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.
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.
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?
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.