In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers. Today’s submission comes from Patrick H.:
My Name is Patrick H. I’m 21 years old, a devout (or at least trying) Catholic and I’m a big fan of Anime. Actually, to be specific, I love story-telling in general. Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve enjoyed fables, books, movies, and mythology of all kinds. I’m a lit major and am trying to make a career out of my passion; I feel like stories are man’s way of trying to understand God and one another (look at classical mythology). However, I also have struggled with scrupulocity in the past. I’ve recently been suffering from an over-active conscience and am doubting my good judgement in regard to anime. Mainly, this comes from a fear of the Devil’s influence or that something that looks relatively harmless might be secretly occult especially knowing how severely the Devil can influence a Pagan culture (I know how ridiculous it sounds but it doesn’t change how I feel). I usually have good sense as to what’s dangerous and what’s not (which is why I stopped watching Hellsing) but many series with good and even somewhat christian themes seem dangerous or subversive to me (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, FMA, Avatar, Dragon Ball, One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, One Punch Man and even a few Miyazaki films are all among the various fandoms that I’ve enjoyed in the past but recently called into question). And it’s not just anime, even comic books (Marvel and DC), many fantasy games/movies and even Star Wars (Star Wars for God’s sakes!) have caused concern. It’s gotten to the point that I have a hard time trusting my friends who I know are good Catholics with cool heads and more reasonable consciences. Honestly, this is getting really annoying to be so worried all the time. I’ve looked at Christian film reviews but they don’t cover tv and anime. I’ve talked to a priest but it’s difficult to explain and getting answers especially with a lot of long-running series that he’s not familiar with. So I was hoping some fellow otaku theologians could give me advice. It’d be much appreciated if you all could tell some ways to either over-come my scrupulocity, or advise some way to regain my good judgement. Thank you, God Bless, and have a Merry Christmas.
In your particular case, keep in mind that story-telling is one of those crossroads in which believers and non-believers meet. There are many such crossroads, and it is a good thing, because God uses such meetings to draw people of the world into the City of God. We are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) because of our union with Christ, who is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and from whom we draw our light: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4). The sort of fruit which men produce for the love of God is varied. In the case of literary persons like Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Bsp. Jean-Pierre Camus, Chretien de Troyes, J. R. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Miguel de Cervantes, Charles Dickens, Leon Bloy, Hilaire Belloc, Walker Percy, Andrew Klavan, and Flannery O’Connor, their novels and poems number among the fruits the good God desired them to produce. Indeed, it might have gone very hard with them at the last judgment if they had forsaken the use of their talents! (Or will go hard with them: Andrew Klavan is still alive. 🙂 )
To a friend who suffered from scruples over the same subject, I referred him to Russell Kirk’s “The Moral Imagination.” Russell Kirk, a conservative American Catholic, divides the sort of imagination one might find in a story into one of three categories: moral, idyllic, and diabolical. The first two are more widespread than the last. And, might we not call all the moral truth and goodness displayed in any work Christian? Having its author in God? Confer Tertullian: “Anima naturaliter Christiana–The soul is naturally Christian.” That which is good in pagan works may also be found in Christian works. But, one should avoid the diabolic imagination, which is very easy to recognize. I talk about how to spot the diabolic imagination in this post I wrote on Concrete Revolutio. Basically, nihilism and moral relativism are sure signs of the demonic at work.
However, do we find moral relativism and nihilism in all anime or pagan literature? Do we even find it in most? No! Because the great writers of the past had great ideals and great souls. Lacking the light of divine revelation, they were mistaken in some things, but–this is very important–you, as a well-educated Catholic, know where they erred! If one knows someone is arguing for a falsehood, one is not going to become convinced by their arguments. Sure, that person may repeat them over and over again and very obnoxiously; but, the end result of their repetition of error is to confirm one’s stand in the right! Perhaps, they have a subtle and convincing argument for an error? In that case, apply to wise Christians who are able to show where the subtle argument fails. The devil may have produced many errors among the pagans, but Christ has conquered the devil and does not let the humble be deceived.
Indeed, encountering false ideas in literature and anime is often useful: by discerning the falsehood, the true stands out more clearly. Also, encountering evil ideas and lies in literature can motivate one to write the truth more than only encountering the truth. I wish you God’s grace in overcoming your scruples and your pride (the victory is one and the same), and please pray for me that I overcome my own pride. Thank you!