This is the second in a three-part guest series by James.
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In Part 1, we saw that Okabe and his friends suffer greatly for presuming to meddle with time travel. Whether that suffering comes at the hands of an impersonal universe or a personal God is the question we will consider next.
The Meaning of Steins Gate
At the beginning of the story, the meaning of the term “Steins Gate” is ambiguous. As Okabe puts it:
Steins Gate. Some know it as Fate; to others, it is the will of God. You could count on one hand the people in this world aware of its true nature.
This ambiguity remains throughout the entire novel, for while Okabe declares repeatedly that fortuitous happenings are “the choice of Steins Gate,” in his private musings he is agnostic on the nature of the seemingly cosmic conspiracy underpinning the plot. When he discovers that an IBN 5100 can crack the strange code in SERN’s database, he says it feels like “an almighty will is pulling the strings.” Later, he reflects that the PhoneWave’s time travel capabilities were inadvertently discovered “by chance or design,” and when confronted with the impossibility of saving Mayuri he wonders who or what has made it so:
Fate. God. The will of the universe. An absolute force that no one can resist. It exists, and it has sentenced Mayuri to death.
After Okabe cancels some of the D-Mails, delaying Mayuri’s impending death, the same question arises:
Going by the pattern, her death has probably been postponed until about this time tomorrow. Is this the will of some higher being? God, fate, the universe itself? Or is it merely coincidence?
Finally, when forced to choose between saving Mayuri or Kurisu, he asks the same question again:
Please, let Mayuri live! To whom should I make this desperate plea? God? Fate? The universe itself? Either way, I am just one insignificant human among billions. Will my prayers truly reach?
While Okabe’s ambivalence is maintained for most of the novel, in the end he comes to feel that if there is a God, then he must be overthrown in order to attain true freedom. During the second attempt to save Kurisu, Okabe resolves not to “court the mercy of a heartless god. I will save Kurisu myself,” and then declares,
I am Hououin Kyouma, the mad scientist who defies God. My true desire is chaos. I have no need for a predetermined future.
This theme of defying God’s will also appears in the credits theme “Unmei no Farfalla,” which plays during the bad endings (i.e., any ending other than the true ending). A portion of the lyrics reads thus:
Overcoming the law that was imprinted and forced upon them,
The deicidal knights will search for the path to the demonic castle.
The key to the door lies in those hands and dreams,
In between the gap of eternity and infinity.
Those captive, flee now,
Break the loop and the snare woven by God’s hand.
Perhaps it is understandable for Okabe to believe that God (if he exists) should be rejected, not trusted. After all, he does experience a great deal of pain in his attempts to save Mayuri and Kurisu, and if it is not the universe then it must be God himself, implacable and uncaring, who has seemingly decreed that either one or the other must die.
But this is only one understanding of God and the situation. While Okabe imagines God to be cruel and his will unyielding, he never considers the possibility that his own agency plays a role in that will, and that there is meaning in his suffering.
(continued in Part 3)
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Check back tomorrow for the third and final post in this series!
James is a research associate with the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. He writes regularly at their website, tifwe.org, and a sample of his work can be found here. He’s also written about Planetarian for us in the past.
General Disclaimer: Beneath the Tangles does not necessarily advocate the theological views expressed in any article labeled “Guest Post.”