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.
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.