Scrambling for Freedom: How Mardock Scramble Points to Freedom as the Goal of Christian Life

Several of my readers may have come across Mardock Scramble and been dissuaded from watching it by reading descriptions of this show.  In that case, retain your original resolution not to watch it, because it does contain scenes which are downright gruesome and characters representing the worst levels to which a human being can fall.  At the same time, the evolution of Rune Balot from a prostitute leading a miserable existence to a woman capable of great compassion and virtue stands among the most beautiful anime has to offer.

mardock-scramble-Rune-Balot

The anime describes this transition from prostitute to heroine as the same as from slave to free.  That these three OVAs focus on freedom as their main topic makes itself apparent in the three ending songs.  (Yes, I loved this anime so much that I listened to the ending songs so that I might get every drop of it out.)  The first OVA plays “Amazing Grace,” the second “Ave Maria for Balot,” and the third Megumi Hayashibara’s (Rune Balot’s voice actress, by the way) “Tsubasa,” which means “Wings” in English.  These songs point to the three steps of salvation: 1) Christ finds us and saves us from hell; 2) we struggle for righteousness through the grace of God–especially sought through prayer; and 3) we fully realize the freedom found in abiding in God’s will.  The very highest freedom exists in heaven, where we shall no longer be tempted by evil choices and only chose from several goods.

Yet, people often look at things like the commandments and religious obligations, which lead them to come to the opinion that religion represses freedom.  But, let us examine these “strictures.”  The commandments order us not to do evil.  Constantly doing evil leads to vices forming on the soul.  What is a vice except a form of slavery on the soul?  Whether one looks at pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, gluttony, or sloth, it will become evident that these things limit a person.  Pride blinds us to truth, envy prevents us from loving others, anger prevents rational thought and action,  greed blinds us to what we really need, lust prevents us from seeing persons as persons, gluttony produces a body unfit for strenuous activity, and sloth prevents us from developing our talents.  In essence, by God telling us to be good, He tells us to be free.

Our Lord delivered St. Mary Magdalene from seven demons.  In the same way, He delivers all souls from the seven deadly sins.

Our Lord delivered St. Mary Magdalene from seven demons. In the same way, He delivers all souls from the seven deadly sins.

In the case of religious obligations like attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, receiving the Eucharist at least once a year, or going to confession at least once a year during Easter if we have committed a mortal sin, these merely oblige us to do what we should decide to do on our own initiative if we were not so ignorant.  Eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ is our very salvation.  And can one complain about having to go to confession if one is in a state of mortal sin–a condition where a sudden death might deprive them of eternal life?  Do not people who decline to go to confession out of fear or laziness rather than run into the arms of their merciful Father and steadfast Brother strike one as foolish?  Certain people have enough leisure that they receive the Eucharist daily or the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly or even daily–ever dwelling in the Mercy of God imparted in the sacraments.  To wisely fulfill one’s obligations is not slavish but free.

Oeufcoque

To take the case of Rune Balot, she has obligations to Dr. Easter, who saves her from certain death through his medical technology, to help him testify against the man who used her as a concubine before attempting to burn her alive.  She is given Oeufcoque, a golden, talking mouse who can change into practically any tool–from computerized gloves to a hand cannon, as a partner.  Her acceptance of this duty leads to many violent confrontations, and she does have one major fall from grace.  When she realizes the extent of her fault due to Oeufcoque suffering from his aversion to her evil deeds, she comes to herself and repents straightway.  She had determined to love Oeufcoque earlier, but she had not taken into account her obligations to her new partner.  Without meeting these obligations, she cannot be free.

Rune Balot

Freedom is not without structure.  The order to which freedom adheres derives from moral law.  When we fit into this order, we bring our freedom to perfection.  The struggle of overcoming ourselves and conforming to virtue leads to us gaining true freedom.  And to what end ought we put our freedom?  Love.  Toward the end of the series, Balot tells Oeufcoque that she has known many men whom she wished would love her, but he is the first being she wished to love of her own initiative.  As conformity to the moral law leads to us becoming more at home in the universe, we become the persons we were meant to be and our desires are met in ways we never dreamed possible.  The ending of Mardock Scramble indicates that Balot, despite the pain of her recent experiences, has found happiness and rejoices in living–something which would never have happened had she not been providentially rescued from her wayward lifestyle.

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Shiki’s Post-Modern Myth of Cain and Abel

Before I begin this article, I should like to relate an amusing story with Professor Justin Jackson, whom I mentioned in my prior post.  Once, he walked into a classroom to find that another professor had written “Grendel rocks” on the board.  Seeing which, Professor Jackson reacted by saying, “Grendel rocks!  Seriously?  Don’t you know what Grendel means?  Evil.  A professor of Hillsdale College wrote “Evil rocks” on the board.  He should be ashamed of himself!”

Beowulf defeats Grendel

Nothing so sums up post-modernism as the phrase “evil rocks.”  Shiki contains sections which convey the idea “Grendel rocks,” but I think that the anime ultimately undermines any such ideas.  It certainly avoids the diabolic imagination, despite featuring scenes of pure horror, and the events serve to test the viewer’s ability to make moral decisions amidst attempts to make situations less black and white than they are.  But, Seishin’s treatment of the Cain and Abel myth did make me worry about the author’s intent.

It’s spoilers galore from here on, but the way.

shiki_seishin and sunako

In my prior article, I argued that Seishin is like the scop in Beowulf.  In Seishin’s version of the Cain and Abel myth, the elder brother still kills the younger, but the younger rises as a vampire to haunt the elder.  (That’s a neat twist.)  More divergences from the original myth come when the younger brother thanks the elder for freeing him from the odious service of God by killing him, and the reason adduced for the elder killing the younger was hatred of self.

