Shin Megami Tensei V’s Theology of Absence

Shin Megami Tensei V’s Theology of Absence

God is lifeless, and Shin Megami Tensei V invitations you to his post-apocalyptic funeral. That’s not a metaphor. Within the 2021 JRPG, designed by Atlus for the Nintendo Change, God actually is lifeless, and his shekinah glory is unraveling in consequence, leaving modern-day Tokyo susceptible to a cosmic battle between warring factions within the holy throne.

God is lifeless, and Shin Megami Tensei V invitations you to his post-apocalyptic funeral.

That’s not a metaphor. Within the 2021 JRPG, designed by Atlus for the Nintendo Change, God actually is lifeless, and his shekinah glory is unraveling in consequence, leaving modern-day Tokyo susceptible to a cosmic battle between warring factions within the holy throne. The protagonist, who stumbles right into a netherworld known as Da’at and fuses with the proto-fiend to develop into a strong and forbidden being generally known as a Nahobino, should finally take the throne himself and decide the destiny of humanity.

Sound ridiculous? Good. Irreverence and syncretism are hallmarks of the sequence. 

God is lifeless in SMTV. However the haunting reminder that the sequence sketches out for the Christian is that, within the absence of holy love, that scarcely issues in any respect.

That is made clear within the broader plot, which stitches collectively the vaguest of ideas from Christianity right into a fever dream of Paradise Misplaced fanfiction: the God of Regulation has separated holy beings from their Information, decreasing them to demons, and Devil has tempted them to reclaim that Information as soon as extra. Within the ensuing Armageddon, God dies, Tokyo is devastated and turns into the post-apocalyptic netherworld of Da’at, and the true battle for the holy throne begins.

It’s made clear, too, within the sheer absurdity that suffuses the sequence. Demons flirt; it’s potential to combat with Mothman on a crumbling bridge in an deserted Tokyo ward; the long-haired protagonist can introduce himself to potential demon allies with a “hair-etic” pun. In a world the place one of the beloved and in style demons is an affectionate however often homicidal snow fairy named Jack Frost, a battle between demons and angels over the throne of God is the least nonsensical ingredient on supply. 

In different phrases, nobody involves this recreation searching for theological steerage or depth.

And but the cussed refusal of the sport to speculate its topics with any actual theological significance attracts the form of what’s lacking. In a recreation that attracts deeply on Judeo-Christian ideas and concepts and repurposes them for sheer leisure worth, the absence of Christ compels discover.

The animating construction of the sport borrows liberally from Judeo-Christian beliefs. The God of Regulation, if lifeless in SMTV, is not less than current as an animating thought: his shekinah glory protects a recreated Tokyo, and his angels, outfitted with flaming swords, search to uphold his rule in his absence. 

Devil is right here, too, as one of many narrative’s driving forces: first as a horned bestial demon and later as a celestial mecha-angel. The virgin Mary additionally makes a cameo, relying on the trail chosen by the protagonist. Styled “Maria,” she seems within the recreation’s last dungeon full with iconographic halo, referenced as “The Compassionate Queen” and calling herself “the holy mom.”

However her son is nowhere to be discovered. There is no such thing as a Christ. 

There are probably causes for this restraint. The sequence, as a normal rule, has traditionally skirted the inclusion of sure key non secular figures, maybe as a well mannered try to keep away from controversy or offense—although such a alternative, in a recreation that prompts fisticuffs with the Honest Mom and casts Shiva as a superboss, appears arbitrary at finest. 

Maybe the presence of a savior-god is just of scarce use to a story that needs to painting God solely as a tyrant fascinated with squashing free will. Gamers who strategy the sequence with no specific non secular context may discover the omission irrelevant and even unnoticeable. However SMTV gives a way more surreal expertise for the believer who sees, in barren and pale Da’at, what Christian advantage seems like divorced from its supply.

What the sport reveals, with unsentimental effectivity, is that righteousness stripped of affection spares no thought for forgiveness and compassion. Divorced from mercy and style, zeal for God can develop into monstrosity and forces from others a devotion to God that springs not from affection however worry of punishment. 

SMTV doesn’t even different trouble disguising this as a metaphor. Abdiel, the archangel of God—a servant most wholly dedicated to obeying his phrase—finally defies the regulation in her zeal to protect it and turns into, on some paths, an abomination that have to be slaughtered. 

And in a scene roundly mocked by followers for its on-the-nose melodrama, the insecure highschool influencer Ichiro Dazai transforms from a nervous teenager struggling along with his mother and father’ divorce right into a sneering crusader for the religion: dropping his baseball cap alongside his innocence, he loses his smile, slicks again his hair, and, in his devotion to God, turns into keen to homicide his associates and name it righteousness.

