Untangled: On Scrupulosity in Anime

In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers. Today’s submission comes from Patrick H.: My Name is Patrick H. I’m 21 years old, a...

In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers. Today’s submission comes from Patrick H.:

My Name is Patrick H. I’m 21 years old, a devout (or at least trying) Catholic and I’m a big fan of Anime. Actually, to be specific, I love story-telling in general. Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve enjoyed fables, books, movies, and mythology of all kinds. I’m a lit major and am trying to make a career out of my passion; I feel like stories are man’s way of trying to understand God and one another (look at classical mythology). However, I also have struggled with scrupulocity in the past. I’ve recently been suffering from an over-active conscience and am doubting my good judgement in regard to anime. Mainly, this comes from a fear of the Devil’s influence or that something that looks relatively harmless might be secretly occult especially knowing how severely the Devil can influence a Pagan culture (I know how ridiculous it sounds but it doesn’t change how I feel). I usually have good sense as to what’s dangerous and what’s not (which is why I stopped watching Hellsing) but many series with good and even somewhat christian themes seem dangerous or subversive to me (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, FMA, Avatar, Dragon Ball, One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, One Punch Man and even a few Miyazaki films are all among the various fandoms that I’ve enjoyed in the past but recently called into question). And it’s not just anime, even comic books (Marvel and DC), many fantasy games/movies and even Star Wars (Star Wars for God’s sakes!) have caused concern. It’s gotten to the point that I have a hard time trusting my friends who I know are good Catholics with cool heads and more reasonable consciences. Honestly, this is getting really annoying to be so worried all the time. I’ve looked at Christian film reviews but they don’t cover tv and anime. I’ve talked to a priest but it’s difficult to explain and getting answers especially with a lot of long-running series that he’s not familiar with. So I was hoping some fellow otaku theologians could give me advice. It’d be much appreciated if you all could tell some ways to either over-come my scrupulocity, or advise some way to regain my good judgement. Thank you, God Bless, and have a Merry Christmas.

-Sincerely, Patrick

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 Merry Christmas, Patrick!  Thank you for your question.  Many Christians who strive for perfection suffer from scrupulosity, and it is very annoying as I know from personal experience.  The affliction has its roots in pride, and the end goal of the temptation is for the person to develop a lax conscience.  (If everything is made to appear sinful, the thought that nothing is sinful begins to insinuate itself.)  It’s good that you’ve talked with a priest about it, since following the advice and instructions of one’s spiritual director is the surest way out of scrupulosity.  On this, all the saints are agreed, especially the Patron Saint against Scrupulosity, St. Alphonsus di Liguori.  In essence, once one has advice from a trustworthy source, one must refuse to doubt it, because doubting is endless and saps one’s charity and vitality.
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In your particular case, keep in mind that story-telling is one of those crossroads in which believers and non-believers meet.  There are many such crossroads, and it is a good thing, because God uses such meetings to draw people of the world into the City of God.  We are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) because of our union with Christ, who is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and from whom we draw our light: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4).  The sort of fruit which men produce for the love of God is varied.  In the case of literary persons like Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Bsp. Jean-Pierre Camus, Chretien de Troyes, J. R. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Miguel de Cervantes, Charles Dickens, Leon Bloy, Hilaire Belloc, Walker Percy, Andrew Klavan, and Flannery O’Connor, their novels and poems number among the fruits the good God desired them to produce.  Indeed, it might have gone very hard with them at the last judgment if they had forsaken the use of their talents!  (Or will go hard with them: Andrew Klavan is still alive. 🙂 )

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To a friend who suffered from scruples over the same subject, I referred him to Russell Kirk’s “The Moral Imagination.”  Russell Kirk, a conservative American Catholic, divides the sort of imagination one might find in a story into one of three categories: moral, idyllic, and diabolical.  The first two are more widespread than the last.  And, might we not call all the moral truth and goodness displayed in any work Christian?  Having its author in God?  Confer Tertullian: “Anima naturaliter Christiana–The soul is naturally Christian.”  That which is good in pagan works may also be found in Christian works.  But, one should avoid the diabolic imagination, which is very easy to recognize.  I talk about how to spot the diabolic imagination in this post I wrote on Concrete Revolutio.  Basically, nihilism and moral relativism are sure signs of the demonic at work.

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However, do we find moral relativism and nihilism in all anime or pagan literature?  Do we even find it in most?  No!  Because the great writers of the past had great ideals and great souls.  Lacking the light of divine revelation, they were mistaken in some things, but–this is very important–you, as a well-educated Catholic, know where they erred!  If one knows someone is arguing for a falsehood, one is not going to become convinced by their arguments.  Sure, that person may repeat them over and over again and very obnoxiously; but, the end result of their repetition of error is to confirm one’s stand in the right!  Perhaps, they have a subtle and convincing argument for an error?  In that case, apply to wise Christians who are able to show where the subtle argument fails.  The devil may have produced many errors among the pagans, but Christ has conquered the devil and does not let the humble be deceived.

