As many of my readers know, I enjoy watching shows with strong nationalistic leanings. The main reason being that I think nationalism is:
A. One of the most destructive ideologies in human history;
B. Fascinating, as are all human belief systems;
C. Something I once fell for; and
D. Fucking stupid.
Some of the anime I enjoyed watching the most include such nationalistic classics as Gasaraki, Gigantic Formula, Gunbuster, and even shows as subtle with their nationalist messaging as Gate and Mahouka. The other day I was discussing the nationalism in Seikaisuru Kado with Marina, and she encouraged me to write a blog post. So here we are.
Nationalism in my Youth
From as early as I can remember, I recited the pledge of allegiance daily both at school and at the Christian camp my family went to each summer. At the time, I didn’t think much of it.
Later, after I moved to Texas, the enlightened Texas legislature decided to make all the students also recite the pledge of allegiance to Texas every day. (Many people— including, if not especially, other Americans— do not believe me when I tell them this. It is a fact. This happened.) This was not a popular policy in Austin, where I lived. Many of the teachers actively discouraged students from participating. I also refrained. I lived in Texas, but I didn’t feel any particular loyalty to it.
But it got me thinking about the pledge of allegiance to the American flag as well. I had done it since such a young age that I’d never really thought about it.
Fun fact: shown above is the original salute that accompanied the pledge.
Why should we make children recite a loyalty oath at school every day? That is fucked up. And in it, we say that the United States of America is “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” What a joke. Liberty and justice for all? And “under God”? What happened to that separation of church and state? And more importantly, what blasphemy against God! (more on this later)
I also engaged in many of the other patriotic rituals accompanying life in America. In elementary school I went on a field trip to the Texas Capitol, where I met then-Governor Bush (my parents still tease me about how I came home and told them he encouraged me to “Do drugs and don’t read”). And I had the usual liturgy of fourth of July fireworks, “supporting the troops” (what a phrase!), national anthems at sporting events, flags everywhere, including in churches behind the altars, and a general certainty that America is and always will be the greatest nation on Earth.
All this occurred as the Supreme Court handed the presidency to Bush and America invaded Iraq.
Growing Up with Perpetual War
The invasion of Iraq occurred as I was entering into political awareness and was a formative event for me. I vaguely remember watching on television as the reporters were holed up in a hotel, with the bright lights and sharp noises from the anti-aircraft fire. We knew it would lead to death and destruction, but everyone was excited about it in those adrenaline-filled days, hoping that our country would be victorious. And I remember reading in the following days about the reasons for the invasion and being utterly bewildered why anyone would possibly think it was a good idea. We had just spent a lengthy unit studying the Vietnam War in school (my teacher was a Colonel in the army during the war, who better to teach children that war is the stupidest thing ever?) and came away with the general impression that America had learned something from that. Apparently not.
I recall Cindy Sheehan camping for days outside Bush’s ranch while much of the nation reviled her. I recall the transparent lie after transparent lie that no one seemed to care about. (I thought it was bad then… and now…?) I recall how our hometown heroes, the Dixie Chicks, were despised and boycotted throughout the entire country for admitting they were ashamed the President of the United States was from Texas. I, of course, felt the same way. Was I also a traitor? I recall the disgusting torture throughout the war on terror and especially at Abu Ghraib which was brushed under the rug, its instigators left unpunished to this day. I recall how everyone publicly lamented and worshiped the coffins of soldiers who returned, even as they supported the policies which led to their deaths. Secretly, I thought that the American soldiers were uniformed murderers, if at best unwilling ones. And most vividly of all, I recall how no one spared a single thought for the countless more Iraqis who were killed, by American soldiers, by American guns, by the American people, and by me.
Escape from Civil Religion
As many of my regular readers are aware, I am a Christian. And I was taught from a young age (albeit not in church) that America was a holy nation, a city on a hill. A nation “under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Fortunately I was born into a more liberal religious tradition which, although it utterly failed to combat this narrative, at least had the decency to be uncomfortable with it.
As a child, of course, most of the details went over my head. I simply had the vague idea that God had “blessed” America, because we were a more moral and free nation that any other. But one thing made me particularly uncomfortable, even as a child. The idea of hell. Even if my own church glossed over it, I had absorbed the idea from the popular culture that non-Christians would spend an eternity suffering in hell. This, of course, included most non-Americans, who probably deserved it.
