A Certain Magical Index – The Problem of Evil

1.5;">The Problem of Evil is an important aspect of philosophy in regard to theism, especially Christianity, and one that shows up often in innumerable anime. Below are two revised articles regarding A Certain Magical Index’s depiction of The Problem of Evil originally posted to my personal blog, edited into one more complete article. 1.5;">Warning, spoilers abound1.5;">.

mikasa mikoto
Art by ice cream (Pixiv ID 36549394)

 

A Certain Magical Index is not one of my favorite anime. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is rather mediocre in a number of ways. Despite this, however, it touches on many facets of religion and philosophy, to the point that someone like myself (not much of a fan of the series) can even appreciate some of the writing. This is particularly true in episode fourteen.

At the end of the episode, Misaka and Touma have a brief discussion in Touma’s recovery room at the hospital about Misaka’s 20,000 clones. Over the course of the past few episodes, it was explained that over 10,000 of them were killed in an experiment to try to create the strongest Esper, and Misaka blamed herself for their deaths. Here is a bit of the conversation that occurred:

Touma: “Even though that experiment was wrong in many ways, the fact that they were born… was, I think, something you should be proud of…”

Misaka: “But more than 10,000 Sisters have died because of me…”

Touma: “Even so… I’m sure they don’t hate you. Had they never been born, they wouldn’t have been able to experience happiness or sadness.”

Now before I go on anymore, I would like to stress that I am NOT going to make a strict analogy of God to Misaka in order to talk about the problem of evil, because that analogy would fail in so many ways (ie: Misaka is not omniscient nor omnipresent, Misaka did not WANT the experiment to happen, etc.). What I WOULD like to do, is briefly discuss the basic topic at hand.

In case you are unaware, “the problem of evil” is the issue debated among atheists and theists about how a good God could allow evil in the world. This topic is much too complex for me to discuss fully in such a brief post (especially about such a brief moment in an anime), and I am also unqualified to present it in full (though I have read a decent amount of material concerning it). Nonetheless, this short dialogue presented an idea that I hold to.

“Had they never been born, that wouldn’t have been able to experience happiness or sadness.”

From the theist perspective, had we not been created, we would not have been able to experience happiness or sadness. There would be no evil… but there would also be no us to experience the good that exists opposite the evil. While, according to the Judeo-Christian creation story, good first existed independent of evil, for good to have existed at all, the possibility of evil is a necessity in order to ensure a true free will.

Whether you are an atheist OR a theist, it is rather apparent that bad things happen to good people. However, that does not disprove the existence of a good God.

Much to my surprise, Index did not end its applicable themes in the first season, and while watching through Index’s second season, I felt the need to add just a little bit more.

Perhaps someone can point out something that I am missing, but I found a number of Index’s plot arcs to be rather weak. I had a difficult time truly understanding the motivation of a number of characters as they did what they did. One example of this was the Croce di Pietro (Cross of Peter) arc.

To give a quick summary, the “villains” wanted to use the Cross of Peter and its “magical powers” (ugh) to essentially convert the entire world to Roman Catholicism. They never really explained exactly how this would work (they only explained how to cast the spell, not how the conversion itself would work), but they did at least try to give some motivation for the “villains.” One of the two of these characters was assisting simply because she wanted to stop all of the war and suffering, and if everyone was forcibly converted to the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no more of such. The other character was doing it only because, as far as I can tell, she is a crazy maniacal nun.

What struck me here in regard to The Problem of Evil was not the motivation, but the outcome of the use of the Cross of Peter. They wanted to forcibly convert the entire world to Christianity. Well one basic argument concerning The Problem of Evil is that skeptics claim that if God was a loving God, then why would he allow us to disobey him and enter a sinful state? Such theological matters are difficult to completely process, but the situation here is similar. I’m sure most would say that Touma stopping the use of the Cross was a goal worth pursuing. Why, though? Because forcing a worldwide conversion based on magic rather than based on free will defeats the entire purpose of free will. If we all believe the same thing simply because we have to, even if it means world peace, is that truly a good action?*

If God had created us like that, we would be nothing but enslaved automata.

Disappointingly, though, Index did not get into this in the slightest. Instead, Touma’s motivation to stop the Cross was because it was ruining the Daihaseisai (festival) that everyone had worked so hard to put together. Perhaps I am missing something, but I was disappointed with what had the potential to be a compelling philosophical struggle.**

On another note, although I overall enjoyed both Index seasons as works of fiction, I still can’t help but be annoyed at their depiction of Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England feel like completely secular organizations mixed with magic and rites and rituals. But I digress.

