The Ring of Fire

The icon of the 'parousia' shows how Christ is both the source of joy and the source of anguish

The icon of the ‘parousia’ shows how Christ is both the source of joy and the source of anguish

Before I begin with assessing the 3rd part of Alex’s critique of Jesus as a Savior, I need to explain the conception of Hell in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Hell, unfortunately, is depicted to many at a young age as Dante’s Inferno, a place where demons will torture you in gruesome ways beyond description (never mind that Hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels”), a sadistic and malevolent place that makes the worst of human atrocities seem banal. Johnathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God comes to mind. Of course, many who study theology in any of the three major Christian traditions (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) come to realize that hell isn’t an over-amplified version of the Soviet Gulags. Many describe it as the absence of God, but even this is not correct.

Hell, in the Orthodox tradition, is God Himself. God’s grace, or His energies, pours out to all unconditionally at His second coming, and affect each individual depending on the state of their relationship with Him. If a person spent their life living the life of theosis, coming to know God and participating in Him, drawing ever closer into infinity with Him, combating the passions, overcoming sin, learning love, charity, patience, humility, etc, then they experience the fire of God as warmth and joy, one which will continue to deify them for eternity.

Those who have chosen instead to commune with their passions, desires, with anything other than Christ, will experience these same energies as pain, though it is quite literally God’s love that pierces us. We are no longer able to run away from our passions which we have made into our gods, and as they choke us, our own conscience condemns us for having chosen death over Life. It is, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, “the scourge of love” that afflicts us in the afterlife.

For a more robust presentation, as well as its history in Scripture and the Church Fathers, please read this article. With that, let us examine Alex’s piece:

Madoka doesn’t punish those who don’t believe in her or fail to thank her. Jesus sends nonbelievers and sinners to hell

As I mentioned above, Hell is a condition one finds oneself in having rejected Life and communed with sin and death, having made our passions our own god(s). If we are in hell, it is because we have chosen these things instead of Christ, and our reaction to seeing God’s love and grace, the “scourge of love”, is going to hurt. God will return to earth to transform His creation, and He will (and does) love all.

A true savior doesn’t ask for compensation for his/her services.  A savior gives freely without hope of admiration for doing good deeds. And a savior most certainly doesn’t turn right around and slap the ungrateful in the face.  This is why Jesus isn’t a savior at all. He’s a mafia boss offering protection that nobody asked for.  And if you don’t pay your dues, he’ll get back at you another way.

Let’s get one thing clear, theologically: Christ does not need us at all. He doesn’t need us to worship Him, He doesn’t need us to love Him, He doesn’t need us to pray to Him. The Holy Trinity is a communion of Three Persons that are fully within one another and yet distinct: the perfect communion that all men strive towards. God went to the Cross freely and redeemed all of mankind, regardless of whether or not they would accept Him (which is what Pope Francis was trying to say awhile back). There is no compensation for this gift, it is given freely – no works could ever achieve it. Though, I must be clear, I am not advocating Protestantism: while works done outside of Christ can not earn us salvation (i.e., Pelagianism), once we are baptized into Christ and are members of His Body, works are transformed and indeed are salvific (“work out your salvation in fear and trembling”). But at no point does God owe us this. Furthermore, to reiterate, hell is our experience of God when He returns, and He is going to return to save His creation whether we want him to or not.

In contrast, Madoka doesn’t demand any worship whatsoever.  In fact, her circumstances actually make worship impossible because only Homura knows that she ever existed and besides the words of the “prophet” we can never even determine objectively that Homura’s claims are true.

Man’s worship of God is his way of participating in Him, and thus being deified by Him. The effects of worship are going to be for our benefit since, as I just said, God doesn’t need it. One of course may choose not to worship God since love is freely given, but I do put forward that this is the response man has when he truly beholds God’s glory (something no one reading this has probably done). The disciples themselves were dumbfounded when they saw this, Peter telling the Lord that he would be willing to build three tabernacles (and as a theological aside, the light beheld was nothing else than the uncreated energies of God). I’m sure Alex would disagree with me on this, but that his prerogative.

Furthermore, Madoka doesn’t require worship because the metaphysical tradition that is being emulated in the show is Buddhism, in which Karma flows through each person and which there is no central deity that is the ground of being. For me to critique this would to enter into a far larger debate which I have no intentions of doing in these responses.

She did what she did because it was the right thing to do.  This ties in with the secular outlook on why we do good deeds and why Madoka is once again an awesome example of a humanistic hero.  Like Madoka, if we live our lives freely doing good deeds, the only reward we really need is the happiness of knowing that you helped someone out.

Once again, I pointed out in my first post the problems any kind of moral system derived from a physicalist paradigm run into, and that it leads us eventually to moral nihilism (amongst other things). If there is no ontological basis for calling something good, if there really is no ought, then honestly, why should I care? If there is no rational basis for morality, then why give it the time of day? Look, I’ll be blunt, unless this problem can be solved – which I don’t think it can for the physicalist – for one to tout Secular Humanism is just as deluded as believing in an ‘Old Man in the Sky’ who gives us rules to follow [pro-tip, no Christian should believe in this anyways – it’s heresy]. Neither system is based upon reality, which is why I have never understood this New-Athiest obsession with Secular Rights. If naturalism is true, then human rights don’t exist. “You have all these rules [Batman], and you think they’ll save you…”

Christians all too often do their good because they’ve been told that “belief is not enough to save you, good works are needed, too,” and so they help others because it’s been mandated by a higher power.  Or more selfishly they put up a facade of kindness because doing so will reap them rewards in the afterlife.

Yes, many Christians begin fighting against their own self-will, which is inclined to sin, because they know that it is by their works they will be judged. However, doing good deeds to avoid hell has always been seen as the most base way to be saved and betrays a spiritual immaturity in the believer (after all, “perfect love casts out fear”). As one progresses in their relationship with God, one finds oneself doing these acts out of love for one’s neighbor, and a genuine desire to encounter Christ with every person we meet since all are made in God’s image. Do not many children learn not to misbehave first by more corporal forms of punishment, and then slowly out of a love for their parents? The main reason I fear to upset my Mom and Dad is not because of any kind of punishment, but because of the disappointment and grief I would cause them. I love them both, and as such I want to bring joy to them, not the opposite. The fear of God is supposed to become a fear of being away from God because we love Him.1

As for the “facade”, one would think that God could see through this given that He is omniscient. However, from Elder Paisios the Athonite:

Elder, Abba Isaac writes, “No kind of repentance that takes place after the removal of our free will 2 will be a well-spring of joy, nor will it be reckoned for the reward of those who possess it.” How can anyone repent without exercising his own free will?

– One may be forced to repent, having fallen in the eyes of others around him, but such repentance has no humility. This is how I understand it.

Do you mean that there is repentance that is not voluntary?

– Yes, it is compulsory repentance. I ask you to forgive me for some harm I have caused to you so that I may be spared the consequences, but I have not changed inside. A fiendish person will pretend to have repented, and will proceed cunningly, offering prostrations with feigned kindness, to deceive others.

When someone goes to tell his sins to a Spiritual Father merely because he is afraid of going to hell, even this is not true repentance. He’s not repenting for his sins, he’s afraid of going to hell!

True repentance means that one is first aware of his sins, is pained by them, asks God for forgiveness, and then goes and confesses them. This is why I always recommend Repentance and Confession together. I never recommend Confession alone.

Notice, for example, what happens when we have an earthquake. You see those who have a good disposition will be moved deeply, they will repent and change their way of life. But the majority of people keep this fear of God only for a short period of time; and when the danger is past, they resume their former sinful life. This is why, when someone told me that there had recently been a very strong earthquake in his hometown, I told him, “It shook you up, but did it really wake you up?” “It woke us up,” he said. Then I said, “Sure, but you’ll go back to sleep again”.3

Back to Alex’s piece:

You should never be compelled to do the right thing because you’re hanging to the edge of a cliff and someone who can save you tells you that you must dedicate your life to your rescuer, otherwise you’re going to get pushed.

