Aniblogger Testimony: Hard-Wired for Storytelling

This is the third in a series of Aniblogger Testimony posts, where select writers will discuss their personal faith.  Today’s post is by Niko of Anime Savvy.  The previous posts in this series were written by Lauren Orisini and R86.

I’ve always been fascinated with belief. I even went to graduate school to study folklore and wrote my thesis on fairy belief. And yet, talking about religion makes me uneasy.

For me, religion is interesting in the same way mythology is–after all, every mythology was once the sacred stories of a religion–but for many people, religion is not something that sould be scrutinzed. Belief is something to be, well, believed, and not to be studied. For many people, religious belief is dimished if questioned; it must be taken on faith or it’s somehow less valuable. I find that . . . well I don’t want to say creepy, but I can’t understand why a person would choose to believe anything on faith alone.

Maybe that’s a fault in me. I often tell people that my biological clock is broken (or else I was born without one) when they ask me when I plan to have kids (a pet peeve of mine, but not something to talk about here and now). In the same way, I think maybe that hard-wiring for religion and belief that humans are supposed to have built in was miswired in me or missing altogether. Because, you see, I’ve never believed in a higher power. Sure, I tried. I grew up in a fairly non-religious environment, but it was always assumed, by everybody, that everyone believed in something.

So I tried a few religions out to see if the problem was just that I hadn’t found the right one. I started with Christianity–I was baptized Anglican as a baby by my grandfather, the Reverend Silvester (retired). I studied neo-paganism and was even initiated a Wiccan. But whatever belief system I studied or practiced, I always got hung up on the faith part. On the believing that prayers and spells could do any good. Because it always seemed so much more effective to go out and do something than to wait and hope.

Eventually I was forced to the inevitable conclusion that the problem wasn’t that I simply hadn’t found the right religion, it was that I didn’t believe in any sort of higher power.  And you know what’s weird? It’s way harder to come out as an atheist than it is to come out as a witch. Somehow, people think there’s something fundamentally wrong with not believing, but if you believe in what they think is the wrong thing, well, at least you believe in something. Even now, I usually use the word “non-theist” instead of “atheist,” because it’s less confrontational (and see how long it took me to get around to this point, even in the safe space our host has created in this blog post?).

And to be very clear, because a lot of people seem to be confused about this: As an atheist, I simply have no belief in God–in any god–because, if life the universe and everything can be described as an equation, a higher power would be a redundancy. I do not actively believe that there is no God. Show me good, logical proof and I’d be happy to re-evaluate my thinking. In other words, I have a lack of belief, not a belief in a lack. And please don’t tell me you’re sorry for me because I’m an atheist (yes, this has happened to me). How condescending that is! I feel the same awe at the universe that some might label a spiritual experience. To me it’s a mind-boggling sense of wonder, but there’s nothing supernatural about it.

And now that I’ve gone on way longer than I meant to, I’ll get to the real point of this post: anime and my religious beliefs. Since I don’t actually have any religious beliefs, I can’t say they’ve affected the anime I choose to watch or the way I perceive it. However, the way I think about religion has had some effect.

Because I’m interested in all beliefs, from those that haven’t been actively believed for thousands of years to those invented by contemporary “prophets,” I do tend to gravitate more to watching anime and reading manga with supernatural, folkloric, or belief-based components. And I appreciate how a lot of anime uses Christian myth and elements the same way it might use the elements from Chinese mythology, or Shinto, or ancient Norse belief. I’m also a storyteller (well, writer of fiction), and I appreciate how all religion becomes fair game for source material.

Human beings are storytelling creatures, and while I am often bothered by the evils that have been done in the name of religion (yes, I do know that good has been done as well), I love how thousands of years of recorded belief (and more) have given us some truly great and inspuring stories.

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About TWWK

TWWK, known to outlaws and lawmen alike as Charles, lives deep in the heart of Texas, where he drives cattle and boot scoots (not really - though he does sport a pair of rattlesnake boots). Somehow in this frontier, he also finds time for his wife, children, and church. Oh, and anime, too.