NOTES:

*Plus, according to Scripture, Christianity doesn’t even believe it will ever convert the entire world. The closest thing there is is the Great Commission in Matthew in which the Church is called to evangelize the entire world (i.e. make the entire world aware of the Gospel and offer it). This does not mean conversion. It simply means that Christians are to make the Christian definition of salvation available to the world to choose to either accept or reject.

**Yes, let’s not stop a forcible conversion of the entire world because it is fundamentally wrong, or that it will take away the free will of all mankind, but because it is ruining a festival. Really…

21 thoughts on “A Certain Magical Index – The Problem of Evil

  1. Touma’s point is easy to see, I think. He rejects the antagonists’ point of their “spreading ultimate good” with the simple argument “there exists at least one case in which what you’re doing is wrong” – that is the trampling of people’s will involved in the festival.

    I’d have to say I’ve heard more convincing arguments regarding the problem of evil than what you bring up, japes. (No offense meant, of course.) A perfectly happy and good world could still easily include free will, since the choices we make are only concerned with the choice of good and evil in a very small percent of cases. What we think, what we choose to wear, eat, do in our free time – the vast majority of what we cherish as free will has little to do with good and evil.

    1. Thanks for the insight! I’ll give you my responses to both parts below:

      It’s been a while now since I’ve watched the series, but my point with what Touma brought up was that he focused on the small while ignoring the blatantly large. Whether or not what he said makes sense, he still does not get into the deeper philosophy of the matter, which disappointed me (or at least disappointed the amateur theologian/philosopher inside me). “Ultimate good,” in my opinion, could still be ultimate good if it tramples the will of some, for example if that will is evil. It’s hard for me to say, though, and that is beside the point.

      There are many arguments involving the problem of evil, so of course the one here is not going to be all-inclusive, but I still hold to it. According to the Genesis account of creation, or at least reading into it (which can sometimes be dangerous in certain circumstances), we were created with a free will before the entrance of sin, which was exercised in the way you describe. However, part of that free will, as you know, included the ability to break God’s commandment to NOT eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we know how that worked out. It’s difficult to operate in the hypothetical, but a world in which one cannot commit evil (e.g. defy a commandment of God) is one in which we are not free to commit an action, and a world in which we are not free to commit that action does not seem free to me (I must emphasize that it is the possibility to commit that action, not the will to. Even if there is capital punishment for murder, murder is still possible). I hope that makes some semblance of sense.

      In any case, though, I do acknowledge that I am drawing out principles that may not have been intended in the first place. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! Based on your previous comments, you seem to be much more versed in philosophy than I.

      1. I hate Touma with a passion and all. Still, that scene was probably intended as a confrontation between overblown arguments and a just gut reaction, the latter being represented by Touma. So him not getting too deep into things was probably part of the point.

  2. Christianity doesn’t really have a good answer to the problem of evil (I think a better term is the problem of *suffering*, or equivalently death, as active evil by humans can easily be explained away by free will). Who are we to understand God’s foolishness? is what I think it basically boils down to.

    What the gospel does tell us is God’s response to the problem of suffering and its source, death: resurrection. God loved the world and all the suffering, broken things in it exactly as they were, so much that he became fully human. He was naked, hungry, and alone. He suffered with us, died with us, and was resurrected with us. So we may not understand why there is suffering and death but we know that God has defeated death once and for all.

    As an aside, on the question of free will, I am partial to Kierkegaard’s explanation: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/09/08/the-feast-day-of-soren-kierkegaard/

    And I think your statement on the entire world being converted is not as clear cut as you think. See “They shall all know him, from the least of them to the greatest”, the great multitude before the throne of God in Revelations, the parable of the lost sheep, etc.

    1. Thanks for reading and I’ll be sure to check out that link!

      You’re right in that the Bible doesn’t present us with a clear answer to the problem of evil, so the best we can come up with is philosophical reasoning based on what the Bible DOES say.

      As far as the conversion statement goes, I believe the passage you are referring to there is talking about the world knowing God for who He is, but not believing in Him in the same way as a Christian who has been born again, regenerated, etc. According to the Bible, angels and demons know who God is, but that does not make them “saved.” That is my understanding of the New Testament and the goal of the church, and it is also the view I have heard most well-supported in my theology classes, but I am not an end-times scholar, so it’s hard for me to say for sure.

