Annalyn’s Corner: Christian Anime Fans and Responsible Freedom

Christians are free to watch anime rated TV-MA. Violence, swearing, portrayals of demons, and even ecchi are not, technically, off limits, and least not in a general sense. Nor are anime that convey atheistic, shinto, or Buddhist belief systems. We are free to watch everything, and we are free to do so in many ways… but that doesn’t mean that we should just dive in. I’m not just talking about our personal limits, either. We don’t usually watch and respond to anime in isolation, so we shouldn’t act like we do. Rather, we must consider the consciences of those around us. 

I love the online anime community partly because of the demographic diversity. Thirteen-year-old girls and fifty-year-old men are suddenly on the same footing, especially if they aren’t obvious about their age. On Beneath the Tangles alone, I think our youngest writers are around 21, give or take a year, and we were teens when we started aniblogging (I was seventeen when I wrote my first guest post here). Our oldest writer could be my father. We have Protestants of various denominations, and we have one Catholic. Some of us have been strong Christians for decades, or as close to two decades as we can get in our young lives. Some of us struggled with faith until just a few years ago. And that’s just our regular writers! Readers, guest writers, and the wonderful folk who contribute through comments vary even more in age and background. Then there are the anime fans we interact with from across the net… My point is this: we are a varied community. And that means that when any of us—including you, dear readers—post, comment, Tweet, reblog, update our MAL or A-P, or even make our YouTube “Liked Videos” playlists public, we could have a varied audience.

Attack on Titan is great for many reasons, but it's not for everyone. I try to remember that not everyone should watch the kind of violence in this show, so it's not something to recommend without qualifications. (Screenshot from ep 16)
Attack on Titan is great for many reasons, but it’s not for everyone. I try to remember that not everyone should watch the kind of violence in this show, so it’s not something to recommend without qualifications. (Screenshot from ep 16)

Even the Christian portion of our audience alone is varied—and that’s the portion I’m going to focus on in this post, for the sake of brevity (or the closest to brevity I can get). We watch, learn from, and mimic each other. We’re not responsibile for each other’s choices… but then again, to some extent, we are. As Christian anime fans, we navigate a subculture that some Christians dismiss as “heathen” and avoid at all costs. We’re newer to this subculture. Our pastors and evangelical leaders don’t talk or write much about it yet. So we lead each other. We recognize that we are free to watch anime of various kinds. But we must also recognize the influence each of us have—even those of us with fewer followers or internet friends—and the responsibility we have to use that influence wisely.

We’re not the first Christians to interact with controversial aspects of culture, not by a long shot. Our freedom to explore otakudom in faith, without legalism, is just another application of a 2000-year-old freedom in Christ. Paul addressed a different application in one of his letters to the Corinthians, an application that, at first glance, doesn’t seem relevant to us today: how Christian freedom is applied to eating food sacrificed to idols. And from what he wrote, it seems that Corinthian Christians were a diverse group, too.

In the Roman Empire, gods and sacrifices weren’t just part of a religion neatly packaged in a corner of the culture. They were involved in daily living, politics, entertainment… the food market. From what I’ve heard, food that had been sacrificed to idols was cheaper than new food. But for some, eating that food meant participating in rituals and beliefs that, as Christians, they didn’t think they should participate in.

Technically, Paul says, eating such food is fine. An idol holds no power; the “gods” the food was sacrificed to aren’t real:

 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:4-6)

Being firm in knowledge of the one true God gives us freedom. However, knowledge isn’t everything. Paul began this section with a qualifier:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor. 8:1)

Here’s a quick application to anime fandom: I might know that it’s fine for me to watch and enjoy Blue Exorcist because the portrayal of “Satan” and “demons” is ludicrous fantasy. Enjoying the “half demon” hero’s antics and exorcism doesn’t mean I’m honoring demons or discounting God’s holiness and power against evil. But not everyone feels the same way. Some Christians may feel uncomfortable watching Blue Exorcist—for reasons they may or may not be able to articulate yet. Does my knowledge and comfort make me stronger or wiser? No! Should those who feel uncomfortable watching Blue Exorcist discount their consciences and try to be more like me, more free to watch what they like? A thousand times no, and if I think so, then shame on me. It would be arrogant to minimize their concerns and encourage them to watch Blue Exorcist. If their conscience changes on the matter over time, then fine. But for now, I should love them, respect them, and encourage them to make viewing choices that honor God. And when I write about Blue Exorcist, it’s best for me to include disclaimers, lest I encourage someone to violate their conscience. The knowledge that gives me freedom is less than worthless if it’s not used with love.