Posted on 04.07.2011, in Anime, Atheism, Christianity, Paganism, Religion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Are there really no athiests in America? Where I am in England, I find it hard to express my belief without getting some condescending person claiming I have, been brainwashed or am somehow stupider than them. Weird.

    You say you don’t wish to be confrontational but it seems like you are doing exactly that. What does the evils done in the name of religion got to do with anything? And If I were you I would avoid referring to people’s faiths as myths, and the use of -those invented by contemporary “prophets,”- assumes you can prove anything -

    y’know what, forget it.

    I know you don’t understand but for many people religion helps them define themselves and is an intrinsic part of what and who they are. When you do your thing, and take potshots at it you are criticising them as a person. If thats what you intend then fine, else it isn’t too hard to make conclusive arguments rather than resorting to name calling.

    • I think that Niko was being very cautious and gracious in how he discussed Christianity. Talking about religion is like dancing in a crowded hall – no matter how good of a dancer you are and how carefully you navigate, you’re bound to step on someone’s toes. Niko, I think, was very respectful toward a faith (and faith in general) he doesn’t believe in.

  2. With respect, I did not take Niko’s post that way at all. A bit defensive, maybe — and, to hear about some earlier experiences with those attacking “lack of belief,” I can to some extent understand why — but not confrontational. If we are “safe” here to discuss our faith, I think it’s only fair that we be “safe” here to discuss our lack thereof.

    That being said, I think it’s also only fair to point out that the first definition of “myth” at dictionary.com reads: “[A] traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.” Thus it is possible for historic facts to be “mythic” in nature, and calling something a “myth” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is fictional.

    THAT being said, there are certainly atheists in America — and to be fair, I most certainly have also been the butt of some atheists’ comments that I must be stupid (or evil) in order to have deep religious faith. I regret the misunderstandings and hurt feelings on both sides, but I suppose given the emotional and personal nature of something like religious faith, it can’t be entirely avoided.

  3. This was….an interesting post, to say the least. I’m not really sure what to say, think, or feel, or even if I should be offended or not. I guess when Niko said how religion has given us more to use for a story, well….that did not make me feel good. But Niko’s point of view was an overall interesting post, like having trouble with faith. But for me, it’s more than just faith. In fact, believing and trusting even though I don’t know has had me experienced moments in which I know God is there….like when a prayer is answered quickly. But I guess it’s hard for some people, and I can’t blame them. No one said faith was easy.

    • Faith is amazing in how it rewarding it can be, right? I think sometimes we categorize faith as believing in something we’re unsure of, but the Bible instead describes it a confidence in what we hope for and assurance in things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). We “know” it to be true (as you mentioned). When we see God through answered prayer and other means, we’re not necessarily any more “sure” that God is real – we’re just joyful in seeing God work.

  4. Well, I certainly didn’t intend to take potshots at anyone. But this is one of those topics where even the most careful wording is going to hurt someone’s feelings. It’s also an essay about my personal reactions to religion, and not meant in any way to be a generalized idea of how anyone else should be.

    And to clarify, I was using “myth” the way we generally used it when I studied folklore, meaning sacred stories believed (or formerly believed) to be true in either a literal or metaphorical sense.

  5. One thing I’d like to take the opportunity to mention, since Niko brings it up in his post, is that prayer should never take the place of action. As James said, faith without deeds is dead, and likewise, prayer (which is one way a practitioner shows his or her faith) without deeds is dead.

    Prayer and action should work together in Christianity, on at least two levels. First of all, through prayer, God convicts us to DO. How many times have we (Christians) prayed about something, only to realize that it is WE who need to make the change we pray about.

    Secondly, prayer, in a sense, changes God’s mind. I’m reminded of Moses praying for God to stay his hand against the Israelites, and succeeding in his goal. The power of prayer is that God is attentive to it. And He expects us to come to Him and appeal to His sense of mercy, and through this practice, He responds.

