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

 

[Madoka] Introduction

“If she gives up, it’s over. But you have the power to change fate itself…”
– Kyubey

The beginning of Puella Magi Madoka Magica (from here on Madoka) gives us a dismal and confusing scene. A pink haired girl carrying some kind of white chibi fox enters into a distorted realm where a lone Mahou Shoujou (Japanese for Magical Girl) battles a seemingly invincible foe. The first words uttered by this pink haired girl set the scene for the rest of the show: “That’s horrible!” The world of Madoka is one of strife, violence, and seemingly inescapable doom. This world is fallen before any kind of original sin has occurred, and yet Madoka says how she’s feels: “this can’t be right!” The fox, Kyubei, tempts her with a promise, that Madoka can “change fate itself,” she can prevent “all this inevitable destruction,” if she would just only make a contract to become a Mahou Shoujou herself. It is not until later that we learn that in this time line Madoka does just that, and by it becomes the most powerful witch the world has ever known, bringing it to utter destruction in just a mere ten days.

The opening scene no doubt bares parallels to the story of Adam and Eve; Kyubei proposes a lie which leads to the destruction rather than the salvation of those Madoka cares about, much like the lie Satan tells Eve, “that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). Yet, there is something twisted about both Satan and Kyubei’s lies. Mankind was already made in God’s image, and by the incarnation man himself could become defied by walking the path of theosis, evidenced by the common Patristic saying that “God became man so that man could become god.”1 Kyubei, on the other hand, says that Madoka could change the very laws of the world herself, and while this proved to be an utter lie, we see it become true in the final time line – but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Madoka is a highly praised anime of 2011 which took the idea of the Mahou Shoujo and flipped it on it’s own head. This genre of anime in which young girls’ transformation gives them powers to combat evil is probably best known by Sailor Moon since it was brought over by Toonami in the mid 90’s, giving it a wide audience. While I am by no means an expert on the genre, my understanding is that these shows are characterized by the themes of hope, love, and the triumph of good versus evil. Madoka begins out in this fashion, but in the third episode one of the characters in the midst of fighting with a witch is eaten alive before the protagonist. Blogger TWWK of Beneath the Angels rightly quoted Scamp in that the show was one of despair until the end: “As soon as you entered the world of the Magical Girl, you had lost all hope of returning. You turned into a witch when all hope had been extinguished and you had given up on life entirely.” Mahou Shoujo’s were fated to become the very witches they fought, to infect and destroy the world with the very despair that they meant to defeat with hope. The ending gives the theological response to this problem of despair, but again I keep getting ahead of myself.

These series of posts are going to be using the hermeneutics I had spoken of previously to draw out multiple Christian ideas that can be either read into, or extracted from, the show. Though before I begin to go into anything particular, it is worth addressing the elephant in the room. Is not Madoka actually about Buddhism? In a short answer: yes. We see this particularly in the seventh episode of the show, Can You Face Your True Feelings?, when Kyoko reveals her past to Sayaka. Kyoko was the son of a Priest whose preaching began to deviate from that of the church as “he though in order to save a new generation, we needed to have a new religion.”2 He, naturally enough, was excommunicated. The scene, as TWWK points out, is narrated by Kyoko as she is eating from a bag of apples, the common artistic depiction of the fruit that was eaten by Adam and Eve. The message is implied: Christianity is outdated, it is not the true religion.

The show is also filled, and based upon, Buddhism. The concept of Karma used by Kyubey, the multiple time lines Homura travels through being similar to reincarnation (which Sayaka unknowingly jokes about in the first episode of the show). Enlightenment, Nirvana, etc, are all found in the show and done so with much more solidity than any Christian concept. Blogger Yi’s post does a fantastic job at explaining the show’s Buddhist themes, and is well worth the read. So, again, for a short answer: yes. Madoka is far more likely about Buddhism than Christianity.