Of course, as seen above, this isn’t why Christians should be doing good works either. However, let’s just roll with this for a second: why can’t I do good works for this reason? On what ontological grounds can you show me that this would be wrong? If morality is arbitrary and irrational, then really I could do ‘good’ or ‘bad’ works for whatever reason (or lack of) I want.

Looking at the flip side of the situation, what does it say about the character of the helper if all they’re thinking about is how being nice can be of some benefit?

Note that earlier Alex said there was an innate reward in doing good, which is “the happiness of knowing that you helped someone out.” Couldn’t this be an impediment to good works since it is ultimately striving after a fleeting feeling of self-satisfaction rather than thinking about the other person? Couldn’t, hypothetically, someone do good works solely or largely for these positive feelings about oneself, and thus build up a mental image that “I am a kind, loving person” or “I am charitable and selfless”, etc?

True salvation is given unconditionally and Madoka passes this test where Jesus fails.

True salvation means one is saved from something. Christ, if we follow Him, saves us from the powers of sin and death and transfigures us into loving, righteous, joyful, deified human beings. Quite literally, “ye are gods.” He just won’t do it against our will.

Footnotes:
1It is here that I break off with my Protestant bloggers: works are indeed salvific, but only works that are done in synergy with Christ, or works in Christ. In this case, we are co-workers with God in our salvation, and are transformed by His grace that we must cooperate with. This is not Pelagianism, nor is it ‘meritorious’ – it is the classic Christian doctrine of synergy. For more, see: Russel, N. Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis. [amazon] One may also see the article I linked at the beginning of this post.

2Given the context of the passion, I think it is clear that St. Isaac doesn’t mean the removal of “free-will” as a facet of man, or that he literally loses the ability to choose. This becomes clearer by Elder Paisios’s example.

3John Sanidopoulos. Elder Paisios: On True and False Repentance. From Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels: “Spiritual Struggle” (vol. 3). http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/09/elder-paisios-on-forced-and-false.html

Picture References
http://saintlukecolumbia.squarespace.com/storage/icons/deutera_parousia.png?

Whenever a Bell Rings…

TWWK has recently been running an online anime group that’s watching Haibane Renmei. Unfortunately, the time slot is too late for me since I have to get up extra early on Sunday’s to unlock my Cathedral (that’s being a sextant for you!). The show is one that I have been meaning to watch for quite some time now, and have started multiple times. It’s easy to see the parallels to Christianity: on a superficial level we have angel wings and halos, and on a deeper level we have some of the things that are mentioned over at the Beneath the Angels. That said, I want to take a different route, one that is anti-Christian, but not in the sense of secularism. I speak of one of the earliest heretical groups in the history of the Church: the Gnostics.

For those who don’t know, Gnosticism was a religious movement that began in late antiquity, around the same time that Christianity began to spread throughout the Roman Empire.1 While Christian Gnosticism has become popularized by the works of authors such as Elaine Pagels, Gnosticism itself was not a unified movement and appeared in various other religions including non-mainstream Judaism and paganism. Though a full covering of Gnosticism is not my intention, there are a few key doctrines that I’d like to touch on, some of which can be seen in the first episode of Haibane Renmei.

One of the key teachings in Gnosticism, influenced by its Platonic heritage, is that the created world of matter is inherently evil; the soul was originally part of the divine but fell into the world of matter where it is now trapped. Salvation consists of receiving divine knowledge (gnosis) via a mediator of some kind. Upon learning, the Gnostic could no longer be affected by the world, and as such was immune to falling away. Thus some expressed their rejection of creation by extreme asceticism, while others indulged in any debauchery they could think of since it had no affect on their soul.

Now, one may wonder what any of this has to do with Haibane Renmei. While the falling into created existence resembles Rakka’s dream of falling, the connection is superficial at best since the dreams of each of the characters varies, some having no inherent connection to Gnosticism. Futhermore, Rakka’s birth is an event that is celebrated; the kids gather around (despite Reki’s warnings) and look on in awe at the giant egg that has materialized in the storage closet. Everyone waits with anticipation, glad to have another join their ranks. None of this resembles an aversion to the material.

Haibane Renmei - Rakka gets her wings

Yet, the scene that can most aptly be described as a baptism – the emergence of Rakka’s wings – has a far different feel. The moment is preceded by a longing to return to the world, to have one’s memory and identity restored, and the sobering conclusion that such a feat was impossible. The Gnostic saw salvation in consisting of learning that they themselves were part of the divine, and thus Rakka’s forgetfulness of who she is mimics the Gnostics previous enslavement to the world in which they do not remember their divine origins. As Rakka’s wings spread, the music playing is a far cry from anything resembling joy, and the blood, violence, and sheer amount of pain all point that there is an inherent tragedy in what is taking place. Rakka’s birth into being a Haibane carries an inherent fallen character: it is the result of losing one’s identity, and becoming something that is no longer human.

Baptism, for the earliest Christians, was not just a symbol but an actual participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. The early Christians knew that after their baptism they were likely to be persecuted, tortured, and killed, and yet they went to the font (or lake/pond/river) willingly, knowing that the principalities and powers of the world, the satanic powers that be, could not prevent them from joining the Body of Christ. This rejection was seen in a practice in the early baptismal rite, one that has continued today in the Orthodox Church, in which the catechumen faces West and is told to blow or spit upon Satan. They were then faced East for the rest of the service, showing their leave taking from the kingdom of this world, and embracing the kingdom not of this world.

There is one other facet of Rakka’s ‘baptism’ that resonates more with the Gnostic narrative: that it is inevitable. I am, admittedly, making inference via the Platonic roots of Gnosticism, but nevertheless I feel that my observation is not without warrant. The souls that were caged within flesh were the result of the fallen world, which was a by product of the first aeon’s fall from the divine Pleroma from within God. The relevant theological point is that in Platonism, and hence I’m assuming in Gnosticism, there was no distinction between God’s will and his nature, his grace and his essence. These distinctions were made by the Church Fathers (St. Athanasius and St. Gregory Palamas, respectively), but were unknown to Plato or the Gnostics. Thus, since the fall of the first aeon must have been from God’s essence, it was inevitable that it would occur, and that all the events that occurred after would as well (in short, determinism). While the acquisition of gnosis freed one from the bonds of fate, the initial entrapment of matter seems to me as the result of fate. Thus just as the Gnostic was forced to be trapped in his material body, Rakka had no choice but to become a Haibane. The lack of freedom, to say the least, is disconcerting.

Footnotes
1For an excellent summary of Gnosticism, see Antonia Tripolitis, ‘Chapter V: Gnosticism,’ in Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002). The information here comes from this chapter.

Picture References
1) http://operationrainfall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Haibane-Renmei-Screen-1.png

Today He Who Hung the Earth Upon the Waters…


This is a response to Alex’s second post in his series on why Madoka is a better savior than Jesus. In this post, Alex says why Madoka’s sacrifice was more true than Christ’s.

Madoka made a true sacrifice in that she actually gave something up, never to reclaim it again.  By contrast, Jesus just had a rough weekend.

Of course this only if we accept this definition of sacrifice (which there is no logically pressing reason to do so). Christ’s sacrifice of His own life was, as I detailed in my last post, to destroy the powers of sin and death that held mankind captive and incapable of being united to the Trinity. As regarding Christ’s “rough weekend,” I would like to quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko in regards to the level of temptation that Christ endured as compared to anyone else:

People sometimes think that Jesus’ temptations were nothing, since He is the divine Son of God. They consider His sufferings as empty gestures, devoid of true pathos and pain, since He is God’s divine Word, the One by whom all things were made. If Jesus of Nazareth is really God’s Son in human flesh, they say, what can it mean that He is tempted and suffers? Isn’t it a joke? And a bad one at that! And if His sufferings consisted in but half a day on a cross, do not thousands and even millions of people suffer much more than He? How many people there must be who would gladly hang on a cross for a few hours in order to free themselves of months, years, and even decades of the most agonizing suffering and pain! And to be raised up for everlasting life but a day and a half later – who wouldn’t wish it? And who wouldn’t endure it?

