Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Is it Okay to use Anime as an Escape?

Last semester, I read through Faith and Pop Culture, a short Bible study put together by Christianity Today. It contains eight articles about engaging pop culture as Christians. It doesn't cover anime, of course, since it targets a broader audience, but the authors' opinions about watching film and TV line up with a lot of my opinions about watching anime. I often read with a grin on my face as I wrote "Yes!" and drew stars next to good points.

This semester, I've begun reading Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa. So far, I've only read the preface through the first chapter. I agree with a lot of things he says. Still, Godawa makes some big claims, so I think over his points before I nod my head.

Both of these books, as well as one of my favorite professors, encourage Christians to be discerning while they watch movies and TV. They don't say we shouldn't watch anything with "bad" stuff in it - far from it! But they encourage us to avoid "cultural gluttony," as Brian Godawa calls it. Basically, don't consume loads of movies and other pop culture without thinking.

Okay, I think. That's sounds good. But what do I do when I need a break from thinking? Sometimes, it feels like my mind is trapped on a treadmill without a "stop" button. In those cases, I can't sleep, thinking practically hurts, and I just want passive entertainment to help my mind keep from overheating. Are you saying that's not okay?

So far, these authors haven't given me a good answer.

For the most part, though, I agree with them. Just from personal experience, I can think of four reasons to keep my mind engaged while watching anime:

1. What I watch influences me.
It might take months of repetition, but eventually, sexual "humor" will make it hard for me to look at ordinary objects and activities with the purity I once did. Words I don't want in my daily vocabulary will seep into my mind. Activities God calls sin won't seem as bad, and the human need for redemption won't seem so urgent. My mind must be alert, so I can process things rather than let them influence me negatively.

2. Each anime has an important story to tell, if I'm willing to listen. 
Even the most banal harem anime tells about human nature, our needs, and our desires. That doesn't mean such shows are worth my time, but if I decide to watch them anyway, I reflect on how they may appeal to some viewers. Other anime clearly present stories and questions that are worth thinking on. Clannad After Story shows me a precious perspective on love and family. Attack on Titan follows characters in a world full of violence, and I can choose to just enjoy the action... or I can take the opportunity to ask the same ethical questions some of the characters begin to ask: it it okay to become a monster (not like Eren does, but like some of the commanding officers do) in order to defeat the monsters?

Clannad and Clannad After Story told a tale that is worth
watching, that's for sure! I plan to feature it in this week's Rewind,
so more on this gem then.
3. I need to pay attention to content, so I know what I'm talking about. 
I blog and talk about anime and Christianity. I want to be truthful and thoughtful, especially if I reference my faith at all. Even if I'm not directly talking about God, I'm talking about art - anime - created by His creation. In turn, that anime reflects perspectives on the world, on human fallacy, on brokenness and redemption. So I need to be thoughtful. How this looks differs with each post, but it always requires some level of awareness of my topic. Ignorance due to turning my brain off is not a good excuse for deficiency in a blog post. Even lack of time doesn't give me license for carelessness (a fact, I admit, that I've forgotten on occasion, including in a few "Rewind" posts in the last six months).

4. God is with me, and He knows exactly what I'm watching and what goes through my mind. 
I don't believe that He's offended when I watch sinful actions - lying, stealing, even murder or rape. For one thing, if I'm paying attention when I read the Bible, God's Word, I'll find scenes of rape, incest, and murder (Brian Godawa reminds me of this in the first chapter of Hollywood Worldviews). There's solid context, of course, but the Bible would need a lot of fade-outs if it were to stay PG-13 in a TV series.

It's not new to God. He sees sin all the time, and it does offend Him, to put it mildly. But Jesus didn't come to save perfect people. His ministry was to people who messed up badly, so when Jesus, God-as-man-and-savior, walked on earth, He hung out with harlots and tax collectors (who were apparently grouped in with "sinners" even more than corrupt IRS officers). He knew, loved, and ministered to these people. I, as His follower, am to do the same, with the knowledge that I am one of them, and would meet the same doom if it weren't for Jesus. That said, when I start looking at evil as good, or my thoughts become corrupted, or I'm ignoring what God says about the actions on the screen, He knows. If I begin to objectify men, He knows. When I sin with my thoughts, He knows, and that sin offends Him. He doesn't love me less because of it, but that doesn't mean it's okay. Thus, I want to be aware of what I'm watching and how I'm processing it, lest my negligence opens my mind's door to evil. If I do find sin in my mind, I pray that I notice it, confront it, and apologize for it, because it's happening right in front of God. Not apologizing for something like that is plain disrespectful.

