Religion is wrong. At least fanatical religion is, according to the general tone of western culture, if not outright through its statements about zealotry. Islam is good, but when taken to the extreme, it’s bad. Christianity is okay, but not when you tell people it’s the only way. Buddhism is lovely precisely because of it’s openness.
Although I largely disagree with the statements above (after all, if you believe in the veracity of Christ’s words, you can be nothing less than a zealot of sorts), there’s no doubt that religion taken to an extreme can be close-minded, hypocritical, and dangerous – all these ideas expressed in Patema Inverted, where Izamura, the religious/political leader of Aiga, uses fear and religion to keep the masses under his thumb while pursuing the exposure (and destruction?) of the “inverts,” those whose gravity is the opposite of his people and who live underneath their feet.
Patema Inverted is no subtle film – the message of how religion can go terribly wrong is hammered into us from the beginning. In fact, the first images to really hit me from the world of Aiga were those of the central tower in the city, rising like a ziggurat in the landscape, and more specifically, like the Tower of Babel, the structure the ancients built to reach to God, but which in turn led them further away from Him (and from each other). The tower in Aiga appears to easily be the biggest structure in the city, casting a shadow over the population, and staffed by intimidating security personnel, reminding the populace that religion is king – obey the rules, avoid sin, and do what is told of you.
To say that the leaders of Aiga, embodied by Izamura, are legalists is an understatement. The “rules” of the state are brought up time and time again, and those who break the rules are re-indoctrinated (as seen by repeated teaching in the school) or if seen as an enemy of the state, murdered. The rules are necessary to avoid the illustrated hellfire from becoming a sinner, and more practically, to keep Izamura and his staff at a powerful position above the people. Izamura craves such power, lording it over Patema again and again, and others as well (notice the deference given him by teachers when he comes to interrogate Age). His favorite word of offense, inverts, is even a way to strip the humanity away from Patema’s people and put them as a lower rung on the caste.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were legalists who had all the pride and greed of Izamura without the tyrannical power. While Christians today look at the Pharisees often as the villains of the New Testament, many refuse to see that they’ve become modern-day Pharisees. We build our own towers of babel, but instead of by brick or concrete, we build our towers through laws and precepts that bring to mind harsh religion rather than the grace of God. Sin points us to God and the His moral laws will always remain true, but it’s grace that saves us, something we claim to believe about but forget in our everyday existence.
Even for those of us who practice Christianity and realize how damaging it is to see Christians in America mix up their faith with culture, conservatism, and upbringing, we might still be more like Izamura than we realize. For instance, is there some hypocrisy to how are we react to social justice issues of our day? While we might not be like our parents and grandparents, many of whom are blatantly racist, or like Izamura, who is trying to separate the people (analogous to separation of the races), we might side with our personal beliefs and see issues of race and inequality as overblown, rather than take them as important concerns of people whom we ought to love.
And the elephant in the room, of course, is homosexual marriage. What stance will we be known for? Will we focus on the laws of the earth – a place that is described in the Bible both as only temporarily our home (Hebrews 13:14) and the domain of Satan (John 12:31) – and offer condemnation to a people who largely don’t know the gospel message, or do we bring love and grace to them in accompaniment with scriptural messages about our distance from God, demonstrating God’s compassion and truth, to open doors in speaking the gospel? Are we so caught up in how people ought to live that we forget that we are no better than anyone, and that grace is the only way to rescue us all?
The end of Patema Inverted (spoilers) maybe asks this question best of all. When the literal dust has settled at the end of the film, we come to realize that Itazura was not only wrong ideologically – the facts that form the foundation of his godless religion were wrong, too. The world of the film’s characters is turned upright and now the peoples of that planet can see the truth of it all, which begs the question we need to ask of ourselves:
Are we the ones who are upside-down?