The Truth is, however, that Jesus’ temptations and sufferings, precisely because He is God’s eternal Son in real human flesh, are incomparably more terrifying and agonizing than those of any “mere man,” and of all “mere men” who ever were or will be. For Jesus is God, experiencing as God in His own human soul and body the rejections of His creatures, the betrayals of His brothers, and the abandonment of His own God and Father on the Cross, for the sake of reconciling all creation with Himself in perfect, unending communion and life. In this sense it is wholly accurate to say that no creaturely mind, of men or of angels, can even begin to imagine the magnitude of the temptations and sufferings of Jesus Christ for the sake of His beloved world. In Him all temptations and all sufferings that ever were or will be are experienced to the boundless infinity of His divine person. His, therefore, are temptations and sufferings which transcend creaturely comprehension. They literally cannot be fathomed. They can hardly even be imagined. They can only be wondered at with speechless adoration and wordless praise: His silence in death can only be met by our silence in awe-inspired amazement!1

One could of course wave this off given that Christ was the God-man, but once again, Christ overcomes temptations flawlessly so that this can be recapitulated into the human nature that He shares with us as Fr. Thomas points out. Christ overcomes temptation so that we can as well, and do so as members of His body, the Church. He does it for our sake, not out of any kind of necessity.

This second point ties in with the first point I made about Jesus’s omnipotence.  Because Jesus always knew that he was going to be brought back to life after dying, his sacrifice wasn’t a real sacrifice.  It would be the equivalent of disciplining a child by taking away a toy for a set amount of time only to replace it with a better one once the lesson had been learned.  It’s nothing but a complete farce.

Alex means to say Jesus’s omniscience, not omnipotence. Either way, the analogy is insufficient since Christ goes to the Cross not to learn any kind of lesson, but to die “for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Not to mention, one would think that the garden of Gethsemane would nevertheless undercut Alex’s point; Christ specifically lets his human nature act out its natural fear of death, but still stays in total submission to the will of His Father (which is the same will as His own divine nature, as there is only one will in the Trinity). Plenty of Christians will say that they know they are supposed to die a martyrs death if called to it, and many also firmly believe in the age and promises to come. Yet, apostasy happens. Why? Because being faced with one’s death is far scarier than theorizing about it.

Madoka didn’t have such a loophole to escape from after she made her wish.  Her sacrifice was real and permanent.  An eternity separated from your loved ones who have forgotten you ever existed is an unbelievable sacrifice fitting of Madoka’s truer selflessness.

Of course many have rejected and mocked Christ’s sacrifice (as there is no shortage of such in our modern culture), yet God still went to the Cross. Furthermore, Madoka was not entirely forgotten as evidenced by Homura, and still seems to be interacting with the world to some extent, especially in the prevention of creating witches. Technical points, I know, but they evidence that Madoka is not entirely separated, as she has gone to a higher plane of existence (because, as I said in my last post, she is a Bodhisattva).

Furthermore, Christ’s sacrifice was indeed real (at least in the eyes of a Christian). Human nature has been redeemed from death and sin, and can once again be united to its Creator. Whether one accepts this and begins the long path of salvation is another question entirely, but nevertheless the effects of Christ’s death and Resurrection are permanent, even if He is not eternally dead.2 “Behold the Lamb of God…”

The next question you need to ask yourself is, “could I make such a sacrifice given the circumstances?”  If the answer is a quick and casual, “sure, no problem,” it’s probably not a sacrifice.  If you asked me if I’d be willing to be tortured and killed for the sake of every person’s salvation after death and after three days be brought back to life to sit at the right hand of god forever, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  There’s just no question that’s a sweet deal.  In fact, I’d provisionally be willing to stay dead forever for the sake of everyone’s salvation.

No, a sacrifice is a sacrifice regardless of how much one struggles to make it or not. Perhaps you could quip it was a rather easy decision, and thus did not extol much spiritual/mental/emotional effort on your part, but it is nevertheless a sacrifice. Certainly in the Judaic paradigm that Christianity grew out of, Christ’s sacrifice was a sacrifice – in fact it was such a humiliating one to the eyes of most Jews that many could not accept it.

However, there is another thing I would like to respond to; Alex’s question is posed as if Christ were any other human who needed to make a kind of deal. Now, I know Alex realizes that according to Christian doctrine Christ is God, and thus such a situation is absurd: Christ knew He would be going to the Cross before creation even existed. Nevertheless, the unsettling aspect of his example is that it ignores the metaphysics at play, and the differences that sets Christianity apart from Buddhism, or Madokaism, if you will. Alex’s death and resurrection to sit at the right hand of God the Father would of meant nothing metaphysically as humanity would ultimately remain unchanged. Nor would his “provisional…[remaining] dead forever” accomplish “everyone’s salvation” as death would not be conquered. There is an ontological gap between the uncreated God and created humanity, and it is only the Incarnation that bridges it.

However, if you asked me to obliterate myself from having ever existed in order to prevent the suffering of others, I’d have to consider that long and hard because my legacy is something I value highly.  The generous side of me wants to say I’d be willing to make that kind of sacrifice, but my more self-preserving instincts protest that’s too high a price.

At what point does this get subjective? I am sure there would be plenty of people who would nullify their existence to prevent the suffering of others, or something along similar lines. Once again, what really baffles me is the value put on existence in this paradigm. I mentioned in my last post that one of atheism’s key problems, or at least this kind of reductionist atheism, is that values themselves have no ontological referent and are thus just as illogical, and just as “mythological”, as the religions that they are used to criticize. If Alex is nothing more than the assemblage of bio-chemical machinery that has no intrinsic value, then why is the obliteration of one’s existence too high a price? Of course one’s instincts can get in the way, but that should not be much of an issue given what is at stake. Then again, if there is no inherent value to human life, then why even bother saving it? In fact, this is assuming that we even need salvation in the first place, which nature is utterly silent about.

Simply put, she was forced by the logic of her wish to cease her own existence, past, present and future.

Except she did no such thing: though it is implied by the characters in their crying out about such a horrid fate, Madoka still exists at the end of the show, just at a higher state. She has yet to enter Nirvana, if my understanding is correct.

This was a costly sacrifice with tangible repercussions for Madoka that (debatably) were not offset by the benefits that she attained through transcendence.  By contrast, can Jesus’s sacrifice really be called a sacrifice at all?  In order for something to be a sacrifice, you have to lose something, but all Jesus did was die and come back to life stronger than ever.  The only thing that can be argued to be lost was time, but what is three days to an eternal being? 3

Once again, it matters not if Jesus foreknew his Resurrection, it is still a sacrifice. He died that we may live, He gave up his life so that we could have Life. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to all those in the tombs, bestowing life!” Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection completely ontologically changed the entire universe into which suffering, death, despair, and evil have been overcome, and that man can participate in this if he so chooses to. Madoka only eliminates despair insofar as she prevents it coming to its full culmination by the annihilation of the magical girls before they totally succumb. For the girls there is no union with the divine, no overcoming of the passions (especially in the case of Sayaka), no purification, no telos. There is perhaps an afterlife, as implied by Madoka’s final scene with Sayaka, but if indeed the final stage for Madoka and others is the cessation of their existence, for I see no reason as to think why their fate would be any different than her own, then how is that any different than the world we live in now?