Rin and his adopted father, a priest. Rin, it turns out, is Satan's son. That's just one element of Blue Exorcist that could make some Christians uncomfortable—the way exorcism and religion is handled isn't always ideal, either. I don't think that makes it wrong for all Christians to watch, but discomfort is valid. (ep 2)
Rin and his adopted father, a priest. Rin, it turns out, is Satan’s son. That’s just one element of Blue Exorcist that could make some Christians uncomfortable—the way exorcism and religion is handled isn’t always ideal, either. I don’t think that makes it wrong for all Christians to watch, but discomfort is valid, to say the least. (ep 2)

As Paul continues, he includes a specific deomographic of Christians, those who have converted from idolatry:

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (1 Cor. 8:7)

For some Christians in Paul’s day, idolatry was part of their personal struggle. When they worshiped and associated with idols, eating food that had been sacrificed was part of that process, of that sin. It wasn’t just cheap food, and even with their newfound freedom in Jesus Christ, they couldn’t see it as just food. So for them, eating it would violate their conscience. Similar Christians are among us—perhaps some who once watched shows with sexual elements that they once agreed with, even celebrated, and now know are wrong. They used to agree with and honor the sin portrayed, and to them, watching it in anime is still connected with their old beliefs and lifestyle.

Of course, there are many reasons it might not be okay for certain Christians to watch certain things. But what does that mean for us as a whole?

Paul continues:

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor. 8:8-13, emphasis mine)

We have a right to eat food sacrificed to idols, but we not if it hurts our weaker brothers and sisters. Note that it is not their belief that eating such food is wrong that makes them weak. Similarly, if someone shouldn’t watch Blue Exorcist or Chuunibiyou or Bakemonogatari, etc., that doesn’t mean they are weak, not in this context. If they believe it is wrong, and their conscience is firm in the matter, they are strong. But if their conscience is weak, and they can be persuaded to do what they know they shouldn’t… that is what makes them weak. Not lesser, not bad Christians, not ignorant… just weak in this particular area. I suppose it’s like drinking in front of an alcoholic that’s finally been able to stay sober: not cool, guys. We all have areas where our consciences can be weak and we’re more susceptible to temptation. So we need to look out for one another. If we willfully, arrogantly, ignore the weak and make our choices as if they don’t matter, thus setting an example they follow to their own detriment, we are sinning.

Does that mean we can’t watch Blue Exorcist or anything else that could harm other Christians? Or that if we do, we shouldn’t write about it publicly? Or even mark it as “watched” on Anime-Planet or MAL? I don’t think so, for multiple reasons. But we need to be careful.

I started aniblogging four and a half years ago. I was seventeen, and I came from a more sheltered childhood than most. And I started watching anime when I was sixteen—the first time I made media choices without consulting my parents. There were many anime I just wasn’t ready to watch, and if I watched them anyway, I suffered for it.  I was pretty strong in my faith, but I still started to mimic people online in how they chose, streamed, and reviewed anime. Sometimes, I violated my conscience—more in how I streamed anime than in what I watched. And I was encouraged in these poor choices by other anime fans—mostly non-Christians who had no idea where I was coming from, but occasionally by Christians, too, and their support (direct or, more often, indirect) was most influential, because if they thought something was okay, then it was easier for me to make excuses for it, too.

Getting plugged into a network of Christian anibloggers helped a lot. I finally had Christian fans who I could learn from and often mimic. Some of them probably don’t realize the influence they’ve had on me—they only have a handful of followers on their blogs and Twitters, so they might not realize how much power their words hold. But they do. And so do yours. Even a single comment on this post could impact someone in a way you don’t foresee.

