Eager for Eden

In a recent email from the Clergy Letter Project, Michael Zimmerman reports that the movie Creation is shortly scheduled to be released in the United States. To quote from the Project newsletter:

“You may have heard that the film, Creation, about Charles Darwin and his struggle with his faith after his daughter, Annie, died had trouble finding a US distributor because it was seen as being too controversial for the American public, particularly after being attacked on Movieguide.org, an influential site which reviews films from a supposedly ‘Christian perspective’.”

It is disturbing that a non-fiction film has been blocked from American viewers because distributors found the content too controversial. The controversy has nothing to do with sex or violence, but an assault on the fantasy of a literal interpretation of Genesis. Disturbing fact challenges comfortable fantasy.

In a related story, an article on CNN.com explores the sense of depression that several viewers of Avatar felt after the movie ended. While the reasons are deep and complex, the overall theme seems to be that these viewers can’t shake the image of a pristine world that seemed so real for two-and-a-half hours. They long for a paradise that doesn’t exist. A paradise that has never existed. I am not unsympathetic. Although I could not view the film, I left from the theater with a similar, if less intense, feeling. It is a similar emotion to that when a truly special event takes place and the mind plays it over and over like a new and significant song. Impressions and hazy images and euphoria wash over you, and a longing for a moment that can never be recaptured consumes your consciousness. These are some of the most bittersweet moments of life. They are the very heartbeat of fantasy.

There never was an Eden. Human existence has been brutal and harsh since we first stood upright and wondered why we could think. America is a nation in deep denial about this harsh reality. We would rather believe the biblical Eden is a literal paradise and that our aching imaginations are somehow giving us glimpses of a fabled utopia where life was perfect. Well, almost perfect. The movie Avatar presents a paradigm that many Americans can relate to: an electronic world of endless possibilities shielding us from the stark realities of illness, pollution, tragedy, and death. We are insulated in our surreal environment that we have created for ourselves.

The human capacity for wonder is perhaps the greatest asset that consciousness has deigned to bequeath us. We can imagine a world where all creatures live in harmony with their environment and love and peace flourish. But that is not our world. A good corrective to these tempting fantasies is to read some good old classic Greek tragedies. These imaginative explorations of the human condition are as true to life as dreams of utopian worlds are removed from it. It is all a matter of perspective. And the Greeks were writing B.C.E. — Before the Computer Era — when reality had not been hidden behind a haze of ephemeral electrons.

3 thoughts on “Eager for Eden

  1. My feeling of depression after Avatar was different. I found the Pandora environment too kitsch to be likeable, and the use of marine life-forms (familiar to me) in the forest made it feel really weird. The push of the Gaïa hypothesis to a very litteral point was also “too much”.
    The environment of the planet was not that paradisiac, the Na’vi had pretty fearful predators to contend with.

    But as the movie went, and I thought of Tasmanian aboriginals, of Northern America indians, I was so much taken into the story that I very violently rooted against the human mercenaries. “Get rid of them all!” I thought. And after the movie, I fell I could include myself in that ‘all’. Because, just by existing, and living in an affluent country, I partake daily in the destruction of our environment. And that is depressing.
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/01/11/the-holocaust-we-will-not-see/

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, Sophie.

      Good observations. Accidents of birth are one of the more problematic aspects of life on this planet. I once had a friend, inflamed with radical justice, proclaim, “no one should have two pair of shoes before everyone has one!” While I agree in general that this would be fair, there are people who don’t want shoes. That goes for just about any material benefit that we might have on offer. The environment, however, is another story. I can’t see how any intelligent, or even sentient, being could willfully destroy their own planet for greed’s sake. It sickens me. Perhaps by making our voices heard, however, we can make a difference.

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  2. Pingback: Darwin Versus the Fall – Part Two « כל־האדם

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