How to Kill a God

Now watch closely, everyone. I’m going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him.

- Lady Eboshi, “Princess Mononoke”

A common and compelling trope in anime is of characters challenging God.  In Princess Mononoke, for instance, Lady Eboshi attempts to literally kill a god.  And though more of the variety of the countless kami, the god she intends to kill is the Forest Spirit, who could represent a supreme God.  In other series, like the more controversial Angel Sanctuary and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the killing of God is more directly aimed at one God and often the Christian one.

Princess Mononoke

Eboshi risks life and limb (literally) to kill a God (Art by すう)

The irony is this – while these fictional characters risk everything in an attempt to kill God, the act has already been done.  And it’s been accomplished by God himself.

Humans call out for blood–”Crucify! Crucify!”–and God hands Jesus over to appease us. The significance of this reversal cannot be overstated. In Christianity God is handed over to humans in an act of sacrifice. In Christianity God is killed. God isn’t demanding the sacrifice. God is the sacrifice.

- Richard Beck, “Algorithms of Salvation

Sacrificial love is part of the beauty of the Christian faith.  Some 2,000 years ago, God died so we could live.  In a moment in time, the Almighty God of the universe allowed Himself to be beaten and crucified by his own dirty creation so that we could reestablish relationship with Him.

It’s a story of redemption.  Of grace.  Of love.

It’s a story as epic as any, and one that makes some of these anime character who rage against the heavens seem…a little misguided.

There’s no need to try to kill God.  As Jesus said on the cross – “It [and so much more] is done.”

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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 05.01.2012, in Anime, Christianity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. “Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence ( being all powerful) made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point–and does not break………….in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods… They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”— G.K. Chesterton.

    • Thanks for the quote…Chesterton is always interesting. I had to read the quote very slowly. :P

      • Honestly I was worried I would squelch comments or start a flame war…. I just find it interesting that Chesterton pretty much said that God forsook himself, the Trinitarian structure of God at the crucifixion is astounding.

        • No, it was a great addition to the conversation! Theologically, I disagree with some of what Chesterton says here, but certainly I believe we should be open when approaching anything.

          Also, yes, it’s amazing to consider the Trinity in regards to crucifixion. That perfect relationship and what was happening within is the subject of much debate, simply because of the complexities and mystery. Very interesting and powerful stuff that I honestly have trouble getting my head around.

  2. Glad to see you’re enjoying that blog as much as I am. :)

  3. Well sure, Jesus died per the New Testament. And yet, God’s still around since God has two more aspects. As such, to those characters seeking to destroy the heavens and vanquish the gods, killing Jesus probably wouldn’t satisfy them much. After all, he was there specifically TO die. They’re shooting for the hat trick, and THAT is no small task.

    The desire to kill a god, including the Abrahamic God, is born out of the idea that these entities represent omnipotence. Therefore, to slay them is to surpass the power of infinity, or alternatively to attain it and perhaps become God in the process, thus answering the question “could God make someone so badass they could beat God up?” What those fictional characters are risking is more along the lines of killing the God of the Old Testament at the peak of the fire and brimstone, the one who killed an awful lot of people. He’s got the top spot on the kill board. By comparison, the frag count and kill:death ratio of Jesus Christ isn’t nearly as impressive.

    In anime, the characters who seek to do such a thing are typically shown to harbor this sentiment as an expression of their inner strength and general independence/self-reliance. In our media, such sentiments are generally held by people out of a specific hatred of God. In either instance, the knowledge that Jesus died to grant one’s salvation would be of no use to them because you don’t need God to forgive you if you knock him off the top of the mountain.

    • Well, if you’re going to do a seriously analysis of anime characters trying to kill “God,” then sure… :P

      When a character tries to “kill God” (usually the Abrahamic God), he or she is indeed trying to attain that ultimate power, to usurp God as the ultimate being in the universe; however, what’s unique about the NT is that, ironically, God in the person of Christ readily accepts this death and becomes the weakest of the weak. One point I’m trying to convey is that this is an unexpected juxtaposition of God imagined as a conqueror (which, for instance, is how the barbaric tribes pictured Jesus as they swept into the Roman Empire) versus the loving redemption of a humble God who died a painful and cursed death. Characters attempt to kill a God that exhibits one facet without having “correct” soteriology and understanding other facets of God.

      Well, I guess a little imbalance is to be expected in a character whose goal is to kill God. ;)

      By the way, coincidentally, earlier today I read your piece on the new Lupin the Third series and really enjoyed it.