The Crucifixion

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

Footnotes
1 Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring: Readings For Great Lent. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 144-45.
2 It is of importance that I include the Resurrection here as well: had Christ not come back from the grave then mankind would still not be able to resurrect themselves. The Resurrection of Christ means that we too may participate in the Resurrection via our baptism into the Church. Had this not happened, then the whole thing would have been a farce. Since the telos of Christianity is theosis, or deification via union with the divine, an eternal death on Christ’s part would be utterly meaningless. Part of the beauty of the Cross is that it is where death itself is destroyed, and that the constant human history of life being swallowed up by death is completely overturned. The selflessness lies in the fact that God did not owe this to humanity, nor was He bound by necessity, but like the act of creation ex nihilo He did it out of His love for man, his philanthropy.
3 If Alex’s definition of sacrifice were the only, then we would not be able to say that Christ even lost time since Christians do not believe in ‘soul sleep,’ or the teaching that our souls are dormant and unaware until the Resurrection.

Picture References
1) http://www.saintandrewgoc.org/monthly-news/?currentPage=2

 

The Problem is Choice, Mr. Anderson…

It is probably premature of me to write a response before the argument is finished, but this morning I saw a post on TWWK’s blog about how Alex of Ashita no Anime is writing a series of posts on why Madoka is better than Jesus as a savior. Needless to say, I knew I would bite before even finishing the first sentence.

Alex begins his argument as such:

Madoka started as a humble human who transcended existence.  Jesus was always a god, which calls into question the logic of his methodology and thereby also the validity of said godhood.

Now, many would point out that Madoka’s very humanity is a metaphysical impediment to salvation to begin with: how can a mere man save mankind? If one is of the same ontological essence as their savior with no difference, then on what grounds can one human be lifted up as savior over the entire race? Any moral, spiritual, ethical, etc., advancement would have nothing to do with ones ontology, but rather how far one progressed upon a path of those categories, which means the locus of salvation still lies outside of the person. Indeed, Madoka’s own transformation is because of the karmic power of the universe, something that while humans interact with, ultimately lays external to them, and as such it is that karmic power that is the actual saving factor and not Madoka. While Madoka interacted with it on an unprecedented level, metaphysically speaking that could have been granted to whomever since no humans are ontologically different from one another in the Puella universe. This is why Madoka is far more akin to a Bodhisattva than Christ since she herself is not the locus of salvation. While she may certainly help man with their enlightenment (just as the saints help us with deification), she is not the savior. If this debate sounds familiar, its because its what the Catholic missionaries and the Buddhists argued about when Roman Catholicism was introduced to Japan in the 16th century.

Alex continues:

Madoka is a wonderful example of a humanistic hero because if anything in humanism can be called a “commandment” it is the willingness of people to give of themselves for the sake of others.  Although she was just a person, Madoka realized that she possessed the potential to save many.  She gave all of herself willingly and completely for the sake of others with no thought of reciprocation. In a twist of logic that I like to think of as a natural kind of altruistic karma, she received a reward of sorts—a change in her very nature that is at least equivalent to what most people could consider a demigod.

There are multiple ideas going on in this paragraph, some that I even agree with. First, I want to speak on humanism, but specifically from the point of naturalism1 (since humanists are not committed to naturalism, and my critique only affects the latter). I will be using naturalism here as synonymous with physicalism, the philosophical position that only physical objects and systems exist. The logical implication is that metaphysics thus do not exist, and that as such metaphysical claims – most pertinently those of religions – are false. Of course, if one is both a naturalist and a humanist, then the teleological and moral values of humanism seem to be undermined by naturalism since such values are not in and of themselves part of nature. Let me explain.

Since the naturalist is committed to a stance of rejecting metaphysics, it means that all values must have an ontological root within the fabric of nature. In other words, they must exist intrinsically within nature. If not, then moral values are just as illusory as the other metaphysical concepts (i.e., God) that are rejected by the naturalist. Now, there is a distinction I need to make here: the difference between the concept of morality or teleology and the content of those concepts. There is no doubt that the concept of morality can be seen in nature: humans have written countless works on ethics and teleology just as they have about supernatural phenomenon, myths, theology, etc. We can measure the neuron and brain patters that fire off via fMRI scans when we deliberate about such concepts, and we can view the innumerable amount of spiritual artifacts left behind by almost every human civilization. The concept of morality and teleology, just as the concept of God, can no doubt to be said to exist within nature.

But what about the content of those concepts? After all, evolutionary psychology touts that many of our altruistic behaviors and intention-seeking patterns are part of our genetic makeup, things we have inherited from the long history of evolution. We tend to group together and act altruistically because pack-mentality was an aid to our survival and thus the propagation of our genes. Our ancestors sought out purpose and meaning because its what helped them to make sense of their chaotic surroundings and thus survive, or perhaps because its a by-product of consciousness. Hence, we see such moral and teleological values inherit within our species, and have no need to fear of any kind of ‘metaphysical boogiemen’ to force us to face nihilism. To be good is in our genes.

Then again, so is to rape, to steal, to murder, to cheat, to lie, to deceive, to commit infidelity, to do all the common actions that blind us or others from that which is good or beneficiary for the ‘well-being of conscious creatures’.2 Not to mention, our propensity for religious belief and other concepts (i.e., free will) also likely have evolutionary roots (which no Christian would even feel bothered by), but the naturalist rejects these as illusory. Morality and teleology are no different, as evolution does not provide us with ontological truths, but merely survival mechanisms, regardless of their falsity or validity. In order for morality and teleology to exist rationally they have to have a root within nature. Nature mustNietzche say ‘man ought to survive’, ‘man ought to have value’, but of course nature does no such thing. Nature simply is. Values of these sorts are human constructions, but they do not have any actual reality to them, any kind of substance. They are just as fictitious as the metaphysical gods rejected by the naturalist.

One of course could shift into subjectivity: so there is no moral objectivity, so what? I can still choose my own moral system. The problem of determinism aside, subjective ethics suffer from the same problems as objective ethics, or at least if one wants to remain rational (which is the whole drive of the New Atheist movement, after all). We can choose criterion to base our subjective ethics off of: happiness, liberty, well-being, safety, etc., but these suffer from the same critique as above as there is no inherent reason to pick any of these values as they have no ontological root. Thus, even if one builds such a subjective (really, consequentialist) moral system, it could be perfectly consistent, it could even achieve the goals it wishes, but it most certainly is not rational for there is no rational reason to pick any value over another. In fact, one could very well take the most caricatured depiction of hell, (or while I’m at it, the non-caricature of double-predestination!) and say that this is the reason they think Jesus is a better savior than Madoka, or is a better God than any god, and there could be no rational response from the naturalist as all these values are not only subjective, but are just down-right fables.

I know this has been a large tangent for just one sentence, but it is of key importance: if indeed naturalism leads, as I have been hinting, to both moral and teleological (and epistemic) nihlism, then any rational critique given can only be that God is inconsistent with His own system, and nothing more. The real problem for anyone holding this philosophical position is that if values indeed do not have any ontological grounding, then on what grounds do we even value rationality?

Although she was just a person, Madoka realized that she possessed the potential to save many.  She gave all of herself willingly and completely for the sake of others with no thought of reciprocation. In a twist of logic that I like to think of as a natural kind of altruistic karma, she received a reward of sorts—a change in her very nature that is at least equivalent to what most people could consider a demigod.

As I pointed out above it is the karmic power laden within the universe, and not Madoka, that is the locus of salvation. That said, Alex’s statement is still correct since he’s only talking about potential – I’m just reiterating my point. I agree with his next two sentences as the show leaves little room to argue: Madoka’s decision was based upon her love for others and her empathy with their suffering, and her accepting the contract turned into a demigod (Bodhisattva, really). Christians could have recourse to the problem of change and that if one changes it means they are inherently not perfect, but I have a feeling that would mean little to most reading.

