The Inescapability of the Gospel

Here’s a piece by a Lefty named Annalee Newitz about the insufficiently Lefty liberal power fantasy that energizes stories like Avatar:
These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color — their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege.


This is true, as far as it goes — especially when it’s James “Ham-Fist” Cameron doing the storytelling. The irony, of course, is that Newitz has just as strong a missionary imperialist impulse as Cameron, only she wants to pretend that she doesn’t have it. Cameron, at least, is oblivious to his missionary spirit and seriously thinks he is defending and affirming “native cultures” from white imperialism while he works through his narcissistic Hero’s Journey. Newitz knows what Cameron is up to; so how is it that she’s blind to the log in her own eye? She wants to pretend she’s not the beneficiary of an aggressively missionary culture called “Christendom” (identified by her under the secular label “European” or “White” rather than the theological marker “Christian”)?
Rubbish. Her very notions of egalitarianism and human dignity are simply one of the thousand legacies that Christian culture has aggressively spread all over the world. Pre-Christian paganism knew nothing of it, taking for granted that humans were emphatically not created equal, and regarding the weaker as the natural slave of the stronger and women, by and large, as the natural inferior of man. Sure, the Spartans could be egalitarian with each other and impress ancient “Stuff White People Like“-types like Plato as he dreamt of his Republic. But, of course, they pulled that off by forcing the Helots to do all the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, being confirmed empiricists, pre-Christian pagans could see nothing especially equal about all humans, who are fatter, skinnier, smarter, dumber, faster, slower, uglier, handsomer, weaker, and stronger than one another and who do not appear to the naked eye to have much in the way of self-evident equality.
It was the rude imposition of Christian mystical dogma on western civilization that pulled off that job of persuading us all that race, class, and gender distinctions don’t matter when weighing human dignity. Indeed, the only thing in antiquity to challenge the universal pagan narrative that some folks were “natural slaves” and “talking plows” was Christianity — an aggressively missionary Christianity that said things like, “God is no respecter of persons,” and, “In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” Those ideas, unpacked slowly over centuries — and with no small struggle — are the things that gave birth to our modern assumptions about the human person (often via Christian heresies like the Enlightenment and Communism, and never via any tradition that did not trace its roots back to Christianity).
All you need to do to discover this is look at those places in the world where Christianity has either failed to penetrate or has been stomped into the ground. Or just look at pre-Christian humanity, where slavery was the universally accepted institution in every part of the world for time immemorial. The modern notion that Christianity is somehow to blame for slavery or the failure to grasp universal human dignity is like complaining that modern medicine, because it has not conquered cancer, is somehow to blame for it. It’s an astonishingly myopic and ungrateful approach to the only thing that has ever dealt slavery a blow. And that blow was empowered by nothing other than the purely mystical and aggressively evangelistic teaching that all human beings have equal dignity in the sight of God. Get rid of the dogma, and you will surely get rid of human equality with it.
But getting rid of it is exactly what Lefties are laboring to do, of course, because of their profound hostility to the fact that Christ offers grace and not magic. The difficulty with the Left is that it is contemptuous of human weakness. It has a vision of progress that leaves no room for childhood or weakness, especially the childhood of the human race. It is angry that God chose to reveal himself in a way that cooperated with human freedom instead of just cancelling it and decreeing insta-paradise. It wants to kick down the ladder of history and pretend that whatever progress we have enjoyed is due to our revolutionary selves and not to God or to the often weak and wicked (that is, human) people who have gone before us.
So Cameron is angry, in his SWPL way, about white imperialism and tells himself fantasies about Noble Savages while remaining the rich white guy he is. Newitz is angry at Cameron’s sublimated colonialism but is herself zealous to colonize the minds of every person on the planet with her Leftist ideology that owes its entire origin to European (and ultimately Christian) impulses rooted in a missionary impulse as old as Jesus’ command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Christian culture (including post-Christian culture) has done nothing but that ever since. That’s why the post-Christian West elites hate the idea of exporting the gospel but enthusiastically support the exportation of democratic capitalism, abortion, contraception, Madonna, James Cameron movies, and Annalee Newitz’s writings, while cheering when the rude natives cry out with the welcoming chant, “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!” The West is no longer Christian, but it remains deeply evangelical.
The Western tendency to practice narcissistic heroism for the sake of Uplifting the Savages is, then, merely a debased and perverted version of divine charity: It is rooted not in white skin or Eurocentrism, but in a revelation that invaded the world first in Africa (not Europe) via a little group of nobodies known to their masters as the Habiru.
Moses, you see, is precisely the guilty SWPL type in antiquity. He was a survivor of the first Cairo Conference on Population Planning (a plan rooted not in any rhetoric about Uplift, but in the frank pagan desire to cull the numbers of the Hebrew herd). He was fetched out of the Nile and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He apparently knows, but doesn’t do much about the fact, that he is a Hebrew. This goes on for 40 years. The guy lives in the lap of luxury while his tribe is sweating as slaves.
