Just as I thought this project would end, I was blessed to receive a tweet from Study of Anime‘s Charles Dunbar, who graciously wrote a final (?) addition for the Aniblogger Testimonies. Charles has been a great friend to my blog, contributing without knowing and on purpose as well. This eleventh post in the series joins the others written by Lauren Orisini, R86, Nikko, Arianna, Ed Sizemore, Canne, an anonymous blogger, Annalyn, Zeroe4, Michael Huang, and Kokoro Hane. Next Thursday, I’ll provide a wrap-up of this two-and-a-half month long series, unless another person cares to join in and contribute!
“The main object of religion is not to get a man into heaven, but get heaven into him.”
A lot of people think I’m an Atheist. I don’t know why. While I did try atheism for a few years, it did’t work for me. I was raised in the church, and while I am a vocal critic of Christian politics, I hold none of that against God, Jesus or any of the other figures of the faith. Speaking of faith, I do have it, and in droves. I am one with my spirit, and fulfilled by it. The Sacred plays a huge role in my life, and without it I would feel empty. And yet, time and again, people come up to me and ask me if I do, in fact, believe in God.
Blame it on what I do. I’m an anthropologist. I accept evolution as fact. I have held in my hands million year old fossils, and stared in awe at the changes in the human family tree. I find the idea of our origins, natural selection, encephalization and the eventual transcendence from “animal” to “human” as wondrous and beautiful as any biblical miracle. We transformed from “upright walking apes” with absolutely no natural advantages or defenses into the most powerful and dominant species ever to walk the face of the planet, in the span of some four million years, barely a hair’s breadth to the age of our universe. To me, that’s awe-inspiring. The idea that I, and everyone else, represents an unbroken line of life that goes back to the dawn of time itself, that’s a testament to who we are, and what we can do if we have the determination and the drive. I still get lightheaded thinking about it, it gives me that much pride in who, and what, I am.
I have studied religion for most of my life. As a child, I constantly asked my Pastors questions about Christianity, how it differed from other religions, and why so many existed if there was only one God. They usually indulged my curiosity, and gave me a lot of answers that would eventually lead to more questions as I got older. This eventually evolved into a full-blown quest for spiritual wholeness as I entered late adolescence, a quest that continues to be the driving force behind my life to this day. I was a religion major in undergrad, alongside anthropology. I studied the works of Victor Turner and Emile Durkheim, who wrote heavily on the impact of symbols, symbolic action and community. I slugged through Kant and Iris Murdoch, loved Jung but hated Freud. I debated Hardy, Nietzsche and Darwin. I also openly state that the Buddha and Jesus would have probably been great friends, or at least philosophical debate partners. I lecture on mythology in anime, and I love to point out borrowed symbols and contexts, regardless of what tradition they belong to. I give equal time and consideration to all faiths, because in my heart of hearts, I fully believe that all religion comes from the same place. Doctrine and dogma aside (because they are human creations in the end), faith itself is universal. It feels the same to a Christian as it does a Jew, a Buddhist to a Hindu, a Wiccan to, yes, an atheist. The concept of faith is one of the greatest gifts we were given, by God or the Universe, and it is one we need to cherish and understand, not demonize or label as “antiquated.”
I’m also not a supporter of the idea that religion and science are mutually exclusive. In fact, nothing irks me more than being “informed” that I am wrong when I say science and faith can coexist. Science is the study of the physical world. It deals in absolutes, in nature and in the things that can be touched, tasted, and smelled. It seeks to document and explain the world, and the universe, that we live in. It tells us in empirical and tangible terms where we came from, and why things are. It is the what and how of out existence as humans. Faith is not this. Faith is the domain of the mind, of the emotions, of the desires and needs of being human. Faith has no absolutes, because with faith, nothing absolute truly exists. Faith and belief are wholly constructs of our own insatiable desire to explain things in depth – not depth of fact, but depth, as Tillich would probably put it, of spirit. Of ultimacy. Of something more than what the physical world can provide us. It gives us the why in terms that we can discuss and find comfort from in times of trouble. Is it any less true than science? No. Because it still exists, it is still part of our makeup as humans, and above all, it influences a part of our own humanity in which anything and everything is possible, so long as we believe it. Science is the domain of the natural universe, faith is the limitless domain of human experience (collectively or otherwise, as Jung would insist). Faith is philosophy, science is physicality. (Notice I do not say “reality” there. Because faith is just as real as anything else.) One explains the nature of the universe, the others enhances it with explanations of the soul, the heart and the mind. A philosopher once said regarding this: “Religion without science is fallacy, science without religion is boring.” It took me over 25 years to understand what that really means.
I suppose then, were I to define myself and my own beliefs, which I hesitate to do given the nature of what exactly I believe, I would say that I am satisfied and searching. The culmination of years of study and rumination into science, faith, psychology and human origins has given me a strong foundation towards what I believe, but I will never say that my journey is “done.” I am always learning, always reading, always debating and always open to new ideas. Because this ties in with the last, and most important, part of what faith and religion are: personal. What makes sense to me might not make sense to you. And there really isn’t anything wrong with that. We are human, after all.
Post Script: A wayward rumination that appeared in my first draft.
I think that anime is at a point where it can do wonders for faith, and for the spread of sacred ideas. There has been a lot already written about symbolism and religious tenets being “encoded” into anime. I even talk about it on my blog and in my panels. The Japanese love to borrow images and stories from outside their culture and incorporate them into their media. They do this with a flair and exuberance that can only come from an outsider discovering a new concept that fascinates them, and the ensuing desire to share it with their own people. Sephiroth, at the same time a very complex notion of human ascendancy within the Qabbalah, was also the name bestowed upon a very popular and influential villain from a very popular and influential game, whose sole desire seemed to be his own ascendancy. This was one of those moments where the obscure Sacred touched the same space as the secular Profane, and what spawned out of it can be seen in the halls and panel rooms of various conventions. And don’t get me started on Tetsuo Shima…
I suppose the point I am trying to reach in this mess of tangents and random ideas, is that anime might be one of the most powerful tools of cultural and sacred diaspora floating around right now. It already has a built-in audience that craves more. More culture. More symbols. More information. The 21st century has given the world a population hungry for new things and new ideas. It has given us platforms and forums the likes of which have never occurred before. It has given us the chance to spread ideas, encourage debate and grow intellectually as a species. And while anime is just one of these many ways in which ideas are shared, it is one of the most recognized, consumed and even evangelized of our new, global community. Time and again, I am surprised by just how much anime fans know about external culture and the sacred, and almost all of it coming from the media they love and devour ravenously. Anime has a unique position, one that it might have come upon unintentionally, but one that it holds nonetheless.