Alex then begins his critique of Christ:

Jesus on the other hand started as god and was always a god.  Even having taken human form he was still a god, omniscient and omnipotent.  The incomprehensible process of having to sacrifice himself and come right back begs the question of why he didn’t just set up the system the right way to begin with.  Why create everything just to change it a few thousand years after the beginning of recorded history?  Why have any old testament at all if the current status quo was always going to be the end result?

Alex, of course, is correct in that Christ was still fully divine even after His incarnation. To answer his question as to “Why create everything just to change it a few thousand years after the beginning of recorded history,” one needs recourse to Genesis and the fall of man. It was not God’s intention that man is in the current state he is – broken, fallen, and sick, enslaved to the powers of sin and death – but Adam, so to speak, broke the fast and partook of the knowledge of good and evil before he was ready to. Wait — what?

More than one Church Father has explained Genesis in this light: Adam and Eve, while not fallen, were still child-like in that they were to continue to grow with God, even before the fall (in fact we never stop growing and communing deeper with God since He is by nature infinite). It is not that they were so oblivious as to know not to disobey God (after all, Eve’s first response to the serpent was the recollection of God’s commandment), but rather they were in a constant processes growing with God by participating in God’s grace. Certain Church Fathers even saw that outside of Paradise was chaos. Perhaps this is because God’s plan was that Adam and Eve were to bring those areas into paradise as part of their synergy in working with God, and thereby drawing closer to Him (such a view lends itself nicely to Theistic Evolutionists). Yet, they disobeyed, and when they did such they decided to commune with death rather than Life, non-existence rather than the Source of existence, and thus an ontological rift was made that would affect themselves and the rest of mankind to come. Yet God let this happen since He bestowed man with free-will since love must be given freely for it to be love. If Adam and Eve had no free will, indeed if none of us had free-will, then Christianity would be utterly incomprehensible.

Thus the incarnation of Jesus Christ to heal this rift, to destroy this barrier. One must understand that living in a traditionally Protestant nation, there seems to be a focus on solely Christ’s work on the Cross, with the Resurrection being proof of this work. But in Orthodoxy, Christ’s entire life is salvific, as the incarnation joins the human and divine natures without confusion (meaning the essences do not mix to create a synthesis) under the God-man Jesus Christ, allowing for the human nature to become deified. Christ lives out his life all the way up until adulthood (which encompasses all of adulthood regardless of age) so that he can sanctify each step, so that we may live each of those steps in Him and be healed. The same is true of His being tempted, of His baptism, of His death.

resurrection2Christ’s death sanctifies death so that it can be a gateway to life, so that by dying we can die within Christ. Furthermore, Christ’s death, since he is the Source of Life, destroys the very powers of sin and death, a reality represented in Orthodox icons of the Resurrection in which Christ stands on top of the gates of Hades themselves, lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves, while the saints of the Old Testament look on in awe and wonder. The incarnation then has further implications, as even if Adam and Eve had not fallen there still would have to of been a Theotokos, a God-bearer, as it is only by uniting the two natures that we could be deified.

Looking at Jesus from this perspective makes him seem rather callous for allowing people to suffer death for so long when he could have done something about it sooner and capricious as well for having to go through so many loops to achieve something that the all-powerful creator of the universe could have accomplished by snapping his fingers and being done with it.

The problem, of course, is free-will: it is not that God could not have saved man earlier (in fact he tells the Israel that the coming of the Messiah is delayed because of their sins, if I remember correctly), but it is that man himself is stubborn and resists God. Salvation takes place in time since man himself is a temporal creature, and as such it was not until the ‘coming of time’ (I forget the exact passage, may someone remind me of it?!) that Christ was to be incarnate. He waited until there was one who was the perfect icon of what the nation of Israel was supposed to be, the perfect icon of the Church: The Virgin Mary. It was precisely because the Virgin Mary was perfectly obedient in her entire life, and because she was to be the new Eve, that God chose her to be the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Had Mary declined, Christ would have not of been incarnate. Such a view may scandalize many, but for Orthodox Christians this only makes sense since God calls us to be co-workers in our salvation, taking the grace God gives us and working with Him – just as Adam and Eve were suppose to – and that Mary’s acceptance of her role was the ultimate act of synergy between God and man. Had she denied this role, then she would not have been the living Ark of the Covenant that she is, as her disobedience would be yet another example of the Garden, another example of what Israel constantly was doing: betraying God. Yet, it is precisely because she did accept that God used her to bear the Incarnation.

So the ‘many loops’ are largely set up by ourselves and because of our nature, and one can read more if they study the Patristic understanding of Christ’s life and work on the Cross. St. Athanasius does point out that while God could ‘nod His head’, man would simply continue to fall over and over again. This only makes sense as Adam and Eve now have the knowledge of good and evil, and since God won’t deprive them of their free will, we have a never ending cycle of falling from grace. Furthermore, it is by the incarnation that Christ finally ends this, as he accepts the Holy Spirit at His baptism so that in our baptism we receive the Spirit, our ability to once again not lose this grace since it is secure because of Christ in His human nature.

Alex then proceeds to argue why Madoka is better:

In short, Madoka saw suffering and injustice and upon realizing she had the capability to right this wrong, she was moved to action.  Jesus on the other hand sat on his butt for untold millennia watching the people he claims to love writhe in pain and die without salvation before finally getting around to doing something about it.

Madoka only acted upon this in the last time line, she had told Homura to prevent her from becoming a Magical Girl before (not to mention the multiple times she became a witch, even destroying the earth). This is because, unbeknownst to her, Madoka had to wait for karmic time lines to build up in order for her transformation to occur since it is karma and not herself that is the locus of salvation. Christ, on the other hand, had to deal with what humanity gave Him after humanity had first rejected Him (something that is completely absent in Madoka since it’s based upon Buddhism and not Christianity) and when the time came, He most certainly acted. Humans, unfortunately, tend to be a little recalcitrant.

Update: Cytrus of Yaranakya has made a reply from a Buddhist perspective.

Footnotes
1 I speak on naturalism specifically because of private e-mail exchanges that Alex and I have had in which he has claimed this philosophical position, though the term we used there was ‘physicalism’.
2 The term is from Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.

Pornoviolence

The sound of Caribbean music bounced its way through the air, popping life into a vibrant décor of menus, neon lights, and red counter-tops. Across from me was my father confessor, listening intently to my debacle. I had recently just played the game Bayonetta, and while the violence itself didn’t get to me, its throwing around of religious symbolism did Having angels as enemies bothered me too greatly, though by no means was I trying to judge anyone who felt differently. However, upon putting down the game and going online to actually read how others felt, I had come across one poster who greatly berated video games for their excessive violence, and that merely viewing, not to mention participating, in such things could not be good for the soul. Whether they said this next comment or not (I don’t remember) I left the computer with the following dilemma: it is, for Christians, undeniable that viewing and watching pornography is a sin. However, the act of killing another, whether murder or not, is also a sin, but so many of us have no problem watching this, let alone play a video games where we commit the act ourselves. This felt like a double standard, but at the same time there was something wrong with the comparison, but I couldn’t quite figure out what.

