In our Untangled column, we answer questions (edited for clarity) from the readers. Feel free to email us a question or ask us one through any our social media platforms. Today’s question comes from Connor:
When a pretty safe series has one or two aspects you don’t approve of, how do you react? Ex. I was really enjoying One Piece as some of the staff seem to, too, but a scene involving a satanic cult turned me off pretty hard, and it made me think, is one scene of an otherwise tame series enough to be objectionable to God? Have any of you felt something like this before?
Oh yes, for sure! I think the harder part is to discern whether such feelings are man-made, perhaps an overzealousness, or if it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to us. During college, for instance, I had a bad guilt trip over how “God” was represented in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain, and gave both away to my roommate. I didn’t regret the latter because I later picked up an awesome edition of it, but I never ended up buying a better copy of Evangelion, which remains a favorite series of mine. Looking back, I felt I wasn’t mature enough at the time to own those series, nor was I doing the things I needed (in that case the actual living out a Christian life and working on loving God and others) to be “in tune” with what the Spirit would have me do.
So it can be tricky. But to put it simply, I think it’s good to examine what we’re consuming through two questions:
Question #1: Is the anime good?
This is a very broad question. On a surface level, I do encourage you to think about the quality of an anime: Despite the one scene (or multiple), is the “goodness” of it worth pressing on? Does it express qualities that encourage you to be more godly? For instance, in One Piece (and I’m sorry if this is a poor example—I’m not a One Piece fanatic like our girl, Holly), does the love and camaraderie of the Straw Hat Pirates continually push you to love on your own gang of weird friends, so much so that it’s worth occasionally coming across objective material? Or does the examination of mental health issues in Evangelion push you to think more deeply about anxiety and depression in your own life or among those you encounter? Does the beautiful artwork and creativity in Kill la Kill demonstrate the higher creativity of the Creator, and make it worth viewing despite all the lewd content?
And on a deeper level, though this isn’t particularly related to your question, Connor, it’s worth adjusting our mindsets to realize that any content we view is ultimately not good. Christians get this weird tunnel vision sometimes that makes us feel guilty for watching something not created by Christians, and only feel like we’re truly consuming something good if it’s an explicitly Christian book or film. But we must remember, those aren’t holy either—they’re deeply flawed. In fact, I can’t watch or read so much of that stuff, as it comes across to me as far more hypocritical and missing of the mark than media developed by those who have no faith at all! And I think understanding that we as humans are going to create imperfect art helps us be both more mindful as we watch and more gracious in what we accept.
Question #2: Is the anime good for me?
But ultimately, the question we must ask whenever some material comes on screen that really digs at us is if that specific anime is going to cause us to sin. While my mind often paints broad categories (ex. fanservice = bad), it’s rarely so in reality. Each person is unique, formed by their own circumstances, experiences, and brain make up. Thus a satanic cult in One Piece may not bother one person at all, but for another, cause them concern that haunts them for days or weeks. Even further, a rather harmless scene showing a character with just a touch of immodesty might encourage a young man to commit to sexual sin, while a more obvious piece of fanservice may not do the same for that very same person. We’re complex animals, different from one another but also different situationally within ourselves.
Because of that, the best we can do is first and foremost, be focused on our spiritual development: to be reading scripture daily, praying frequently, meeting with Christian friends (even if digitally during this time) and holding one another accountable, attending worship services, and actively serving those around us as we seek an authentic relationship with God and with others. And as we do that, we’ll wisely deal with situations like the one you’re encountering, Connor, and making good decisions on a micro-level, where you can decide whether you need to skip over such scenes in the future (or in repeat viewings), can come to terms with them, or should drop One Piece entirely, and on a macro-level where you can come to know what kinds of content trigger you, leading to good decisions about viewing anime before you even turn on the TV, whenever possible.
The ultimate idea is just to try our best, strengthened by our relationship with God, to be smart viewers and ones conscious of how what we watch, as with everything we do, affects our worship of God. So even thinking of this topic, Connor, is a wonderful thing. Whatever you choose to do, you’re taking a step in the right direction, because involving God in our anime habits is just a symbol of inviting him into the intimate parts of our lives, and that is the faith we want to have.