And yet, there is this: 

And this: 

Though I suppose I should do more than just show pictures. In the penultimate episode, Madoka’s mother (Junko) is talking with her teacher as she noticed that her daughter has been distanced at late, and it is unnerving her as she is use to being completely open with Madoka. The teacher, while explaining that this is part of her child growing up, notes that during these times “we’ve got no choice but to trust them.” The scene is ended mere seconds later with a picture of the creation of Adam by Michelangelo. Later on, as the seemingly invincible Walpurgis Night descends upon Homura, Madoka goes to join her. She is stopped by her mother who scolds her for her recklessness of going out to try and save her friend during an emergency (Walpurgis’ descent has created a severe storm all around, though it should be noted now that only certain people are able to enter into the realm that witches dwell in. Hence, the storm is a kind of affect whose origin cannot be seen by most people). Madoka tells her mother though, that “It’s because I treasure you all that I must protect you. To do that, there’s some place I need to go right now!” Junko asks, “and you can’t tell me what this is about?” Madoka nods. Her mother asks to go with her, but Madoka refuses. She tells her mother, “will you believe in me now? Will you trust that I’ll do what’s right?” Her mother, after a brief question making sure Madoka is not being deceived by anyone, pushes her playfully on her way. Madoka turns and smiles, “thank you, Mom,” and then makes her way to Walpurgis Night.

This scene takes place in the same episode that Junko and Madoka’s teacher have their talk about trust. This trust is actually faith, having faith in someone. Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” is often misquoted by theists and atheists alike to show that Christians need to be fideists and that any kind of ‘evidence’, be it philosophical or tangible, goes against their faith.α Indeed, how can one have faith if they know for sure God is real? Of course if one seriously believes that this is what Hebrews 11:1 means, they would have to explain why the apostles only believed after they had seen the empty tomb and the Risen Christ, or why countless people in Acts were converted by the miracles wrought in Christ’s name. Indeed, this would mean that my own conversion due to the Shroud of Turin would invalidate my faith.

But if one reads the rest of Hebrews 11, one sees it is talking not about epistemological belief, but rather having faith in God even when the outcome of the circumstances are unknown, trusting Him even when we are uncertain just as the saints of the Old Testament did. To have faith in someone is entirely different than knowing they exist. Indeed, St. Paul says in Romans 1:20 that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead,” meaning that faith is not ‘blind belief’ that cannot use evidence, but a relationship. The Greek word for faith, pistis (πίστις), as Fr. Andrew Damick rightfully points out,3 implies a continuing relationship and development, not a static ontological switch. This is what we see in this scene; Junko knows Madoka is a good girl, and she certainly believes she exists. Her faith in Madoka is one of trust, one that she has built over a lifetime, one that hopes despite that she can not see why her daughter needs to venture out into a storm alone. The reward for this faith is the ending of the show, the complete ontological rewriting of the universe so that hope ultimately triumphs over despair. This is the mountain-moving faith of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.4 Perhaps this is the spermatikos logos of St. Justin.

In these series of essays I would like to explore a few more ideas, one being on the concept of the relationship between body and soul, another on the multiple allegories one can draw between characters, and finally the theme that most people have picked up on: hope and despair.

Footnotes

1 Sts. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius the Great, Ephrem, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, and Maximus the Confessor. Russel, N. Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis, pp. 38-9. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the teaching of theosis, or deification.

2 I am planning to do a post on this in the future as I think this has become an actual problem in certain Christian denominations.

α While I’m going to leave the original text, I would like to make a quick amendment. Some Church Fathers do indeed (or at least seem to) see Hebrews 11:1 as talking about a faith in Christ without evidence, specifically believing in the Resurrection without ever seeing it (St. John Chrysostom for one). That said, the note in the Orthodox Study Bible presents this passage more so in the way that I described. The two readings do not mutually conflict per se so it should not matter one way or another. I do apologize if my statement was too strong; I have seen this thrown in the face of Christians by skeptics in an attempt to prove that they cannot use evidence to uphold their belief. It was this kind of proof-texting that I was reacting to.

3 cf. his podcast Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, specifically those on the Reformation, at ancientfaith.com

4 cf. Matthew 17:20