A couple weeks ago, I wrote that Christian anime fans need to consider other believers as they watch and discuss anime. But other believers only make up a fraction of those who read our comments, tweets, and feeds. Many of our followers and friends are not Christians. They don’t know Christ, very few of them have read any of the Bible, and their perspective on our Lord and our beliefs comes primarily from… us. Wherever we go, and wherever we post, we’re ambassadors for Christ. We’re on a mission we can’t run away from, a mission we signed up for the day we became Christians: to spread the Gospel in word and action, so we may glorify God as part of the growing Church. That brings another set of responsibilities, including some that, at first glance, seem different from those I wrote about before.
In my last post, I focused on 1 Corinthians 8. Two chapters later, Paul returns to a similar topic, now focusing on what to do when presented with food sacrificed to idols. This time, he transitions with statements that relate to practicing freedom with others’ benefit in mind:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Cor 10:23-24)
As Christians, we don’t have to follow the long list of laws from ancient and orthodox Judaism. On multiple occasions, Paul rebuked Jewish Christians who tried to enforce laws about unclean food (a different issue than food sacrificed to idols) or circumcision. And we don’t exactly have new laws, either. New expectations? Yes. A difference between sinful and righteous acts? Absolutely. That’s been around since long before the laws listed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (most of which apply specifically to that ancient theocracy, and/or to the covenant between God and Israel… and many of which address things that were sins anyway, much like any nation’s laws do). But there are no nit-picky rules about media, diet, dancing, etc. Instead, we’re reminded to seek the good of others—related to the most important commandments, to love God and our “neighbors.”
What “neighbors” are Paul talking about? Not only Christians. Paul seems to use it in the more general sense, much as Jesus’s definition of “neighbors” crossed ethnic and neighborhood lines. And what good should we seek for them? Again, the definition is bigger than you may first think. Yes, of course, there’s their health, prosperity, and the pleasure they get when you give them the last cookie. But most of all, we must seek to point them toward God. Nothing compares to knowing, loving, and worshipping God—an eternal life where “eternal” means something much, much richer than “immortal.” That is the good we’re seeking for them.
Our viewing habits and other choices impact our personal relationship with God. We should seek to honor and pursue him in our personal entertainment, whether that’s anime, gaming, or something else (Samuru has written some great related posts in his column Gaming and God). When we ask questions like, “will this content tempt me or put harmful images in my mind?” we are mindful of what is good for us. But that’s only part of what we should be doing. We must also seek to remind other Christians of the Gospel (and God’s glory), and to point those who don’t believe toward God. In the process, we should remove as many obstacles from their path as possible. That is actively seeking “the good of his neighbor.”
Thus, Paul gives more context to the whole idol-food situation. He concludes the passage with this:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10:31-33)
Let’s break this down a bit:
“Do all to the glory of God“: What does it mean to glorify God? It involves calling others’ attention to God’s greatness. In Paul’s example, it means that if someone offers you food that’s been sacrificed to idols, and you know it, don’t eat it, for their sake. This time, refraining from eating isn’t only to protect other Christians from doing what they believe to be wrong. It’s a matter of perception. If unbelievers see you eating food known to be sacrificed to idols, it could have a slanderous affect, as it implies idol-worship. Such actions do not bring glory to God. Instead, they could undermine the Gospel message you’re trying to share—and perhaps imply, quite wrongly, that God doesn’t mind it if you honor other “gods” as well (that implication makes sense, given the earlier part of this chapter). Same rules apply to modern-day actions, though some explanation is necessary and will follow later.
“Give no offense… Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do…”
Wait a second. “No offense”? “Please everyone”? What about how Paul sat with Gentiles and ate food the Jews called “unclean”? Or his straightforward language when he’s adamant about things, language that’s often translated with euphemisms? Or Jesus’s food metaphors that sounded cannibalistic? Not to mention the whole ruckus in the temple… And the directions on how we’re to act, directions that seem to restrict what we can do! We can’t avoid offending people, and if we’re living right, it’s probably inevitable. Too many people love evil and lies, so they’re naturally offended by what is good and true. That’s on them, not us. On the other hand, loving others and sharing the Gospel with others can offend our more legalistic brethren, like when the apostles ate “unclean” food at the same table as the Gentiles. That’s fine, so long as we do what we can to communicate love and truth to all involved. I think a lot of our otaku habits fit in that category.
But Paul’s talking about a different kind of offense, and we need to listen up. I’ve noticed an arrogant trend, one I’ve been party to, where we say misunderstandings are fine, so long as we are “right” or “free” in our actions and words. It’s similar to using the First Amendment to excuse slander and inappropriate language. When offense comes because we lack love, humility, and consideration for others—because our convenience, opinions, and whims are more important in our eyes—then we push away the very people we are supposed to minister to. We are Christians. We’re supposed to love others, obey the law (unless it contradicts God’s commandments), value truth and purity, and eschew evil. When we do something that appears to contradict those expectations, we may cloud others’ understanding of who we are and who Christ is. It may become an obstacle between them and God. Of course, God can knock down any obstacle, but we don’t get to abdicate responsibility.
Here are three examples from my fandom experience:
First, I’ve changed how I watch anime. And this is the main reason I procrastinated on writing a post like this. Until four years ago, I watched a lot of my anime through third-party sites. Megavideo, Vevo, and occasionally YouTube videos were my norm. One evening, when my classmate, a Chinese exchange student, spent the night, we decided to watch Vampire Knight. By this point, I was starting to realize that this method of streaming videos wasn’t completely legal. I asked her if she was comfortable with it. She said she was. Afterward, I felt a little guilty: I was one of the few Christians she would connect with during her stay here—maybe even in her life. What if she came away from that night thinking that Christians don’t actually care about what’s legal? Or about how their actions might negatively impact the anime industry? Chances are, there was no such negative impact. After all, “everyone” streams and downloads videos that aren’t uploaded through legal routes. It’s no big deal… right?