In the past several years, I’ve grown. I’ve matured. In some ways, I’ve become stronger. And some shows that weren’t okay for me four years ago are fine for me now. But sometimes, I forget who I was as a teen. I forget what I needed to read just four, five, or six years ago. And I’m sorry. Because I know some of my readers—perhaps younger than me, perhaps older—are in similar positions as I was. Some of you, like me, need to hear whether certain shows aren’t good for you to watch—and not just warnings about outrageous ecchi content, but warnings about questionable content I no longer think about. And all of us, regardless of age or type of weakness, need to be encouraged to honor God.

To encourage each other, we need to recognize our diversity. We need to remember we all have different strengths and weaknesses. We must watch what we do and say and consider, How am I influencing other Christians? And, recognizing our own weakness, we must ask, How are other’s media choices influencing mine? Am I ignoring a nagging feeling that something is wrong just because other Christian fans are fine with it?

We are free. But we are not independent. We are ultimately dependent on God, and as Christians, we form one body, the Church. If we don’t remember that, if we are not responsible with our freedom, we may sin against fellow Christians, against Christ, and against ourselves. So instead of puffing up with knowledge that we are free, let’s be considerate and loving toward each other in everything, including our fandom.

15 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Christian Anime Fans and Responsible Freedom

  1. Well, I think that effectively, there are contents that are off-limits for everyone, but I have commented about that here lots of times.

    Something I have noticed in Christian anime sites, with some people, etc. is how many people tend to “overeat” content, (maybe because sheltering?), and any semblance of content warnings, or similar, are received badly, like a reminder of their upbringing. Maybe, some Christians fans want to be more in tune with their secular counterpart tastes and viewing habits, or want to integrate to a fandom more. These attitudes can open some problems.

    Anyways, these are the problems of a popular culture (and fandoms) increasingly separated from any semblance of Christendom.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, David. I appreciate your expansion on the topic.

      Yes, there are contents that just harm everyone, and if there’s anything redeemable about such a work, there’s too much junk in the way to really benefit from it. I want to be verrrrry careful about saying where that line might be, though. ^_^

      Hmm, I haven’t noticed that on Christian anime sites, but then again, I pretty much just stick to blogs, and I only have enough time to read so many. The only non-blog anime community I’ve ever been involved in is Anime-Planet (and a couple comments on Crunchyroll videos)—so not a Christian site. There is a danger when we try to integrate into secular fandom too much. On the one hand, some integration is important if we want to minister to fellow fans (1 Cor. 9 comes to mind). On the other, we are Christians. We’re God’s Church, set aside for him. We need to remember that and honor him with our viewing habits, etc. If we look exactly like the other fans, we’re doing something wrong. And if we keep ourselves too apart from them, we’re doing something else wrong. It takes discernment, love, practice, and prayer to find the right balance and attitude. But, as I’m sure you agree, it’s worth it.

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      1. You’re welcome.

        I think is important, to know and present where that line is.

        Yes, but the integration can be done without caving to the standards and customs (specially, certain things pertaining topics of morality) of the secular part of the fandom.

        There is another thing, the part where you wrote about the profilea on list sites. I think is better to avoid giving publicity to certain shows, also, if for keeping what one has seen, there are other options.

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  2. That’s the problem with these gray areas… it’s easy to draw lines that don’t need to be drawn or to totally abdicate responsibility as a viewer. What makes it even harder is we also have to relate to people with different experiences and in different parts of life and that these people are always changing in how they understand things. You note the change in yourself, Annalyn; as for me, I think my fourteen year old self would be appalled at me today (as I am at him, though perhaps I should lighten up).

    What I had to learn about these gray areas (and they truly are gray) is that they often come down to this: some can, others can’t. Not only is it not the same for everyone, it’s not even the same for yourself at all times, so in light of this, we should practice responsible freedom so as not to offend needlessly. In the abstract, we can all agree on this. But even this doesn’t look quite the same for everyone. Where it gets tough is going beyond the abstract, getting down to the nitty gritty, and this is where I hesitate to draw lines for anyone other than myself. (At most, I could guide you along in these things if I were a trusted friend or mentor, but I couldn’t make absolute judgments.) As for what “responsible freedom” entails for you personally, specifically, individually, at this time, I really couldn’t say. I can only say for myself, and even then, I will never do so perfectly — only less imperfectly.

    There is also another danger: asserting grayness to the point that it shuts down conversation — that I can’t say anything to you or that you can’t say anything to me, so shut up and let me watch Blue Exorcist (good show, by the way). There are dangers on all sides, and we have to avoid them.