  4. I’d say there are two main branches to this trope: One is when the one attempting to kill “god” is a bad person (a villain or an antagonist) and the other when the ones doing the killing are the heroes.

    In the first case, the main motivation is the one mentioned by TWWK above: either to usurp God’s power or dominion or to prove oneself possessor of ultimate power. In this case, the concept of godhood is a pagan one, in which gods are but ultra powerful beings but otherwise ridden with the same physicality, character flaws and/or mortality of lesser beings, as seen for example in Greek mythology.

    In the second case, though, “god” is presented as an unjust and ultimately inhuman being (see for example NGE or Angel Beats!) who entrenched in his aloof wisdom and power cannot possibly understand the nuances of emotion, the beauty of fragility or the wealth of diversity found in imperfection. This is a clearly old-testamentarian God, as seen through the eyes of someone detached from the system of belief and presents us the compelling conundrum of an ultimate, perfect being that by creating lesser, imperfect creatures to rule over gives them the moral right to rebel against him for the sake of their own humanity.

    As blasphemous as the second case might seem, I find it more relevant to reality as portrays the subconscious struggle of the people who reject God and the infinite love of God that understood that giving true free will to humanity implied giving them the chance and the ability to subjectively rationalize a world where He was a rejectable proposition.

    • Thanks for your words of wisdom. I agree with your conclusion about the second case – it’s perhaps less impressive when put to story than the first (though certainly Evangelion is an amazing series!), but it’s more realistic and more applicable.

  5. Atheists are smarter than most religious people give us credit. We know where god actually exists. It’s in the mind of the believer. We know enough not to wage war on the idea of god in the physical world. Men have tried wiping out the believer before and often it has the exact opposite effect—strengthening their resolve by rallying the church around the prophecy of persecution and the ideal of martyrdom (it’s also not very nice =P ). The true way to “kill” a god is on the battlefield of knowledge. If the believer is truly listening, it’s my opinion that eventually the god in their mind will crumple under the weight of reason as it did for me.

    • Yeah, I dunno – from my personal experience, I think that Christians, at least in this country, may give atheists more credit than they’re due. As reflected in Christian books and other media, there seems to be this assumption that most atheists are simply smarter than most Christians and we’re trying to play catch up and defend ourselves. But as there are many Christians who don’t know why they believe or even WHAT they believe, there are many atheists who can’t explain why he or she DOESN’T believe or why one shouldn’t.

      Also, I definitely disagree with your opinion (“It’s my opinion that eventually the god in their mind will crumple under the weight of reason as it did for me”). You’re coloring a billion people as those who cannot listen to reason. We’re not all ignorant, nor all we all close-minded. There are millions of us who’ve listened to and “get” the arguments against the existence of a higher power or spiritual realm (and specifically Christianity), logically, scientifically, sociologically, etc., but are undeterred, not because we’re unwilling to let go of a crutch, but because our minds and souls (which we believe exist) compel us to the message, which we believe to be true. I think you’re impressing a stereotype on believers as unwilling to question our belief – that may be true for many, but not all, and especially, I think, not for the many young believers today who are challenging not only the culture, but the long-held notions held by their own churches.

      But back to the post. Here’s the thing…it was never about atheism. It was about characters that believed in God, but chose to rebel against. And really, it wasn’t even about that – this was only a starting point to explain the Christian idea of God offering Himself as a sacrifice.

      • My comment was merely meant to highlight the atheist perspective on how we typically think of killing god as compared to fiction. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

        But speaking for myself, as disturbing as I know this may sound to some people, if someone was able to prove that god existed I would not suddenly repent and begin a life of worship. I’m no hypocrite and I fully respect the lifestyle that I’ve been keeping for the past 10 years. I would probably change my position to antitheist or otherwise become a Satanist and join other like-minded rebels in attempting to kill god in the physical sense. This kind of motivation is one of the reasons I enjoy anime (and video games) with themes of killing god such as Angel Beats and Devil Survivor.

        • I appreciate your honesty and I believe you. I wonder, though, how many atheists who think that way would do the same if actually confronted by God. The Bible makes clear that everyone who came into contact with Jesus was somehow moved by Him, though certainly some, like the Pharisees, were moved into a direction the opposite of worship.

          Your claim, I’m sure, would be that Christians are confronted with evidence to the contrary and still stick to their ideas.

  6. MegaSolipsist

    “A person is never truly dead so long as their name is spoken”
    Basically, if you stop talking about god then he/she/it loses all power and dies.

