When I think about the intersection between anime and religion, my thoughts always turn to Katsucon 2010. For those who weren’t there, this was the weekend that both Katsucon and Family Life’s Christian Values Summit were held at the Gaylord.
Now, you’ll hear a lot of fantastic stories from convention attendees about crazy culture clashes that supposedly happened there, but my favorite wrap-up of the weekend came from a Vienna, VA woman who was attending the summit with her husband. She wrote:
As you can imagine, some of our fellow W2R attendees were not only confused, but horrified. Not understanding this culture, and what was going on created a disconcerting feeling in your gut. And now that I’ve done further research, I have to say I better understand the appeal, but remain concerned.
As for the staff of Family Life, you may be surprised to learn that Dennis Rainey & his wife (who founded FL) encouraged the W2R attendees to engage with these kids, ask what’s going on, & show them love, rather than judgmental looks. After all, they are the generation of the future!?
While it’s unfortunate that this particular Christian woman’s first brush with anime involved more Elfen Lied than anyone should have to experience, her reaction was exactly what anime fans often fear. The Christian group did their best not to be judgemental, but as you can see from her account, it was pretty difficult for them to be accepting. Imagine what they must have thought of Katsucon’s several Jesus cosplayers!
At that Katsucon, I did feel uncomfortable around the Christian Values Summit. I was working at the Maid Cafe and I could only imagine what they thought of my outfit. I was concerned they thought I was a pervert and I really wanted to explain to them why a grown woman might wear a maid costume in public.
For me, religion has always been about guilt. By birth, I am both Jewish and Catholic — since my mother is Jewish and Judaism is matralineal and my father is Catholic and Catholicism is patralineal. Since my nuclear family lived closer to my father’s extended family, I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith. The church I attended as an adolescent was very strict. I was a voracious reader and it hurt when my pastor forbade anyone in his flock to read The DaVinci Code. (On the flip side, I started playing Final Fantasy 7 with friends from Bible study.)
I now know that all denominations aren’t so strict. In college, I went with my Methodist roommate to her church. I was shocked by the difference. My Bible study teacher said that it was important to go to church every Sunday in order to cleanse ourselves of all the sinning we had done during the week. Methodists seemed to go to church to celebrate the week and feel good about themselves.
Today, I identify as an Agnostic. Religion just isn’t a big part of my life. I don’t usually bring it up. I participated in Charles’ project because I like the idea of having an open conversation about it in a safe environment. Talking about it — the way I wanted to explain my costume to the Christian summit — keeps us from silently judging one another.
Now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s go back to the Gaylord. I saw these two groups — the Katsucon attendees and the Family Life conventioneers — as a microcosm of anime’s relationship with religion. Needless to say, there is tension. Some anime even stretch religious texts so far that a pious person might consider it to be sacralige.
In my opinion, when anime references religious symbolism, they do so in the same secular way that they might reference Norse mythology. Aside from being a holy text, the Bible is also a pretty riveting tale with timeless elements that many storytellers might want to harness. Under this lens, it’s no different than any other form of cultural appropriation.
I’m more likely to worry about offending people by showing them anime with religious themes than to be offended by it, but I’d love to hear from people who see things the other way around. The Christian blogger I quoted found anime to be incompatible with her beliefs, but I don’t think it has to be this way. Religion and anime have a tension between them, but they are not opposing factions. We just have to view their intersection like we would any other culture shock and take it with a grain of salt.