Today’s guest post comes from medical school student, Dimas, and takes a look at how Christianity is sometimes depicted in one of two ways, as through Kirei Kotomine, when it is in fact neither.
Christian tone and symbolism in the Japanese media and in particular anime are mostly used as a flavoring so to say; this is why despite the great deal of Christian symbolism in Evangelion, it mostly existed to make the series “cool,” as even stated by some of the people who worked on it. For the most part, the depiction of Christianity in anime is similar to how Christianity is depicted in mainstream media, in that it is shown as an uptight, rigid, and prudish ideology. The aforementioned depiction is interesting to myself as one living in a highly religious society with many faiths intermingling instead of a secularized society; here, far from being that type of ideology, Christianity is instead seen as not ascetic enough by the other religions. The polarizing nature of these critics seems to suggest that Christianity is both prudish and embracing of worldly joy, rigid yet not ascetic. Kirei Kotomine from Fate/Zero is an interesting character to explore in this regard as he goes from being the archetypical uptight Christian priest to someone whose purpose is to delight in earthly pleasure, the extreme version on what the other religions might view Christianity as failing to fully condemn.
Kotomine started off as an upstanding Christian—or at least the Nasuverse version of Christianity, where a priest of the Roman Catholic Church is a sword-wielding assassin that can be married and has a daughter. His father Risei Kotomine even mentioned that Kirei would go to hell if the church demanded it, an explanation given to Toshaka’s inquiry as to why Kirei so willingly joined the Holy Grail War without complaints even when he has no desire for the grail. At this point of the anime, Kirei is presented to us as someone that is loyal to the church, someone that has sworn off earthly pleasure and completely give himself up in service to God, and he even goes on to later state that pleasure is sinful and corrupt, to which Gilgamesh responds, “What philosophy considers pleasure a sin?” This is how most highly secularized society perceives Christianity, as a relic of a bygone era that clings in blind faith to a corrupt institution and demonizes the inherent human condition of seeking pleasure. It is clear that Gilgamesh’s reply was meant as an “armor-piercing question” that challenges Kirei’s worldview; it indeed starts his descent into the version we see in the later part of Fate/Zero and the entirety of Fate/Stay Night.
The Kirei Kotomine we see in the end of Fate/Zero is undoubtedly a changed man; he moves from a rigid black and white worldview into becoming an amoral hedonist, someone that seeks pleasure without a care on how said pleasure is obtained. The previous Kirei was someone that called the King of Heroes a sinner to his face, an act that he knew fully might get him eviscerated on the spot because Gilgamesh suggested him to take delight in Kariya Matou’s tragedy and suffering. The Kirei Kotomine we see at the end of Fate/Zero is someone that after witnessing the aftermath of the Fuyuki Fire, wishes to start it all over again, outright dooming countless of people in the process due to his perverse desire to seek pleasure from the tragedy and suffering that ensues. I don’t believe that this amoral hedonist version of Kirei was ever intended to serve as a depiction of Christianity, though this is the endpoint of pursuing earthly desire as seen by the majority of religions and is the reason why many religions criticize Christianity in not condemning pleasure as much as they have. It is easy to see why other religions perceive us as not committed enough in condemning earthly desire; Christianity is after all much less restrictive than other religions. For example, Christians don’t have dietary prohibitions like the haram foods of the Muslim, or the vegetarian tendencies in Buddhism. The fact that Christians call our God “Father” with redemption and forgiveness as the central message only exacerbates the problem, as it presents a degree of closeness to God and appears to make sin trivial, unlike Islam, for instance, which sees humans as mere servants to God and punishes sin harshly with the Shariah law.
I believe that Christianity is neither of those things—it ise not an ideology that outright condemns pleasure nor one that seeks half-hearted measure against sin. The answer to this paradox ironically enough comes out of Gilgamesh’s first attempt to question Kirei’s condemnation of pleasure, where he states that pleasure can be derived from evil or good deeds and therefore is not inherently sinful. While Gilgamesh does not ultimately subscribe to this view and instead later asserts that though pleasure can be derived from good or evil deeds, neither is a sin and both are in equal measure, this simple view that pleasure can be derived from good and evil is Christianity’s answer to those criticisms. Christianity does not outright condemn pleasure because all things come from God including pleasure. Jesus was eating and drinking in a way that the Jews felt a prophet should not do, which meant that such an arbitrary perception that pleasure equals sin is not rightful in the eye of God. Peter later in the book of Acts receives a vision that permits him to eat what was considered impure and unclean because God has made it clean. On the other hand, we do not make light of sin and earthly desires; Jesus repeatedly emphasized how we need to let go of our worldly possessions to follow Him, and unlike some religions where the prerequisite for salvation is being a good person, that is not enough in Christianity because even one sin, no matter how big or small, will result in eternal damnation and only through God’s grace can humanity reach salvation.
These two seemingly opposing sides of Christianity are reconciled in one of the seven heavenly virtues, that of temperance (meaning moderation). It is not abstinence—the desire for pleasure itself is not inherently sinful. After all, it is this desire that drives humanity to seek comfort in each other in loving relationship. It is this desire of experiencing the pleasure of fulfillment that drives many to give their lives to help others, and it is pleasure that drove David to proclaim to God that in Him is total celebration and in His right hand are beautiful things (Psalm 16:11). At the same time, temperance seeks to moderate the desire of pleasure so that it won’t stray from its intended course. Our desire to seek pleasure should not be condemned but it should be reined in by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Christianity’s answer to Gilgamesh nihilistic questions, “What found pleasure a sin?” and “If it is not inherently a sin, then why would we consider certain pleasures sinful if the soul yearns for it?” For us as Christians, pleasure derived from evil is not the natural condition of men—those perverse desires arise out of sin itself and it is only through submitting those desires to the Holy Spirit in deference could they be tempered into true pleasure.
Kirei is not wrong to leave his joyless worldview that condemn pleasures as not being the way of Christianity. What he is wrong about is this: pleasure can still be found in Christianity while still maintaining righteousness. Kirei’s answer to Gilgamesh’s question, “What philosophy found pleasure a sin?” should be “One that seeks to temper earthly pleasure into true pleasure as it was intended to from the very beginning.”
Dimas first knew of anime during middle school, back when Naruto was really booming. He had been reading manga when his friends introduced him to anime. He is currently attending medical school, so he does not watch as much as he used to, though he tries to keep up when possible.