Water, earth, fire, air! When your powers combine, I am….wait a minute. If you thought this was going to be about Captain Planet, you are going to be disappointed. Anilujah, while it focuses on the varying types and genres of animation; I didn’t want my first blog post to be about a bunch of teenagers who learn different environmental lessons with the help of a Tom cruise, genie type looking figure. Perhaps for a future post.While this post is not about Captain Planet, the elements of water, earth, fire and air do play an integral part in this animation.
Avatar the Last Airbender premiered on Nickelodeon in 2005 and continued on with its three season run until 2008. During this time, I was graduating/graduated high school and was not introduced to the world of anime and had not watched this series until recently.
Avatar the Last Airbender is split up into three books (seasons). Rather than try and loop each one into a one big post, we will examine each season in regards to a particular theme. For season one, we will dive into what Avatar the Last Airbender is, a brief history in its Eastern religious origins and the correlation to 1 Cor. Chapter 12.
Now many would argue that Avatar The Last Airbender is not an actual anime. Let me point out two things, The art style is that of Japanese animation. And number two, it has the obligatory beach episode that is formulaic of most anime shows. But I digress, let’s move on to the show.
Avatar centers around a kid named Aang. We meet our protagonist when he is freed from his frozen prison by a brother and sister duo; Katara and Sokka. Katara is a water bender and Sokka is a…..well he is there for moral support. The (what I would call) powers that people possess in this show are that of the different elements. Water benders can control water, Fire benders can control fire, etc…. Speaking of fire that brings us to our antagonist through much of the show, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation. Zuko is hellbent on capturing and defeating the Avatar (don’t worry, he will remind you in almost every episode through the series in case you forget).
Aang, Katara, Sokka ( and later on Toph) set off on an adventure to end the war with the Fire Nation, that is set for a dominant takeover of all the other nations. For those of you who have not seen Avatar (which if you haven’t, I would highly recommend watching it, but pace yourself as it is very easy to binge watch this show), you may be thinking “what does this have to do with faith”? Well, a lot actually.
The word “avatar” by definition means a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate/divine teacher. While Avatar is a westernized series, it is heavy in its influence of Eastern religions and symbolism. I mentioned earlier in this post that elements of water, fire, earth and air played an integral part in this show. Let’s examine these briefly.
The aforementioned are referred to as “classical elements”. Ancient cultures in Greece, Japan, Persia and India used these to explain the complexities of matter and the universe. The elements also work with one another in a doctrine that was taught in ancient Chinese cosmology, which we know today as Feng Shui. This doctrine was split into two phases of generating and overcoming. Here is what that break down of those look like.
Wood feeds fire;
Fire creates earth (ash);
Earth bears metal;
Metal collects water;
Water nourishes wood.
Wood parts earth;
Earth absorbs water;
Water quenches fire;
Fire melts metal;
Metal chops wood.
This is liken to the the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible where it talks about things returning to what they once were (Eccles 3:20).
The classical elements were also used as the basis for the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. One of the basic tenets of these two religions is that of reincarnation. This is where the theme of Avatar comes into play.
Aang is the supposed “last airbender” who has not been seen in over 100 years (until he was freed from the iceberg). Aang is the successor in a long line of Avatars. If we look at this from a Christian standpoint, some “Christian” sects said that we are looking for the messiah of our time. They believe that Jesus was a teacher/deity who has been reincarnated throughout the centuries in different individuals. This blends and distorts the Gospel in ways that would leave any believer scratching their head. There has only been one Christ who was, is and is to come (Rev. 1:8).
Airbenders also referred to as Air Nomads; you can see when watching the series that their beliefs and attire is most closely related to that of Buddhism. Clearing the mind, not dwelling on earthly things, spiritual enlightenment. viewing violence as not the solution; these are all teachings of Buddhism. Aang in some episodes also looks very similar to the Dali Llama, who is the most prominent figure in Buddhism.
Why all this talk about Buddhism when we are supposed to be looking at this from a Christian perspective? Simply put, if you are wanting to analyze a topic, it is important to understand some if not all sides and opposing views. Where is Christianity in Avatar the Last Airbender?
Avatar is genuinely a fun and funny show despite its epic narrative. The art style, the jokes, the heartfelt moments and overall character arcs really drew me in and kept me watching. Aang as the main character in this series, ventures off with his friends in search of benders to teach him the other elements needed to end the war with the Fire Nation. Apart from the obvious good versus evil theme that is featured in this show, Avatar also give us a look in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12.
Paul in his writing states “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Cor. 12: 4-6). We can view these elements of water, earth, fire and air bending as gifts but looking closely at how Aang views them. Aang, while he is a child, he is mature in a sense. His compassion for his friends and discipline in learning the different bending elements. Aang doesn’t view one element more important than another, he believes it all to be helpful in the end goal.
This is how God and we must view spiritual gifts. Whether you have the gift of healing, prophecy or whatever it might be. Your spiritual gift may not seem like much to you, because someone else’s is more “important”. Your spiritual gift is used for the same purpose, to build and carry out the work of the Kingdom of God.
If you are not convinced that you can find God in Avatar the Last Airbender, let me point to another example. The series’ main antagonist has a “come to Jesus” moment as it relates to this series. Zuko has been fixated on capturing and defeating the Avatar so that the Fire Nation can rule all the other nations. However, we will get to that when I do an analysis on Book Three (season 3).
Now that you have a bit of background and brief history regarding the first season of Avatar the last Airbender and its correlation to 1 Cor. Chapter 12, I encourage you to checkout the series that is currently available to stream on Netflix.