Sunday, March 27, 2011

Soy Sauce on Ice Cream: Inserting contemperory American Christianity into anime via fandom.

Putting Judeo-Christian religions and Anime together in a real-world context is like putting soy sauce on ice cream. You could do it, but you'd just ruin 2 things that should be more or less left on their own.

This piece was originally written on March 1, with a scheduled release date of March 16 (to reference the double-entendre of "3:16" as relevant to the subject matter). It has been delayed because of the recent events related to the major earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan, in order to avoid the kind of "God hates Japan" comments that have inevitably come out of ... well should anyone really be surprised at this point?

I saw a somewhat interesting series of pieces on Religion and Anime recently, from a source I probably wouldn't normally see myself reading if not for a helpful link from The Otaku Journalist. Religion, particularly religion in English speaking markets like the various flavors of Christianity, has always been something that I saw as "at odds" with anime for two reasons:

The first reason is more of my generalized interpretation of specific behaviors of the kind of demographics that usually make up anime Otaku in the USA. It's mostly made up of segments that tend to lean towards non-believers. Anime fandom concentrates the non-believers together and helps to make their position stronger in that respect, while at the same time featuring depictions of religious practices and/or super-natural elements that are specifically at odds with dominant Abrahamic principles, repelling the devout believers and causing the kids to be whisked away to special Jesus-camp when mom finds that evil ungodly manga under the bed (yes this really happened).

Reason number two is a combination of incidents I specifically experienced firsthand. I was reminded about a little piece of hate mail that Anime Crash once received around 1998. Apparently, some church group had a website that "warned" parents that anime was more or less pure Satan-juice and your kids are going to hell if they even fucking look at Pikachu. The letter was hilarious, and we actually framed it and put it on display for a while. The 15 minutes of Christian outrage visited upon Anime Crash would continue with some (what appeared to be) students from out of town wandering in, and being genuinely offended that there was a Chinese religious display in a glass case in the store. Knowing Crash, we probably would have sold the thing at the first offer, so it wasn’t like it was particularly holy. But simply the fact that it existed was enough to set them off, and it didn't take them long to start laying into everything from the Chibi Gundams to the ungodliness of Martial Arts.

Finally, I should mention that the home media business has never really had a great relationship with the kind of American Christianity that this survey seems to be a part of, much as it would not like to be. The questions seem a bit of the Chick-Tract line of thinking, which is a conclusion more a result of my own superimposition of experience rather than objective reality, so take that as you may.

The survey results cover a variety of questions, but the meat of the matter is here:

The entire survey is over at Beneath the Tangles, and it was the subject of five posts spanning an in-depth look at the subject. Reading through them, it’s kind of sad when you see what the results have done to the guy over there. The info-graphics, including this one above were made by Otaku Journalist. I am going to assume they won't mind me using them here with those citations.

After looking at the findings, the high proportion of atheist and agnostics is a result, not of anime actually increasing the number of non-believers in English speaking markets (it's not taking religious people and making them into godless atheists). But it most certainly attracts non-believers disproportionally to the average religious makeup of the U.S. This is probably due to the previously mentioned fact that the content, artwork, and subject matter are attractive to younger people in general (who tend to be less religious), and also attract those with the higher scientific literacy it requires to fully understand things like Ghost in the Shell and the more scientifically literate you are, the less likely you are to believe as fact that the earth and rest of the universe popped into existence 6,000 years ago complete with a rib-woman being tricked into eating a magical fruit by a talking snake. Additionally, some content might be a bit repellent to someone who might feel uncomfortable watching Evangelion or reading Saint Young Men (which is awesome by the way). Atheists can take the gamut of just about any anime title out there, while religious types have to be picky for fear of having their personality called into question, because if religion is taken out of the daily lives of these people, there’s not much left to them as a person.

Blasphemy or Epic Win? Blasphe-Win!

Like I said, I feel just a tiny bit sorry for the poor schlub over at Beneath The Tangles, because it’s really a losing battle over there. He seems like a nice guy, open-minded and all that, and that's the problem isn't it?; Unless that guy is willing to kill me for Jesus, he's just an Ethical Humanist with an identity crisis.

