Aniblogger Testimony: Anime helped me become an atheist

Wouldn’t you know it?  Two weeks after I wrapped up this series, I received a request to add another post to it.  Ashita is new to the world of aniblogging.  I encourage you to check out his site, Ashita no Anime, and to read his wonderfully-written piece below.

How my religious life (now a lack thereof) relates to anime is a bit complicated.  I promise you I will get to the point, but I feel there needs to be some background introduced first for this to all make sense.

I was born into a Roman Catholic family and went to a private Catholic school for my elementary and junior high years.  But despite this upbringing, I never felt that I had religion forced on me.  Mostly I feel my parents went along with the whole church thing because they wanted me to grow up around a higher class of people and so I could go to a school with smaller class sizes.  A lot of things the church taught me didn’t make sense, even then.  I was encouraged to seek the answers however I saw fit and never met any resistance to questioning my faith, but I was too young to really understand what was going on.  Once I started high school, my family and I slowly stopped going to church.  But at that time I still felt that I was connected with god.

What really changed me for the first time in my life was reading George Orwell’s 1984 during my senior year.  For those of you who haven’t read it, the story introduced a new word into our lexicon called doublethink.  What this means is accepting two contradictory ideas as both being true simultaneously.  I was horrified that I might be committing acts of doublethink without even knowing it, so I began to look at my own life more closely and started to banish my hypocrisies.

And so I then went on to university the next year.  I had recently watched Escaflowne on the old Fox Kids timeslot (yes, the really bad edits and dubs).  It had gotten me interested in this “cartoons for adults” called anime.  So I sought out the anime club.  One day after the meeting, when we had finished watching the main attractions, the club officers showed anime they either liked or would make good discussion.  This is when I was introduced to Elfen Lied.  My wide-eyed 18 year innocence melted away amid the sprays of blood and nudity, but I wasn’t thinking about such things while I watched.  I was feeling a connection to something larger than myself.  Even now, I have trouble explaining it because up to then I never had a religious experience like all of my friends at church claimed to have had.  So while those gorgeous, delicate female forms slaughtered their oppressors in the most viscerally satisfying ways possible, I felt this was my first connection with god.  Whatever started that night in September 2004, I knew I had to see it through.  I had to discover the message I was being told.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was taking philosophy, physics, biology, and geology.  As Elfen Lied concluded and the classes continued it began to dawn on me that nearly everything I had accepted as true up to that point was woefully inadequate.  Looking back now makes me laugh, but I had this crazy idea that college was the place you received training in order to get an easy desk job.  As the rush of knowledge flowed into my eager mind I began to completely reevaluate everything.  Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I knew truer words had never been spoken; greater and more powerful even than Jesus’s famous Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  How could I know this was true simply at face value?  I had to expand my knowledge through any means necessary and I started with philosophy, science and anime.

I looked for morals on how to guide myself within the shows that moved me.  Elfen Lied taught me to always be true to yourself and others.  Escaflowne demonstrated that no matter how misguided you are, it is never too late to correct your actions.  AIR showed me how easy it can be to hurt people.  Kino’s Journey revealed a world where it is possible to live simply taking joy in living.  Gunslinger Girl broke the boundaries of what it really means to be alive and human.

And last were three anime that were pivotal during my journey away from faith to the person I am today.

Ef – a tale of memories showed me the folly and shallowness of the Golden Rule that Jesus taught us.  I have subsequently written what I now call the Platinum Rule; it goes like this, “Do unto others as they wish you to do unto them.”  The Golden Rule selfishly believes that we all want the same.  But the Platinum Rule goes deeper and asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of others and then base our actions accordingly.

Many people tell me that the evil in Neon Genesis Evangelion are NERV and Seele.  But I couldn’t disagree more.  If Evangelion is based on the biblical creation story, then I can only see humanity as Frankenstein’s monster, left cold and abandoned to face the world alone with poor guidance and death lurking around each corner.  It is only the natural progression of things that the creations of a cruel god not only CAN rise up against their creator, but SHOULD rise up and be vindicated.  NERV and Seele are the heroes who will retake the future and freedom denied to us by the cruel hand of fate.

