I don’t normally discuss my religious views here. I usually write as a librarian and a researcher. However, by doing this, I can’t address some questions people ask me. My Christian background shapes the core of who I am and my approach to research and thinking. But I also practice Zen meditation. It compliments my beliefs. I come from a legalistic branch of Christianity–one that believes instrumental music in worship can condemn you to hell and one that is against dancing or anything that causes lustful thinking. Yes, anime would fall into this category. However, I no longer consider such hard-lined view as scriptural. That’s the issue with religious questions–everyone has a different background, and many believe that background to be the truth. Of course, that means all others are wrong.
I tell you this to lead into the question: can a Christian rightly watch anime? My religious perspective will shape my answer, so I wanted to briefly sketch where I am coming from. Behind the question lies a discomfort with different aspects of anime, namely anime’s sexuality. For various reasons, violence is more readily accepted in Christianity than sexuality. For most of Christianity’s history, sexuality has been a source of discomfort. Augustine of Hippo wrote extensively about it as did many others. The Catholic Church attempted to eliminate sexuality from its clergy by enforcing celibacy. Some Christian groups have gone as far as forbidding sex altogether from its members–even for having children. Of course, these groups mostly died out.
Aside from sexuality, the Shinto and Buddhist components behind anime prompts the question. Shinto and Buddhism weave deep in Japanese culture and into anime. For some Christian groups, this can be a problem. Associating with what are seen as pagan religions caused many issues in the early church and is found throughout Scripture (Exodus 20:1-26; Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; and many others).
Final aspect of the question is otaku culture itself. Some Christians I’ve encountered worry about getting involved with a subculture like otaku culture. It can been seen as a substitute for the church family.
Because violence is mostly acceptable in media today (which deserves being addressed by itself at some point), I’ll focus on these three facets to our question. Let’s return to the sexual component of anime first.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Scripture condemns illicit sexuality, which is why some Christians question their ability to watch anime. Lustful thoughts are equated with illicit action–that is, any sexual act outside of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Anime often features scenes that could encourage lust. But does it matter if the character is fictional? Well, the problem lies in how such thinking shapes your view. Lust isn’t simple sexual arousal. Lust is a mindset, a habit. Lusting for a fictional character encourages a mindset that goes against what Christianity attempts to foster: a mind of compassion and love that’s other-centered. Lust is a selfish mindset, concerned without one’s own pleasure. Of course, as I’ve suggested in my article about waifuism, an attraction toward a fictional character can help you develop compassion and a love that’s other-centered. It can help you step outside yourself, but Christianity and even Zen argue this should still be done to benefit other people. A waifu cannot benefit.
So a Christian can’t watch anime? Well, if you watch stories that encourage a lustful mindset within you, you shouldn’t be watching. However, if you are like me and fan-service doesn’t titillate (it irritates me if it does anything at all) then yes, you can watch those stories with a caveat. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul speaks about a similar situation with early Christians, namely is it okay to eat meat offered to idols? Paul said yes as long as it doesn’t bother your conscience or challenge the faith of those around you. If watching a fan-service laden anime will confuse or encourage those who struggle with lust to watch, then you shouldn’t be watching those stories.
The question of Shinto and Buddhist elements returns what Paul said of meat offered to idols. I don’t judge the matter. It is up to God to decide if Shinto and Buddhism is correct, not us. In Romans 2, Paul states how the law is written on people’s hearts, and only God can determine how a person stands.
Finally, we come to otaku culture itself. I view the culture as mostly harmless. At least, it’s no more harmless than, say, football culture. But as with anything, it can become an idol. No one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24). Otaku culture and anime is fine as a hobby, but when it becomes consuming–dominating your thoughts and the majority of your time, it becomes a god. Sports teams, work, video games, and just about anything can do this.
So as a Christian, is it okay to watch anime? It depends on you. Only you know your relationship with God and what triggers you have. You have to answer that question for yourself. Of course, I’m just focusing on anime and not hentai, which hentai certainly encourages lust. This post is different from what I usually do here on JP. I try to retain my librarian neutrality for the most part. Religion is a thorny topic. With my mix of Zen and a historical approach to Christianity, my view isn’t always mainstream. Would you like to see me periodically examine questions of anime from a more overt Christian perspective?
If you are a Christian and an anime fan, check out Beneath the Tangles, an anime blog that focuses on anime from a Christian perspective.