But my father is Jewish.
I did not find it particularly appropriate that he, or my other relatives, should spend an eternity suffering in hell. One day, I asked my pastor at church about it.
He brought me into his office and closed the door. He told me that it was the vocation of God to judge, and of man to be judged. That no human could know the judgement of God, and to think otherwise is pride. That God is love; and if I, a middle school boy, thought I was more loving than God, then I was woefully mistaken. Later I would continue to read the Bible and realize that the popular notion of hell I had been taught was wholly absent.
A year later, I met a retired missionary who had spent her adult life running a Christian school in India. She told me that many missionaries share what she called a “dirty little secret”: a belief in universalism, the idea that all people will be saved. I had never heard of this before. She told me that she didn’t give a fuck if she converted anyone. She simply wanted the children she taught to receive a good education and rise out of poverty.
The next year, I went with a group from my church to a neighborhood right on the border with Mexico, where we were going to spend a week helping them construct a church building. Most of the people living there were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. I feel like being an “illegal” immigrant didn’t have quite the stigma attached to it back then that it does now, but even if it did, the importance escaped me. I was more nervous because this would be my first time interacting on a large scale with “non-Americans” who didn’t speak English. I had the vague impression that they would be dirty and mean, and many of them would be nasty criminals. It would be a dangerous trip.
After a few hours, I quickly realized that my worries were ridiculous. Sure, they were poor, and didn’t speak English, and lived in used cars or houses made of cinderblock. But while we had little to offer them, they welcomed us into their homes, greeted and hugged us enthusiastically, and prepared a delicious feast for us every night. I felt as safe walking the streets of this destitute, poverty-stricken border town as I felt in my home. As we prayed, worshiped, and shared communion with them, I began to understand what it meant that the apostles had spoken in tongues and proclaimed the gospel to all the ends of the Earth.
All of these experiences led me to study the Bible and pray for the next decade. I read how the “holy nation” of Israel continued time and time again to do the most despicable things in the name of God, just as America did. I saw the concern for foreigners throughout the law. I studied the ten commandments: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”; “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images”; and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” as every day at school I pledged allegiance to a flag, claiming it was “under God” (also, Jesus’ injunction not to take oaths). I read how Elijah had gone to heal none of his countrymen, but a destitute foreigner. And again and again, the prophets raged against a “holy nation” that God abhors due to their oppression of the poor and needy.
I read the gospels, and saw how, despite the popular belief in America, the empire was right to kill Jesus. He was indeed a threat. No one can serve two masters. One can serve God or serve America, but not both. And I thought on how I was taught that Christianity was “apolitical”. What a load of bullshit. I read another remarkable book, the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, I saw how the apostles proclaimed the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. How Peter ate unclean things. And how there was nothing to prevent anyone from being baptized, since they were all filled with the same Holy Spirit.
Finally, I read the book of Revelations. I realized that America is not Jerusalem, as is popularly believed in America. America is Babylon.
To College with the Infidel
I went to a college with a large number of international students. As a result, probably half of my friends in college were not from America.
I quickly learned that nationalism was not specific to America. Everyone I met thought their nation was the best, and superior to America in every way. I became so sick of hearing the thousandth lecture on the superiority of the metric system. What’s more, they thought their countries were sinless. They had always been oppressed but never the oppressor. (I must give the Europeans credit here: they did not share this particular belief. But unfortunately they were convinced that the imperfections in their nations did not extend to the present day.)
The Chinese students were particularly interesting: they were convinced that their country was superior because it had the world’s longest 4000 year history. To which I honestly had no idea where to even begin in my response. Also the usual suspects of “Tibet has always been part of China”, “Taiwan is part of China”, “the Tibetans are all grateful that we have civilized them”, etc.
Also, I learned that foreigners believe that their countries are more enlightened and aren’t filled with racists like America is. Of course, most of these countries don’t actually have people of other races in them… I had one amazing conversation with a European, where she told me in the same breath that Americans were all racists, unlike Europeans, and that Roma are all thieves who stink and should not be allowed to have children. And I learned that unlike Americans, Asians tend not to even be embarrassed about their racism.