Then, one day, the bored dilettante rich kid who wants to feel like he has a purpose murders an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave and ditches the body. Next day, this preppy from the Ivory Tower, filled with a newly raised social consciousness, comes upon a couple of Hebrews quarrelling and deigns to swoop in and break it up. The slaves basically tell him to buzz off and add, “Oh, and everybody knows what you did.” Turns out Moses’ whole “Brothers! Join me!” shtick doesn’t play real well in the ‘hood, and people resent SWPL types working out their Hero’s Journey fantasies at their expense. So Moses the Savior Preppy gets scared and hotfoots it to the desert when he realizes his little Weatherman moment of Killing for the Revolution is likely to cost him something.
That’s not a very promising beginning for the story of the Exodus. But the thing is, from this frail clay vessel, God really does raise up a liberator for Israel. And, likewise, from egocentric SWPL guilt, it’s also the case that God has wrought rather impressive gains in human history over the centuries. Unlike the Left, God has patience with human frailty. So, from Bronze Age barbarian patriarchs to adulterous kings to thin-lipped abolitionists to snooty educational reformers to colonializing medical missionaries to burdened white men who labored to do something about suttee and genital mutilation and debtor’s prisons and madhouses, thoroughly Eurocentric notions of How Things are Supposed to Be have done a world of good for human societies in the thrall of foot-binding, slavery, idiotic superstition, and despotism. That’s because sometimes the itch to stoop down from the Ivory Tower and make things better for miserable people in chains, while it may be called narcissistic and self-serving and imperialist, is also the right thing to do, because the itch came from Christ who tells us, “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
Which brings me to the funny thing about films as insufferably PC as Avatar or critiques even more insufferably PC like Newitz’s: namely, that we keep running into what film critic Jeffrey Overstreet calls the “inescapability of the gospel.” His point is that, because God is the Creator of the human person — and the human person, made in His image, is a sub-creator — we simply can’t help putting themes into our stories that recapitulate the gospel willy-nilly. Often those themes will be torqued badly by human sin or stupidity, but nonetheless they are discernible again and again: themes like redemption through self-sacrificial love, the exaltation of the humble, the passage from sin to glory through redemptive love, the final judgment against evil, etc. Where would storytellers be without them?
And so, for instance, in the tale of Moses, we find the story of a selfish man who is slowly brought by God to the place where he is willing to give up his life for his people. In this, he stands as a sort of dim foreshadow of the perfect sacrificial offering by the utterly giving and unselfish God incarnate in Christ Jesus. It’s a story that’s rough around the edges, since Moses is a sinner and not perfect. But God, unlike Lefties, can work with that.
Likewise, Avatar intuits something of the gospel in the notion of a savior who takes on the flesh of those he is to save and works from within, not from outside. It’s a little echo of the idea of the Incarnation, though garbled up with a lot of other confused echoes, such as the dim notion that creation is sacred (packaged as Gaia worship), the dim notion that the humble are exalted (packaged as warmed-over Marxism and class struggle), and the dim notion that grace (packaged as movie romance) gives us the strength to do good and win through to the end. One can always find the gospel hidden in human storytelling if you try. But it’s often pretty well hidden, sometimes at the conscious decision of the anti-Christian storyteller himself.
Similarly, in Newitz’s complaints about white neo-colonial narcissism, we hear the demand of the gospel that love be genuinely ordered toward the good of the beloved and that our acts of charity not merely be a way of using others to work out our own narcissistic vanity trip. We also see, in her insistence on human equality, the gospel insistence on the dignity of each human person.
Newitz’s resentment against the idea of the outsider who becomes the ultimate awesome insider and saves the helpless natives can be resentment against a SWPL narcissism fantasy, it is true. But we should also bear in mind that it can also be prideful resentment over the fact that we need a savior. For a far better storyteller than James Cameron reminds us that another Privileged Outsider to our race became the Ultimate and Most Awesome Insider to the tribe of Adam:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2 Co 8:9).
Leftism, being a Christian heresy, is, to be sure, sometimes about love for the saving grace of God for the weak. But being a Christian heresy, it is also sometimes about hatred of the saving grace of God for the weak. But even in that hatred, the enemies of grace have to borrow from God whatever arrows they shoot at Him. Again and again, we discover that even people who would never dream they owe the gospel a thing fulfill the promise that every knee shall bow to Christ. Attempt to repress it how we will, the gospel of Christ can’t be entirely repressed. Ultimately, on That Day, even the knees of His bitterest enemies shall bow and their tongues confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That’s just how reality works, due to the fact that God is the Author of reality — and that’s a rankling fact to those who believe the lie that conflict between race, class, and gender are the ultimate realities, and that God is just a sky spook invented by evil white males to disguise this fact. But the truth is that even the enemies of the gospel already owe all that is best in their own ideologies and myths to Him. That truth will be more clearly seen — and more bitterly and violently denied — as we near That Inescapable Day.

Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • Irenaeus

    Good stuff as usual, Mark. Wow. Well done.

  • Bryan

    This is why I don’t just stop reading Shea, despite some other things this site thinks are worth publishing from him. He keeps writing this sort of thoughtful and insightful stuff.

    I can’t quit you, Mark.

  • georgie-ann

    the Parable of the equal wages which were dispensed to the laborers in the master’s vineyard at the end of the work day, even though some had not been brought “in” to join the other workers until the last hour, reminds me of the times we seem to be living in,…

    as this article points out so clearly, the Master and the laborers have been steadily at work for a very long time, preparing for the harvest,…and it is only through the continuing generosity of the Master (God), that “new others” are being invited “in,” to become fully part of the original salvific project,…

    how ironic that the “newly included others” of our day and age, due to the pervasive Politically Correct mind-warping going on, do not even appreciate the true (unmerited) Grace of God being extended to them and its historicity, and instead remain filled with bitterness and resentment, and low-life pride, that reverts to reverse accusations and down-playing of their “savior(s),”…such a lack of reality and true perspective,…such a lack of gratitude,…such tricks the mind will play,…

    in the Bible, it is the laborers who have been working All Day, who complain about the “equal pay” that it is the Master’s pleasure to give/share with others,…but how pathetic to see those being “newly grafted in,” being welcomed into and offered a chance to participate with the large scale plan of “equality,” turning it into a resentful, accusatory “biting the hand of the One that feeds me” moment,…

    the article has it right,…good account,…

  • Tony Wawrzynski

    Since when has egalitarianism become orthodox Christian doctrine? We are created equal in human dignity and in the eyes of God, but we are certainly not at all equal morally, mentally, physically, etc. Some of the pre-Christian pagans who recognized this obvious fact and organized their societies accordingly were far closer to the truth than the modern sentimental liberals who have ruined Western civilization by denying it. And no, I am not attempting to justify slavery, genocide, or any other type of brutality or injustice by arguing this.

  • Mark P. Shea

    Did you even read what I wrote?