The term ‘pornoviolence’ is a term from the same titled essay by Tom Wolfe in which he essentially argues (at best as I can remember) that violence had become a new kind of pornography for our media, that it was used as a means to excite and gratify its viewers, and to entice them. Scenes of bloodbaths, of evisceration, of death is what sold and thus what was crafted. I personally find it hard to argue against such a critique; how many games can we all call to mind where the objective is ultimately to kill someone or something? Now, this may not of itself be gratuitous as even a game as tame as chess has the routing of the enemy as its primary objective. Yet, how many video games are saturated with visceral and gruesome scenes of death? God of War, Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, Team Fortress II, Diablo III, Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament, etc. Again, that’s not to say all these games are equal in this facet: Diablo III and Team Fortress II are not even close to the level of sheer brutality as something like God of War or Manhunt, but nevertheless your still seeing enemies – whether it be a ‘Heavy Weapons Guy’ or some infernal beast from the pit – get blown up into a pulp of sinew and ‘gibs’. I’d like to reiterate that I’m not passing judgment in writing this: I’ve played all of those games listed above, bar Manhunt, and many others, and I still continue to play most of them. To me, as long as violence stays a relatively low level (and I stress the use of that word since I have that the feeling that today’s ‘tame’ is yesterday’s ‘excessive’), it doesn’t bother me. Get to something like God of War, and I start to find it hard to enjoy.

I’ve been focusing so far on video games, but this same phenomenon is in anime; violence permeates almost every show that I’ve watched, and is almost always the modus operandi for solving a problem. But this is where violence need not be as negative; my favorite part of any story is the theme, the central ideas that weave throughout the plot and characters, and ultimately deliver some of kind of deeper message than what is on the surface. As such, violence can often be a metaphor that represents the conflict between good and evil, of light and darkness.1 Christian authors have often used violence in this regard, I need only mention the names of C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. But there is always a fine line; while violence can represent this conflict, the temptation is to focus too heavily on the violence, having the means become the point, and thus descending into a glorified view of violent acts – pornoviolence.

This is how I felt about last Saturday’s episode of Sword Art Online. I’m going to assume that those reading the post have seen the episode, and thus already have some idea of what I’m talking about. Asuna’s being hung up like a doll while Sugou rips off her clothes and taunts Kirito, sexually harassing our heroine while taking delight in the tears shed by both (to the point where he actually licks Asuna’s tears. What is this, SouthPark?). Kirito curses him, Asuna cries as she’s being violated, and Sugou is laughing just as you would expect this one-dimensional, really superficial villain to do (crazy eyes included). I know that there are some themes going on here, the idea of sexual anonymity in the internet, and that Sugou’s rape of Asuna may act like this on some level (though its hardly explored if so at all). But in reality it was nothing more than shock, nothing more than using sexuality as a way to make the viewer see Sugou as a deranged pervert and nothing more.

Rape in a story can be used to make a powerful point, to discuss the horrors of our world and examine them (and hopefully learn how to overcome them). I posted awhile ago on the show Now and Then, Here and There, and how the character Sara was used as a sex slave for the soldiers of Hellywood as an allusion to the use of young girls as sex slaves for guerrilla armies. There is an incredibly powerful scene where she, about to be raped again, fights back and actually kills her attacker. There is blood, there is screaming, there is violence – and yet the result is a far cry to what happened in SAO. The music, the expressions, the entire direction of the scene is highlighting the horror of what is happening, and that it happens all the time in the world. The viewers reaction is almost to look away, to not want to acknowledge it because it is so sad, so terrifying, and so brutal. Yet at no point is there a sense of gratification, a sense of filling one’s lust for pornoviolence. Asuna’s rape on the other hand is nothing more than a kind of plot device, a way to artificially make up for the fact there was no tension at all during the ‘Rescue Asuna’ arc. It works as fanservice, and a pretty twisted version of it at that.

The episode did have something to say thematically: the triumph of the human will (whose profoundness is loss since we live in a culture who assumes such a theme, as opposed to the more fatalistic mindset of the Japanese). However, it seemed to do nothing more than repeat what happened in the finale of the first season, which is entirely unfortunate given the memory altering technology Sugou espoused, and how that could have brought the theme to a new level of depth – imagine Kirito rescuing Asuna, just to discover that she loves Sugou instead, albeit artificially.

Understandably, Kirito’s resolution to the problem was also gruesome; he dislodges multiple appendages of Sugou’s body before flinging his torso into the air, and impaling it as it falls, cybernetic blood spewing forth from his wounds. He saves Asuna, and then heads off to see her at the hospital (I’m sure there’s some twist awaiting us in the epilogue). At the end of it all, this was just a poor way to wrap up the season, a quick fix job that had no tension, no real depth, no real emotional power – just scenes of pornoviolence that did little other than flaunt sexuality and brawn. The only words that came to my mind where those of Asuka: “How disgusting.”

References
1 This is essentially the answer my father confessor gave me. Pornography is perversion through and through, but violence – in it’s proper context – need not be so.

Picture References
1 – http://www.wallpapervortex.com/anime-sword_art_online-wallpapers.html

I Am Not My Sin

I am not my sin. It’s a simple statement, but we often forget it; when in the midst of lust, anger, or any other inflamed passion, not just our body, but our thoughts and soul, all try to gravitate to the carnal. We imagine things or distort reality all into a paradigm that we on a moment to moment basis may not even recognize. Lust, perhaps, is the easiest example; a man may completely be against the sexual objectification of women that has become so prevalent, but when the blood runs strong and he caves to his temptations – and I don’t necessarily mean fornication – the very things that usually sicken him become delightful and all encompassing. Greed is another obvious example that can come in more subtle forms than we think; one’s vocation can sometimes replace Christ as the center of our life, and not necessarily in the aspect of making money. Our job can become the locus of our identification, how we present ourselves to others, and especially to ourselves.

What can help us when we stumble and need to repent (the Greek word metanoia meaning to ‘change one’s path’ or ‘one’s mind’) is to remember that we are not our own sin. Even after losing a battle to the throes of anger, anger does not define us. Yes, it is a passion that we struggle with, and if unchecked it can seriously dehumanize us, but is not the content of who we are. Though fallen man has an inclination to sin, sin is not inherent in his nature. Don’t worry, there’s an anime connection.

In the midst of the ‘desires unleashed’ arc of Kokoro Connect, there is a scene where the main characters all show up at Yui’s house to confront her about her continuous absence from school. Yui explains that it was her reaction to having her desires released uncontrollably, beating up a group of men that were being too aggressive when hitting on some schoolgirls, and that her self-imposed isolation was a protective measure to prevent any more episodes of violence. One of her friends, Inaban, not only castigates her for this, reminding her the danger that she’s putting the others in, but is merciless in her criticism, ignoring Yui’s fragile and scared state, even saying that she’d provide no comfort if Yui broke down, essentially hinting that she thought her utterly pathetic.

Inaban, of course, was in the midst of having her own desires released, hence her escalating voice and unwarranted harshness in tone. She realizes this an apologizes to Yui immediately, having returned to a far more soft and melancholic level. Yui, through her sobs, replies, “but that’s how you really feel.” Inaban leaves, thoroughly disgusted with herself.

This scene bothered me the first time I watched it because it reflects a mentality that has become common in societies today: we are our emotions and opinions. “How I feel is how I feel, and that’s it.” “If it feels right, then it must be right.” “I have a right to my opinion.” Yes, these are common mantras, but nevertheless the vox populi reveals something about the people themselves. We have a notion that what is most sacred to us are our feelings and opinions, and that if these are criticized, then it is a criticism on our very substance, our being as a person.

Of course other societies, even those that were or are not Christian, would shake their heads at such a statement. The ancient Greeks believed in cultivation of virtue, and that a man who simply threw himself into every desire that came his way was no better than an animal, and that the true anthropos was the one who could control himself, who would not be swayed by each internal movement inside the soul. This idea continued throughout Christianity, albeit in a Christianized form, and can be found in almost any ascetical writing. The monks of the desert went not to punish their bodies to fulfill some kind of sadomasochism, but learned to truly bring it under control, to focus more on Christ and the Kingdom than this present world where all is passing away. Hence the canons that bring strict penalties on those who would actually castrate themselves to be eunuchs for the kingdom.