Every single foreign student believed that their country’s cuisine was vastly superior to America’s. They would tell me that their cuisine was so much more diverse than America’s. That their cuisine was older and more refined, since we were such a young country, we had just copied everyone else’s. (Of course, their cuisine usually included potatoes, corn and other ingredients which… came from America…) Invariably, it turned out that they were convinced that American cuisine consisted of hamburgers and fried chicken. Everything else was imported from some other country. I had some very entertaining experiences taking these people to Jewish delis, barbecue restaurants, and Tex-Mex restaurants. They wouldn’t recognize a single dish on the menu, but would still maintain that they knew all there was to know about American cuisine.
Eventually I developed a ritual. Whenever someone told me they hated American food, I would invite them to my house and cook them the most American meal I could come up. Macaroni and cheese, with cornbread and pumpkin pie. Not exactly a traditional pairing but whatever. Here’s what would happen:
- (Asians only) wtf is macaroni?
- You eat NOODLES with CHEESE????!
- No, I’m not going to eat this. This is disgusting.
- Fine, I’ll at least have a bite, but I know I’ll hate it.
- (sees the macaroni) Oh my god is this really edible?
- (three servings of macaroni and cheese later) Hmm… that was better than I expected.
- (the next day) Please send me the recipe.
And after all this, they would still maintain that they didn’t like American food, and that it only consisted of hamburgers and fried chicken. They were proud of their ignorance. Most of them would eventually came around, but it took time. Years of lived experience.
In summary, I learned that nationalism is still present and pervasive. It is by no means specific to America. Although it is often not as powerful a force as it once was, it continues to be a force to divide peoples and cultures. And keep in mind that the people I engaged with were among the most well-educated and intelligent in their respective countries. Meeting these people from other countries, seeing their own versions of nationalism, made it clear to me that nationalism was a hollow pride in the place of one’s birth, something one has no control over, held up by a stubborn prideful ignorance. The last vestiges of respect I had for American nationalism faded away. I was born in America, and I want the best for my country and the people who live there. But if that includes the oppression of others, as it often does when nationalism is invoked to short-circuit empathy and logical reasoning, then no thanks. I’ll pass on blind devotion to my country.
Nationalism in Anime
“Isn’t this an anime blog? Will this guy ever talk about anime?” Fine. If I have to.
In college I began watching anime. One of the most interesting things to me was how, although it shared a lot in common with American culture, many of the ideas I thought were universal were very specific to my own culture. Some of the first anime I watched involved Christianity: D. Grayman, Trigun, Chrono Crusade, Ruroni Kenshin, and Trinity Blood. And… yeah. Very different from my own culture lol.
One of the things I found especially interesting was the nationalism in anime. Compared to talking with other people, this nationalism came across as especially cartoonish. Well, it was a cartoon, but you know what I mean.
And it often involved cases of Japan triumphing over those evil, foolish Americans. Which all my foreign friends at least had the decency to not actually say out loud. I particularly enjoyed Gigantic Formula. The nationalism is particularly transparent towards the end, but it’s actually a really good show. It does have the message that Japan is the best, but it still treats the characters from other countries with a great deal of respect and humanity.
Then there were the shows that glorified the Japanese empire from WWII, such as Gunbuster and Gasaraki (if I remember correctly? been a long time since I watched this one). I couldn’t believe that people in this day and age would actually defend the Japanese empire. But I supposed that America still had people crying about the lost cause of the confederacy, so why not.
Still, to me the nationalism came across as utterly ridiculous.
And keep in mind that this was much more subtle than later shows I saw such as Mahouka.
And I realized that American nationalism was no different.
Should People Watch Nationalist Anime?
Absolutely. The world would be a better place if all Americans were forced to watch Mahouka. While they would be bored out of their minds, maybe they would begin to question their own nationalism, which often isn’t all that different from the nationalism in Mahouka.
I think something is gained by confronting horrible ideas. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. I personally gained a lot by reading of the horrible genocides in the Bible, the unabashed racism of Lovecraft, and the sexism of too many shows and authors to count. And I once read an article about how Huckleberry Finn was banned from a school library for use of the word “nigger”. What the fuck?
Finally, onto what prompted this entire post. While nowhere near the levels of Mahouka’s “eradicate them all” mentality, Seikaisuru Kado also suffers from some insidious nationalism.
