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HomeCultureShin Megami Tensei V’s Theology of Absence

Shin Megami Tensei V’s Theology of Absence


God is useless, 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 Swap, God actually is useless, and his shekinah glory is unraveling in consequence, leaving modern-day Tokyo weak to a cosmic battle between warring factions within the holy throne. The protagonist, who stumbles right into a netherworld referred to as Da’at and fuses with the proto-fiend to turn out to be a strong and forbidden being often 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 collection. 

God is useless in SMTV. However the haunting reminder that the collection 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 Legislation has separated holy beings from their Data, lowering them to demons, and Devil has tempted them to reclaim that Data 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 collection. Demons flirt; it’s attainable to battle 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 vital beloved and well-liked 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 provide. 

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

And but the cussed refusal of the sport to take a position its topics with any actual theological significance attracts the form of what’s lacking. In a sport 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 Legislation, if useless 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 sport’s remaining 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 isn’t a Christ. 

There are probably causes for this restraint. The collection, as a basic rule, has traditionally skirted the inclusion of sure key spiritual figures, maybe as a well mannered try to keep away from controversy or offense—although such a selection, in a sport that prompts fisticuffs with the Honest Mom and casts Shiva as a superboss, appears arbitrary at greatest. 

Maybe the presence of a savior-god is just of scarce use to a story that needs to painting God solely as a tyrant excited about squashing free will. Gamers who method the collection with no specific spiritual context would possibly 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 turn out to be 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 legislation 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 prepared to homicide his pals and name it righteousness.

Divorced from its salvific context within the sport, devotion to God produces not kindness, compassion, or generosity, however worry, hatred, suspicion, and anger. Legislation with out love in Da’at heralds not freedom, however cruelty. This is likely to be a lesson for the devoted even in unusual instances, however these aren’t unusual instances, and so the in-game brutishness of those that contend for the religion resonates with specific which 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 id and sexual orientation, and sexual abuse scandals rock a number of denominations, the church should stay in and reply from the stress between legislation 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. 

In fact, SMTV is hardly breaking new floor on this regard. 

Within the lengthy historical past of video 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.

Certain, 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 a lot of this stuff solely to take them away. 

Sure, the protagonist has pals and allies—and ultimately he’ll need to homicide a number of 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 sport referred to as the Fairy Village, populated by a mixture of totally respectable 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 hanging visible: the protagonist, having seized the holy throne and inherited the ability to reshape the world to his needs, walks ahead in his forbidden kind via an empty galaxy alone. 

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

In Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich writes, “And that is the data of which we’re most ignorant; for a lot of women and men imagine that God is almighty and has energy to do every little thing, that he’s all knowledge and is aware of the best way to do every little thing, however that he’s all love and is prepared to do every little thing—there they cease.”

The sport leaves it as much as the participant to find out if God is, certainly, almighty or clever. It’s attainable 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 isn’t a sense that God is love, that certainly he’ll do something for these he loves—or that following God requires or evokes love in any sense. And within the absence of conventional comforts supplied by the style, the world that emerges from such a basis seems darkish certainly.

For all its irreverence and demented attraction, 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 hanging 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 demise.

For individuals who don’t take part within the Christian religion custom, after all, none of this a lot issues. God’s demise and Christ’s absence within the SMTV narrative perform just like the addition or deletion of every 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 Searching Magic Eels because the Ache: “the contours of the area that God as soon as held in our hearts and minds.” It’s inconceivable 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 celebrities,” and with out questioning how the fashionable believer would possibly take care to keep away from such a destiny. God is useless in SMTV. However the haunting reminder that the collection sketches out for the Christian is that, within the absence of holy love, that scarcely issues in any respect.



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