Inaban need not be defined by an outburst where submerged feelings, ones she may not even entirely agree with, are uncontrollably brought to the surface. Yes, those feelings are there at some level, deep within the soul, and yes, she currently doesn’t have full control over their expression. But normally she has a choice, she has her own will, and she can choose whether to obey them or to struggle, to fight against them and bring them under control. As Neo put it, “the problem is choice.”

And thus we find ourselves back in the Garden.

Picture References
1 – http://www.emptyblue.it/post/2012/07/15/Kokoro-Connect-Nagase-Iori-idea-does-make-sense.aspx

What’s In A Name?

Edit: Cytrus of Yaranakya pointed out that Shu’s name uses and extra syllable, and is thus Shuu and not Shu. This renders the homophones I commented upon useless when it comes to his name. You should check out his post which is far superior than to mine.

So as of late I’ve picked up learning Japanese again, and unlike the two semesters I took in college, I’m forcing myself to actually learn the Kanji this time around (which has been very rewarding in and of itself). However, as I was studying I came across the figure gai (外) which can mean ‘outside’.1 This had occurred soon after I had finished watching Guilty Crown, so immediately I thought of Tsutsugami Gai (恙神 涯). Gai was always on the outside of Shu and Mana’s relationship, even after his resurrection, not to mention that he always kept an emotional distance from Funeral Parlor in order to not compromise himself as their leader.

However, the kanji character used for Gai is 涯 and not 外, the former means ‘horizon’ or ‘shore’2 – and where was it that Mana and Shu found Gai? Oh right, a shore. Interestingly, even though the kanji for Gai isn’t the one I was studying, the fact that they are homophones allows for numerous connections to be made; there’s nothing inherently contradictory using both meanings of Gai as he was both an outsider and discovered on a shore (not to mention he had his own personal ‘horizons’ in a metaphorical sense). An even better example is Shu (集), whose name, as his step-mother explains, means group. However, Shu can also mean ‘lord’ (主) (as it is by the Japanese Orthodox Church; Shu awareme yo translates to ‘Lord have mercy’)3 as well has ‘hand’ (手). Shu was not only seen as the lord of the school, but was meant to be the Adam of Mana’s new creation (oh gosh, the theological monsters that anime can concoct), and he himself forged a new hand with his own void, in which he would slowly take on the diseases of others, becoming a Christ-like figure as opposed to the more tyrannical 主 he was previously.

Names are powerful things, and carry with them a history that we are usually unaware of; I had no clue just how many names in English had some sort of Biblical connection until I had converted to Orthodoxy. Some of them are more obvious, such as Michael, Susan, David, etc., but others are more subtle. The name Irene4 comes from the Greek word eirēnē (εἰρήνη) which means ‘peace’, the phrase ‘Ειρήνι πᾶσι’ meaning ‘Peace be unto all’ as Christ announced to His disciples after His Resurrection (this phrase is also said multiple times by the Priest during the Divine Liturgy). My own name Nicholas5 comes from the Greek word Νικόλαος which means ‘victory of the people’ as it is a combination of νίκη (victory) and λαὸς (people). However, I kept my name after I was baptized because of St. Nicholas of Myra, my patron saint, and for anyone who knows the life of the actual Santa Claus understands why it is entirely appropriate (his feast day is this Thursday, December 6th).

On a more anime related note, I wonder just how many more connections one could pull if they actually knew Japanese (which isn’t the majority of us, but certainly not all), and how much subtlety one misses on an episode-by-episode basis. I know, I know, 日本語を勉強する!6

Footnotes and References
1 At least according to Genki. Kanji power lists the definitions as: external; other; to remove.
2 http://jisho.org/kanji/details/%E6%B6%AF
3 http://www.orthodox-jp.com/maria/English-index.htm
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irene
5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas
6 ‘Study Japanese!’ though I’m sure there’s some tense I’ve failed to conjugate to.

Picture References
1 – http://www.emptyblue.it/post/2011/11/17/Guilty-Crown-Prologue-complete-Inori-is-a-bit-scary-sometimes.aspx

[Madoka] Homura the…Pope?

In his post about the last episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, TWWK writes in one of his comments that Homura could work as a “John the Baptist” figure. I offer another interpretation: what about St. Peter? Homura was clearly written to be the ‘disciple’ who loved Madoka the most, despite her cold, anti-hero status in the final timeline. We see this especially in the flashback episode, how Homura was going to go to no ends to save Madoka, no matter what it would do to herself. Madoka’s remark, that she never knew she had such a great friend only adds to this parallel.

But Homura works as St. Peter in a couple other ways as well: firstly, her goal is to ‘save’ Madoka, when ultimately Madoka’s sacrifice is to save the world itself. There are differences of course: Madoka’s karmic power needs to accumulate through many timelines before such a cosmological reversal (hope triumphing over despair) could take place. Also, while Christ rebukes St. Peter for letting Satan speak through him, Madoka is the one who asks Homura to prevent her from becoming a Mahou Shoujou in the first place. Nevertheless, Homura is on a mission to prevent Madoka going to the cross, even though it is by the cross she will save the universe.

Secondly, the last scene of Homura walking in the desert reminds me very much of Pentecost in Acts. Madoka, being god of the universe at this point, is still able to communicate to Homura as she tells her to “do her best”, causing our apostle to smile and leap into the air, spreading wings which at first are reminiscent of a witch, but instead are filled with flowers, denoting that this is Madoka’s power of love that saved them all in the first place. Is this not, to some extent, like the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles, and thus the beginning of the Church?

Picture References
1) http://www.fanpop.com/spots/homura-akemi/images/26309866/title/homura-akemi-photo
2) http://www.easterngiftshop.com/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodidx&ref=A&count=10&offset=30

The Beauty of the Infinite

[Note: There will be some spoilers for Now and Then, Here and There in this post.]

I’m shamelessly ripping the title for this post from David Bentley Hart’s philosophical work, but it fits too well with what I’d like to share. One of the things that I use to scoff at as an atheist was the idea that my life was incomplete without Jesus. I remember one time during my Sophomore year when I was waiting to get help from the Chemistry T.A. on balancing equations, I was looking around the room and my eyes spotted a flyer asking why it was that people sought out God. The answer they gave, of course, is because we all have a cross shaped hole in our heart. “Well, I don’t,” was my first thought. Frankly, I feel most atheists would answer the same way. I was quite comfortable with my nihilism. No point? No morals? No free will? Whatever, might as well live it out now that I’m here. I never quite understood the whole ‘having to succumb to despair’ argument.

Nevertheless, the rejection of the infinite was not too hard for me since I had grown up without religion my entire life. I was raised in no faith as both my parents were lapsed Catholics, and one could only say I was religious in the sense that I believed in a ‘god’ which was nothing more than just therapeutic deism. Rejecting such a weak faith and pitiful belief didn’t really change my outlook too much – that wouldn’t happen later until massive amounts of George Carlin and applying my nihilism to my cognitive thought process, but I’ve written about that elsewhere.

The one thing that being an atheist meant was that I had rejected the infinite, the idea that there was something beyond the surface, some higher meaning that transcended the tired materialistic existence that we have become so apt to pursue in American culture. I know I’m sounding judgmental, ごめなさい, but my highly-introverted (and angst ridden) teenage years bore at least some fruit of seeing beyond the facade of popular American culture (all buffered by the George Carlin obsession I had my Sophomore year). I didn’t want to get drunk in a bar, pursue hookups, watch and read about little else than sports or ‘Lost’, etcetera. That’s not to say that all of these things are bad or for ‘the mindless masses’. It was rather the uncritical acceptance and devotion to pop-culture that bothered me. Oh, and for the record, even if I did want to be a hookup artist, I highly doubt I’d ever pull that off. Of course, one’s participation in these things didn’t make them as persons stupid, mindless, or a ‘duplo’,1 but that wasn’t a lesson I was to learn until later on.

