Today’s article is from Dr. Steve, a frequent guest contributor on our blog. After you finish reading this post, be sure to also check out his previous writings here about Restaurant to Another World and Interview with Monster Girls.
In the fourth episode of Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Nezumi, Warrior of the Rat, challenges his ally Sharyu, Warrior of the Monkey, to justify her choices:
“What reason could you have to put yourself through hell trying to save our lives? … You put a lot of time and effort into negotiating peace and proposing ceasefires, but if you used your power to end the fighting in an instant, wouldn’t that save more lives, even faster? … Ideas like ‘Every single life is precious’ and ‘No one is truly evil through and through’ are mere platitudes spoken by people who don’t see reality.”
Each of the warriors participating in the Juni Taisen has his or her own motivations to fight. Sharyu, however, despite being one of the most powerful among them all—she can, after all, transform the structure of matter at will—tries her hardest to avoid fighting. In the Juni Taisen universe, she is credited with having negotiated an end to over 300 international conflicts and 200 civil wars! And she offers to any of the Juni Taisen warriors who ally with her the hope that they might all survive, even though it’s supposed to be a fight to the death with at most one victor.
The only person who takes Sharyu up on her offer is the mysterious and quietly confident Nezumi. He makes it clear to Sharyu that their alliance is merely one of convenience, at least on his side: “A peace agreement is one thing, but I hate the peace itself. … I won’t be reformed by you, no matter what….” And as seen in the first quote above, he knows her motivations are of a completely different kind than his. He is ruthlessly practical; she is ruthlessly idealistic.
And yet, she seems to choose the most inefficient path towards her goal. Nezumi demands to know: Why not choose a more direct path? If you want peace, simply force those weaker than you to accept it. You’ll save time, energy, and even more lives.
As we see in a flashback, Sharyu did try once to enforce peace, through manipulation rather than negotiation. While mediating a border conflict between two nation states, she secretly arranged a ceasefire by inciting some of the solders in both armies to revolt and set up an independent country. A short-lived peace turned to disaster as the two larger nations united their forces—and slaughtered the rebels together.
Why didn’t Sharyu’s plan work? The other nations may have been open to peace—they did at least meet with each other to discuss the possibility—but her method violated their freedom to choose, their free will.
Force, it turns out, cannot transform hearts. It can impose the outward trappings of peace, but only as long as sufficient force is in place to prevent people from acting on their desires. Sharyu realized that she wanted everyone to experience an enduring peace, not merely a temporary ceasefire. This should could not accomplish against their will.
A similar question to Nezumi’s is sometimes posed of God: If God wants a world free from evil, why doesn’t He just go ahead and remove the evil? He’s certainly capable of it, being omnipotent and all.
This kind of calculus overlooks what the young Sharyu also missed: We need to freely choose what is good, and this is something that by definition can never be forced. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis spells out this argument at much greater length. Lewis argues that in a world in which the negative consequences of our evil choices were consistently denied—for example, if trying to murder someone with a hard object immediately made the object become as soft as a feather—neither good nor evil could be freely chosen.
Put another way, God chooses not to use His power to remove evil in the world, because to do so would also remove the possibility of conversion. If something good is forced on us against our will, we are more likely to close our hearts to it, despite its goodness. God wants our hearts, our love freely given: He wants our conversion. Sharyu, in the present day, understands this: She wants to convert people to peace, not simply enforce the outward appearances of peace.
Is this idealism hopeless? Can the ideal be brought into harmony with the real? Sharyu’s answer to Nezumi is worth quoting in full:
Nezumi-kun, earlier you said that no one has saved more people than I have. Then it follows that no one has failed to save more people than I have. There are so many people I’ve tried to save and failed. More than I could ever count. But more than I could ever forget. I’ve seen country after country fall to ruin. I’ve seen slaughter upon unjustified slaughter. Crimes against humanity are burned into my brain. The hunting of humans, institutionalized slavery, civil war, immoral weaponry, human trafficking, senicide, patricide, infanticide, cultural genocide, large-scale destruction of cultural heritages, exhaustion of resources, discrimination and prejudice, revenge and retaliation, subjection of women to men, starvation and epidemics: I’ve seen them again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again! I’ve seen them all. I’ve looked them in the eye. I’ve seen the reality. And despite seeing it, I still speak in platitudes. I choose to do what I do. I choose to stop wars using the power of words. I’ve been through many terrible things myself, as well, but I still want to get along with everyone. I want to find happiness with everyone. Don’t sell platitudes short, little boy.
Jesus might well say something similar. He is the Savior, and yet He alone knows how many people He has failed to save. He knows and has seen every single evil that the world has ever known and seen: every murder, rape, theft, lie, and the countless other ways our world falls short of perfection are clear in His sight from eternity. He sees the reality, the reality of sin and evil. He, too, suffered through many terrible things—he carried all the sin of the world on the Cross. And yet, He dares to speak in platitudes: “Love your neighbor as yourself. Do good to those who persecute you. Repay evil with good. Trust in Me. I am with you always.” What would otherwise be empty niceties take on power, simply because the One who spoke them looked the reality of evil in the eye while doing so. Having carried the cross, Jesus earned the right to speak platitudes; we Christians, too, as we take up our daily cross, transform our proclamation from empty platitudes to words carrying power, commanding assent, encouraging conversion.
Words plus the Cross equal the power to convert hearts—something even the warriors of the Juni Taisen can’t accomplish with all their strength. Don’t sell platitudes short.
Dr. Steve was introduced to anime while working on his Ph.D. in literary studies, when the local anime club showed Naruto’s fight against Zabuza and Haku on an auditorium big screen. His favorite anime series include FMA: Brotherhood, Erased, Snow White with Red Hair, and Gate, and he also enjoys computer programming, playing folk music, and unusual languages like Esperanto. Where he finds the time for these, after prayer, work, and raising several children, remains something of a mystery.