this action is more powerful than anything else they might conceive themselves.

Eventually, the spiritual community of empathy will rule the world and force the empire out. But this will only happen when the truly are united in Empathy. Only then will many in the Empire become united with the Source of all life, and seek balance.

What do you think?

Comments (6)

  1. John Ballard

    Good observations.

    I went to the film with no expectations and was impressed with the technology and imagination invested in the film. As for message content, it was yet another “white Messiah” incarnation. Think Dances with Wolves, Man Called Horse, Emerald Forest and others which feature a modern hero “going native” and using superior skills/weapons/insights to bring salvation to otherwise noble savages.

    That much was trite but commonplace. But the sad part for me was once again seeing the myth of redemptive violence being spoon fed to another generation. Walter Wink’s elaboration of that insight may be arcane but it goes to the core of the Christian message. Once that became clear, all that remained for me was waiting for the last third or fourth of the movie to unwind so I could leave.

  2. Will McCorkle

    I think you bring up a great point. I finally went and saw the movie this weekend. I thought despite the fact of the “white savior” it was an amazing social commentary. I never expected I would come away from the movie so inspired. I have just written about the Social Commentary of the movie at my blog at Thanks for the great post.

  3. Tim B

    Cameron made a movie about getting back to nature. He made the movie using the most technologically advanced techniques Hollywood has ever seen.

    *Bashes head on desk*

  4. AlanS

    I heard a story on NPR this week about indigenous leaders in Ecuador going to see Avatar. It was pretty interesting. Seems to fit with this discussion.

  5. SteveK (Post author)

    Excellent NPR video! I especially liked the last comment. Of course, in the movie, the indigenous people had no opportunity for dialog…

  6. Will McCorkle

    Avatar’s social commentary cannot be overlooked. In an age where the rich and powerful continue to oppress and take over more natural resources and continue to diminish the plight of the poor, we need a movie such as this to wake us up to these realities.

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