Divorced from its salvific context within the recreation, devotion to God produces not kindness, compassion, or generosity, however worry, hatred, suspicion, and anger. Regulation with out love in Da’at heralds not freedom, however cruelty. This is perhaps a lesson for the devoted even in abnormal occasions, however these aren’t abnormal occasions, and so the in-game brutishness of those that contend for the religion resonates with specific that means because the church emerges from a pandemic to face an period that continues to be outlined by deeply felt political discourse and polarizing disagreements.

As trendy church buildings face requires racial reckoning and reconciliation, congregations cut up over questions on gender identification and sexual orientation, and sexual abuse scandals rock a number of denominations, the church should reside in and reply from the strain between regulation and style. SMTV serves as a haunting reminder within the background of what may result when grace is deserted in that equation, of how the rottenest of fruit can develop from the holiest of intentions. 

After all, SMTV is hardly breaking new floor on this regard. 

Within the long history of games that meditate on the sacred and the profane, JRPGs as a style are populated by a cadre of demented pseudo-popes, murderous angels, and unloving, tyrannical deities creatively derived from the Judeo-Christian custom. That the protagonist should exist in a universe overseen by an unloving god—and should ultimately overthrow that god—is a function, not a bug. What differentiates SMTV on this regard is its refusal to supply a significant balm for the wound.

Positive, most JRPG protagonists bear the burden of cosmic meaning-making and inevitably face the vacuum of divine love, however they obtain one thing in return: a cool sword, a girlfriend who turns into a cool sword, or the ability of friendship. Accompanied by a cool sword. 

However SMTV gives up lots of these items solely to take them away. 

Sure, the protagonist has associates and allies—and ultimately he’ll should homicide just a few of them, or watch others die for the trigger, as he proceeds to the throne. And certain, there’s an oasis of compassion and heat within the recreation known as the Fairy Village, populated by a mixture of totally first rate demons and people—however even this bastion of goodness might be eradicated when the protagonist reshapes the world. On the paths the place it continues to exist, everlasting energy struggles imperil its survival. Robert Frost claims in a poem that “nothing gold can keep.” In SMTV, nothing borne of affection can both.

The top credit of the sport emphasize this bleakness with a placing visible: the protagonist, having seized the holy throne and inherited the ability to reshape the world to his needs, walks ahead in his forbidden type by way of an empty galaxy alone. 

Because the melancholy closing theme progresses, the discordant church bells—a placing aural embodiment of the clanging cymbals of 1 Corinthians 13:1—step by step overwhelm the melody, which grows darker and extra dissonant. Each visible and tune seize a profound loneliness: the awful isolation of the cycle of human striving, untouched by enduring affection. 

In Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich writes, “And that is the information of which we’re most ignorant; for a lot of women and men consider that God is almighty and has energy to do all the things, that he’s all knowledge and is aware of how you can do all the things, however that he’s all love and is keen to do all the things—there they cease.”

The sport leaves it as much as the participant to find out if God is, certainly, almighty or smart. It’s potential in SMTV to decide on a path that secures the throne for God’s anticipated return, to acknowledge his deity as useful. However even this path engages within the drawing-back that Julian describes. There is no such thing as a sense that God is love, that certainly he’ll do something for these he loves—or that following God requires or conjures up love in any sense. And within the absence of conventional comforts provided by the style, the world that emerges from such a basis seems darkish certainly.

For all its irreverence and demented appeal, and for all that it insists to the participant and itself that religion and faith aren’t topics to be approached with any nice seriousness, SMTV’s emphasis on the law-and-obedience side of Judeo-Christian perception sketches a bleak and placing picture of Christianity: a physique of religion grown chilly with out the blood that enlivens it. Centered on a perception in God’s energy however not his love, religion in Da’at workouts itself in wrath and conceitedness, worships with sword and loss of life.

For individuals who don’t take part within the Christian religion custom, after all, none of this a lot issues. God’s loss of life and Christ’s absence within the SMTV narrative perform just like the addition or deletion of some other determine in a inventive mythology that repurposes demons and deities like dolls to be reanimated, or left behind, in service of the narrative. 

However for the believing Christian who plunges into the darkish and violent world of the sport, the absence of Christ takes on the form of one thing extra—what Richard Beck refers to in Hunting Magic Eels because the Ache: “the contours of the house that God as soon as held in our hearts and minds.” It’s unattainable to come across the efficiency of murderous, self-righteous religion in Da’at with out considering that such religion is a pure consequence of the selection, as Beck asserts, “[to sideline] the Love that strikes the celebs,” and with out questioning how the fashionable believer may take care to keep away from such a destiny. God is lifeless in SMTV. However the haunting reminder that the sequence sketches out for the Christian is that, within the absence of holy love, that scarcely issues in any respect.

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