Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Concerning Haibanes and Atheists

I’m going to do something today that I haven’t done with this blog very often.  As my readers who have found this blog through the kindness of Charles who writes on Beneath the Tangles probably already know, I’m an atheist and I’ve already written a very general discussion about how I credit anime with helping me reach many philosophical conclusions.

Credit: Shawn Merrow

Atheism is important to me and I’m going to talk in detail about how Haibane Renmei, in spite of—or maybe because of—its religious themes influenced me during an important transition in my life.  I’m going to try and remain as general as possible describing the events of the anime that helped me become the person I am today, but the following paragraphs may contain minor spoilers, so you’ve been fairly warned.

Let me explain that my transition to atheism away from religion was not some overnight conversion or epiphany like so many religious experiences.  It was a slow, cumbersome and contemplative process that started when I was a 16 year old junior in high school.  At around this time I decided that I was going to give up organized religion and the church after reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” as part of literature class.

Go forward another two years when I started college and took a philosophy course.  After hearing the powerful quote from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” I decided to look more closely at what I believed compared to the facts of the world around me.  For reasons too numerous to go into here, I decided that I could no longer believe that a god existed.  However, I still hung onto the concept of an afterlife and spirituality.  I think I didn’t abandon this idea along with almost all of my other religious teaching right away because I have a romantic side that finds literal immortality enticing and I simply wanted to believe that some physical or at least metaphysical part of me would remain intact and go on forever.

However, this unsubstantiated belief disappeared as well after watching Haibane Renmei back around 2006 when I was starting my third year of college.  The first conclusion that I reached right away was that I—and for that matter nobody—had any knowledge of what the afterlife would be like.  Recounts of near-death experiences conflicted and were always heavily biased towards the religion of the person describing the vision.

What if the afterlife was literally like what happens in Haibane Renmei?  What if we are robbed of all memories of our previous life and trapped in a walled city with seemingly arbitrary rules only to be tested then ultimately move on to yet another stage of existence beyond that yet again?  More so than not wanting to experience an afterlife as it is depicted in the anime, I was horrified at my lack of knowledge—about everyone’s lack of knowledge—concerning what happens after death.  This warranted further investigation because not knowing is no excuse to simply make something up.  I begin to reevaluate what I realized to be a huge assumption about the nature of reality; I eventually realized it to be nothing more than the wistful thinking of men afraid to die.

Rakka pieces together what she can with the information available to her.

Another part of Haibane Renmei I absolutely loved was a kind of kinship I found with Rakka.  Neither of us understood our worlds in a way that we found satisfying.  But we both had the courage to ask questions and seek answers, no matter what that eventual truth might turn out to be.  And like Rakka, I wasn’t afraid to get into trouble along the way.  In our self-imposed separation from our former lives, we both found that the world is in some ways simpler than expected and in other ways stranger than we can possibly imagine.  Like the young haibane who lost her way and found herself again after getting mixed up in some deeply philosophical and twistedly existential conundrums, I too realized that I would rather accept an uncomfortable truth rather than indulge myself in pleasant lies.

In some ways I see the world of religion (Christianity in particular) as the Reki to my Rakka.  The masses of the world were born told they are fallen and sinful—trapped in an endless cycle of punishment generation to generation from which there is no escape.  To those who have the courage to stand up for themselves and ask for salvation in this world—in this life—the only life we know for sure we will ever have—I extend a hand to pull you off the tracks and out of the way of the train you can’t escape on your own.

Reki has shut herself off to reality and Rakka’s offer to help falls on the deaf ears of a closed mind.

I say to you—don’t believe what you’ve been told!  You are not responsible for the misdeeds of your ancestors (real or imagined).  You were born innocent and beautiful.  The only way someone can take away your dignity is if you allow it.  At the risk of getting too cute or preachy with my metaphors, I want to tell everyone who struggles with religion that you have a Rakka waiting in the wings (pun intended)—someone who will pull you out of the path of self-destruction in a moment’s notice.  But you have to take that first step yourself and call out to her before she can lend a helping hand.

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13 responses to “Concerning Haibanes and Atheists

  1. Marlin-sama September 11, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I’d very much like to know what you all think of this more conversational and philosophical commentary. Is it something you’d like to see me write more often? Tell me…do I make a compelling point and do my thoughts and feelings come across clearly? Or should I stick with what I know best and keep rating anime in my short and concise style? This is as much an experiment for me to try something new as it is a chance for my readership to influence the future of this blog. And of course, I want to hear your thoughts on the content of this article as well. It’s my hope this will inspire some fantastic conversation, so thanks for reading.