By now I had progressed quite far towards my path away from religion, but one final title would seal the deal.  The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi shows how easy it is to create a god.  Finally it all clicked.  The fog that clouded my understanding cleared when I realized it was so simple.  A god didn’t create us in his image – we had created gods in our image.  And we could justify such a god’s existence by simply saying, “she doesn’t even know she’s god,” or “she just created the universe last night with all of our memories and history in place to give the illusion that we have been around much longer.”  This solidified for me that religion has no firm basis in reality and was a kind of doublethink that I needed to purge in order to live my life freed from hypocrisy.

I’d like to be clear on this.  Anime did not MAKE me an atheist.  Science, philosophy and my own critical thinking brought me down this path.  But anime certainly had a huge impact on my transformation from a confused catholic to the happy nonbeliever I am today.

P.S. My family knows about my atheism and I am on great terms with them.  I love them more than anything else in the world.

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About TWWK

TWWK, known to outlaws and lawmen alike as Charles, lives deep in the heart of Texas, where he drives cattle and boot scoots (not really - though he does sport a pair of rattlesnake boots). Somehow in this frontier, he also finds time for his wife, children, and church. Oh, and anime, too.

Posted on 07.14.2011, in Aniblogger Testimony, Atheism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Thanks for sharing! It takes some guts to share how you became an atheist on a blog dedicated to Christian spirituality and anime, but I think it is a valuable experience for everyone involved.

    I do have to disagree with your take on the Golden Rule though. Sure, Jesus espoused the Golden Rule at times, but he also said that the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This, I think, encompasses and goes even further than both the Golden Rule and Platinum Rule.

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    • Don’t take away from this that I think Jesus never said anything nice. I think there’s many good lessons to be learned from passages in the bible. But the Golden Rule and the second greatest commandment sound so darned similar to me. They both talk about imagining someone else’s desires to be congruent with your own.

      What if you don’t love yourself? Does that mean you shouldn’t love your neighbor? I’ll talk about this more in my response to Kristin Bomba below.

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      • The difference that I see is that the golden rule talks about what you should “do” to your neighbor, and that the commandment says you should “love” your neighbor. I see love as much more powerful and demanding. Treating others the way you want to be treated is a more passive act of not harming others, but love requires an active commitment.

        Love doesn’t demand imagining someone else’s desires to be congruent with your own: in fact, there are some cases where love would demand actions which go against what both you and the other person desire. I see your Platinum Rule as having the same weakness as the Golden Rule: what the other person desires may not be what is best for them. Of course, your own interpretation of what is best for them may also not be the “truly” best thing, if such a thing even exists, but this is unavoidable in any form of human interaction.

        I’m not convinced that anyone doesn’t love themself, at some level. Take people who commit suicide: they would appear not to love themselves, but want to spare themselves the pain of living, so in some sense I’d argue that they do love themselves. And I could also say that both love of self and love of neighbors are corollaries of the greatest commandment. But I’d prefer not to get into a legalistic discussion of any of these rules, since I see this as a pathway to futility. To take some rather extreme example, if you want to die, then by the golden rule should you murder everyone? If someone wants you to kill them, then should you, by the Platinum Rule? If they want to remain ignorant, should you let them? (from your example below: I don’t have a good answer to this one, except to say “it depends”, unfortunately)

        If you’re expecting to be treated well or loved in return due to following the Golden Rule or Jesus’ commandment (as it appears from your story below), then you’re missing the point. Love asks for nothing in return, and may even result in you being hated, despised and ostracized. These rules are about concern for the other, not for the self.

        (this ended up longer than I anticipated, sorry if it sounds kind of preachy)

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  2. Forgive me, but this just seems so backwards. The “Golden Rule” I think is really meant at a sort of….
    Don’t murder someone unless you want to be murdered. It’s very much a treat others as you want to be treated by them. If you want people to treat you kindly, then you should treat people kindly. If you want to be an asshole, then don’t be surprised when people are assholes back. Not as a cause and effect, but just…. What you’re basically doing is imagining how you want to be treated (I would assume with common courtesy, with respect, etc), and then treat others that way. Not because you want them to treat you similarly, but because you’re evaluating how a human being wants to be treated based on your own feelings, and use that as a guide for how to treat others.

    I think the way your new “rule” presents things is the selfish view. Or rather, that a person following that rule doesn’t truly care about others. Meaning, what someone thinks is good for them isn’t necessarily so. Granted, another person may not have the right to decide what’s good for another, but that’s not the point. The “Golden Rule” isn’t that in depth, I don’t think. I believe it’s meant to instill humanity and common courtesy in people, nothing more.