  • Tony Wawrzynski

    Yes, a couple of times, Mr. Shea. I agreed with most of it too. Perhaps I misread your point on egalitarianism, which seems, to my unperceptive eyes anyway, to imply that you endorse it. If that is not the case, I apologize. How else, though, should one interpret your statement that by eliminating Christian dogma you

  • Mark P. Shea

    How else, though, should one interpret your statement that by eliminating Christian dogma you

  • MarkF


    Great post, but I have a question for you. In the line of thought that recognizes that secular leftism is a Christian heresy, what are we to do about it? What I see all around me is we have the beginnings of a new, secular religion that seeks to replace Christianity. Yes, it does have some smatterings of the gospel in it – supposed concern for the poor – but it is emphatically secular and opposed to Christianity. In the new religion faithful Christians are called intolerant, while intolerant homosexuals are elevated to the ranks of sainthood. I don’t have to describe the features of the new, secular religion to you. It’s all around us in the form of earth worship, its creed is “tolerance”, the sacraments it has is abortion and homosexual acts. Pope Benedict has written about it at length.

    Your point presumably is that we can see the echos of the gospel in even this secular, anti-Christian new religion. My take on the new secular religion is that it is demonic, and that its demonic nature will become more and more clear if it spreads.

    What exactly is your point, other than to note the similarities (at an abstract level) between the gospel and the new secular religion? Are we to have faith that the real gospel will shine forth from all this? Are we not to oppose the new secular religion?

  • Aaron

    Wow. I’m going to save this one to reread later, as I think there’s more here than I can absorb in one sitting.

  • Mark P. Shea

    In the line of thought that recognizes that secular leftism is a Christian heresy, what are we to do about it?

    I always thought St. Paul’s advice to “test everything, hold fast to what is good” is pretty sound counsel.

    Your point presumably is that we can see the echos of the gospel in even this secular, anti-Christian new religion.

    No. My point *explicitly* is that we can see the echos of the gospel in even this secular, anti-Christian new religion. That’s what I mean when I quote St. Paul saying that every knee shall bow.

    My take on the new secular religion is that it is demonic, and that its demonic nature will become more and more clear if it spreads.

    Which is why I said that “even the enemies of the gospel already owe all that is best in their own ideologies and myths to Him. That truth will be more clearly seen — and more bitterly and violently denied — as we near That Inescapable Day.”

    What exactly is your point, other than to note the similarities (at an abstract level) between the gospel and the new secular religion?

    My point is “Test everything. Hold fast to what is good.” When you make sweeping denunciations of merely human works of art as “demonic”, you will often wind up denouncing what is still good in them. If you embrace this ideological rather than Catholic way of looking at human things, you can often wind up trashing something good in the Faith because it reminds you of some hated human thing you have convinced yourself is utterly and totally “demonic”. “Test everything. Hold fast to what is good” is what allowed St. Thomas to appreciate a Muslim philosopher like Averroes instead of just shouting him down like a modern day neocon ideologue and denouncing anybody who listene to Averroes as “soft on Islam” (as would surely happen today if the tribalists of blogdom had their way.)

    Are we to have faith that the real gospel will shine forth from all this?

    Um, yes. We are to have faith that nothing, not even death itself, can ultimately defeat the Conqueror of Sin, Hell, and Death. I’m both surprised and yet oddly unsurprised to hear Catholics talking as though Jesus’ best days are behind him and the Faith is doomed.

    2Are we not to oppose the new secular religion?

    What, in what I wrote, could possibly have prompted such an absurd question?

  • Lee

    Mark F.

    What are we to do about it?

    How about this: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12.21)

    This calls for heroic effort. First of all, in our families we,(and I assuming the Victorian we, i.e. Catholic or at least Christian believers) must put first things first. The husband needs to be the spiritual “head of the household.” BTW I believe you must be doing this else why would you be on Mark Shea’s website? Second, we need to train our children about our faith, teach them the Bible, participate in the sacraments, pray, and especially go to Mass! Third, we must get involved with government i.e. National Elections, Congressional races, even local government. Lastly, do NOT give the outlets for this secular religion any power. That is do NOT buy books that preach to you or your children about finding their own “inner goodness,” do not watch television shows that shove the PC/Secular mindset, and do NOT go to see movies like Avatar!!