The entire premise of the show is that only Japan is fit to receive the advanced technology from the aliens. The reason being that they are the only ones who would share it with others. That they are a holy, superior nation.
A metaphor based on sharing bread is central to the show:
According to the show, not everyone would share the bread. Only those who have more than they could possibly eat would share the bread. Japan, as one of the world’s most prosperous countries, can afford to be more generous.
While this is a much softer form of nationalism than Mahouka’s subtle “kill all the Chinese” philosophy, it is a form of nationalism nevertheless. Central to Seikaisuru Kado is the idea that Japan is a more generous nation than any other. And therefore a morally superior nation. This is the same idea, albeit in a different form, that it took me most of my life to reject. The idea that you and your neighbors are better than other people because of where you are born. That is a ridiculous notion that in the past few hundreds of years has led to enormous bloodshed.
(And as an aside, from my experience, this bread metaphor is ass-backwards. I have found the poor to be infinitely more generous than the wealthy.)
23 thoughts on “Thoughts on Nationalism in Anime (Inspired by Seikaisuru Kado)”
Interesting post. As a Vietnamese, I guess I should say something. In my country, I have not meet a single person IRL who truly question nationalism. At best, they kind of ignore it. However, there’s a weird mass inferiority complex:many people believe Vietnam is way worse than Western nations in everything. I find this as dangerous as the blind proudness. Because when people believe that they’re inherently worse than others, there’s no drive to improve things.
Now, I have access to Japanese, Chinese, American, the nationalism(s) in their show is definitely interesting. Here’s my super simplistic generalization:
– American media seems to like the image of strength: an American hero who’s powerful enough to punch the bad guys(every Hollywood blockbuster). Watching their film about Vietnam war’s amusing though. The version of the war in Vietnam is quite different from the one in America. For us, America is just another temporary enemy, beside the french, japanse, chinese, mongol… In a way, “Vietnam war” impacts Americans more than Vietnamese.
-Chinese believe in the superior harmony: Chinese hero who work well together with other nations, spreading his awesome culture of peace.(like most of wuxia series).
-The Japanese believe in their great peacefulness as well, but a more passive form. A Japanese hero has to do the right thing even when he don’t want to, because everyone else (from other nations) is too aggressive, too dumb, or too flawed to complete the task. The hero is always victim of circumstances(just watch any anime ever. Or Anno’s Godzilla film).
Oh, and about religion, I’m atheist, but lean toward Buddhism and Taoism, neither believe in God. However, I do like Tolstoy’s version Christian ideology: “it is pride that causes error and discord among men. As with the sun, so it is with God. Each man wants to have a special God of his own, or at least a special God for his native land. Each nation wishes to confine in its own temples Him, whom the world cannot contain….. Therefore, let him who sees the sun’s whole light filling the world, refrain from blaming or despising the superstitious man, who in his own idol sees one ray of that same light. Let him not despise even the unbeliever who is blind and cannot see the sun at all”
I want to read the Bible sometimes, but it’s freaking long, and there’s like thousands different translation in English.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. You’re right in that the students who come to American universities, or whose media I watch, tend to be wealthy and powerful countries. I imagine that as you say nationalism exists in less powerful countries as well, but takes different forms.
I mostly agree with your thoughts on different countries, but the Japanese nationalism isn’t always passive and peaceful. That tends to be the strain most common today. But there also remains a very violent side to Japanese nationalism from people who glorify the pre-WWII Japanese empire. See shows such as Mahouka and Gunbuster.
Perfect quote from Tolstoy. 🙂
If you want to read the Bible, I recommend you go with the NRSV and skip the boring parts. I’d start with Genesis until you get sick of it, then Jonah, Ecclesiastes, as much of Isaiah and Psalms as interest you, Luke, Acts, Romans, and Revelations. Those are all pretty short. Then go back and just look at any books that sound interesting to you.
Thank you so much for writing this! I didn’t expect you to go to such lengths when I initially proposed you write about nationalism after our Twitter discussion on Kado. I find your background and experiences with religion and nationalism fascinating, particularly since I feel a bit familiar with both having grown up in the Baptist church among extremely nationalist peers. I moved away from both around high school and separated entirely in college.