Further, one could easily criticize the buckets of time I wasted on my own interests. How many hours of video games did I spend playing?2 How many times did I have to re-watch an anime? How many countless hours were spent watching the same YouTube clips over and over simply because I had time to kill? The unfortunate thing is that I could have actually been using that time to build myself by learning new languages, reading more and more to understand the world around me, or perhaps even learning to get along with others rather than judging them so harshly and naively.

That said, there was something about video games and anime that I simply held at a higher value than pop-culture. Certain moments are frozen in my memories that represent something larger than the games or shows themselves. Often they have been fleeting emotions, but sometimes they are more profound and rely more off of a true appreciation of the message being presented. Perhaps you know what I’m speaking about: when the theme to Chrono Trigger starts playing as you finally decide to fight Lavos. When Asuna and Kirito both battle-charge together as one against the boss in episode 13 of Sword Art Online. When the song ‘Dracula’s Castle’ begins to play as Alucard charges through the first halls of Symphony of the Night. When Shu triumphantly rescues Lala Ru from king Hamdo part-way through Now and Then, Here and There. Or, quite frankly, the entire final episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.3

Emotions are not the best guide for the spiritual life in Christ, as anyone who has glanced at either the Desert Fathers or the Philokalia will tell you; we can easily be deceived by them and fall into spiritual delusion. That said, that doesn’t mean they are utterly worthless either – a rejection of emotionalism doesn’t entail a rejection of emotions. I think the reason I liked video games and anime so much was that the emotions I experienced pointed to something higher, something beyond myself. Even when I was an atheist there was a noble enigma that I felt about these heroes in JRPGs or anime that I couldn’t acknowledge about the real world – after all, such moral categories didn’t actually exist. But these were shows, often not modeled on our world, and thus I allowed for the required metaphysics to exist for the sake of entertainment. As such, I experienced those emotions of something larger than the show itself. I think in those times I was looking for the infinite even though I was completely unaware of it, seeing “His invisible attributes” through “the things that are made” (Romans 1:20).

By the infinite I mean He Who Is, “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). One of the expressions I’ve used to a friend of mine to explain my Christianity is that ‘fantasy is real’, or rather, that the actual reality is so great it cannot even be compared to the fantasy. That having been said, using these emotional or contemplative experiences are not in and of themselves a life in Christ, nor should they ever replace one. The Church Fathers call us to contemplate the divine, to join to Christ through unceasing prayer, follow the commandments, detach ourselves from material things (though by no means in a Gnostic sense), read the Scriptures, partake of the Eucharist, so on and so forth. One thing I’ve learned is that genuine spirituality is a struggle. I have found prayer more difficult than anything else in my entire life, and I am by no means anywhere close to the great Hesychasts of the Church. I’m not even if I’ve even stepped on the first rung of the Divine Ladder.

Likewise, while I still appreciate anime for these moments of emotionally yearning for the infinite, does that mean that anime itself is beautiful? Beauty and the infinite are both rooted in God, and so the only true way to experience them is to come into communion with God Himself. We can reflect this dimly in works of art, but even then I’m not sure I can say that Sword Art Online or Kokoro Connect are beautiful in the way that The Brothers Karamazov or Claire de Lune are. Just because we can find themes that relate to what we believe doesn’t automatically make the piece of work beautiful. The despair filled album The Sound of Human Perseverance by the death metal band Death (yes, you read that right) can be poignant in its existential message (particularly the track ‘Moment of Clarity’), but it cannot be beautiful because it reflects despondency and not God. Likewise, the two shows listed above (both of which I really do enjoy) have their moments of showing some beauty (though nothing like the great Classics of literature), but if I were to hold them up as works of art that were truly trying to probe the depth of the human experience, I wouldn’t be able to.

That’s not to say anime can’t be beautiful. Take the previously mentioned Now and Then, Here and There which, as a result of the Rwandan Genocide, deals with the reality of child soldiers in order to depict the sheer horror [that many children still experience every day]. Boys are ripped from their villages and forced into combat, their fathers either following in step or facing execution, their sisters and mothers being raped so that they can produce more children to serve for King Hamdo. The hardening of hearts becomes so apparent as the children themselves learn to turn on one another, to exist solely for self preservation, and even learn to aspire to climb the power ladder to one day rule themselves. The main character, Shu, sees past the madness and refuses to fight, which of course constantly leads him into suffering for doing the right thing. Even in the free villages, rebel factions try and manipulate the village to fight against Hamdo and are willing to kill and lie to accomplish these goals.

Yet its central message is one of hope and perseverance, that despite the sheer horror of what the children went through, peace and forgiveness can reign and heal the wounds that were inflicted.4 It does this maturely, largely avoiding the typical angst-ridden writing that plagues anime too often, and brings about a message so powerfully that it can leave one in tears. This is shown beautifully when in the final episode, Sara, one of the women who was used to satisfy the lusts of soldiers, is face to face with commander Abelia who had originally captured her and subjected her to such a role. The power is now reversed, and if Sara so wishes she could have Abelia executed on spot. Instead she orders the men to stand down, her face expressing forgiveness and a hope for reconciliation.
This is a show that shows beauty despite the ugliness that the world can be, a beauty that has its hope in the ultimate outcome of good. It is a show that reflects the beauty of the infinite.

Footnotes
1This was a phrase that my friends and I came up with in college to describe the ‘masses’ who blindly followed whatever was in the popular culture, or just for people who were unintelligent. Duplos are essentially giant building blocks designed for kids before they move on to something like Legos or Megablox which have the ability for making far more complex figures. Hence they were ‘duplos’ because they were only smart enough to use giant, uncomplicated blocks – because they were stupid.

2Over 120 days of gameplay on my WoW characters – and that’s only one video game.

3I think this is what Kayaba Akihiko is getting at about seeing the distant castle in the sky in the 14th episode of Sword Art Online.

4The character Sara is particularly powerful in this regard. A 12 year old girl, Sara is treated as a sex slave and raped over and over again by the soldiers of the dominant regime until finally escaping. Upon doing so she realizes she is pregnant and tries to abort her child, but is prevented from doing so by the main character Shu. She ultimately decides to birth the child, despite the horrific way it was conceived, the child then being a metaphor for the whole show.

Picture References
1) http://nintendo.wikia.com/wiki/File:Chrono_Trigger_Magus_battle_artwork.png
2)http://www.absoluteanime.com/now_and_then/index.htm

St. Theophan the Recluse and Anime

To apply the content to oneself is the purpose and fruit of reading. If you read without applying what is read to yourself, nothing good will come of it, and even harm may result. Theories will accumulate in the head, leading you to criticize others instead of improving your own life.1

– St. Theophan the Recluse

Though St. Theophan is speaking of spiritual readings, such as the Philokalia, in this passage, one can easily see how this applies with anything we watch or read. This hearkens back to St. Basil, that we should take that which edifies and leave the rest. The reading (or in this case watching) without applying no doubts echoes Paul’s own warning that “knowledge puffeth up” without its application of charity (1 Cor 8:1). Perhaps we should be careful watching shows merely for the sake of watching them, for merely being entertained (though, even entertainment has its place in our lives). More importantly, we should take that which comports with our views and apply it to our lives. So we shouldn’t act like Zuko when he was like this:

But rather when he was like this:

…Which of course reminded everyone of this:

References

1Igumen Chariton of Valamo, trans. E. Kadloubovsky & E.M. Palmer E. M., Ed. T. Ware. The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. NY: Faber and Faber, Inc., 1966. pg. 130

Picture References

1I can’t seem to find the exact link I used, by I do know it is by the hand of the Pachomian brothers from Mt. Athos
2http://avatar-thelastairbender.edogo.com/index.php/cast-biography-voice-actors/prince-zuko/
3http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Sozin’s_Comet,_Part_2:_The_Old_Masters