Cathedral: religion in Gundam 00

It has been quite some time since I have finished an anime series, but I (at last) finished Gundam 00 about a week ago. I absolutely loved it, despite the fact that many people think it’s too emotional or bathetic. I love heroic bloodshed movies, and this series just seemed to be exactly like it. In addition, despite the futuristic setting I thought the characters were convincing, especially Soran.

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‘There is no God in this world.’

The statement is what Soran Ibrahim, or Setsuna F Seiei repeats throughout the season. There was no God, for it was because of him that Soran killed his parents: there was no God because their supposed religious leader was simply a charismatic warmonger. If there was a God, there wouldn’t have been a need for Celestial Being or the Gundams that were the implements and instruments of its aims.

It is in this vein that the four Gundam Meisters set out to do the tasks assigned to them by Celestial Being: use violence to end violence with the ultimate goal of terminating all wars in the future Earth. The task is daunting, if not nigh impossible. Yet the four meisters, as I had discovered, have chips on their shoulders that they set out to banish or rectify with their piloting of the Gundams. Despite the similar goals, however, the central figure of the series is Setsuna.

It was religion that corrupted him, and it is religion he banished in the nether regions of his mind, culminating in the Nietzschean proclamation that ‘there is no God in this world.’

Perhaps people are incredulous with regard to his character. But this atheism brought about by religion is not merely a construct of the anime series. There are a lot of Moslem extremists who sacrifice their lives in fighting or even in suicide for the greater glory of Allah: the series has children, through a perverted religion, kill their parents and bear arms only to die against more powerful machines and mobile suits.

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This does not, however, only happen with Islam.

There is also skepticism regarding Christianity by the Christians themselves. Contrary to the rashness of Islam, however, is the cowardice of Christianity. I was meaning to write this post immediately after I had finished with Gundam 00, but I decided to postpone it to read a doctoral thesis on the actions of the Philippine Catholic Church between 1930 and 1972 (when Martial Law was declared). The title of the book was The Church and its Social Involvement.

It was not a pleasant read.

While I was happy of the social actions and the liberation theology of priests from our university, I could not help but hate the unwillingness to act by most of the Philippine Church. In those times, the problem that needed to be resolved the fastest was the problem of land reform. There were a lot of farmer-tenants who did not get their just wages; the landlords kept on getting richer and richer, while the farmers poorer and poorer. Most of the Philippine Church performed acts of charity and community development, but these only served as palliatives: they did not address the true problem which was the inequitable distribution of land to such extent that the farmers’ wages for a week were supposed to be their wages for a day. Even the author, who was a priest, commented that

[…] the Philippine Church was nowhere to be found to provide guidance and leadership except in a few small sectors of militant Catholics centered in Manila.

I’m proud that the priests of my university acted, and not only proselytized. But even then this was stultified: Father Hogan, a priest who wanted to act for the restructuring of the social order, was forced to keep his mouth shut regarding his aims of establishing labor unions for nonprofit organizations. Ironically, the other members of the Philippine Church did not even pay or want to pay the minimum wage to its workers.

It was a concern for the underprivileged which was expressed primarily through prayers and acts of charity which answered the immediate needs of the poor but failed to address the root cause of poverty.

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The Philippine Church, led by an archbishop, even condemned the rights for the workers which they deserved. The archbishop disallowed Father Hogan to lecture anywhere outside the Ateneo de Manila University. He was only allowed to act within the ISO, or the Institute of Social Order which was one of the first, if not the very first, Catholic institutes that enacted measures targeting the core problems of society and not just palliative acts of charity. With regard to this ban, the author of the book (or thesis) commented that

The aftermath of the debacle was a sorry witness to the Church’s infidelity to her own teaching.

There was internal strife. The Church was unwilling to act; its inaction led a priest who wanted social restructuring (but initially avoided violence) to quip

In other words, violence could be a morally acceptable program for social reform and not merely a reaction against the inflexibility of the powerful who had refused to heed to the demands of justice peacefully asked for.

There was little action from the leaders of both the Church and the state, and then there was martial law. It could have been averted had the Philippine Church decide to act; however, they did not, and Philippines plunged into an even worse crisis.

Aristotle says that a virtue is the mean between two excesses. The religions that have been presented were either cowardly, or rash: both are base; both are excesses; both are not virtue.