A large part of what pushed me away from nationalist views even from an early age was my experiences traveling to other countries. Like you note, almost everywhere I went set themselves at the top. An exception would perhaps be the Philippines–the areas my Filipino family live in are pro-USA to the point of deeming any goods made by them as superior to any other.
I don’t hold any particular pride for being an American, other than a fondness for my home states (Northwest!) and appreciation for the freedoms that we currently have. There’s a lot to still push for, so much more we could do as a country to better not only us, but humanity as a whole. I guess that makes me a globalist. I still start on a local scale, but do so with the intentions of doing what I can at home what I wish for everyone else around the globe–lead by example with the available means.
Are you caught up on Kado, yet? I just watched episode eight and feel that the attitude towards Japan’s place in the world has shifted a bit. I still subscribe to the belief that the show isn’t promoting Japan as the best or most responsible country in the world; I see it as representation of one ideal for humanity. Take that literally or metaphorically as you will. The eighth episode looks to pull away from that view a bit and almost has both the protagonist and myself wondering if it was such a good idea to trust an entity that claims no personal gain in humanity’s growth.
Glad you enjoyed it! I wasn’t expecting this to end up so long either haha. 🙂
I am caught up. I think the recent twist makes the show a lot better from the perspective of not being extremely boring without any conflict. But I don’t think it changes the show’s nationalism, which has never been challenged. It still has the good alien being a Japanese woman. And seeing your country as representative as an ideal for humanity I would definitely consider nationalism.
Thank you for your insight into religion, and nationalism, etc. Your post gave me a lot to mentally digest; especially the nationalism bit due to being from Western Canada which tends to take a more laid back approach to to patriotism.
Yeah, I remember when I visited Toronto there were as many American flags as Canadian ones haha.
We have a lot of differences, I think, when it comes to faith, but I think one thing we share (among probably a great many others) is in regards to the danger of the conservative/political ideology that pulls in Christianity as if this religion is one with it. I grew up in a fairly conservative culture (far from Austin haha), and as kids are wont to do, accepted it as right. My dad is in the military, so I worshiped the armed forces and the United States and freedom as just below God, without realizing that I was being idolatrous.
I feel nowadays that it’s perhaps my mission in life to break this cultural identity that says their way is God’s way because their culture is best (generally Korean in this instance) in college students at my church. It’s a hefty proposition. And at the same time, I’m trying to learn grace for those that grew up as I did. I’ve been blessed to break free from a lot of what pulled me down, but only because I was led along a path that gave me such freedom. I’m not smart enough, disobedient enough, curious enough to have done so on my own volition. There are so many people like me, who love their apple pie more than their Jesus, who I want to reach because THEY ARE ME. But this also is a difficult mission, not only because down home folks are so stubborn (as stubborn, strangely enough, as super liberal folks), but because I lean toward judging them so harshly, forgetting that they need love, too.
Thanks for this post – it was a wonderful read. Let me know if you’re ever around here again and we can catch up! So many new BBQ places have popped up since you’ve been gone (and in fact, great restaurants in general – Austin is now a great foodie destination!). Take care!
I think a lot of churches struggle with this. Most don’t even recognize it as an issue. My church in Austin was probably much more liberal than yours, but it still had a conservative subgroup that was more patriotic. Most people (probably wisely) wanted to avoid conflict. There was an effort to stay away from “politics”. I remember writing for the devotional booklet I was given explicit instructions to avoid politics. But Christianity is all about politics. Jesus spent most of his time talking about the kingdom of God. It’s literally called the *kingdom* of god, Jesus got executed by the government, and people think it isn’t political…
I’m glad to hear you’re helping the college students at your church with this. 🙂 I had the few people I mentioned but also another mentor who helped me with this, and just generally thinking about the bible and religion critically. It’s hard to change minds but I hope that with some exposure and the grace of god they will come around in their own time.
Yes I will probably be back around Christmas! Can’t wait for some barbecue!!!
A few additional locations have sprouted up over the last few years, including Austin locations of some reknowned Texas joins, Cooper’s and Black’s. WORTH THE TRY.
