Sunday, February 1, 2015

Winning, God and Avatar

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!!

For those readers overseas, and according to my recent stats, there are more of you than from America, I imagine that our celebration of the Super Bowl seems odd.  If so, take solace in the thought that we look askance at your obsession with the World Cup Soccer finals.

One thing we do have in common however, is the desire to win, and/or be a fan of a winning team.  Which brings us to the controversy surrounding the footballs allegedly used by the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.  In essence, the league has a rule governing the PSI of the footballs and it appears that the Patriots broke that rule by using under inflated balls.  Of course, the Super Bowl is big money, so, while an investigation may have begun, no one expects any answers until after the big game.  And, if it is determined that the Patriots did cheat, I don't expect the punishment to include the forfeiture of the AFC victory, nor a super bowl victory should the Patriots win today.  It will be another lesson in the classroom of life which regards winning the most important achievement, regardless of the methods employed.  (I predict a Patriots victory, 27-24)   

I do expect however, someone on the winning team to thank god for the victory.  Why the supreme being, creator of everything that has ever existed, and is to exist, the force that was there for the Big Band and will be there for the final whimper, the being older that time itself actually cares about a game of sport being played today is not the point.  Perhaps, if just once, someone on the losing team might blame the devil for the loss at the post game interviews we could at least have some balance. 

But back to winning for a second.  If someone cheats to win, is it still OK to thank god for the victory.  Doesn't that somehow make god a cheater too?  After all, if the winner cheated, and god had a hand in the victory, then clearly god either participated in the deceit, or at the least, condoned it by not taking steps to keep the cheating side from winning.

Of course, man's history is replete with the winners thanking their deities for success, whether personal or national.  There are many Americans that take for granted that their god created the land we currently call the United States just for us.  The fact that there were already people living here is besides the point, especially when we assume that their pagan beliefs did not recognize the Judeo-Christian God that we accept as the best version of god.  Consequently, our slaughter of the Native Americans becomes glossed over in phrases such as Manifest Destiny, progress, modernization.  After all, our one God was more powerful than their multiple gods, hence our success in forcing the remaining American Indian we didn't kill to move to the least hospitable parts of the country, for little or no compensation despite the various treaties that we signed. 

Similarly, the enslavement of the black man from that dark, barbaric continent of Africa must have been blessed by our god.  Why else would western man have been so successful in tearing apart families and using the backs of men whose only crime was to be born in a sunny land, so they could create farms and plantations to feed the country, and their bank accounts as well?

Seems kind of ironic that we look back on the civilizations that appeased their gods through sacrifices, animal and human, as if their beliefs were inhumane, simplistic, while believing that our supplications to God are so much more advanced.  We pray to win, to win at sports, to win money, to win a war not realizing that so many of our prayers, should they be answered, may mean, for another, the loss of a game, the loss of one's possessions, the loss of life.  Is it more inhumane to kill someone, straight out by cutting their throat, or to kill them slowly by denying their heritage, or by poisoning their air and water for profit, or by destroying their homes from above via bombs and drones?

I watched Avatar again last night with my wife.  There was a scene that reminded me of how far we still have to go in our belief in and the purpose of God.  If you remember the movie, you will remember the scene when Jake goes to the Tree of Souls to pray for Eywa's help in the war to save the homeland of the Na'vi people.  At this point his native girl friend, Neytiri, tells him that Eywa does not choose sides, but only acts to maintain balance.  Her people have a strong connection to the land, a strong belief in their god, but not so strong, not so arrogant, that they believe that by asking for help they will automatically receive it, in the way that will benefit them.  As if the victor in every human encounter wins through the grace of god, the loser because god does not favor them.

Unfortunately, Jake's prayers are answered, the animals of the land and air come to the aid of the Na'vi and the humans are defeated.  I say unfortunately, not because I was rooting against the Na'vi, but because their god is portrayed as choosing a side.  And, while we applaud the victory of the Na'vi, we aren't necessarily reminded by the movie that the Na'vi won, not because they were the more spiritual, not even because the humans were portrayed as greedy and violent, but because Eywa maintains balance and it is best maintained via the Na'vi culture.  God does not choose sides, certainly not in sports, and most definitely not in wars where destruction and death are the means to winning.  Perhaps, once we realize this, we might be less celebratory when we cross an imaginary line on the ground with a elliptically shaped pigskin, and less eager to glorify the killing of those with whom we share our planet just because their culture, religion, or skin color may be different.  

Or, to be more blunt, those misguided Islamic radicals who have perpetrated some horrific acts of violence are not tools of a lesser god, the god of Islam, any more than those misguided Christians who slaughtered the Native Indians were tools of a lesser god, the god of Christianity.  The victor in our current global war against terrorism, will not be the side which God favors.  It may be the side with the biggest guns, but that won't make it the side of god, as Avatar teaches us.  Hopefully, It will be the side which harnesses the power that is the root of all religions, the power of love.  And then, perhaps, God can be thanked for a victory that resulted, not because we asked God for help, not because our God was better than theirs, but because we acted as God's messengers have taught us to act and behave.       


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