    • Adam Wednesdays September 12, 2012 at 11:15 am

      As much as I like a concise, standard review, I think part of the fun of reading these blogs is getting to know the people who are posting at them a little. And seeing as this was one of the better testimonial entries I’ve read in recent memory, I can’t say some more in the future would be a bad thing: you had something specific that you wanted to tell us that obviously meant something to you, and you did so in a clear yet still entertaining way.

      Thank you for sharing! And for being the last in a long line of people who keep convincing me that I really need to get around to watching “Haibane Renmei” (I’m really not sure how I still haven’t watched it yet).

  2. TWWK September 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I, of course, would love to see more posts like this, in addition to your typical series posts.

    Regarding your article, I will also mention that perhaps we don’t even have to agree on the idea of original sin to talk about the idea that man does and can do awful things – that we all can. I’ve mentioned this before, but look at Nazi Germany. It would be silly to declare that so many Germans were just particularly vile; the situation was right for a man like Hitler to come in and stir the evil capabilities that reside in all of us.

    And on a much, much lesser scale, we all do things that we intrinsically know are wrong, as in when our actions hurt each other.

    The OT reads as a long history of the bad things people do. But the NT, and the overall theme of the Bible, I think, has to do with the power of love – that we God will love us despite all the many things bad we do, and on the flip side, He loves us just the same, even if we’re the Ned Flanders type. And in response to that grace-filled love, we can do revolutionary things – we can get new hearts, and with a new heart, we can transform the world

    Unfortunately, I think many believe that Christianity should be used to “put people in their place” rather than to lift them up.

    • Marlin-sama September 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      I think the focus of my article here is not that people can and do evil. We don’t disagree on that. I wanted to focus on original sin and what I consider to be one the vilest concepts in Christianity. The belief that we are born sinful and that we inherited that sin from an ancestor that probably never existed. It would be as if your grandfather committed a crime, but you, your father, your children and their children are the ones who continue to serve the prison sentence.

      I do want to make something clear here. I don’t think Christians are vile or even Christianity as a whole is vile. But the belief that sin can be inherited (as happened for Reki) and that infants who have no concept of good or evil (as the haibanes who’ve lost the memories of their past lives) are sinful beings…frankly, it sickens me.

      • TWWK September 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm

        I agree that it’s a vile concept. It does seem sickening. It’s tough to agree with. We see little children, particularly infants, and see innocence – how could they be born with sin (though my experience tells me that even very, very young children will fight, claw, push, and disobey)?

        But here’s the the thing – you’re dealing with an idea that is both complicated and controversial. Here’s what I believe: all people sin. Sin separates us from God. God offers Jesus as a substitution for the punishment for sin so that we might be joined with Him again.

        But do we inherit sin? I’m not so sure – in fact, you’ve encouraged me to dig through some of my books at home and read more (I feel so ignorant about my faith right now). Here’s why I’m not so sure – when does our awareness of sin become significant? When does our awareness of the gospel become important? And if we inherit sin, how was is that Jesus did not when He was born of Mary, who I’m quite sure was a sinner like the rest of us?

        “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” doesn’t mean we’re born in sin. It depends on what “all” means.

        The idea that we’re born as sinners is an old one – but old does not necessarily mean right. Just like everything else, Christians must examine their beliefs. Thanks for bringing up this point and encouraging me to think more about this topic.

      • medievalotaku September 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm

        I don’t see the doctrine of Original Sin as being so vile. Original Sin is a terrible reality, but it’s still the truth. And we see evil everywhere in the world and throughout human history. At the time humanity contracted Original Sin, Adam and Eve made up the entire human race. So, when they sinned, the entire human race sinned through them, and mankind’s nature, our being created in God’s image and likeness, was wounded. (A Lutheran would say utterly destroyed, making man totally depraved. But, mere experience–people can still strive to be virtuous, even if they have not been baptized–makes this rather dubious.) Conversely, if they had not sinned, Original Justice, immortality of the body, and perfect communion with God would have been passed down to us instead of Original Sin, death of the body, and the closing of Heaven’s gates. Certainly, no one would be complaining if we had inherited the former condition! But, God is just, and sin must be punished.