There are more reasons to be mindful about watching anime. I'm sure a few of them are sitting in the back of my mind, and I'll eventually remember them. But that doesn't mean every viewing session must turn into an academic study. And not every blog post needs to come with a devotional. I believe God delights in laughter and lightheartedness as much as deep contemplation. I believe God takes pleasure in beautiful things, including beautiful animation, and that I should take pleasure in the same things He does.

I believe it's okay to play and relax. Genesis says that on the seventh day, after God had created everything and called it good, He rested. He obviously didn't need to rest. God wasn't worn out. But He rested anyway. This leads me to think of the Sabbath, which the Israelites were to observe each week in a day of rest. I wonder how many merchants and farmers avoided burning themselves out simply by obeying the Sabbath day law. Similarly, every seven years, there was a "Sabbath of solemn rest for the land" a year in which they gave the land a break from reaping and sowing (Leviticus 25:4). Based on my extremely limited knowledge of farming, I can tell you that this helped with future harvests. Something about nutrients in the soil, or along those lines. When you constantly use all your resources - whether it's your mind, body, land, or time, effectiveness is lost. Rest is important. It's not just a necessity for an imperfect world, either. God, who is perfect, rested. Based on what I see in Genesis 2, I think it's safe to say that rest was part of His design for us before the Fall and introduction of human sin to the world.

Okay, so I don't need to constantly ponder big theological or academic topics. I can rest my weary mind. But can I rest it while watching anime? Can I use anime as my escape from the hamster wheel of serious thinking?

I would say yes, but with conditions:

1. I must not let my guard down unless it's safe. 
I wouldn't stop my car in a shady neighborhood to take a nap, even during the day. No matter how exhausted I was or how far away I was from my destination, I'd find a better place. At the very least, I'd  drive to a well-frequented park or store before I leaned back my seat and closed my eyes. Similarly, when I want to let my defenses down and rest, I shouldn't marathon a questionable anime. I wouldn't be able to relax all the way, anyway.

2. Before I escape into anime, I need to identify what I'm escaping from.
If I just need a break from thinking, then fine. Anime can force my mind out of a rut. I don't know the science of it, but it must use and stimulate my brain in different areas in different ways, so when I'm ready to go back to my thinking spot, I'm refreshed and ready for more pondering.

If, however, I'm trying to get rid of anxiety, escape is not the answer. It didn't work when I was sixteen, and it still doesn't work. Anxiety must be confronted. For me, journaling and praying work best. Besides, I promised God that I'd do the smart thing and get out my journal when I'm feeling anxious. It's bad enough to break my word to a parent or friend, but to God? Uh... if I do that, then I definitely have a respect issue to confess.

3. I must not use "rest" as an excuse to habitually binge on anime.
There's a difference between lazy indulgence and rest. If anime time is infringing on my productivity and even my sleep, then I'm not practicing a good type of rest. Too much binging muddles my mind.

4. I must know my limits.
Slowly but surely, I'm developing a kind of mindfulness that runs in the background. It's like anti-virus software, always there, usually invisible, and the more I develop it, the less energy it requires. It sorts through all input, and it's becoming increasingly effective, so fewer bugs get through. Every now and then, a warning will pop up, calling me to focus my mind. I glance at the warning, deal with it, then go on my way. Most of the time, I can make a small adjustment in how I see the show and continue watching. Sometimes, I have to bring my mind in full anti-virus mode. I'm better at all of this than I was a few years ago, but there are some shows that won't go through my filter so neatly. Maybe in as little as a year, I'll be able to handle them, if they're still worth my time. But for now, I'm not strong enough. I can't watch such anime when I want to escape, and it's possible that I just don't need to watch it, period.

I plan to continue chewing on this subject. I'm healthier in my anime habits than I used to be, but I still have a ways to go. For my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, I need to be mindful of how I consume anime - and all other media, for that matter. Brian Godawa and others have great insights, but those insights aren't tailored to me.