    Mr. Cameron tried to shove his secular mindset down our throats we he made the documentary about the so called “burial of Jesus.” Now he is trying to do something that he might have better luck with, namely making a high-dollar SF movie.

    Don’t get me wrong. I hate the new secular religion, and I hate that almost everything in our culture needs to be given the “once over” before it is watched, listened to, or experienced. As a concerned father, I almost feel as if I’m living is some Twilight Zone episode where the State is just waiting to declare that as a Catholic I’m an “Obsolete Man.” As a parting word of comfort I’ll say just this: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10.2smilies/cool.gif

  • georgie-ann

    the greatest sin in these leftest movements is to DENY CHRIST, to deny the True Source of the purported human benefits of these ideologies,…like being in a store that is owned and run according to a legitimate structure and principles, and deciding that it is OK to just make up for oneself (just because it “seems good”/convenient to oneself) a new paradigm for functioning in this store, whereby it’s perfectly OK to deny legitimate ownership and “rules,” and to just “help yourself” to whatever you please, owing nothing to anybody,…because, well, the “Owner” is a bigoted creep anyway,…making up a whole new conveniently “self-serving” mythology/philosophy, basically “on the spot,”…My powerful “Self” and Instincts now become the center-of-the-universe and frame of reference for all so-called “thoughts” and decisions,…

    the term “asphalt jungle” has become clearer to me, as i recently had the not-so-welcome, but very eye-opening, opportunity to watch the gradual encroachment of a rural small town area with the Big City invasion of territorialist thugs, gangs and drug dealers, most–unfortunately–of predictable ethnicities characteristic of the region,…

    “up close and personal” like that, i was astounded to realize that, from a distance, i had been conditioned to “give a pass”/think the best/”attribute civilized qualities” to groups of “people,” in whom, in fact, these qualities did not exist!,…

    i had been projecting my own psychology–developed in my own culture–onto my “illusion” of these “others,” thinking somewhere “deep inside” we were all alike/”on the same page” in some way, but was utterly astounded to find that it was not so,…and it was a very rude awakening,…

    to say that i experienced their sudden opportunistic predatory “invasion” as being much like the arrival of a pack of wild but mentally self-justified/self-satisfied jungle animals, ready for attack, with no moral compass, no “human” conscience or compassionate regard for others at all, is actually putting it mildly,…it was very nightmarish in its powerful psychological “torque” and counter-cultural spin,…

    an animal is one thing, but a human that actually behaves like an animal is quite another,…there is a very great danger in the fixated-ness of a “mind-set” that poses as rational thought, but, in fact, is no such thing,…usurping the position of the wisdom, authority, and counsel of God, these leftest “liberation” philosophies, come straight from the pit,…

  • Don Schenk

    Another thing to notice about “Avatar” is its giving in to the religious impulse by advocating Pantheism. “Avatar” is a Hindu term for an alter-ego of God in part of his self–i.e., an individual who represents God. (In Hinduism what we think of as creation is really “Maya,” a bad dream that God fell into, and which we should all try to escape by realizing that we’re all just illusions.) Videogame “avatars” are the gamer’s alter-egos within the games–i.e., the real person’s alter-ego within the illusion.
    “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God”–and movies like this try to substitute a worship of nature for the human impulse to worship God. Remember the Disney cartoon of “Pocohontas”? The historical Pocohontas was an enthusiastic fan of all things British, and left her father’s nature-worshipping religion, which included human sacrifice, for the Anglicanism of the Metaphysical Poets. In fact,when she visited England she embarassed James II by asking questions about the newly-issued Authorized Version which he, not being terribly religious, couldn’t answer. (Disney instead gave us a politically-correct, if historically-false, Pocohontas, who who gained super powers through nature worship.)