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    1. Yep! And we won’t always successfully avoid these dangers. But the good news is that there’s forgiveness, and we’re not alone as we try to navigate the grey. We’ve got God’s Word, the Spirit, and each other under Christ.

      Thanks as always for adding your thoughts to the discussion, Jo-Shu.

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  3. This is a sweet as article that effectively conveys to others and ourselves exactly what most anime-watching Christians tackle at one point or another. I stopped watching High School DxD because of this, along with many, many other reasons lol, but it didn’t stop me with ACMI, Angel Beats, or others like that. Nicely done, that has helped me to fill in some grey areas.

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    1. Thanks, Matthew! It’s a topic I’ve mulled over several times through the past couple years. It sounds like you’ve thought about similar matters, and I’m glad my post could contribute.

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    1. Wow. Thank you for the kind words, Tommy. I’ve appreciated your support and comments on my articles over the past few months. I actually thought of you as I wrote this. I was remembering my first year of aniblogging and some of the Christian anime fans who influenced my choices. You became one of them. It’s pretty cool, how several of us have stuck around over the past several years, even as we’ve gone through big personal challenges and changes. And we’ve welcomed more to our blogging and social media networks. I’ve seen—as I’m sure you’ve seen—the ability we have to challenge, encourage, and make each other think. I’m thankful for the part you contribute, just as I’m thankful for the readers and writers here and so many others. It’s a joy to be a part of such a diverse community of believers, within an even more diverse community of otaku.

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  4. Awesome sauce 🙂 Very well thought out, and the verses you used were spot on! (imagine a British accent when you read that).

    Also, it’s all God because my article “Playing With The Right Intentions” that I just published last week is similar to yours albeit shorter and about video games. I don’t know if you got any inspiration from that article, but either way, it’s just cool to point that out. God bless ya, keep on writing.

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    1. Thanks, Michael! I’ve actually opened your article at least twice, because I wanted to read it… but immediately got sidetracked by something else. Thanks for pointing that out! I hope to read it soon. It’s a good thing it’s shorter than mine—I’m less likely to procrastinate on reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, yes, yours are longer but I enjoy reading them. To be honest, after I write everything I think “wow! I must have written a lot” because I feel I wrote all I wanted on the topic and nope, it always comes out as many words as you see….so odd.

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  5. Oh man, I get excited every time I see one of your articles, Annalyn. Seriously, it’s like every time I just finish formulating my view on an issue related to media, you write an article on it here. Kinda makes me wanna take the leap and start writing and blogging myself. 🙂

    Anyways, I really appreciate this article. Even recently, I’ve had to deal with this issue; the more people I get to know, the more I want to recommend anime to them, but I have to take into account everyone’s personal beliefs and convictions. Some people find the story of a show like Angel Beats beautiful and deep, while others wouldn’t touch it due to the nature of the story. I’m still learning how I can both respect them, and yet not constrain myself unnecessarily if I let them know I enjoy shows or music or books that they don’t necessarily like, or believe are good. I think that’s an issue a lot of people struggle with, and it leads to a lack of discussion on such topics, which doesn’t seem to be the best way to handle it. All in all though, I enjoyed how you handled the issue in your article, and I look forward to more. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Sam. If you’re already thinking through things like this, maybe you should go ahead and start blogging. 🙂 But for now, thanks for sharing some of your thoughts here.

      It’s an interesting balance to find with discussion about things like anime, especially the shows some find questionable. I prefer not to hold back too much; I want to respect the others’ convictions, of course, but I also want to help them see the difference between legalism and healthy boundaries. I can’t say I’m always great at finding the balance, but the more I read Paul’s letters, the easier it seems to come. There are other resources for figuring out how Christians can react to pop culture, and that’s helped me communicate with other believers about my appreciation of anime.

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  6. Oh dearie, I have a few fave series like this:
    *Utena-Love it, but what’s with all the incest? At least the manga has less incest
    *Haruhi Suzumiya-I really don’t like the molest-y way Haruhi treats Mikuru sometimes
    *Peach Girl-One of my favorite manga, but when you really get down to it, it’s a trashy teenage soap opera

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