    Now forgive me while I giggle that something as awful as Elfen Lied is what jump started your decisions. Of course, the fact that I despised that show is only my opinion. I wouldn’t have expected it to shine enlightenment on anyone in any way.

    I don’t know that NERVE and SEELE are really rising up against their Creator. They’re trying to BECOME the Creator. They want to become gods. Especially Gendo. They want to remake the entire world not because they’re rebelling, but because they want that power. Because they think they know what’s best for the world. I think if they really wanted to rebel, they wouldn’t have left everything in the hands of some emotionally unstable children. They’re not really taking back their freedom. They’re denying freedom to MILLIONS of people by essentially saying “We’re going to wipe you all out and start over whether you want it or not.” If you want, you can run parallels to God, who did similar things. Though really, Gendo just wants to be reunited with his dead wife, so…. SEELE wanted to join all of humanity into a single entity to put an end to…well, to everything, though they say they want an end to war, loneliness, pain, etc. I don’t at all see them as heroes. They may think they want what’s best for humanity, but humanity doesn’t want that (which is why Shinji recreates everything just as it was). This has happened in several anime series (and video games), and always the side that wants to wipe out or join all of humanity (into a single mind or something similar) is the antagonist. And the people fighting for individual free will are the heroes.

    And, really? The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya convinced you that God is a creation of Man, and not the other way around? I won’t knock the show, as I enjoyed it, but it’s such a silly and ridiculous show…. People raise up such gods all the time; they’re called idols. That doesn’t disprove the existence of God. And you’re explanation sort of goes in a circle. That Haruhi isn’t “god” but her existence as “god” is justified by such and such examples. Why do those have to be justifications? Why can’t she be the real deal?

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    • I’ll of course let Ashita respond if he wishes, but your response, Kristin, made me think of a couple of tangents.

      First, I agree with you about the Golden Rule. I think that in context (that word that many critics of the Bible cringe at), we understand that the Golden Rule is really about treating people with love, based on the hope that we want the same. I don’t think it’s meant to be specific, instead expounding on the general idea of love as presented by Jesus. Although, to be fair, that kind of love isn’t what everyone necessarily wants (though is it was they need?).

      Second, I agree with you about the end goals of NERV and SEELE. But there’s probably a big disconnect between the leaders of these organizations and NERV’s employees. Although we can only make inferences based on the actions, words, and backgrounds of the NERV employees, I wonder if they really believe they are rebelling against God Himself. I’ve wondered about Misato’s thoughts, because her background in particular (and thinking about her dad and the cross he gave her) makes me wonder about her deeper motivations.

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    • Let me give the reason why I wrote the Platinum Rule. Maybe my own personal experience will help put this in context.

      Several years ago I got into a series of arguments with people at my job because at the time I believed the Golden Rule still had merit. I was arguing with them because they had said something factually wrong and I could prove they were wrong. I was attempting to correct their misconceptions. The problem is, THEY didn’t want their misconceptions corrected. They WANTED to live their convenient lie and they despised me for calling them out on it (and no, the issue had nothing to do with religion).

      The problem here is that I was following the Golden Rule. If I’m factually wrong about something and you can prove it, I want to hear it. I want to know as many true things as possible and as few false things as possible. But most people don’t hold that mindset. So by assuming the Golden Rule, I was not only hurting others, I was hurting myself via the backlash of their ire upon me. Thus, I wrote the Platinum Rule and things have been better for me ever since.

      Concerning Elfen Lied, I thought it was a masterpiece of how we deal with memories, loyalties, and the ways we treat other people. The inner workings of the plot move me deeply. I feel there is much more there than the superficial gore and nudity most people simply can’t overlook.

      I’m not going to comment much on Evangelion. It has so much imagery that you can spend days delving its depths and I think few people will be in complete agreement on what is really going on. Not that such an exercise is pointless nor do I completely disagree with your reevaluation, but I’d rather not go into it here. As for Seele, I may applaud their goals more highly than most people because I have this idea that all of humanity united as a single entity with no barriers between us is a beautiful idea. =P

      As for Haruhi…yes. She very well COULD be god. But we have no method of independently verifying such a claim. That’s the point I was trying to make. I do not believe in things that cannot be independently verified. A Christian could talk all day about the divinity of Jesus and I could talk all day about the capricious Haruhi and we would get nowhere because there’s no frame of reference to base those beliefs on. We would talk past each other and make no progress.