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Indeed, encountering false ideas in literature and anime is often useful: by discerning the falsehood, the true stands out more clearly.  Also, encountering evil ideas and lies in literature can motivate one to write the truth more than only encountering the truth.  I wish you God’s grace in overcoming your scruples and your pride (the victory is one and the same), and please pray for me that I overcome my own pride.  Thank you!

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Medieval Otaku is essentially a bookworm. His greatest loves are writing, anime, literature, history, religion, and foreign and ancient language, especially Japanese, Latin, and French. He hopes to become a full-time novelist one day, though each day offers endless ways to distract him from this happy goal.
9 Comments on this post.
  • Patrick H.
    29 December 2015 at 8:58 am

    Thanks very much, I appreciate the advice, especially about not doubting trustworthy sources

    • medievalotaku
      3 January 2016 at 12:14 pm

      You’re welcome! I was especially happy to write the post as I also suffer from scruples. The advice in the first paragraph is pretty much paraphrasing St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus di Liguori. The rest of the article was my own observations on how scrupulosity over reading or watching certain stories may be dealt with.

  • David A
    29 December 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Patrick, Merry Christmas!

    I’m Catholic too.

    You can follow some guidelines, for example:

    To avoid series where evil is depicted in a positive way, depictions of occult material (authentic depictions).

    Anti-catholic shows (you stopped watching Hellsing. Good. Besides the anti-catholicism it has other bad contents).

    Now, besides the risk mentioned by Medieval Otaku, regarding a lax conscience, I guess you are focusing mostly in one issue regarding anime, and is possible that you are missing others.

    For explaining to a Priest, try to dissect the series in elements, like the “tags” section of anidb (a useful site to check before watching a series), that way is easier.

    There is something that could happen too, and is that sometimes, attachment to a fandom or series, can make a person hesitate in stopping being part of it, if the production is truly problematic (and not a case of scruples). Something useful, is to replace it with a sustitute series, or, better yet, to try to make your own.

    • medievalotaku
      3 January 2016 at 12:39 pm

      The interesting thing about anime is that most shows are mixed with good and bad. The shows which are obviously bad are the easiest to avoid. Hellsing started off entertaining until it became obviously bad by the time the Neo-Nazis storm London. (That is, obviously bad to me.) Cowboy Bebop, One Piece, Naruto, FMA, Wolf’s Rain, Avatar, and One Punch Man have some good and some bad to them. But, I think the good outweighs the bad in most of them. (I take exception to the Big Three, mostly because they are way too long.) The only works which are an unmixed good (though, perhaps, not an unmixed good for everyone because of a lack of learning might lead to misunderstandings on part of the reader) are the Bible and the writings of the saints. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to have a canonized manga artist or animator, but that would be cool!

      • Patrick H.
        5 February 2016 at 12:35 am

        Hey, it’s me again, Patrick. I’ve been doing better; thanks again for the article, it has helpful to know your opinion, especially since I can see you’re a God-fearing man who understands my perspective. It’s funny, because usually when I bring up this sort of concern to othera, people automatically think I’m talking about Harry Potter, not manga and comics… On a related note, I actually do enjoy some long-running shonen stories (yes, the big three), but I can also see why they get tedious for some people after 700 episodes. Anyway, though it was mostly paranoia, honestly, there was the little things that were catalysts for these scruples in many of the works (the alchemic symbols in FMA, The Old fortune-teller woman from One Punch Man, the third eye in… well many different things, etc…) But the more I think about it, the more I’m interested in what you said about Nihilism. Ironically, many people might call Cowboy Bebop a Nihilistic work since it raises so many questions but provides few answers (and the same can be said of Wolf’s Rain to some extent). But I never got that feeling. For example, when I watched something like Watchmen, it gave off a very hollow feeling, because it definitively states that there is no meaning to life. I never got that feeling when watching Cowboy Bebop or Wolf’s Rain. I feel like they were saying that there is a meaning to life, but they didn’t say specifically, rather encouraging their audience to search for it. Your thoughts?

  • dmdutcher
    29 December 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Take this with a grain of salt.

    The thing is, you can’t reason with scrupulosity. It’s kind of like anger. The worst thing to do with someone being angry is to give them logical reasons why they shouldn’t be angry. Instead you tell them to cool down. With scrupulosity, you have to realize that you’re in the mood and your mind is working against you, and just stop thinking about the subject. Go do something else.

    It’s because it isn’t rational..it’s a quirk of your mind, a way your mind runs in a rabbit trail. You have to realize that, because sometimes trying to logically disprove a rabbit trail isn’t happening. It’s irrational to distrust people or assume you can be influenced by books like they were the necronomicon. But because its your mind, all you can do is realize when the scruples attack and work with them.

    • medievalotaku
      3 January 2016 at 12:25 pm

      That is all very true. Concerning that, St. Francis de Sales once told an anecdote about when he was near a bee farm and suddenly found a many bees on his person. He was about to swat them away when a farmer told him to let them alone because he would not get stung as long as he didn’t touch the bees. St. Francis refrained and left the farm without being stung once. Scrupulosity is like those bees: the more we swat at them, the more we get stung. The only thing to do is ignore scruples and follow the advice of wiser people on topics which incite our scruples. Of course, the Latin adage “facile dicere, difficile facere” (easy to say, hard to do) applies here in spades.

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