Great post, but at a point I get the impression your definition of nationalism gets very broad. Your mention of cooking made me laugh because I’m Italian and ready to bet a lot of the people you talked to were as well – we’re fussy as hell when it comes to cooking. But funnily enough, I wouldn’t say that Italians are very much nationalistic at all, in the sense that I intend nationalism – which isn’t to say that they don’t have any sort of short-sighted, self-centred beliefs. For me ‘nationalism’ is the very specific brand of pride in, well, one’s own nation-state. Italians don’t really have that. They have a hodge-podge of local and regional cultures – often in conflict, we call that phenomenon “campanilism”, form the Italian word for “belltower”, implying for each church and belltower there is one different faction ready to defend THEIR culture against everyone else. I mean, in the city of Siena a yearly horse race is ran where city neighbourhoods compete in a bitter rivalry that lasts since the Middle Ages! Compared to all that, Italy itself – as a State and even more as a Republic – is insignificantly young, and the peak of its nationalism, Mussolini’s fascism, would have been a grotesque farce had it not been a tragedy.
In one way, this kind of attachment to one’s own customs, language, culture, whatever, is a far older and almost natural sentiment borne out of simple rejection of the new and familiarity with the old. It can lead to nasty effects too, true, but it’s not the same as nationalism – which is instead a carefully artificially crafted sentiment that tries to spin those feelings into a coherent motivation and a reason for unity under a political motive. Tribalism is the raw energy; nationalism is its refined, channelled form.
You’re right, a lot of what I’ve written applies more broadly than only to nation-states. Tribalism is a better term. I experienced similar levels of bitterness over things as ridiculous and inconsequential as high school football games.
I like how you phrased it: “Tribalism is the raw energy; nationalism is its refined, channelled form.” Nationalism is the more dangerous but tribalism is what makes it possible.
I guess if I were to reflect on my own distaste for nationalism, I suppose it comes out of my discomfort with the generally traditional masculinity that American nationalism seems to inhabit as a matter of course. I just never identified with it, so it rejected it all together. This also led to me not really having all that much love for America as a country, even if I appreciate the benefits of living here. It’s not as if this place is heaven on earth; in some ways the good serve to score the horrific and ugly aspects of the country even more. Hard to feel superior to other places because of that.
I watched GATE all the way through because its nationalism was so stupid that it made me feel smart watching it. Not my proudest moment but we can’t all be saints like you.
Also, I liked Zankyou no Terror’s take on nationalism through the lens of dissatisfied youth (since that’s me), especially since it implicates Japanese nationalism through the cudgel of American world-wide “justice.”
Finally, as always, your forays into long-form writing are an incredible delight.
American nationalism does tend to be very masculine, I suppose due to the focus on soldiers which were traditionally female. Honestly this is the least of my problems with it— a feminist nationalism wouldn’t be any better. But hey, kudos to rejecting it, for whatever reason!
Good point on Zankyou no Terror— I only mentioned the examples of anime that attempt (and usually fail) to showcase nationalism in a positive light. Another good example that immediately comes to mind is one of my favorites, Simoun. One of the most brutal rejections of nationalism in anime.
My long posts always tend to be the best ones, since the number of words I write tends to be directly proportional to the amount I have to say. 😛
But the metric system IS objectively superior…
Yeah, some might tout it out of a generic “you Mmurricans are SO DUMB” feeling but when push comes to shove, it is a superior practical tool, just like we couldn’t do the kind of math we do every day as easily if we had to use Roman rather than Arab numerals. Some systems simply work better to manipulate numbers quickly and without errors.
Sure, it’s better in some cases. But when you’re telling someone the temperature outside it really doesn’t matter whether your scale is based on the boiling point of water. But mostly, when I’ve met hundreds of non-Americans, and 80% of them feel the need to lecture me on the superiority of the metric system, it gets old fast. 🙂
Although I am not a nationalist and share many views with you, there are dangers in internationalism such as how utopian views allow Muslim extremism to be equated with pacifist ideologies. Internationalism seems to have several forms: globalization, world peace, deregulation, multi-culturalism, etc. It’s important to define what we believe in.
You can avoid the problem of swearing intolerance towards intolerance. There is a kind of willful ignorance that leads toward hostily and violence towards outsiders which is threat to civilization. I don’t like exceptions, but if you think about it, loving liberty does not mean accepting cultures that are illiberal and that want to destroy you. To accept this you have to admit that certain cultures do actually have better values, and you don’t have to be a nationalist to see that certain values are more efficient, or more logical, more likely to lead to self-improvement, or empathetic, (or let’s just say more Nordic.)