      And lets please not suggest that atheism is the belief that no gods exist. Proving negative statements is shaky ground and if you want to talk about such things further, please email me. Atheism (for me at least) is a by-product of me not accepting anything as true without evidence. I love talking about such topics, but I don’t feel that here is the correct forum for such discussion. Thanks Kristin.

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  3. Ashita, I’m reminded that I need to reply to your earlier email…will get to that as soon as I have some time to sit down and think.

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  4. The Golden Rule is NOT Christianity. The fact is, NO ONE keeps the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is Law. The primary purpose of the Law is to show us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Christianity is all based around the fact that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our breaking of the Law, which has earned us eternal punishment.

    Also, Evangelion is not based on the Biblical story of creation, it simply uses religious references to spice up the show. For example, there is no Lilith in the Bible!

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    • Good catches.

      About the second – you’re right, Evangelion is not based on the Genesis creation story. It isn’t based on anything – the religious references from Anno are in there just to create an interesting story. If one listens to what SEELE actually says in the meetings sometimes, he or she can tell it’s just mumbo jumbo filled with religious words.

      Perhaps Ashita meant that Evangelion can be compared and viewed as a creation (recreation?) account based on the one in Genesis. At least, I think that would be more accurate.

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    • Lilith may not be part of the modern tradition of the bible, but she has a lot of analogies to Eve in Gilgamesh, Jewish scripture, and meddling with biblical texts during the middle ages. So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think she may have been a part of the genesis story at one point or another, considering how much the bible has been edited over the years. Keeping in accordance with the Dead Sea Scrolls is a big theme in Evangelion, so writing Lilith off as being not part of the Christian tradition is incorrect in my opinion.

      Now as a little food for thought… if nobody can keep the Golden Rule, then what’s the point of even having the Golden Rule? Is it a model for us to attempt to live up to? If so, if we’re doomed to failure to live up to it, why bother even trying? I’d say lower the bar to something attainable. I’m fond of a quote from a demotivator that sounds relevant here. “Quitters never win. Winners never quit. But those who never win and never quit are idiots.” I got sick of being a loser all the time as a Christian; being told I was imperfect and fallen when I felt nobody was giving me good justification for that concept. I like being a winner and I couldn’t be a winner as a Christian, so I quit. =P

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      • I’m sorry to hear about you feeling like “a loser” all the time during your Christian experience. I think maybe you didn’t experience the grace of God during your time in the faith – which isn’t unusual, across denominations or in Catholicism (and I expect in the Orthodox churches as well). We have an impossible, perfect standard to aim for – which I think is an awesome thing (in the educational setting, for instance, you expect great things out of students instead of more mediocre things, and students time and time again will push themselves harder to try to meet those expectations). But where we fail, the grace of God fills in the rest. It shouldn’t lead to a guilt-ridden or painful feeling – a strong relationship with God should lead to a wonderful sense of security, while at the same time we continue to challenge ourselves to do better.

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  5. First it was part of the sermon on the mount where he gave a massaged on how a christaint should live. vs. Matthew 5 1-7:29 In 7:12 “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law of the Prophets.”

    Second time was when “A certain lawyer stood up and tested him “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your mind,’ and your neighbor as yourself.'” And He said to him “you have answered rightly, do this and you will live.'” Luke 10:25-28

    This was a challenge to stump him into falling into error, and to show us that no matter how much we try to fulfill the golden rule we will never be able to achieve it. It was always be out of reach, also he tells him that his enemy is his neighbor, or the person he hates the most. That is way it is Samaritan who takes care of him and not the Levite or the Priest.

    This was in answer to the Lawyers question what can I do within my own power to earn eternal life and Jesus give him an impossible task perform. But the only way to salvation is through his death resurrection. And if you truly accepted the gift of salvation you can’t loss it, but you can believe you lost it.. That’s the difference between religion and being a follower of Christ.

    I don’t believe that loving your neighbor as yourself means that you will not hurt them by showing them love. Such as with a small child steeling candy from the store, a parent will punish them, and the child will hate them and it will hurt the child. But it also teaches them not to steal.