From the hate-mail that Anime Crash received way back when (it's long gone, so I can't scan it in here), to Fanime Con getting ruined by Jesus freaks, it’s clear that anime fandom and most theocratic and currently practiced religion is just incompatible. Since anime/manga is one of the few commercial entertainment productions made for an atheist populace (Japan), there are 2 ways that Christianity deals with it. #1 is to take a negative view of anime productions because they endemically lack any kind of affirming of Jesusness-ness, or #2; proceed with a kind of superimposing of some sort of expansionist Christian philosophy on top of it, cherry-picking bits and pieces of anime titles as well as biblicalities to help make themselves feel better about liking anime. Ignoring the fact that eating shrimp tempura and tako-yaki is just as bad as anything else that biblically verboten (like teh ghey secks). It’s disingenuous at best. Case in point; the painful Anime and Christianity panel of actor Vic Mignogna sadly shows not only how much shoehorning it takes these people to even bring the two together, but also how astonishingly ignorant Vic is about things Japanese (history, culture, commerce) ...remember kids, he's really just an actor.

That being said, I feel it necessary to state that I come from a far removed perspective in terms of having religion playing almost no role in any of my activities past or present, (I did not have a religious upbringing), and this makes it very hard to understand what it may be like for an anime fan in a place like Georgia-Bama-Ssippi. This kind of superimposed rationalization of bible thumping on top of manga or anime, might be the only shield that younger fans have against the general fundie population and the kind of social terrorism they have been known to engage in (yeah, remember her?).

The only thing is, that I am glad this future of a doomed America is buying anime with their money... otherwise they would be sending it to a sickening campaign to make DOMA a constitutional amendment, or tickets for the creation museum. Yes this is a sweeping generalization, ...oh no, there goes my Pulitzer.

The comments here are moderated, but it’s only to prevent the high volumes of spam (seen in this previous post) that come here. So real comments, regardless of different opinions will be published as soon as I can pick them out of the spam ocean.



jpmeyer said...

I actually tried to take the survey for this a few months back. It was really hard to answer many of the questions because once you got past the simple demographic ones and got to the opinion ones, there was a pretty huge bias (not intellectually dishonest per se, but rather ignorance/incompetence/blinders) in a lot of questions towards an American evangelical christian/christianist perspective (because not only does religion = christianity, christianity = American evangelical christianity, and christianity = christianism).

Questions like "If yes, why do you believe in God?" would have many very detailed (and dog whistle-y) responses, while ones like "Has science effectively proven that a God does not exist?" would have the sort of second-hand pseudo straw man reasons (and straw man question) that an American evangelical christian/christianist would assume that a non-religious person would have. One question mentioned "macroevolution", which I had to look up because I had never heard that phrase in my life. Turns out it's evolution denial/intelligent design concept.

Anonymous said...

ERGGHHHH...I wrote a gigantic response which was, I think, very thoughtful. And it disappeared..asdjfalskdjld!

Anyway, this is TWWK, the writer of Beneath the Tangles. Thank you for the thoughtful post - it challenges me to write a thoughtful post in response. I'll link yours to it when I'm done.

Basically, my original comment said that I wanted to respond to jpemeyer's criticisms of the survey, because they're more than valid. If I could redo the survey, I would have.

However, the survey was never never meant to be unbiased - unfortunately, I think most people who took it were unfamiliar with my blog and didn't know that a focus of it would be Christianity (my fault). But neither did I use the information in a treacherous manner (the science/God question was not meant to be use in a "Gotcha!" moment). I think those that took the time to read through the results, analysis, and conclusions would support this.

Anyway, again, I enjoyed reading your post. don't sound so angry to me... :P

The Angry Otaku said...

It was an interesting perspective to say the least. Issues with the survey questions can be sticking points, but the point that this was never intended to be an impartial one is more or less self-evident and valid. Terminology aside, that validity itself causes a problem however. Let’s look the one survey question that is the most problematic;

“Can science coincide with Christian belief?”

The issue isn’t important here, replace the word “science” with “anime” (or McDonald’s for that matter) and you still have the same situation:
A Rock in a Fish Tank.

