Oh, My Pop Culture Church: Criticizing Organized Religion Doesn’t Have to Be Anti-Religion

Take the plot of any Final Fantasy game—we always have our spiky-haired leader with a giant sword, some dude named Cid, chocobos, moogles, and many more similarities. The games also give us some evil force attempting to wipe out all of humanity. But another thing the narratives also have in common is an all-powerful, corrupt organization or government that controls the world. In Final Fantasy VII, this was the Shinra company. In FFXII, it was the invading country of Archadia. In FFXIII, we have the Sanctum. And in Final Fantasy X, our corrupt organization is Yevon, the leading religion in the world of Spira.

FFX Yu YevonFinal Fantasy uses a lot of mythology, and it’s not always accurate to the religions it borrows from. In other ways, the games do an immensely wonderful job with different faiths. Final Fantasy X is one of these games. FFX opens up a discussion about religion that we as consumers probably need. While Final Fantasy does have both good and bad religious representation, the games are not shy about criticizing the faiths they borrow from.

I wouldn’t say that the Final Fantasy games are being overtly anti-religious in any game. Or, at the very least, I wouldn’t say that the games are specifically created with an anti-religious agenda. Final Fantasy’s big thing, though, is that it criticizes people with power, and religion is just one avenue through which it does so.

Final Fantasy X is a very religious game. The world of Spira is ravaged by a giant monster called Sin, and the only consolation and hope people have for the future is their faith in Yevon. They believe that only through following the teachings of Yevon and completely atoning for all their sins will they vanquish Sin the monster forever. Until that happens, the people of Spira need summoners to save them from Sin, which they believe is the physical embodiment of mankind’s failings and wrongdoings. Armed with their beliefs, summoners set out on a holy pilgrimage to pray at every temple in their world. Through their prayers and their faith, summoners can then call forth godlike monsters of their own to fight back against Sin and keep the people of Spira safe. When a summoner defeats Sin, they must give their own life in the process, but their sacrifice also buys Spira ten years of peace until Sin is reborn and the cycle continues. Many Christians also feel that Jesus is their only salvation from sin. In order for Christians to escape sin and the spiritual death it causes, they believe that they need their savior Jesus Christ. One of our main characters, Yuna, is a summoner. Yuna and most of her friends have spent their entire lives living within the comfort of Yevon’s rule. But as the events in the game unfold, Yuna and the other characters learn that not everything under Yevon is as good as it sounds. While Yevon provides structure and hope for the people of Spira, underneath all that, it is an agent of chaos and oppression.

FFX Luca CityYevon controls people’s lives—it dictates how to live, what to do, and what entertainment is and is not allowed. Most of all, it forbids the use of machina—machines. Yevon says that machina is evil, because Sin was first born during a machina war over a thousand years ago. Using this belief, Yevon has successfully halted any kind of technological advancement in Spira. At the same time, Yevon makes exceptions for certain machina use—some machina is not evil, they say, but only the machina they sanction. By manipulating people with these beliefs, Yevon has ensured that not only is it the only hope for humanity in the eyes of the people, but it is also the most powerful military force in the world as well. Most followers of Yevon don’t question these things, because at the same time, Yevon provides them relief from Sin. It is through Yevon that people are safe, and it is also through Yevon that the people of Spira are united. This support and comfort allows Yevon its wide reach. In just a thousand years, it became the dominant faith on the planet, and whatever faiths minority groups used to adhere to before converting have been all but erased.

As the game progresses, we can see that other minority groups outside of Yevon’s teaching, such as the Al Bhed, who refuse to convert, are ostracized and abused. Most followers think the Al Bhed deserve this ridicule and derision, since they have been taught that by not following Yevon’s beliefs, the Al Bhed are contributing to all the evil in the world. The Al Bhed are othered by the church, and they even face genocide because of it.

For every good thing Yevon does, there’s something bad to counteract it. Even providing a way to defeat Sin is tainted by less savory practices. The very institution that destroys Sin—the use of summoners—is also what ensures that Sin will be reborn over and over and over again for the rest of time. After Yuna discovers this, she is devastated. For a moment, she loses all her hope and faith and doesn’t know if she can continue on her pilgrimage. Eventually, Yuna learns that she can still have faith, but that doesn’t mean she has to be part of the church. This is a direct parallel to Jesus, who often protested against the established system at his time—he called out the Pharisees for making the letter of the law more important than its spirit, he violently flipped over the moneychangers’ tables when they set up business in the temple, he worked on the Sabbath, and he ate with so-called sinners. All the corrupt standards in the religious establishment during his time were things he actively went against.

FFX YunaThere were aspects of the religious establishment back then that were corrupt, just like there are today and just like there were in Yevon. Through Jesus’s actions, he fulfilled the Law of Moses and established a new covenant, just like Yuna does to the church of Yevon when she defeats Sin forever. However, while Jesus’s actions were good, that doesn’t mean Christianity has ever been exempt from evil. These are human failings, not godly failings. Churches in the real world provide us with the same comfort and hope that Yevon provides the people of Spira. At the same time, churches and organized religion can and do use their power to oppress people. Like Jesus and Yuna, we can protest these things without protesting or going against our own faiths. This is a fine line Final Fantasy X walks, but it is an important message to send. We should be allowed to criticize established religions and know that that is not inherently anti-religious. Calling out problems within organized religion is a way to help our churches improve, to stop harming marginalized groups, and to move them closer to the teachings of love and peace that they are supposed to be following.

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1 thought on “Oh, My Pop Culture Church: Criticizing Organized Religion Doesn’t Have to Be Anti-Religion

  1. Pingback: Something More: One Punch Man and Religious Censorship, Jesus in FFX, and Fruits of the Pikachu |

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