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    • Loren, you bring up a good point, and Tommy kind of alluded to this as well. Jesus consistently taught the disciples to love with an impossible love (ex. forgiving your enemy 77 times). Not only does this teach us how to love like Christ and demonstrate the love God has for us, but it also shows us how perfect love, on which the two greatest commandments hinge, is impossible. But God’s love and grace is bigger than our imperfection, and is more than able to do the work of salvation.

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    • I’ve been thinking more about what I’ve been saying in my replies on this topic and I think I have a better way of phrasing what I mean. My atheism is a balance between idealism and realism. I like to be positive at all times about everything. I like to think we’re capable of anything (aside from breaking the laws of physics). That we can seek our greatest fortunes, loves and happiness as long as we put our minds to it. I then have to temper this desire with the knowledge of what is practical for us to accomplish as well as the great external obstacles that stand in our way. So when I hear the phrase that some action of the mind or heart is impossible, it really irks me because that is the one place we are always free. I hear religious people say things like it’s impossible to uphold the Golden Rule, or it’s impossible to love unconditionally as Jesus did, or that it’s impossible to forgive your enemy seventy-seven times.

      I answer all of this with a bit of idealism and a bit of realism. First, WHY is it impossible to follow the Golden Rule or love unconditionally? We’ll never know if we don’t try, so don’t write anything off by saying it can’t be done. It’s just darned discouraging. Second, I’m not entirely sure it’s practical to forgive your enemy seventy-seven times. Forgiveness is a powerful thing that has great capacity to heal. But at the same time it shouldn’t be given haphazardly. There needs to be reason and justification for trust and when your enemy’s past record does not warrant forgiveness, you’re liable to have your kindness taken advantage of. There is a difference between being generous and being a fool.

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      • I think it’s great that you clarified your point. I want to respond to what you’ve written. First, yes, most Christians would say that it’s impossible to love unconditionally. But you (and others, including Christians) who stop there miss the point of the gospel. We’re not saved by grace so that we remain the same. Quite the contrary – the Bible says our heart of stone is replaced with a new heart – we are NOT the same, and so what we do should be different. When we are saved by grace, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be Christlike and live up to that standard. Our always-still-sinning selves (on earth) will keep us from ever loving perfectly. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try with every fiber of our being. If we don’t (and I’ll admit that I am certainly far from the mark myself), then what’s the point?

        As for your second point, no, it’s not “practical.” Even in Jesus’ day (PARTICULARLY in Jesus’ day), it wasn’t practical. That’s why it’s so revolutionary. Jesus taught us to care not about how the other person treats us. In fact, the harsher they treat, the more we should meet them with love (“turn the other cheek”). It’s “foolishness to the world” – it’s so contrary to the idea of self-preservation. This is also why it’s among the most challenging ideas for Christians to live up to. Of course, “with Christ all things are possible.”

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  6. I actually love how you brought up the behavior of NERV and Seele. NERV us essentially human gluttony, through the eyes of Gendo. Though ostensibly defending mankind from destruction, it ultimately serves to grant Gendo what he feels he needs, hence how he abuses it. It also fights tooth and nail to allow humanity to progress along the same vein it has been, ignorant of the lessons brought on via the hubris of the Second Impact. It also allows us to dabble in the realms of the “gods” through the Eva units, themselves nothing more than Enochian Nephilim, which the apocrypha state were nothing but abominations anyway.

    But Seele…well, what is their ultimate goal? Instrumentality. What is instrumentality? The removal of the “Absolute Terror” field, which can be viewed as our own primal fears and human ambition, that which makes us individuals but which limits out contact with the “ideal.” Through instrumentality, we remove these fears and see the “divine” for what it is: essentially a mix of nothingness and communal experience. We gain enlightenment through the removal of deception, but we also lose what makes us human in the process. It all comes down to a single question: how do you view human nature? You see the exact same question asked in “X” as well.

    But yeah, excellently done. I particularly loved the line about college preparing you for a desk job. For a lot of people, it is. But for some, like you and me, it is a place where we experience knowledge in a (hopefully) undiluted form. I know it was for me, and I credit it as changing my own perceptions as well.

    Always awesome finding another “Awakened” person in the world. I usually find them here.

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