I do not believe that God is dead, or that he is not in this world. But I believe that instead of trusting the people who supposedly facilitate these different religions we should simply trust God instead. At least for me, the Gundam meisters were not completely mistaken. In a world blinded by religion, the quest for meaning inside one’s own self doesn’t seem bad at all.

15 Responses to “Cathedral: religion in Gundam 00”

  1. Michaelonimachimachronism: The Black Book at Rainbowsphere Says:

    […] Apparently, I talked to Mike after a while when he was selling a book, and that gave me a thought of buying one from the nets. To my surprise, he knows his books, and knows what the book is all about. And so EPIC IRC CONVO ensues about the most recent talk of the now: Religion. […]

  2. koneko-chan Says:

    Keep in mind that the thesis paper covers a fairly large chunk of important Philippine history in 1930-1972 (American commonwealth, Japanese occupation and WWII, the first period of national independence and the rise and sudden fall of Marcos). All events which can give a quite drastic changes in the church’s approach.

    Also, despite having one of the highest number of Catholics in a country by percentage which can be traced back to Magellan and the Spanish, the Catholic Church in the Philippines only became an organized religious force fairly recently. Unless you were in a major city like Manila or Cebu, it’s actually somewhat difficult to find an organized presence of Catholicism. Despite being fairly devout, my dad never actually went to church regularly until he met mom. He grew up with the nearest church about 20 miles away and the local priest would show up about once a month for village mass. Considering the thousand or so islands that make up the Philippines, it was certainly a challenging task to maintain an organized church infrastructure.

    I wouldn’t blame the church for the degradation of Marco’s ability to lead a nation. Despite his ability to increase the infrastructure of the Philippines in his first term, Marcos definitely went off his rocker in the second term and desperately tried to hold power. The church at that stage was not going to stop a desperate man and his military. Even with a major vocal religious leader in Cardinal Sin, People Power Revolution was not going to take place until a number of key pieces occured (the lifting of martial law due to a Pope John Paul II visit and the Aquino assassination).

    A good book I read on this when I was doing research for my undergrad minor in Theology is “Guided By God: The Legacy of the Catholic Church in Philippine Politics”. It gives a good outline for the history of the Philippine Catholic Church in the context of the religion-state line the church seems to thread.

    But what do I know. Stuff like this always seem to be glossed over when discussing in from the stand point of a first gen Phil-am born in NY towards the end of People Power. It’s times like this where I feel like I need to get a time-machine to really understand what happened.

  3. Michael Says:

    koneko-chan:

    Thanks for the lengthy reply.

    What’s more regrettable about the Filipino Church is that there were people like Father Hogan (who was American) fighting for equal rights among Filipino Christians only to be told off by a Church behind the times and afraid of facing the truth. He was told off by no less than a Filipino archbishop himself and was told to shut up. For what reason, one may ask? He was forced to shut up because of his push towards the approbation of unions being established even in nonprofit organizations and institutions. He found it ironic that it was the Philippine Church hierarchy itself who refused to pay the minimum wage to its workers! But that was not an excuse: people need to live, and to do that they needed money.

    Father Hogan strived for fairness and he strived for social change, not just palliatives to the people. Pity works, sure, and it’s thoroughly supported by the rich to allay their troubled egos, but it doesn’t recognize social sin per se. What happened to him? He was banned from spreading information regarding the creation of labor unions and his pursuit of social balance (not even a communistic social equality); all this was simply because he was unconservative.

    The Church was a body of hypocrisy. While I appreciate the actions they have taken to empower the people during the People Power Revolution, it cannot be argued that if they had acted with exigency and with direction Marcos’s madness would have been sequestered.

    This is why I can condone what Setsuna did in Gundam 00. He wanted to pursue peace which always slipped from him as an act of contrition and also repentance. If he relied on mere talks, as what can be seen with Marina’s reliance of just diplomacy, there would have been civil war in Azadistan.

    Words can only go so far. Actions take people as far as they can go, and the Philippine Church needs more action and less words.

  4. DrmChsr0 Says:

    Minor problem, Mike.

    The Japanese are largely non-religious. They don’t even trust Shinto.

    And you don’t need to see the downfall of the Philippine Catholic church to know that the body of Christ is falling apart. you don’t need a lesson in church history or the Bible codes to tell you that. It’s all there in Revelations 1-3.