      1. I think perhaps there’s a reason the Bible doesn’t give an answer to the problem of evil: at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Suffering and evil exist. The question is what do we do in response? We bear witness to the resurrection amidst death’s works.

        I’ve found that for me, a good way to think about the latter question is with Talbott’s propositions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Talbott

        The various writers in the Bible support three contradictory premises:

        1. God is totally sovereign over human destinies.
        2. God is entirely loving and wills that all people be reconciled to Him in relationship.
        3. Most people will experience endless, conscious torment in hell.

        If we reject premise (1), we have Arminianism, in which the free will of humans trumps God’s will. I think that God’s love conquers all, but perhaps this is the case.

        If we reject premise (2), we get Calvinism, in which God wills some people to eternal damnation. The Calvinist God is a dick.

        If we reject premise (3), we get universal reconciliation, in which perhaps there is some finite hell, but in which God’s love eventually wins and all people are reconciled to God and to one another. I prefer this view.

        All three views have a solid history of theological underpinning, however.

    2. Also, I just read that link you posted. I quite liked it and I agree with you that it paints a good picture of how we can understand free will in the context of Christianity.

    3. I always thought the problem of God creating/being responsible for evil as being the more difficult as compared to the problem of suffering. Suffering presents an opportunity for a Christian to build up and display moral strength, thus bringing him/her closer to God and ultimate salvation. Thus “I’m most strong when I am weak”, because I can offer my hardship and resolve to God (Corinthians). .

      1. I can easily buy free will as an explanation for the existence of evil. Humans suck and they do evil things. That just seems obvious to me. This argument doesn’t extend to suffering though. People don’t die in typhoons because someone chose to create a typhoon using their free will.

        So God allows suffering to happen so that Christians can build up moral strength? I personally find that idea silly. This is like if the disciples asked Jesus why the man was born blind, because of his sins or his parents’, and he answered, “This man was born blind so that the glory of God may be revealed in him. Now go and continue taking advantage of your blindness to build up your faith in me.” “Thanks be to God for letting me be born blind!” God created the world and saw that it was good. He didn’t just create this world as a test to get into some other world which we have to pass before we die.

        I think the “I’m strong when I am weak” is referring not to how we should suffer in order to become saved but how we should enter the world naked and vulnerable like Christ did in order to be empowered to love the weak and despised things of the world more fully in our own weakness.

        1. I think God using suffering for guidance is covered pretty extensively in the Bible, it’s one of the main points behind Job’s story, for example.

          I see two possible reasons for rejecting suffering as one of God’s tools, or seeing it as somehow contrary to God’s world being good:

          1) a false sense of entitlement, where the blind man considers himself wronged by God in some way because of his condition, rather than praising God for the gift of life and looking for ways to make use of that gift for His glory. This is not fundamentally different from people wishing to have been born more beautiful/talented/into a more wealthy family etc. While the challenges faced in life by a disabled person are far above those other disadvantages, God guarantees you can find happiness in life as long as you live it His way, and He does not impose burdens cruelly or for no reason.

          2) the assumption that suffering is somehow inherently evil, which it is not. It hurts somewhat when you lose your milk teeth, but that’s just part of growing up. Causing unnecessary suffering to another human being is evil, which is where this misconception probably stems from, but a coach putting his pupils through harsh and sometimes even painful training so that they may one day achieve their goals can hardly be called evil. God is that kind of spiritual coach.

          As long as you keep in mind that a) suffering is not evil, and b) no suffering imposed by God is meaningless, the problem of suffering doesn’t seem like much of a problem. At least that’s the predominant approach to the matter in the Polish church, which is the only one I know intimately ;).

          1. In Job’s story??? Not at all. Job’s suffering comes about because God made a bet with the devil. It was completely pointless and absurd. And what about Job’s wife and children, who were whisked away by a tornado if I remember correctly? I doubt they learned much from the experience. At the end, God’s only explanation is, “What do you know about me?”

            God guarantees you can find happiness in life as long you live his way? Pretty sure that’s not the case. Look at children who die shortly after birth. Or all of the martyrs. Or even Jesus himself.