Take an empty fish tank and place a rock in there. A rock in a fish tank sits there and is a rock. Then the water is poured in, and the rock is still a rock, but now a rock in a tank full of water. The rock, the water, and the tank are separate elements, but have also combined to make a habitat for fish. The rock has become part of that, but all it did was get wet. Its forms, angles, shape, and identity has not changed or been made to change. The water, while adding to the environment, has had to flow and flex itself around the rock, adjusting for every angle, unique physicality, and rigid unchanging form. This question assigns the role of water to “science,” while “Christianity” is the solid, unchanging rock. Reverse the subject order, and it reverses the roles, with science as the rock, and Christianity as the water, made to change aespects of itself to encapsulate the rigid form of science. The fish will never know which is which, they’d need to stand outside the tank for that, some think one thing, some think the other.

It is often implied that the water is the weaker of the two elements in this situation. Forced to adapt itself and accommodate (or in this question’s version “coincide”) with that which is stronger in substance, and therefore stronger in validity. One could argue that such is fate of all religions, to be a rock worn smooth by water until it is nothing more than sand and dust, but let’s not think about that now.

Let’s look at anime and Christianity. Christians will instantly identify their faith with the rock, and see how anime fits around it, while anime fans will see Christianity as just another flavor of water that swirls around it, not changing the identity of anime in any noticeable way. The only difference is that if you think Christianity is the rock, you have to engage in mental gymnastics to fit anime around it. If you think anime is the rock, all the water looks the same, and Christianity is that bit over in the opposite end.

That is really the issue with this isn’t it? The survey, being not objective, is simply a support structure which holds up a mental goal of making sure the answer is “yes” to the question; “Can anime coincide with Christian belief?” Needing the answer to be “yes” in order to continue to consume anime, leads to many of these, often intricate, sometimes intangible, occasionally ignorant support structures. And sometimes they block the view of the other fish.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response! Yes, the wording is awful for a variety of reasons. I love delving into semantics, definitions, connotations and all sorts of issues regarding language, so even without thinking about the implications of that particular question, the way it's worded is problematic.

But I don't think it's too big of a deal. Perhaps it skewed my results (hopefully only a bit) and irritated some respondants, which I'm sorry for. But in the end, my intent and my use of the question relatively benign. No agenda here. No leading (intentionally at least) here. I could have easily swapped "Christianity" and "science" in the question or otherwise rephrased it, and is still would've meant the same to me.

As for anime and Christianity...I'll discuss a little about that in my post.

Anyway, what your comments and others reemphasizes to me is that 1) if I ever do another similar survey, I need to provide additional information for the takers and 2) I need a lotta help with my wording. Or I at least need to proofread. -_-'

Ed Sizemore said...

You're taking Luke 19:27 out of context.

First, parables are never to be used to formulate dogmatic statements. Just because others have incorrectly done so in the past is no excuse to do so now. Jesus is not giving a direct command to His disciples nor to the generations of believers following his disciples. You will note that no where in this parable is the ruler called just. The point of the parable is to be a faithful servant regardless of the character of your master. If unjust rulers reward faithful servants, how much more with just and righteous God reward His faithful followers.

Second, you are taking the verse in isolation without comparison to the other teachings of Jesus. In particular, the direct commands He does give to His disciples. If you would like, I can list verses where the disciples are commanded to take abuse and even be killed for the sake of Gospel. Ultimately, we are called to follow the example of Christ, who did not rise up an army when He was arrested, beaten, and crucified, but instead laid down His life as an example of love and forgiveness.

So let’s delete that little bit of hysteria from your argument.

Now ice cream and soy sauce. No. More like sugar and vinegar which are the main ingredients in sweet and sour sauce. They seem contradictory at first, but can be blended to create a unique and complementary taste. I’ve been asked by TWWK to write an article on faith and fandom. I was having some difficulty focusing my thoughts, but your post has solved that problem. When I have finished my piece you can read it on Beneath the Tangles as a reaction to your post here.

Thanks for your thought provoking piece. I look forward to your reactions to my own piece.

The Angry Otaku said...

RE: Ed Sizemore;
You're taking Luke 19:27 out of context.

Out of context? Yes. And while one could argue that everything in the universe is “out of context” if you stop short of all creation, I did deliberately stop before getting to the part that has this particular piece make more sense (or at least make you feel comfortable in your belief of a system that includes such a thing). So? If the Bible is the true word of an all knowing God, why must it need context?

