Is Final Fantasy Anti-Religion?

To start, yes, this is kind of a silly topic.  Yes, it’s been revisited many, many times before.  I remember reading editorials online about how Final Fantasy Tactics was a slam on Christianity way back in middle school (yes, we did have the internet in 1998).  And yes, I think that the general tone of the video that I’m responding to is meant in good fun, and shouldn’t be taken extremely seriously.

Let’s get things started by giving you folks a link to the video that I’m answering.  It’s about eleven minutes long, so watch it first.

Okay, we good?  Let’s go then.

File:YunaSeymour-Marriage.JPG

“You know, technically this marriage is against our religion, what with you being dead and all.” “Shut up, Yuna.” (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

First, let’s do a closer examination of Final Fantasy X, since that’s the game that gets most of MatPat’s attention in this video.  His summary of events in the game is pretty accurate (Yu Yevon, a powerful and respected summoner from the historic Zanarkand, asks the city’s citizens to sacrifice themselves to become the medium through which he can sustain Zanarkand’s memory and create an Aeon powerful enough to end the war and keep anyone from ever becoming technologically advanced enough to start another conflict on the same scale; this plan goes south as Yu Yevon loses himself in the process and becomes consumed with the basic idea of preserving Zanarkand’s memory and maintaining an Aeon that will prevent technological advancement; flash forward a thousand years and the game’s protagonists discover all this and decide to put an end to the cycle, drawing the ire of the world religion that’s sprung up around Yu Yevon’s desire to stagnate technological development).  Besides the background story, which doesn’t really come majorly into play until near the game’s end, there is an ongoing conflict between the heroes and the church of Yevon where the upper echelons of the church hierarchy are revealed to be extremely corrupt.

I don’t have a problem with stories that suggest religious organizations can be corrupt; that’s true enough in real life that I think it’d be absurd to ignore it in fiction.  However, I do think it’s a stretch to suggest that the core plot of Final Fantasy X supports MatPat’s argument about the series being anti-religion.  On close examination, the plot of this game follows a version of Gnostic cosmology (which modern Christians would dismiss as heretical, even though we’re pretty bad at separating concepts of gnosis from our own religious practice) that’s built around the usurpation of power from the true god by a false one.  To keep it brief, Yu Yevon represents the demiurge, a being in Gnostic thought that created the physical world as a lesser version of the spiritual one (either out of ignorance or spite, depending on the interpretation), Sin is representative of the inherently flawed nature of the physical world and the consequent suffering that ensues, and the journey of Yuna and Tidus to destroy Yu Yevon represents the acquisition of special knowledge (gnosis) necessary for salvation and a return to the way of the true god.

This isn’t a story that attacks religion; it just presents one that’s not such a major part of the popular consciousness anymore.

The second game that MatPat discusses is Final Fantasy Tactics (which is, objectively, the best game; I am not being hyperbolic).  This one’s a lot harder to argue against, because the basic plot revolves around a corrupt church that has all the trappings of Roman Catholicism, and it turns out that the figurehead of the religion, Saint Ajora, really was possessed by the demon Ultima after looking for the power to carry out a revolution (this story eventually gets eclipsed by a mythological narrative of salvation and divinity on Ajora’s part, similar to how proponents of texts like the Gospel of Thomas suggest that Jesus’ divine nature was a later imposition on the story of a revolutionary teacher).

It’s true this game isn’t kind to Christianity, but it should be pointed out that in this case the target is again simply organized religion.  The Glabados Church is corrupt, and its figurehead is a false god, but that’s not an indictment of divinity in general (within the narrative, we only receive confirmation that Ajora was possessed by Ultima; other details about how his story grew into the Glabados Church are obscured).

Following that, MatPat spends a short amount of time discussing Final Fantasy VI.  This game’s first half is lifted more or less whole cloth from the plot of Star Wars, but its second half deals with the heroes gathering together to destroy Kefka, who’s usurped the power of magic from the Warring Triad, a trio of deities who stirred up a pretty catastrophic war in the past, but who also aren’t necessarily the only divinities in this world.  It’s true that Kefka does steal all the power of magic from the Triad and in fact become the God of Magic, but he’s an ascended deity with only a single aspect; killing him is about restoring the world to order.  The Christ imagery that MatPat talks about is definitely present, but that should be viewed as a revelation of Kefka’s own twisted self-image, not evidence for the game’s ultimate disdain for religion.  Heck, the defeat of Kefka is treated as something bittersweet, where magic (the game’s analogue for faith) disappears and the world, though capable of moving on, is diminished by the loss.

As for the final game that MatPat discusses, Final Fantasy Legend, well… yeah.  The final boss is supposed to be God, and you do kill him for being a jerk who causes human suffering for his own amusement.  No argument with that one (except that technically that game’s part of the SaGa series; it only has the Final Fantasy title because Squaresoft thought the game would sell better in North America with the name recognition).

So is Final Fantasy, as a series, against religion?  I guess it depends on what your definition of anti-religion is.  On the one hand, yes, there are a couple games in the series that have plots revolving around rebellion against corrupt organized religions (Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy X are the most salient examples although Final Fantasy XIII has some similar overtones), and yes, there are a lot of games that involve combating an entity that represents God or someone aspiring to become God (Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, VII, IX, X, XII and probably more if you look at them the right way).  However, I don’t think the series is opposed to religion in general.  Fighting against cosmic (and pretty much always unjust) forces makes for a good conflict in an RPG.  The gods that get struck down by Final Fantasy‘s heroes are not being attacked because of their divinity; they’re being attacked because they happen to be evil (or in the case of Legend, just a jerk).  I don’t see that as being anti-religion; I see it as being anti-evil (deities who don’t jerk the heroes around typically get treated with a lot of respect; see for example Lightning’s devotion to the goddess Etro in Final Fantasy XIII-2).

Being anti-evil is a good thing to promote in your narrative.  It follows logically that if you set out to eliminate evil, and you discover in the course of your quest that there’s a divinity which is evil, then you should eliminate it.  None of the gods that get put out of their misery in these games are gods that a rational human being should want to follow in the first place.  As a Christian, I look at these stories and I think, “Well, I could see reason to get upset with the message here, if I thought my God resembled these gods, but I don’t think that.”  My God isn’t a psychopath who inflicts suffering for the sake of his own satisfaction; if he were then he wouldn’t be my God.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Is Final Fantasy Anti-Religion?

  1. I’d argue Final Fantasy is critical of blindly following a religion. Different from being anti – religious, I think they point out the corruption and evil that can result when the masses blindly believe without questioning or thinking for themselves.

  2. Pingback: Revisiting Final Fantasy Tactics (Part 5) | Catchy Title Goes Here

  3. Pingback: ¿Es ‘Final Fantasy’ Anti-Religión? – [JMXD3]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s