    • I like what you said about ‘praying’ plus ‘doing’. I prayed a lot as well (though not necessarily to the same god as others). I prayed so that when I walk the path, I won’t be completely alone, not because I need a ride to the destination.

  6. Justice,

    Go back and re-read C S Lewis. He called Christianity a myth too. It happens to be a true myth. So Niko is in good company.

    Niko,

    Great post. You were very diplomatic and gracious.

    Here’s how I try to explain faith/belief. To paraphrase one of my favorite theologians again, Kierkegaard says that faith isn’t irrational. It’s trans-rational. You can think of it this way. When you’ve climbed to the top of the ladder of science, logic, and rationality, faith is the reaching out for the rung that you can’t see or perceive in anyway, but all the evidence points to being there.

    Now of course, there is lots of debate about what is and isn’t evidence and how to interpret this evidence. For some, the evidence says there is nothing outside the material reality we can know through empirical testing. For some, the evidence is inconclusive. For some, the evidence says there a transcendent reality waiting for us to reach out beyond ourselves. The problem is when anyone of these groups insist that their interpretation of the evident is absolute. That sort of fundamentalism is dangerous regardless of who espouses it.

    I’d be interested in your take on Anslem’s ontological argument for God. I’m not saying it will make you a believer. Just like your thoughts on how it works as a logical argument.

  7. This was a good piece and I felt that you explained yourself pretty well without disrespecting anyone’s belief. Maybe the Internet has just made the angry atheists seem like a bigger group than they really are, but it’s good to be reminded that we can still learn from each other, and that there are non-believers out there who still respect those who do believe in God.

    • Niko certainly represents a group which I think is naturally less vocal – atheists who respect Christians and are/were open to that faith. For better or worse, the most vocal atheists and Christians are often the ones who are least congenial.

  8. This was a very gracious and diplomatic essay. I have to say, the part that intrigued me was how it was pointed out that religion makes a great basis for other stories. While one person has said that doesn’t make them feel good, I can’t help but think how true that is.

    What is ‘Christian Fiction’ but stories that use elements of the Bible and turn them into yet another entertaining story? What else is Chronicles of Narnia but the Bible retold? Does that make it a bad story or offensive to Christians? I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people would say ‘no’.

    I have to say the story of searching for religion closely mirrors my own, and it was interesting to see how each of us ended up. I’ve had interesting experiences on the Aetheist and Christian side of the fence. Aetheists can be rude, but I’ve seen appalling things from Christians. You can’t win.

    • I think that maybe she felt a little bad because in Niko’s essay, he wrote that Christianity can be used, like any other religion, for storytelling. Perhaps she felt that the line trivializes Christianity some, which could certainly make a firm believer feel that way. There’s a difference, after all, in using Christianity in Evangelion than how it was used in The Chronicles of Narnia.

      You’re absolutely right about there being both rude atheists and Christians. I was very happy that Niko accepted my invitation to do this post, because he has a compassionate and non-dismissive voice. I think a lot of Christians (I fall into the trap of thinking like this at times, too) think that all atheists are bitter, angry, and condescending, when they’re clearly not. I’m sure many atheists have a similar prejudice against Christians as well.

  9. Niko,
    While I’m a Christian, I have a similar interest as you describe in other religions. When I was little, I used to take out Mom’s copy of “What your 4th (or whatever grade it was) Grader Needs to Know” and turn to the section on mythology. When I got older, I took out a book called “The Kingdom of Cults” and read various sections of it with fascination. Islam, Buddhism, fairies, and just plain superstition – it’s all so interesting!

    My faith as a Christian is just that – faith. This isn’t the place for me to point out what I consider logical reasons to support my faith. Besides, no matter how much evidence we may find for Christianity, at some point, it always comes down to faith. Not just faith that God exists, but also in other things – like that everything the Bible says about Jesus is true, that He loves us, etc.

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