I found an excerpt of Godawa's book online, under the title "Cultural Anorexics and Gluttons." I recommend reading at least this excerpt, especially if you're a Christian. Brian Godawa is a screenwriter, a Christian, and obviously a lover of film. He's put some thought into this.


  1. Lots of wisdom here - thanks for sharing with us! And on a related note, I've read Faith and Pop Culture, too! In fact, I taught a class at church last semester in which I used many of the articles and lessons from that book!

    1. Cool! It's one of those books I'd like to see circle around more Christian communities. Everyone can benefit from reading the articles included, wherever they are on the conservative spectrum. I kind of wish I'd read more things like this when I first started making my own media choices.

  2. I am reminded of the story of a certain Desert Father who was petting a partridge's head. A hunter saw the monk and told him that he thought a monk had better things to do. At which point, the Father asked if he would indulge him by firing off a few arrows at full draw. On the third draw, the hunter told the Desert Father that his bow would break if he fired another arrow at full draw. The Desert Father then said that people also could not be stretched all the time.

    I have found that whenever I am watching something obviously negative, a feeling of embarrassment comes upon me. My last experience of that was when reading Hellsing during the attack on London, where the violence was too gratuitous for me to endure. Whenever there is some value in an anime or show, usually I don't feel that way. And so, I have come to trust my feelings rather than over analyzing things. Lightheartedness is a virtue after all.

    1. What a perfect story! Thank you for sharing it, and for sharing your experience.

      Trusting our feelings is definitely important. I think, as Christians, part of those feelings can come from the Holy Spirit giving us a nudge. But there's another side to it - experience and maturity. For the most part, throughout the past four years, I've turned off shows that embarrassed me or rubbed my conscience the wrong way. But, especially in those first two years as a young, new anime fan, I was fascinated by what was on the screen and the feelings they invoked in me. There were lines I wouldn't cross, of course... once I recognized them. It's taken time and purposeful thinking to develop a better understanding of what I watch and the feelings invoked. Analyzing, particularly through blogging and discussion, has helped in that process. Of course, so has the normal maturing process. At my age, a lot can change within just four years.

  3. Great article, and rather convicting. I can't claim to be a deep-thinker when it comes to anime or any media, for that matter. I can claim to be an over-thinker, especially when it comes to areas of faith--(Is this a sin? Is my desire to play/watch/read/etc. this idolatry? Am I praying properly? Is my faith authentic?)--are just some examples of things that might plague my mind. Honestly, it's worn me down, and that's scary.

    In general, though, I'm just not a fan of critical thinking. I know I've gotten some decent insights the few times I actually made myself meditate on a Bible verse. On the secular side, I know I've also had some decent thoughts recently in regards to the R.A. Salvatore book I was reading, although they seemed fairly obvious connections to Christianity, so I won't attribute it to any concentrated effort on my part. I guess I would fall closer to the cultural glutton described in the article you shared ("It's just a movie/game/etc" is a sentiment I have used), but when I truly look at it, I don't actually consume a lot of media. I go to the movies every once in a while, I play video games when time allows, and although I watch anime, it isn't a lot, and it was even less than before I started my review blog. On average, I was consuming maybe three to five episodes a week. So I don't really feel like I gorge myself on media, but I also can't claim to engage it in the way blogs like yours and Beneath the Tangles seem to.

    There was originally a point in there somewhere, I think.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I still haven't got around to reading R.A. Salvatore's work, even though it's been mentioned and recommended to me many times... I'll get to it this summer. Thanks for the reminder. :)

      Anyway, you say you're not a fan of critical thinking, but I checked out your blog. What you write in your reviews definitely includes multi-faceted thinking about morals, story, and general content. Writing reviews was a key part of my "anti-virus program" development, since it encourages me to think about what I watch. I can't deeply examine and write about everything I watch - there's not enough time or brain power. But once I wrote a few reviews (for a secular audience at first, so no content card included), my mind started going, even when I didn't review an anime. That was probably the beginning of my shift from major anime gluttony toward healthiness (and I do mean major gluttony, not just closer to that side of the spectrum - my old blog posts on Anime-Planet show my old habits clearly).