First, parables are never to be used to formulate dogmatic statements... but instead laid down His life as an example of love and forgiveness

Well, says you (re; parable... or all of Christianity for that matter). I don’t mean to be antagonistic, but I can bring in a self-described “True Christian” from over at Rapture Ready who is willing to die to prove the opposite. These kind of arguments are only fought with the weapons of ad-populum positions in the forum of subjective reality; the “I am a Christian and my specific manifestation of that belief system is correct (or at least one of a valid set), and the fact that I have reached this conclusion makes it so” and “the more people who agree with me, the more correct I must be.” The “I’m an artist and I say it’s art” argument so to speak.

However the fact that people who sincerely believe they can fly still cannot, shows us that truth is absolute since gravity will still have that person fall should they try to do so. Therefore, since two individuals can be equally convinced by their own reasoning or that of others, that the same biblical passage means opposite things, with both of these individuals then believing that the other one’s error causes their belief to be illegitimate, neither can be given the position of objective truth. To make the claim that true/correct/real Christianity can be set apart from other versions because of the conclusions of the one doing the separating, would require following this notion reductio ad absurdum; My belief is valid since it is what I believe; the belief of another is valid because it is what they believe; all individual beliefs are valid; all religions are true; if all religions are true, none are necessary.

So, because my “out of context” references are genuinely believed by other self-labeled Christians (there can be no other kind), they are either valid by the same reasoning that your contra-interpretive position is valid. Trying to de-value my conclusion by trying to claim a higher score in “Christian gamification behaviour” by pointing out a lack of genuine activity on my part or being a self-proclaimed atheist still depends on human perception creating the “value” of such activity adding legitimacy, subject to the same subjective reality trappings as mentioned above. In short; “says you.” [continued...]

The Angry Otaku said...

So let’s delete that little bit of hysteria from your argument

In no way can what I write be the final word on the matter. Discussing Christianity outside of the very specific anime fandom fields that were brought up here would only serve to make this an unending theological debate which, while interesting, would take time and energy away from the limited space we have here to cover things.

I think your sugar & vinegar analogy does a great disservice to Christianity, let alone anime. Through their combination, the sugar and vinegar cease to exist as their own entities, and have formed something new that previously did not exist. By that reasoning, combining Christianity with anime, creates a separate entity that is neither Christianity nor anime. I am fairly certain that such a conclusion was not your intent, but to imply that anime is capable of becoming something more than it is with only the complementing of a Christian philosophy or perception, while at the same time Christianity becomes a smaller part of a whole in that combination, negates the reality that such a combination is a superimposition, and not a genuine component of anime present from any work’s inception.

I do hope your piece can break free of the “they just don’t understand real Christianity and are confusing our spirituality with the SBC” type arguments that are over proliferated and all too similar to the Therian/Furry/Otherkin arguments which follow the same “group vs outsider” formula.

Ed Sizemore said...

If the Bible is the true word of an all knowing God, why must it need context?

Is that a serious question, or are you trolling me for a reaction?

The “I am a Christian and my specific manifestation of that belief system is correct (or at least one of a valid set), and the fact that I have reached this conclusion makes it so” and “the more people who agree with me, the more correct I must be.”

I actually have a seminary degree (M.Div). There is a system of proper Biblical exegesis that is part of the 2,000 history of Christianity. We might quibble over some of the details. However, there is a set of general rules that all seminaries adhere to regardless of denominational affiliation. So no, this isn’t “My way or the highway”.

If you hold that no system of Biblical interpretation is anymore valid than another, then we simply can’t have an intelligence discourse.

My belief is valid since it is what I believe; the belief of another is valid because it is what they believe; all individual beliefs are valid; all religions are true; if all religions are true, none are necessary.

Again, I can’t serious believe you hold this position. This feels like more troll baiting. I would refer you to the writings of Alvin Plantinga for a proper philosophical understanding of foundational beliefs.