    • Solipism is an interesting philosophy, though I obviously disagree. I believe in a God that has always existed – His existence does not depend on humanity, but rather the other way around.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. fdsfsdafdsaf

    Booooo…..

  8. Let me start by saying I do not believe in the existence of gods. However, if the Christian God does exist, and is everything the Bible claims, he CANNOT die. That which is eternal is beyond death. As for Jesus, he is not God. He is ‘a man born in the manner of men’. “Thou shalt have no gods before me.” and “Thou shalt make unto thy self no graven image.” Remember these? When you worship an image of Jesus and call him God, you are breaking both commandments.Your God would not be pleased.

    • Thanks for the comment, though we obviously disagree about the Trinity and God as three persons.

      • The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three individual God forms. So Christians are closet polytheists?

        • Thanks for the comments, but I’ll stop here. I never get into debates on this site – there are plenty of avenues, thousands, across in the Internet for that. But thank you for stumbling onto the site.

          If you want to truly discuss why we believe what we believe, out of a real sense of trying to learn more about Christianity, let me know. Otherwise, I still thank you for your curiosity. Take care! :)

          • Actually I’m not looking for a debate. I’m making observations and pointing out flaws and inconsistencies. I’ve no interest in learning more about Christianity. I’ve been studying it for 26 years. It is likely I know more about your religion than you do. I am neither trying to offend, no argue. I’m simply pointing out that religion is full of holes.

            • Thanks for your insight, although I think it’s unfair to call us less knowledgeable about our religion than you, which is maybe a generalization based on culture rather than on any time spent interacting with us. Our writers all take our faiths seriously and spend time questioning, contemplating, and thinking about why we believe what we believe. We don’t “tow” the company line, believing in God out of ignorance. In fact, our writers are well-educated and include at least a couple I would call far more liberal in their faith than I, another who has a PhD in the sciences, one who is studying at Tokyo University, and myself – I was previously an agnostic and atheist who spent years contemplating religion.

              As for your arguments and points, I don’t intend to continue the conversation here in the comments. This is not a place to debate, argue, or make light of one’s religion (or lack thereof). Part of the atmosphere of Beneath the Tangles is to engage each other with civility and kindness. However, if you would like to continue our conversation, please email me personally (beneath.the.tangles@gmail.com). Otherwise, please consider the conversation on this topic over.

  9. Hi! I am a Christian who has spent the past 25+ years immersed in study of comparative religion and theology, loves movies like Princess Mononoke, and has even developed a series of characters interwoven into a story that contains the killing of false gods. I fell upon this blog doing research for this very book. The idea of rebelling against any gods, for whatever reason, to whatever end, is a very compelling one. Entire tomes can be written about how certain gods can bleed and die, whether they are actually spirit or flesh, and where they actually come from. From extra-terrestrials to fallen angels, and the people they subjugate for one reason or another…and the ones with the spirit and drive to rise up and challenge said beings. This is the course that any creature with a questioning nature would follow…any being that is told to obey whilst the gods seek their own pleasure, much like the Greek gods. The one that rises up to destroy any leader/prophet/god/tyrant must face the reality that he himself may have to take the place of what he has thrown down…that he himself may become subject to the followers and worshipers he sought to free. In his search for truth, he may find that the truth isn’t what he wanted or desired. Especially when he comes up against a god that cannot be beaten or killed…one that cannot fall…like the one true God of Israel. After all, how does one defeat an entity that gives itself to it’s own creation to be killed…and therein sanctifies and purifies it’s kingdom? The journey toward truth by defeating any and all gods would eventually come to an end at the feet of the One that has no end, the One who’s strength is in weakness and who’s kingdom is within the living creatures it both serves and rules.
    An interesting concept that is visited in many anime shows and movies, sometimes misguided and self-defeating, but enjoyable and thought-provoking nonetheless. I am glad I came across this blog, and was able to read the comments. It’s the first blog I have actually come across that looks at the subject with respect and openness to others and their thoughts and beliefs…without the flaming and name-calling. The endless argument gets really old after awhile, especially when it turns into a war of words that avails nothing to no one. Kudos to you and Beneath the Tangles. :)

    • Thank you so much, both for the kind words about our blog and for the really interesting commentary on rebellion against gods. Certainly let us know know when your book is published, and God bless!

  1. Pingback: Five things I learned from re-watching Princess Mononoke: a 10-year late anime review | Canne's anime review blog

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