    2. Thanks for your words of encouragement, and for checking out the blog, though any credit should be directed in God's direction. After all, He is ultimately the Distributor of our skills and abilities. That being said:

      I do tend to be overly critical of myself, and perhaps I have too limited a scope on what constitutes "critical thinking". I think my mind tends to associate the term with what sites like yours and Beneath the Tangles do--the deeper analysis for themes that aren't necessarily obvious. I have thanked God for the mind He has given me in the past, yet at the same time I think it is one of my biggest weaknesses. A good example (kept as short as I can):

      I once skimmed a book about prayer, particularly a part that seemed to emphasize praying for extended periods of time (the author claimed that when we pray for an hour, we are getting close to the heart of God, or something like that). I remember that kind of getting into my head, and then I think at one point I managed to pray for something like two hours. I can't claim with 100% certainty that this is how it went, but I suspect I started thinking to myself, "Well, now that I've done it once, I would be essentially saying God isn't worth the time if I didn't do it every time" or something like that. I know I've kind of had that thought process more recently--thinking I'd be somehow putting something before God if I decided I wasn't going to pray for a certain period of time. This comes in spite of the fact that I've had people tell me that it doesn't matter how long I pray. I just can't shake the idea, though, that I'm somehow idolizing something--say, video games--if I don't pray for that specific amount of time, but then go and play a video game. I think my mind is simultaneously one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses.

      As for Salvatore: I definitely enjoy his books. I'm a few years behind (currently on the 'Transitions' series), but hopefully I can catch up soon. He's probably not the most sophisticated fantasy author, but there's a reason Drizzt has hung around for 20 years.

    3. I can identify with a lot of what you're saying here. Actually, one of the things that spurred this post was that I felt critically thinking through every single thing I watched was asking too much of me... at least by my initial perfectionist, over-achieving definition.

      The question of idolatry is one I must consider as I spend so much time on the computer and watching anime, and I don't always like the answer. The fact is that, far too often, I put anime and other things before Him. I've had to ask where my heart is, and what I'm treasuring more (and what I'm relying on).

      I don't like to beat myself up over things. Once sin is confronted and confessed, I can start over. I've (almost) accepted that I'm not perfect, that I have very little to offer God, and that He loves and even delights in me anyway (like He loves and delights in you).

      Each day is a new day with Jesus. I don't sit down and spend time with Him nearly as much as I need to. But He's with me throughout the day, whatever I'm doing. I don't have to be down on my knees to say, "Lord, it's a beautiful day today. Thank You" or, "Wow, the mangaka behind this story is quite gifted! That's clearly Your fingerprint. Please draw his heart toward You," or even "Lord, what should I say in this comment?" I don't acknowledge Jesus often throughout the day, but it's becoming easier to remember. The little prayers don't substitute for deeper devotions, but we don't have to leave Him behind when we close our Bibles. I've had to fight the lie that I should wait to pray until I sit down for a longer prayer time, especially if I haven't journaled in a while. That's like thinking that I shouldn't text my mom to thank her for a package until I have time for a long video chat - that's absurd. She doesn't want to wait for the longer chat to hear me say "Thank you and I love you." I can't help but think God is the same way.

      (Also, if I didn't know better, I'd think we were competing for longest comment. Never feel self-conscious about comment length on my blog - I tend to write long responses, too)

  4. Those are some very insightful guidelines. I know that I am sometimes guilty of just watching any anime without caring about the content. Sometimes I do feel the need to just relax and anime does that for me, but at the same time, I can't just go ahead and marathon anime for hours at a time. It's true that what I watch influences me, sometimes I catch myself saying clever one liners I heard on an anime, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it just shows how my behavior can be affected by the things I take in. Being aware of what I am wanting to escape from I think will be the most important guideline for me personally. Even if I am not purposely trying to avoid certain things in real life, spending too much time watching anime can cause me to neglect the things I need to take care of. I really enjoyed this post, it calls for a lot of self reflection.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Alexamasan! I'm glad you liked the post.

      I, too, need to think more about the things I'm not purposefully avoiding. Anime (and less fulfilling computer distractions) often keeps me from things that would make my life less stressful - like cleaning, getting ahead on homework, or even just sleep.

  5. Love this! It's always nice to find another chirstian anime blogger out there :)


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