So does your argument ultimately boil down to, “I can quote people who hold contrary positions to yours, therefore my position is a valid as yours since we are not going to refer to the accepted rules of argumentation and evidence”? So under that reasoning I can say that Northwestern University doesn’t believe in the Holocaust. Why? Because I can quote Professor Arthur Butz, of said university, who has published books denying the reality of the Holocaust. So regardless of how many professors or official documents you quote from Northwestern, because I can find one professor who denies the Holocaust, my opinion that Northwestern denies the Holocaust must be accepted as valid.

Faith, of any stripe, is not inherently irrational. Again, if you believe this to be the case, then intelligent dialogue between us can’t exist.

I’m not here to start a theological debate, but to correct grave misperceptions you seem to have about Christianity. Can you find people that fit your stereotype? Sure. Are they a significant portion of Christianity? No. You might want to grab an issue of the Christian Century, The Other Side, or Sojourners Magazine. You’ll be shocked by what you’ll find. Christianity is no more monolithic than atheism, Democratic Party, or American society.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to Ed's post! I'm sure it'll be more coherent than my response. -_-'

The Angry Otaku said...

I may not have done an adequate job of explaining why I am saying what I am saying. Hopefully you won’t mind if I go back a bit and clarify things. There's no trolling going on and I’ll try to stop channeling Christopher Hitchens.

The arguments I was using were done so to address a small counterpoint made by TWWK; which was that my lumping in of the Christianity he described as “Emerging” with the more hardline Christian practices of other groups (perhaps such as the AFA, or those over at was not only an incorrect labeling, but also served to invalidate further invalidate subsequent arguments, because such arguments are formed from an opinion of that other form of Christianity, and not the kind exemplified by the community at Beneath the Tangles. A fair point to be sure, but also a flawed one, because there are only 2 ways for that notion to progress; 1) if Christianity can include both such practices under one umbrella, then in calling yourself one, you have to take with it the other elements that also identify as Christian despite a potentially large difference in ideology, or 2) Differentiate your beliefs from those groups by asserting that Christianity does not lead to the conclusions and behaviors practiced by those other groups. This can lead to arguments of “so and so not being a True/Real Christian,” which is a statement that can only be supported with subjective reality by its very nature, and in its simplest forms manifesting as ad populum (more people believe my version than yours), ad homenum (I know more about XYZ than you) assertions, or in some cases simply as “might makes right” (convert ‘or else’), or stonewalled patience (I shall do nothing and they’ll come around eventually). If there is a third way that can end up, I can’t think of what it is.

If #1 is the case, then no amount of brand management in the world is going to be enough to prevent lumping all Christianity together, and one should know that in claiming oneself as a Christian, that you are picking up an umbrella term that has everything from Mother Theresa to Ray Comfort’s God-Banana and using that as part of an identity set you show the world. However if you are uncomfortable with that, believe that Catholics and Orthodox Christians aren’t really “Christians,” then we are getting into #2, and the territory I was covering previously.

Who is and isn’t an accurate representation of Christianity can never be objectively defined so long as Christianity can be a self labeling exercise. The reductio ad absurdum argument wasn't made because I believe it (it is absurd) but because it is where you end up if you follow conclusion #2, which is the argument that TWWK made (at least I got that impression), that being; the Christianity I was lumping him in with was an inaccurate/incorrect one. I hold, that because the term Christian is used, there is insufficient reason given for differentiating Christianity, as used in the response of TWWK.

The Holocaust denial example is a perfect one to further illustrate such an absurdity, since there is a library of evidence which can not be bent to a subjective reality, to state a belief that it didn’t happen is absurd and gives credence to the phrase “wishing don’t make it true.” Just as there is such objective evidence to show as absurd the belief that the Earth is Flat, or that the Universe is no more than 6000 years old, these beliefs never can succeed in the face of harsh reality. Conversely, there is a lack objective evidence to give validity to one version of Christianity while at the same time invalidating another. And although you maintain there are mechanisms to separate (or gradated) levels of validity of Biblical interpretation, the simple fact that the debate between wine vs grape juice as the sacrament or the product of the miracle at that wedding at Cana, means that whatever that system is, it’s not working. Mmmm yayin.

The Angry Otaku said...

