Why is 'The Church' Always The Villain in Fantasy Stories?
Listen - whenever I said I didn’t want to watch another Isekai so long as I live, I didn’t mean yall literally had to make a whole anime about assassinating the genre itself. But thanks? For this video, I want to look at the new anime The Executioner and Her Way of Life. This story takes another story and turns it upside down but simultaneously reveals that maybe the original story wasn’t that bad to begin with… I don’t know. It’s a bit nuanced, but the best stories always are.
The Executioner is an anime about strong-held beliefs and values, and it’s pretty evident that the church is the bad guy in this one - AGAIN. So let’s talk about how the IRL church has dealt with this before, is still dealing with it today, and how you and I can be better. That’s right - I’m here to spare my mortal foe, the Isekai. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and, oh wait, is this anime just Final Destination? I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Galatians 5:2-15 (NRSVue)
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that, if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be reckoned as righteous by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working[b] through love. You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my brothers and sisters, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Let’s start with what this anime is even about. The Executioner and Her Way of Life is a Japanese yuri light novel series that got an anime television series adaptation in April 2022.
The story explains that in this fantastic land long ago, wanderers called "Lost Ones" started to appear from an alternate world known as "Japan," and each was given power beyond imagination called "Pure Concepts."
So, basically, isekai is real, and this world proved it.
With these super-powered wanderers showing up, the people of the otherworld began to create an advanced civilization with heavy Japanese influences. And, for a while, the world prospered. Some might even say it was good.
However, it was discovered that the Lost Ones would lose control of their Pure Concepts, bringing disaster and calamity to the world with prolonged usage.
Because of these mega whoopsies, there exist four legendary disasters, dubbed "Human Errors," which rage on indefinitely:
the Sword of Salt, which turned the whole Western continent into salt that is gradually melting into the sea;
the Pandæmonium, a fog-like dead zone in the Southern archipelago from which monsters regularly emerge;
the Mechanical Society, which controls the wild frontier in the East;
and the Starhusk, which carved out the center of the Northern continent and set it afloat.
To prevent such calamities from happening again, the summoning of Lost Ones has become strictly forbidden and heavily managed by the Faust, a class of Church members in society.
Among the Faust are Executioners, members that wield magic – etheric powers – and set out to secretly assassinate any Lost Ones that may still appear.
Our story follows top-class Executioner Menou, who has been tasked with eliminating Akari Tokitō, a Lost One who has been summoned by the King of the Noblesse, the noble class.
However, she fails despite being a totally BA assassin. It turns out that Akari possesses the Pure Concept of Time, making her capable of reversing her death even after being killed. That’s gonna be a tricky one.
Shocked and fearful, Menou sets out on a journey with Akari by her side, hoping to find a way to kill her somewhere along the way.
If that story interests you, it should, it’s terrific, and I’m enjoying my time in this world.
And it shouldn’t take too deep of analysis to see the cream already rising to the top; this author is not exactly subtle.
For starters, we have a literal isekai world that is murdering all of the summoned Japanese citizens who are brought there.
Then we have the warring factions of the church and the nobility. The Noblesse is an amalgam of the word noble and less, because they aren’t noble.
And the church is just straight-up named Faust, like THE Faust - if you aren’t expecting a deal with the devil somewhere in this story, then you aren’t paying attention.
Ultimately, this story is about the reality and the nuance of conflict. No one is a good guy in this story. Everyone is just sort of in it for themselves and is looking to take advantage of others for their benefit.
But then we have Menou, our protagonist. And she’s confused.
She keeps running into brick walls telling her not to kill Akari, but it is this task which she has literally been raised for since she was a child - by the Church, no less.
Ope, there we go, we said the word - something about fantasy storytelling and making the church ominous and weird and evil. It’s almost like we cause enough trouble in real life to make people upset with us.
And there is a lot that could be said about this church, but let’s look for a moment at our IRL historic church that is being written about in our passage for this video.
Paul’s epistle, or letter, to the Galatian church is a - scathing - one. You can tell it’s one of the earlier letters of Paul because he has none of the chill that he exhibits in Romans’ calm and collected exhortation. He doesn’t pull punches, nor does he treat things lightly at all.
In all fairness, Paul has a pretty good reason to be upset with the church.