Still, I wasn’t comfortable with it. Eventually, after reading a convicting post (I think from Tommy of Anime Bowl), I stopped watching anime through questionable sources. Look, I’m not condemning you if you stream or download fansubs and other questionably uploaded anime. I honestly won’t look down on you for your choice. But, Christians, I ask you to reconsider it, especially if you live in the U.S. or another country where we’re privileged with so many shows licensed for distribution.
I’ve read some convincing posts about why it’s best to watch anime through Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, Daisuki, etc… mostly posts by people who do not call themselves Christians. So, unbelievers have decided to support the industry by streaming videos they know are uploaded legally (and buying DVDs, etc. when they can)… instead of supporting the illegally uploaded videos and whoever gets the ad revenue in the process. They realize that, based on what they’ve learned and their own consciences, that’s the best way to go. If even unbelievers do this, shouldn’t we? Or is our anime craving more important? These are the questions I’ve asked myself. And before you start making excuses to yourself, like I did, please remember that this isn’t only about whether the action itself is, strictly speaking “illegal,” “unlawful,” or “sinful,” thought all those should be considered. If others see it as wrong, perhaps it’s not something you should be doing as someone associated with Christ.
Again, I’m not going to look down on you if you come to a different answer than me, even though my convictions on the matter are firm. But please, please, please, think about this.
Second, I ask myself questions about what I watch and how I share about it. I’ve watched one ecchi: No Game no Life. I couldn’t believe I was watching it. The nudity, the jokes, and other sexual stuff I’ve already forgotten about offended me. But the story was enjoyable. So I finished the season.
Honestly, I’m still questioning my choice to watch No Game no Life, and how I listed and rated it. Did the show harm me—perhaps place undesirable images in my mind? No. But was it edifying? Honestly, as enjoyable as it was, it only added one thing to my life: more creative talent to praise God for. And I can find creative accomplishments in other things. Next question: Did watching No Game no Life aid me in reaching out to fellow otaku? Nope. We have plenty of other titles to discuss, and I never wrote a blog post about it. So finally, the hard question: Will the fact I watched this show negatively impact the overall message I’m sending through my actions and words? I doubt it. From what I remember, the most worrisome theme has nothing to do with being ecchi—it was the idea that being an anti-social, game-obsessed NEET in the long term is perfectly fine (rather than unhealthy). Still, it certainly didn’t help my life mission to point others to the glory of God.
Other shows are more questionable… like Diabolik Lovers. That was a terrible choice, and my only excuse is that exhaustion detracted from my decision-making abilities. I wanted a distraction from life, and that show didn’t require any thinking. Did it offend me? Yep, and I had plenty of warning. But I didn’t make the decision to quit watching. And I think I even listed it on Anime-Planet. I need to check that and decide whether to take it off or just leave it there with its very poor rating. It’s not ecchi, but the heroine is treated terribly, and the ending is not redeeming. That’s one of the lines I think we need to draw: if a show presents—without any sense of condemnation or opportunity for redemption—poor treatment of human beings (usually, I think, specific to women), as in abusive relationships, rape, excessive violence, etc., then we need to stand against it. Passively saying, “yeah, I watched it” doesn’t show the passion for justice, love, and righteousness we should have.
Third, I try to be careful what I say and how I say it in blog posts, tweets, comments, etc. I still write things I regret. But I believe we must try to be careful. We must communicate love and truth, gentleness and boldness, mercy and justice. Sometimes, that requires an attitude adjustment. How does that apply to watching anime? I addressed it partially in May’s post about being a humble anime viewer. I encourage you to consider it for yourself. And don’t forget: this includes how we respond to other things that come across our various feeds, such as social justice movements on Tumblr and political posts on Facebook… and all those rainbows we’ve been seeing.
In summary, I’ve realized I must be more careful what I watch and say online. When in doubt, I should exit the video or refrain from sharing my experience. Glorifying God should be a much higher priority than exercising my freedom by fulfilling my every whim. I don’t need to practice all aspects of freedom in order to have it—in other words, I needn’t watch every show in order to express my freedom as a Christian anime fan.
You may find other applications, and I encourage you to think through how you can help others see God’s glory (and remove obstacles from their way) in your own life. Some areas I’m not as familiar with, but you may expand on, include the following:
- Video games
- Fanart, Fanfiction, and doujinshi (creating, buying, reading, sharing, etc.)
- Shipping (as in OTP, of course, not UPS… yes, very closely related to the last point)
- Vlogging and other media
I’d love to hear your perspective on this. Specifically, how would you (or do you already) seek others’ good as you participate in the fandom-related activities I listed above? How do you seek to help and build others up?
If you’re not a Christian, then first, thank you for taking the time to read this. Second, I’d love to hear how Christian anime fans are doing in your eyes: what impressions have you gotten about our beliefs and about God through how we act?
And it’s done! I’m sorry I couldn’t post this two weeks ago. I originally expected it to be about a third this length. Now that it’s done, I hope to hear your thoughts, and maybe even your answers to the questions above. I really do value the discussions that sprout in the comments. Next week, I’ll return to topics that draw from specific anime (finally!).