  • MarkF


    Thanks for your thoughtful words. I guess I’m feeling overwhelmed by what I see around me. But then I think of how a total secular and hedonistic person like me can be be converted and think, heck, if I can become Catholic than anyone can. I came back to the faith by the Holy Spirit and through reading Dante. Kind of an odd way, but it happened.

    I feel as if the blinders have been partially taken from my eyes and I’ve come to see how sick the culture is, but I guess my eyes have not been opened as much to see God’s hand working, however slowly it seems to me.

    But I feel I should be doing more. You’ve got a blog. I just have my one voice. I know I affect the people around me; I can see that. But I wish I could do more to evangelize this culture.

  • Mark P. Shea

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I understand that, looking at the world, it’s not hard to feel daunted by the challenges the Church faces. However, given that there was a time when the Church only consisted of a small handful of people in a world that was just as aggressively anti-Christian as it is today, I’d say we have lots of reasons to hope. As to what you can do: the handy thing is that the Church and the world afford a vast cornucopia of opportunities. I’d start with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, all while asking God to show you what path he is laying before your feet to follow. He’s got a mission for you. Dunno what it is, but since it’s His mission, it will be the way that will maximize your impact on the world for the kingdom–and make you a saint if you stick to it. God bless you work in the Vineyard!

  • MarkF


    I’m looking around for where I can evangelize and do what I can.

    I have a thought with a question in it. Since I’ve only been back in the Church about two years I don’t have a whole lot of experience in talking about the faith, but…

    In that time I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to make headway with people who have totally fallen away from the faith or had no faith in the first place.

    I’ve noticed that it is immeasurably harder with “progressive” Catholics. I really don’t like that word because really what they are is dissenting Catholics. Either way, what I’ve noticed is that they are the most hardened of people, and that really their god is usually leftist politics, homosexuality, nature, modern psychology or all that combined. These are the kind who see the whole spectacle of the clergy abuse scandal, 80-90% of which was male on male, and they still deny that homosexuality was involved. I showed someone the recent Advocate magazine, a homosexual magazine where there listed ten famous gay people who had died this past year. The average age of death was 53. Only two lived over 75. Two died under 35. Two died of AIDS. Three out of ten had committed suicide! To this person, this meant nothing.

    These are the kind who can look at the dying orders of nuns, all serious dissenters, and see progress. They can look at hundreds of closed down parishes but think everything’s fine because their little group of aging hippies still meets. It goes on and on.

    We are talking about serious blinders and serious coldness of heart here. I’m talking about the Catholics for Choice, Pelosi, Sing a New Church, MacBrien, Chittester types.

    Have you noticed anything like that among these types? They same immune to change. I know that the ultimate answer is God’s and that no one is beyond redemption. But have you also experienced this same hardness of heart?

    Yeah, sometimes the solid Catholic types get too full of themselves, and rant and vent. But I’ve always managed to calm them down with a few words, most of them at least.

    What I’m beginning to think is that the whole issue of dissenting modern thought is a much, much more serious spiritual condition that hedonism ever could be.

  • Connie Hudson

    In reference to James Cameron, I was impressed that Avatar could provide a clear visualization of the Holy and Spiritual part of Life. It bothers me, though, that some only see the spiritual connectedness of life as paganistic. Thus, I can only remind myself that none of us are yet perfect.

    How much simpler it seems to me to complete the picture of spirituality presented in Avatar by identifying Jesus, of Nazareth, as the one born with full understanding of the power and connectedness we all can access through the Spirit of Life (which many call the Holy Spirit of God).

    Jesus, the Christ of Christianity, is also known as a prophet in most of the world’s religions. So, why fight over differences? Why not work toward a method of acquiring knowledge that includes the extrasensory?

    I was impressed that James Cameron was able to make that leap through the scientists’ work in Avatar. When will the church accept the fullness of God’s creation through Christ Jesus? When will the religious leaders of the world begin to work together to identify spiritual truths?

    Must we wait for the scientists to discover them within the limitations of the sensory before we can agree?