9/11 was a bit more formative for me than the Iraqi War. Invading Iraq may have been a failure and the pretexts may have been lies, but I feel the older members of the American public were ok with it because they knew ever since the Gulf War that he was an illiberal tyrant. If the invasion and occupation had succeeded, and a feudal society had embraced democracy, we would be celebrating the spread of the universal value of liberty and enlightenment values.
I am also no longer a Christian. Though I wish more Christians thought like you and believed all will automatically be spared from hell, I think you should be prepared to accept the possibility the religion is founded on a pack of lies. You can keep your values and empathy without having to believe that real miracles were documented in the bible, or that the bible is the best source of philosophy, or that Christianity is the best religion. You have watched enough anime and been in Japan enough to have caught glimpses of how Japanese find an ephermeral lifetime that ends beautiful and sufficient. You know about their friendlier gods and godesses in anime.
And you must know from the Old Testament that the Christian God (Yahweh) was a genocidal war god because of the flood or when he orders the Israelites to kill whole tribes for him. You can recognize the sanction of violence even if you haven’t researched how he evolved from a pantheon of gods in an earlier Caananite, Zoroastrian, or Sumerian religions.
Thomas Jefferson even called Yahweh a demon when he said, “I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.”
People believe in religion mainly for emotional reasons. I think It’s mainly out of fear, of death or hell. It’s said that you can’t reason people out of what they need to believe and that they will reject all evidence and logic out of desperation. Still, it would honestly please me if someday I read your blog and see a post where you overcome this cognitive dissonance with the contradictions of embracing religion.
As a longtime reader of your blog, I really appreciated this post. I’ve always enjoyed the way you link personal themes in with the shows you watch, which makes the reviews worth reading even if I’m not watching the show. I can’t say I agree with everything here, but this is the kind of content that has me keeping up with this blog in the first place so I really can’t complain. (A couple years back you actually inspired me to read William Stringfellow’s An Ethic for Christians).
Perspective-wise, I think we come from very different places. I grew up in a very liberal environment; so many of my peers in high school seemed content to just complain about the way things were without actually getting off their asses to exert themselves one way or the other. This pushed me to a more conservative stance and I wound up joining the Army. That hardship made me reevaluate my feelings on war and patriotism. I think that if more than the 1% of Americans served in the military rather than repeating bland platitudes about supporting the troops we’d have less of a stomach for armed conflict.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of civil religion because the world constantly assures us that we can live without God. The greatest failing of American Christianity is spreading this by either driving people away from the faith or feeding into the “one nation under God” fantasy. We still have the need to be part of something greater than ourselves, so we find an easy one—you don’t need to work to be part of a country, you just are—and roll with it. Every so often we feel guilty about our lives, and without Christ’s salvation we have no hope so we learn to go numb and pretend there isn’t a problem.
I wish I had some good answers or rebuttals to the stuff you brought up here, but I really don’t. I’m proud of my service, even if I have daily doubts. The Army has made me a better person; most of the people I knew from back home who hate what I do don’t seem to give a damn beyond feeling good about themselves and fitting into their social groups. Maybe I’m no better, even if I try to be. I think God has a calling for me beyond the military, but right now it’s just who I am and I do the best I can with what I have.
Sorry for the long comment. I’ve been reading this blog for years and posts like this always make me think, so I felt it deserved a response.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I’m really delighted I inspired you to read William Stringfellow— getting people to read that and watch Simoun makes this entire blogging project worthwhile. 🙂
Agreed, it is very easy to fall into the civil religion trap. No one questions it and you know that if you do in public, it will make a lot of people very, very angry. It’s fine writing this anonymously on the Internet. But if I went to my old church and posted this on the bulletin board… oh dear. This results in people not even able to recognize what is happening since it is never even mentioned or questioned. It would also help if we had a better theology of salvation— people think it is about life after death, which is barely in the Bible. If you read the Stringfellow book you know what I’m talking about. 🙂
And to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything at all to be ashamed of for serving in the military. It’s a job that, sadly, has to be done. We live in a democratic country where we all, soldiers and civilians, share in the responsibility for how that power is used.