        As for infants being sinful, they have inherited Original Sin, which means that, without baptism or God purifying them in some way without the reception this sacrament (as happens in the case of unbaptized infants), they cannot inherit heaven. As to whether they can properly sin, of course they can’t! One needs the use of reason–at least in a limited way–before one can sin. So, infants are sinful in that they have inherited Original Sin, which must be effaced through the fruits of Christ’s passion being applied to them; but, they are innocent (the Latin word innocens means “not doing harm”) since they cannot commit particular sins.

        But then, think of how loving God is. He who is perfectly happy and does not suffer in any way, decided to become a man and suffer for our sins–to suffer in the place of us who deserve to suffer–so that we might once again have heaven’s gates open to us. Also, the least suffering incurred by God, who is infinite and perfectly good, would have been sufficient to redeem the world. Instead, He wished to suffer every kind of hardship and suffering from being born in poverty, living as an orphan after the death of St. Joseph (in classical times, the death of the breadwinner caused so much suffering that it sufficed to make a child an orphan), and enduring the hatred and jealousy of the priests of His time and being misunderstood by the people during His three years of ministry. All this suffering culminated in His Excruciating Passion and Death, where he suffered so greatly that no mind can fathom it outside of God’s. And all this was to reconcile and beatify people who counted as His enemies and refused to follow His just commandments. All of which prompted St. Augustine to say: “O happy fall that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” God is just, but how much more is He merciful and compassionate!

      • Marlin-sama September 16, 2012 at 11:46 pm

        Sorry, medievalotaku. I’ve heard this take on the bible what seems like a million times. Remember, I used to be a Christian and I’ve read the same texts you have and reached a very different conclusion. I have a very concise and clean rebuttal to the dangerous certainty of everything you just said.

        “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” -Mark Twain

      • Nick September 17, 2012 at 11:12 am

        Marlin,

        Out of curiosity (I seem to be the opposite of you and Alex as I was an atheist who converted to Christianity after all my contemplation) have you ever read up on the Orthodox’s understanding of original sin? It is far more ontological and steers away from the juridical understanding a la St. Augustine. Just curious.

      • Marlin-sama September 17, 2012 at 11:49 am

        I have not. I’ve never even heard of it. But it sounds like more tired apologetics to me (and the mere fact that apologetics exist is a point against the religion in my score book–for if religion were true it shouldn’t need people to reconcile the gaps in its logic). I don’t want to get too deep into the philosophy of religion here because this is ultimately a blog about anime. But at the risk of committing the “No True Scotsman Fallacy,” I think there’s something inherently strange about an atheist converting to any religion.

        I can only speak for myself, but my atheism is a product of studying not only biblical texts (as well as a few glances at the books of other religions) but also science. Many may disagree with me on this, but what I’ve seen of modern culture–particularly in America–is that religion and science are antithetical thought processes. In my pursuit to know as many truths as possible and purge just as many false ideas I have come to the conclusion that atheism is the most logical stance on the god question as can be made at this point in our human understanding.

  3. Yumeka September 13, 2012 at 3:06 am

    Very insightful article. As an atheist myself, you brought up a lot of interesting points in Haibane Renmei that I (probably) noticed when I watched it (it’s been a few years).

  4. Pingback: Spirituality in the Anime Blogosphere: Godless Haibane, Saints for Anime, and Faith in Madoka «

  5. Nick September 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Marlin,

    The Eastern and Western differences on understanding original sin aren’t apologetics, but rather two strands of thought that largely diverged at St. Augustine — it’s a matter of history. Either way, was just curious. As for apologetics themselves, I hardly see that as a defeater for any kind of view, whether it be scientific or religious, as all things can be subject to scrutiny and in response are further elaborated upon. Early evolutionary theory had many things it had to work out before the neo-Darwinianism we have today (which, for the record, I do adhere to).

    You may indeed find it strange that I left atheism for Christianity, but like you said we must always be weary of the “no true Scotsman”. I was as atheist as they came, a full blown nihilist in morality and existential matters, and a determinist when it came to the question of free-will. It was ultimately my research into Eastern Orthodoxy (and it’s Patristic understanding of Scriptural Exegesis which is painfully missing in today’s American Christianity) along with the Shroud of Turin that converted me. If you are curious (and I stress that if as I know I now sound like the street preacher asking ‘are you saved’, which I emphatically do not wish to emulate) as to how my thought process worked on the Shroud, send me an e-mail and I can give you a link to an essay I wrote on it. I’m looking for criticisms from non-theists when it comes to the subject. Either way I agree with you, let’s try not to hijack this thread into a tangent on philosophy of theism and atheism.

  6. Pingback: Top Blog Posts About Anime and Religion in 2012: #11-20 «

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