Paul was a missionary and was someone who didn’t remain in a place for very long. He had to keep the gospel moving and spreading like a small flame. But he still cared for the people he ministered to, so he kept in touch with them through letters.
One day, Paul is chilling, making tents or something, and he gets this letter from the church in Galatia, and it says hey Paul, you’re a crock, your ministry is a crock, and we’ve all decided that we need to be circumcised to be authentic followers of Jesus. And before you ask why, just know that this was a really solid piece of advice we got from Dave - right Dave? Uh, yeh.
Once Paul left that area to spread the gospel elsewhere, it seems likely that many other voices and leaders stepped into Paul’s place and started poisoning the well with other inadequate doctrines.
Maybe it was bitter Jewish leaders who didn’t like all these normie Gentiles joining the club, or perhaps it was someone trying to defame the idea of Christianity at all, maybe it was someone who just wanted to mess with impressionable minds… who could say how many factors Paul had been fighting with?
So Paul has been told that he’s wrong and that the way he taught about Jesus was wrong, so he writes back with some fire behind his pen, quill, etching thingy, idk.
As I said, Paul does not pull punches here and says, hey - look, if you want to get circumcised, go right on ahead, but if you do, just know that Jesus is of no use to you because you are entirely missing the point of the whole thing, DAVE.
See - the whole argument behind circumcision is not a one-and-done ceremony; no, in the tradition at the time, it’s a symbol of lifelong dedication. To what? The law. The whole law and nothing but the law. The impetus of the circumcised Jew of the era was to become obsessed with the works of the law, to worship the law.
And Jesus wants none of that. Jesus doesn’t want you to be the one saving yourself.
Jesus is about hope, redemption, and chain-breaking liberation, and someone has come into the fold and is soiling the whole of the body of Christ in this one area.
So Paul says whoever is doing this should go and castrate themselves - no. punches. In the Bible.
Paul then wraps up his argument with what he has already taught them. The message of the cross is clear as day. You are not called to sacrifice your body for the law. You’re called to sacrifice your very self for those you call brother, sister, and friend.
The whole law - all of it - can be summed up in a single commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So what does any of this have to do with Executioner? Well, to put it simply, this is where the Church always messes up. And it’s also where I judge a writer the most harshly.
The best allegory of the IRL church that can be written as a commentary is one that starts with pure doctrine and gets perverted along the way.
We don’t know much about the Faust yet in the story, and I don’t want to spoil too much about what we learn as the show goes on because I want you to watch this.
But, just for the benefit of the doubt, imagine that the Faust are good, healthy, honest, and pure before the first Lost One showed up. Imagine that they were on the straight and narrow, and then this kink comes in the line, and the next thing you know, decades have passed, and the church has specialized a whole series of assassins with the sole purpose of mind-washed destruction.
This is what happens when the church becomes reactionary.
We have a problem or not even a problem, a change.
And the church feels that it has to pivot or adapt to that change.
So we quickly start to make tiny hints and nudges towards our understanding of things; we introduce new laws, new ideas, and new interpretations of old things.
Next thing you know, we’ve turned around, and the whole thing is messed up, causing harm to people. It started innocently enough but quickly turned into something we didn’t mean for it to.
For Paul and the Galatians, it was an interpretation of a law. For the Lost Ones, it was a stranger in their midst. For the current church, I could devise a list of a couple dozen action items that have gotten us in a tizzy.
But Paul highlights the truth here - what if we don’t need to change or adapt? What if we don’t need to do anything at all? What if we are in the way of Jesus and His active work of love?
But what does any of this mean for us today?
What if we asked fewer questions and offered up more love? Since it is the greatest commandment, after all. What if we’re messing up by trying to be so righteous for our own sake rather than just Jesus being the one on the throne as He should be.
What if we stop praying so loudly or condemning so often and instead just focus on living in a community of love and welcome.
This tendency towards legalism is why we have so few rules at Checkpoint; we adhere to John Wesley’s three simple, general rules. Just do good. Just don’t do harm. Just strive to grow closer to each other and, by extension, God.
And then - we just get out of the way and watch Jesus do miracles in the lives of others. No longer my own, but thine.
So whether you’re a Noblesse, a Faust, or a Lost One, know you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.