Are Christianity and anime two forms that are so different, they can’t be successfully combined? Should one even try? In a post that largely focuses on the anime and religion survey conducted here a while back, The Angry Otaku writes that it’s like putting soy sauce on ice cream – the two just don’t taste right together.
The Angry Otaku’s post is really thoughtful and intelligent. But even with his excellent post, I think there’s more to be said on the subject. Well, of course I do – my whole blog is about the convergence of anime and Christian spirituality!
First, The Angry Otaku seems to lack a strong grasp on Christianity and the Bible. He admits as much:
That being said, I feel it necessarry to state that I come from a far removed perspective in terms of having religion playing almost no role in any of my activities, and this makes it very hard to understand what it may be like for an anime fan in a place like Georgia-Bama-Ssippi.
No surprise here – Christianity is more complicated than the simple summaries of the faith that both Christians and non-Christians make it out to be. Students attend seminaries for years to study the Christian faith and its holy book, with many leaving with more questions than answers. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding can lead to inaccuracy. This quote stood out to me:
It may seem nitpicky to say that shellfish eatin’ is a levetical law that no longer needs to be followed in light of Jesus’ coming (see 10:9-16&version=NIV">Peter’s vision of himself eating forbidden foods). But this inaccuracy (unless I mistook sarcasm or satire for an honest point) brings up something more important – the quote demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is, since this issue has to do with the New Convenant, which is a base of Christian faith.
More troubling, though, is the blogger’s image of who Christians are, because it reflects a total misunderstanding of the emerging church in America, which is quite different from and more representative of young Christians than any article or video The Angry Otaku links to. His view of the “comtemporary church,” which is a subject of the post, is unfortunately marred and informed by his first-hand experience with groups of Christians that don’t necessarily accurately represent either Jesus’ teachings or the transforming, modern church.
The emerging church is not associated with a political party (I have a close friend who is part of the movement and is an ardent Obama supporter). It crosses denominations, with Catholics, too, identifying themselves as part of the movement. It has a “high view of culture, humanity, and justice” (Wikipedia). These Christians do not picket; they are not defensive; they care more about AIDS orphans than gay marriage. They are open; they are cultural; and they are, well, fun to hang out with. They aren’t an outdated segment of the culture – they are one with it.
So statements like this need to be dissected a bit further:
…it’s clear that anime fandom and most theocratic and currently practiced religion is just incompatible.
The Angry Otaku, like many in our culture, is criticizing a group of Christians who are more representative of a past generation than of the modern church movement. The image of the church is of picketers and protestors. These individuals are louder and draw more attention than emerging Christians, many of whom are like my former neighbor, living in the projects and partaking in life with those who are suffering, rather than acting like boisterious little children. They don’t get the attention, but they are the new face of Christianity in America.*
And it’s in light of this group of “new Christians” that we need to ask, can Christianity and anime coexist? He indicates that no, not really – I and others are grasping at minor details of anime and missing the forest for the trees – the forest can’t exist in the drowning vat of Christian belief (or else we’re forcing the trees to grow in it). This is probably a true statement if you’re part of the religious right that is still the booming voice of western Christianity today. But, if you’re an emerging Christian, anime is just another part of the culture and another form we’ll view with open eyes. Depending on how we view media, a Christian may watch any series any other person would, but perhaps with an additional layer of analysis that many non-religious people wouldn’t look for.
Anime, for me, works on at least two different levels. It’s entertainment, but the same time, I’m also looking for Christian themes and ideas that can be seen in various series. For instance, just because Haibane Renmei isn’t about a particular religion, that doesn’t mean that I can’t better understand the concepts of sin and grace through it. Anime is no different from any other art or entertainment form in this respect – when we analyze, we may point out things that were unintentional, but in a way our analyses are still true. That form spoke to us in a certain way, and there’s no denying it, even if this speaking wasn’t the creator’s intent.
A favorite song of mine contains the line, “God makes everything glorious.” Anything, even anti-Christian work (which anime is not), can reveal God in the eyes of a believer.
In the end, all of this means we still have a long ways to go if we want to understand each other (Christians and non-Christians, that is). It means that just as is the case with other religions in the U.S., Christianity is misunderstood. And it means that yes, Virginia, you can be an otaku and a Christian, too, and doing so isn’t equivalent to pouring Kikoman on ice cream. To me, an anime-loving Christian whose belief largely coincides with emerging church doctrine is more like a tin roof sundae. The chocolate sauce and peanuts are separate entities, but swirl and fold nicely into the vanilla ice cream. On their own, the ingredients are yummy, but when put together, the final result is something wonderful.
*To be fair, I need to add two caveats: though the movement is growing, most American Christians would probably not identify themselves as part of the emerging church (even if a large percentage of young Christians are) and it is a diverse group – I consider myself a part of it, but I have one foot in and one foot out.