“What is truth?”
Pontius Pilate’s derisive rhetorical question during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth has a strikingly modern — or better yet, postmodern — ring to it (Jn. 18.38). In the postmodern worldview, “truth” is subjective, personal, relative, and often unknowable, much like Pilate’s question implies. I know there’s been a lot about The Rising of the Shield Hero on Beneath the Tangles, but, well, here’s more. The show recently touched on the topic of truth and struck a blow against postmodern doubt, in the process echoing a similar thought from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai.
In episode 17, Fitoria the shapeshifting bird queen insisted that our cynical protagonist, Naofumi, attempt to make peace with the other three Cardinal Heroes. Naofumi refuses. This leads Fitoria to threaten to kill the four heroes if they won’t get along. However, Naofumi believes reconciliation is impossible.
Here Fitoria raises the need to uphold truth. “Did you really try to make up with them? Did you try to clear your name?” she asks. Curiously, Naofumi concedes, “I guess I didn’t bother, thinking they’d never believe me.” Fitoria answers that “If you don’t tell them they’re wrong, you’re basically admitting your guilt.” She argues that for the sake the four heroes’ greater mission, Naofumi must speak truth to power, as it were.
She goes on to explain that if the heroes aren’t acting in concert, the calamities facing the world will be vastly more difficult to resist. “You can’t overcome all those hurdles by yourself,” she tells the Shield Hero. There’s a lesson here in motives. Fitoria bases the need to contradict the slanderous lies made against Naofumi not on a self-centered desire for personal justification, but rather on the greater good of reconciliation and cooperation. We likewise must care about the truth for its own sake, not merely when it benefits us personally.
Naofumi did in fact defend himself and deny the accusations against him back in the first episode. Attacked with a false charge of attempted rape, he insisted he’d gone right to bed after supper the previous night. He denounced the accusations as “not even the least bit true.” He called the situation a setup. That said, following this initial defense, he makes no effort to repair his reputation. In fairness to Naofumi, he has little reason to try, since his fellow heroes responded to his defense dismissively. While his lack of concern over his own reputation is in some ways admirable, Naofumi loses sight of the fact that there is a greater good to be served through defending the truth.
The first arc in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai also questions the value of upholding truth in the face of lies. In the first episode, Mai looks into the rumors surrounding Sakuta, claims that in middle school he committed violent acts and sent three classmates to the hospital. It’s “pretty clear” to Mai that the rumors are false: “Someone who caused such a huge incident couldn’t attend school like nothing happened.”
When Sakuta ruefully wishes, “I wish my class could hear that line,” Mai pushes back. “If it’s wrong,then you need to tell them such,” she says. Sakuta is provoked into a monologue about the futility of defending himself:
“A rumor is kind of like the atmosphere, isn’t it? Since lately, the atmosphere is something you need to read. That ‘atmosphere’ that labels you as a bad person if you can’t read it. And the people creating that atmosphere don’t have a sense of participation, so it’s foolish to try and fight against the atmosphere.”
No one feels responsible for the lies floating around, complicating any effort to squelch them, to the point that like Naofumi, Sakuta considers it a futile endeavor. Mai won’t let him off the hook so easily, however. “So you’re leaving misunderstandings be, and giving up before even fighting,” she prods him. This has no effect on how Sakuta regards his own reputation, but does pay off later in another way.
Where Fitoria pushes Naofumi to share the truth in order to save the world, it’s love that convinces Sakuta to fight the unbeatable atmosphere. In the third episode of Bunny Girl Senpai, he finally declares, “From here on, I must face the atmosphere. The atmosphere that won’t move, even if I push, pull, or slap it around.” He doesn’t do this to defend himself, but to help Mai, whom he loves. The great lie that has taken hold, through a combination of people studiously ignoring her and some paranormal phenomenon, is that Mai doesn’t exist. This Sakuta finds intolerable, and so he goes to battle to force people to acknowledge Mai’s existence.
Each of these shows promotes the concept of unselfishly defending what is true. We don’t want to get up caught in some self-justifying crusade. Nor should “truth” become an excuse to browbeat others. Rather, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15), we should uphold truth because truth is foundational to meaningful relationships. False accusations separate Naofumi from the other heroes. Willful blindness separates Mai from her fellow students. Truth overcomes both. Truth is also key to real liberty: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8.32). God’s creation of the church is a lesson in the reality that we need others just as Naofumi needs the other heroes. Because falsehoods entrap us and cut us off from each other, let us resist the cynical spirit of our age and always pursue truth.