James Wall edited the Christian Century magazine for 27 years and remains as contributing editor. His brand of left-leaning politics and theology helped drive the once influential magazine, for which Reinhold Neibuhr once wrote, into near oblivion, from which it has barely recovered.
But Wall is unrepentant, and now he has blogged that the new science fiction movie Avatar is a metaphor for ostensible Israeli oppression of Palestinians, as well as American imperialism overall. Understandably, “Friends of Sabeel – North America,” which organizes anti-Israel opinion among church groups, is spotlighting Wall’s analysis.
Wall was delighted that the Obama family viewed “Avatar” on New Year’s Eve and excitedly hopes the film can be screened in the White House as a “teachable moment.” A frequent visitor to the Middle East, Wall is himself a die-hard critic of Israel and embodies the Religious Left’s 40 year old hostility to Israel. He often editorialized against Christian support for Israel while Christian Century editor but now must rely on his blog and further broadcasts by kindred spirits like Sabeel.
Avatar, of course is a futuristic fantasy in which wicked, American-like mercenaries invade a bucolic and distant moon of serene aliens so as to despoil them of their coveted natural resources. It is a science fiction version of “Dancing with Wolves,” in which natives are primitive but noble, while the technologically more advanced American invaders are vulgar, violent and materialistic. The Kevin Costner-like character is a former Marine dispatched initially by the evil American corporation duplicitously to befriend and inveigle the native aliens. Instead, he falls in love with the aliens and leads them, with their alien bows and arrows, allied with an aroused animal kingdom, and guided by a pagan Mother Deity, into successful resistance against the attacking Americans.
Naturally, an old-time Religious Left icon like James Wall would joyfully discern political metaphors in a film whose audience cheers for resisting natives against invading Americans. The native aliens could be Vietnamese, or Iraqis, or virtually any favored Third World victim group of American imperialism. But Wall preferred to imagine that “Avatar” illustrates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“What viewers of Avatar discover is that the film immediately suggests the oppression of Native Americans by the U.S. government, because the Na’vi [the alien natives] and the land on which they live share a spiritual bond,” Wall opined. “The film also evokes the Vietnam War because the setting of the military struggle is a lush jungle. Gaza, Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan, are mountainous; there are no jungles. The dominant indigenous religion of Gaza and Af-Pak is Muslim, but like the Na’vi, the inhabitants live on land the outside invaders wish to control.”
Most Avatar viewers will be young people, Wall enthused, so it is an “incredible Teaching Moment” to shape impressionable minds. Indeed, it presents a “ built-in audience in which the way has been prepared to consider the foolishness of following the path to destruction which the military-industrial complex insists is necessary for human survival.” Wall was so excited that he suggested that any preacher wanting to affect young parishioners should stop reading Wall’s Christian Century and instead “race” to see Avatar. After all, “God works in mysterious ways. Why not through Avatar?”
Wall regretted that Obama is “already on the steady downward slope left to him by the Bush war-mongers” and “has to talk tough on terror to keep the Dick Cheney crowd at bay.” He hoped that a “progressive” would get Wall’s own musings to Obama to alert him to Avatar’s rich potential. After all, the “well-trained” Mainstream Media is so “fearful of Cheney and his neo-con gang to see anything in Avatar except an exciting sci-fi love story in the jungle which ends in a video game-like battle in the jungle.”
Tragically, the “political parallels to Gaza, Afghanistan and Pakistan were ignored,” Wall regretted of most film reviewers, who even spiked the revealing comment by one American commander who nastily refers to the alien natives as “terrorists” and urges his invading force to fight “terror” with “terror.” Wall is praying that Avatar creator James Cameron’s “vision” will help further persuade a “public that knows these invasions are not really in our national best interests.” And he assumed that “anyone with the slightest willingness to view our three current wars (Af-Pak directly, Gaza through our Israeli surrogates) will not miss Cameron’s vision.” Wall even hoped that Cameron, if he gets an Academy Award, might “startle America with an anti-colonial jeremiad.”
Meanwhile, as Avatar unfolds as a “Teaching Moment,” there are other marvelous events breaking forth, Wall rejoiced. Over 1300 anti-Israel activists from around the world descended on Cairo, Egypt, over New Year’s to march into Gaza in protest against Israel’s “destruction” after its “23-day military invasion of Gaza one year ago.” Of course Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as a “US-Israeli tool, doing their bidding instead of supporting the Palestinians,” refused to let the marchers into Gaza. Eventually a small delegation was permitted to visit Gaza, while the hundreds of others will, Wall approvingly surmised, return home and angrily accelerate their anti-Israel pressure campaign.
“The times, they are a’changing, and we have to believe Barack Obama knows this,” Wall smilingly concluded. “Obama has seen the movie [Avatar]. He also knows the right thing to do in Gaza, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is time to rally the public to make this consummate politician do what he knows, deep down, is the right thing to do.”
Probably the early writers and editors of Wall’s Christian Century, like Reinhold Neibuhr, would not have attached their loftiest political hopes to the perceived political metaphors of a science fiction thriller about translucent blue aliens. Maybe Wall’s fawning review of Avatar and dreams of a nation-changing White House film premier is itself a metaphor for the Religious Left’s intellectual and spiritual implosion.