            This idea that suffering is a test imposed by God is pretty common in many churches around the world, not just the Polish church. To be frank, it seems to me like feel-good magical thinking. 🙂 It seems obvious to me that suffering exists, most of it is pointless, and all of it sucks. In my experience the idea of suffering as a test from God tends to lead away from compassion and healing for the victims and towards blaming the victims for their suffering, for not living God’s way, much like Job’s friends accuse Job of doing.

          2. On re-reading this, I didn’t mean to imply that suffering means God’s world isn’t good. Just that we have no idea why suffering is necessary, and that I’m uncomfortable with the idea that God approves of suffering and wants people to suffer. Certainly suffering can sometimes bring about healing though.

            1. Indeed, as a non-Christian, my gut reaction to Job’s story is “God’s a dick” and all, but cross-religion dialog cannot start unless we attempt to accept some of the other side’s basic axioms. Thus I try to look at the story with the assumption that God’s not a dick and nothing he does is random.

              In fact, Old Testament stories tend to pretty straightforward in their morals, and so Job undergoes the harsh trials, loses his health, fortune and family, but is ultimately rewarded greatly with even more wealth, health, and yes, even a new family. Unlike in the simple biblical stories, contemporary Christians aren’t supposed to expect their reward to come in so straight-cut a fashion, but the belief that “God is just and knows all” is there, so there should be no fear of pointless or unjust suffering.

              (As a side note, the deaths of Job’s family are one of the most “WTH God?” Bible moments for me and the suspicion that “whoever wrote the story was in no way divine and only saw women and children as the men of those times did: as little more than possessions” comes unbidden to mind. However, because there is so little written about his family as actual people, there is no way to say that it wasn’t the right time for them to go. God chooses the right time for everyone to leave this world, and there’s nothing that says He couldn’t align the fates of Job and his family in just the right way so that everything works out cleanly. Omnipotence + omniscience kind of makes it difficult to overestimate God.)

              I’m quite sure Jesus and the martyrs were happy/satisfied with their life, suffering included. That’s exactly what faith is about, and the power it bestows. Happiness is not something that can be measured through objective evaluation (and that, I think, is the crux of the matter where our viewpoints differ), since the only judge of it is a person’s heart. Believers have the firm conviction that even as they undergo moments of agony, they are doing God’s will and have Him, the greatest source of happiness, by their side, supporting them all along the way. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of the footprints on sand, where the times that we think we’re suffering most all alone are the times when God showers us most with HIs mercy. Many martyrs went to meet their fates with smiles on their faces.

              (Children are difficult to talk about in terms of personal happiness since the youngest of them lack even a full self-awareness. Still, the Bible suggests that those who die young go straight to heaven, since children are naturally closer to God than adults are, so at least there’s no reason to fear for their souls.)

              So I understand all your reservations regarding the idea, but I can also see how people deal with this question within the limits of their own spirituality.

  3. That’s a very interesting post. I watched A Certain Magical Index a long time ago and have forgotten the plot to a large extent. I remember finding the show amusing.

    Your discussion of the St. Peter’s Cross arc reminds me of Read or Die: the TV series. The antagonists have the same idea: forcibly brainwashing the entire world to have the same beliefs and language will end war. You might like their presentation of the idea more. Also, the ROD OVA is a must see! Few anime are as much fun!

    On a side note, remembering the Middle Ages and the conflicts of modern times, I kind of doubt that converting the entire world to Roman Catholicism would bring about world peace. We are an argumentative group filled with saints and sinners!

    1. Thanks for reading medievalotaku! I feel honored having read a number of you posts on theology!

      Amusing is a good word for Index 😛

      Thanks for the anime recommendation! ROD TV has actually been on my “to watch” list for a while, but I should be getting around to it soon (likely the next few weeks). I’ll be sure to let you know once I do!

      1. I cannot but be humbled by your praising my knowledge of theology. After all, besides my Catholic education and year in seminary, I can only boast what I have studied privately and personal experience. Your posts appear more informed than mine! But, that drives me to learn more.

        I’m sure that you will enjoy ROD. The OVA is eminently entertaining and the TV series provides great food for thought.

  4. To me the only story arc that was really of quality was the Sister’s Arc, whether in the Index anime or the Railgun anime.

    One thing I noticed was how stridently anti-abortion the arc is, if taken to it’s logical conclusion. In fact, all the major story arcs in Railgun take a strident position of defense of unwanted children.

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