    The Church was a body of hypocrisy? Bullshit. The Church IS a body of hypocrisy. We have Bible-Presbyterians fighting over which of the fucking translations of the Bible to use instead of telling the pastor who instigated it to fuck off and die. We have Catholic priests touching little boys and other nasty things instead of loving them. and there’s probably a hundred different denominations whose problems shall be made known to me soon.

    Instead of loving God and his creation, the church has grown fat and lazy and unwilling to do what God has commanded it to do. Instead of being a shining example to their respective nations they have become like the world itself.

    Worse still, there’s no revivalist in sight. No John Sung to raise the spirits. No Billy Graham to correct us all. No preacher with a fire in his heart and a soul consecrated to God to raise flagging spirits. This time around, the Body Of Christ has royally fucked itself and there’s no reinforcements coming.

    Then again, what do I know? I’m grumpy and pissed at fucking Greg Ayers and his cult of personality.

  5. IKnight Says:

    The Church and politics, oh Lord. Lessee . . . I usually mumble something about Jacques Ellul and hope nobody presses me further when this comes up (because I haven’t actually read any Ellul). But wiki Ellul anyway, because he’s supposed to be worth reading.

    DrmChsr0’s assessment is more-or-less accurate, though I wouldn’t put it in such hopeless terms because (a) there may be no hope in this world, but then this world’s a pretty limited, contingent, small place, and (b) the church (small ‘c’, body of Christians as opposed to organisation of clergy) seems to have always been like this. I’m no Bible scholar, but I’d guess the reason there’s a lot of stuff about how to get life right in Paul’s letters is because the churches he was writing to were frequently getting it wrong.

    I think the drama and theatre of 00‘s politics (and real-life national, ‘macro’ politics) does tend to obscure the good things people do on the ‘micro’, interpersonal level. And the bad things too, of course. In the UK the prevailing doctrine is that it’s not really worth engaging with politicians because they’re pretty powerless people in the short term, but that’s because we have a well-established, long-standing state system. How this looks from a country where the Church (large ‘C’) has recently faced a situation in which a gov’t actively oppressed its people I don’t know.

    Thought-provoking stuff. Better go to a nunnery to consider it.

  6. Baka-Raptor Says:

    Better get to a nunnery to consider it.

  7. DrmChsr0 Says:

    IKnight; Spot-on. Paul, Peter, John and Jude wrote to the churches precisely because they were doing it wrong.

    Though I’m not wrong about the hopeless situation. Sometimes you need to know you fucked up in order to realize a couple of things.

    I wish I didn’t paint it so hopelessly and bitter, but I was in quite the funk when I wrote that :V

  8. Michael Says:

    DrmChsr0:

    I wasn’t merely talking about the Japanese. I was primarily trying to interpret the stance of Setsuna in 00.

    While I agree with you that the Church remains to be a body of hypocrisy, it’s sad because they’re the people who are supposed to communicate God’s word. Hypocrisy is not part of His message. And yes, I recognize the trespasses that some priests commit against his word.

    I would agree with you, but it’s so bleak! 🙁

    IKnight:

    Yeah, but I can’t help from thinking about these things. Is there no way out?

    Baka-Raptor:

    Come all you spirits who tend on mortal thoughts unsex thee here.

  9. Asperger's Anime Blogger Says:

    I knew next to nothing about the Philippino Church before I read this article, or how to locate the Phillipines on a map, but I was outraged to learn that the Church wouldn’t help out.

    Now I’ve had some bad experiences with church in my time. In one case my Anglican Moore College run school wouldn’t let the FilmBuffery club (the film club) show Brokeback Mountain to commemorate Heath Ledger’s death. The school didn’t really take any responsibility for the banning or tell us why we couldn’t show it. And all this has done is made the students mistrust their pastors and teachers who supported the ban.

    But clearly what happened to the Phillipinos was far worse than denying students a Heath Ledger movie. I never knew about this issue but now I care.

  10. Michael Says:

    Jacob:

    Thanks for the comment!

    It’s an issue that has pervaded Filipino society for a long time. Liberation theology finally culminated in the People Power Revolution, but even that was only for a short while. It’s sad when social action is denied us by the Church that we believe in, but life’s like that.

    This is also why I can condone Setsuna’s stance. Rather than wait for cowards to change the world, why not change it on your own?

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