This is why religion is tricky. Look at all that text above, just to say that TWWK’s argument that I’m lumping his Christianity in with other/different/wrong/false/traditional/fundamentalist kinds, hasn’t got enough “umph” in it to really support his point. And to hammer home the point, I’ll have to unfortunately confirm one of your ultimatums with two questions: Do you consider Shia, Sunni, Salafi, Sufi, and Qur'anic, to all be Islam? Do you consider Catholic, Lutheran, Church of England, SBC, and Nagaland Baptists all to be Christian? If the answer is yes/no, then you are using subjective reality. Basis in things that other people have written based on what other people have written based on an idea that someone mentioned from their own perceptive interpretations.

No, I don’t believe that any one Islamic interpretation is anymore valid than another, I do not believe that any Hindu interpretation is anymore valid than another, I do not think any Therian interpretation is anymore valid than another, and I do not think any Biblical interpretation is anymore valid than another. There is nothing that can make it so which exists outside of individual subjectivity. No absolute set of indelible objectivity, despite what you or the moneyed organization that gave you that M.Div may contend. The very nature of faith is to be irrational. If faith has rationality, it is no longer faith, but conclusion, even watching an episode of CSI can show that. Gamification, name-dropping and posturing aside, your valuable achievements, knowledge, and the argument you have put forward here have not been sufficient to negate my argument that; no, I don’t think the Christianity over at Beneath the Tangles is being unfairly lumped in with more fundamental and older Christian practices, and if anything that makes it un-Christian and more Ethical Humanist.

Now that we’ve covered the first paragraph of the rebuttal, let’s move on to taking about actual anime fandom, because TWWK had a great metaphor with the Ice Cream comparison, and made me reevaluate the final conclusion I reached previously.

Ed Sizemore said...

Thanks for the clarification. Given your positions, you and I can't have a meaningful discussion. Our points of view are too divergent to permit that. I appreciate you taking time to talk to me.

The Angry Otaku said...

I think we still can have a meaningful discussion, but maybe it would just be meaningful for me, and you would be repeating things you already know.

Still... I'd rather have an impolite conversation over a polite silence. At least with the first, I might learn something new.

The Angry Otaku said...

The more I think about it the more I realize that, that is what Christianity. First Ed Sizemore states that it's NOT "my way or the highway," but then in the same comment gives two ultimatums. The conversation can NOT continue unless I concede that A) There is one Biblical interpretation that can be more valid than another. and B) by that logic, there must be one true Christianity as reality, not simply belief. Yeah... his way or the highway indeed. "Believe I'm right, and I'll talk to you" ...that's defiantly true Christianity, even if they say it with a smile on their face over at Beneath the Tangles.

I was so ready to post a huge reply over at Beneath the Tangles about how I thought it was very great to equate the situation to a Tin Roof Sunday, because I was illuminated to the fact that some people, can mix in their Christian spirituality with media entertainment that they like, and put them all together to make something that is an added value, they do it themselves, but it brings them understanding of their lives and joy, in a way that is constructive even if it wasn't intended. How can anyone argue that such a thing is bad? I certainly cant. They take the ingredients that they hold close, combine them how they can, and make something that is good, that helps them understand things, and maybe someone next to them, not knowing what they were having, might ask about and find out more... even if they don't like nuts.

FUCK NO! Not in Ed Sizemore's anime ice cream parlor, you people with questions! You'll admit the holy validity of NUTS ON ICE CREAM being MORE VALID than Butterscotch or GTFO. ...yeah. Me with two parents both graduates of seminary, growing up around thousands of religious texts, doing years of business with the SBC and Lifeway stores... yeah, me and my non-Christian ass aren't enough to have "meaningful" conversations because I am unwilling to meet on the "middle ground" of "you win." just because I don't get why Catholics lose the Christianity points contest to Protestants (or a faction thereof). ...That's very Christian.

Ya know, when I was working at Wowow, one of the top executives was a former long-time peace negotiator for Northern Ireland (who better than an Atheist Japanese to help calm things down over there no?), and he told me something that I was so hoping wouldn't be exemplified here, but it has. I won't repeat it here, there's no point. people keep on putting your soy sauce on ice cream and calling it a Sunday. If nothing else, this survey proves you're finishing up anyway, and we'll wait until you finish up and leave.

What a let down.