4

I consider this tale self-referential to Seishin, who feels abandoned by God and feels pained by having to serve Him as a priest.  It fails when applied to Vampires vs. Homo Sapiens.  Abel, while living, hates himself in the same way that the villagers hate themselves–as shown by their refusal to take steps to preserve their own lives and defend their village until the very end.  Even people that know about the vampires allow themselves to get sucked dry–like Natsuno.  Yet, many vampires come to hate their vampire lifestyle, like Nao and Tooru.  The chief vampire, Sunako, also seems not to relish it much, but she wants to live.  On the other hand, we have Ritsuko who clings to her humanity and service to the sick even after being changed.  These facts indicate that the allegory is imperfect or even wrong.

nurses

The problems in applying the allegory beyond Seishin himself serve to test the audience.  Do we really believe that one is least free by becoming a slave of God?  How can a perfect slave of the Freest Being not also become perfectly free?  The person who seemed most free in the story is Ritsuko.  She refuses to succumb to external pressures directing her life: she stays in the village because she wants to, she serves the sick because she wants to, and not even her rising up as a vampire can turn her from her desire to be human.  In a beautiful death, she chooses starvation rather than betraying her friend in order to sate her appetite for blood.  Neither the vampires who make excuses for their killing and kinslaughter nor human beings who refuse to face reality strike one as free.

Post-modern Seishun

The fact that Seishin is a priest appears to make him the epitome of a servant of God, but I would argue that the real epitome of a servant of God is Ritsuko.  Look at what we know of Seishin’s stories.  He writes novels about people who feel abandoned by God and omnipresent divine silence.  He advances the cause of atheism rather than the cause of God!  He certainly has no words of comfort for Kaori, a frightened teenage girl who feels like Megumi is coming to kill her.  His consolations were so pathetic that I wished someone to give him a good thrashing.

Shiki Megumi

On the other hand, Ritsuko tirelessly helps her patients as a nurse and loves doing it.  The Christian faith has ever considered caring for the sick as a preeminent good work.  One desert father told a colleague that a monk who merely fasted and prayed–holy  though this style of life is–could not equal a monk who cared for the sick even if he hung himself up by the nose.  The sick and suffering have ever been identified with Our Lord.  For example, a certain saint, while caring for a patient, was told that the bishop was here to see him.  He responded that he would “see his grace once he had finished attending the Lord.”  At any rate, Ritsuko so loves her God-given talent for caring for the sick that she chooses to die rather than to live as a monster.  A perfect example of a martyr or a friend of God.

Ritsuko and Freedom

Well played, noitaminA, well played.  Even as the case is being set forth for the monsters of the story, it undercuts their philosophy.  It probes the viewers on whether we should accept the dark imagination over the light.  In giving us a post-modern Cain and Abel, it then reveals its falsity.  Of course, I’d love to read an article or a comment which claims that the post-modern view wins out in the story.

Learned Something about Modern Atheism

Well, dear readers, here’s my first crisis: I have a mere 42 minutes to keep my promise to post everyday.  Fridays are the busiest days for me, so I have been effectively kept from writing until now.

In class today, I felt like I had my eyes opened at little concerning the roots of modern atheism.  The attitudes of modern atheists seem to have their philosophical roots in Feuerbach and Sartre.  Feuerbach was the son of a Lutheran minister who turned athiest.  (My professor joked that the reason Catholic priests don’t marry is because minister’s sons always–at least the famous ones–become atheist.)  He adopted Hegel’s theories of alienation into his own, but he added the nuance that man was most alienated by the religious ideas which he holds–which Feuerbach also posits are the result of human beings’ own thoughts.  For Feuerbach, religion limits man’s ability to be a free agent by the idea that things occur according to God’s will, which inclines man to use his freedom less in imposing his will on the outside world.  Instead of praying, man should roll up his sleeves and work.  Interestingly, this line of thought was also pivotal in changing attitudes of modern religious people: even though things still happen according to God’s will and prayer is of great necessity in the believer’s life, one ought to be more active in doing good works and trying to help people.

Sartre felt that the existence of God would prevent man from having freedom.  In order to be free, God must not exist.  You see, he had this idea that things were either “pour-soi” or “en-soi.”  (French phrases meaning “for itself” and “in itself” respectively)  Human beings, considered in themselves, are pour-soi or ends in themselves; though, people have a nasty habit of turning people into en-soi or objects.  (Think of Kant’s differentiation between viewing people as ends or means.)  If God exists, people become en-soi in regard to God: “just another object in God’s field of vision.” (courtesy of Father Robert Leavitt’s instructive summation of these philosophies)

While Feuerbach was right in pointing out that believers of his day were too passive, he is wrong in believing God to be of human invention.  God excels everything a human being can imagine, which one especially sees in God’s superabundant mercy.  Human beings always want justice to be done–except when they are the debtors, anyway.  I remember speaking to a lapsed Catholic about how God was so merciful that he would forgive a mass murderer or Hitler merely for that person experiencing true contrition on the point of death.  Of course, such sins would require a great deal of time in purgatory before such a soul was ready for heaven.  He did not like this idea of mercy at all.  In his mind, even if that person truly repented then, it would be to late for that person to ever enter paradise, even if he stayed in purgatory until the end of the world.  He said that he might see God forgiving such a person after they spent many years performing penance.  So, God’s mercy surpasses what finite man can imagine–at least, a finite man thinking reasonably.

In answer to Sartre’s problem about whether human beings can be free if there’s a God, I’m reminded of John 16:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  Following our own will leads either to unhappiness or a false kind of happiness.  People will be stuck in a cycle of sin, which is slavery.  It needs God’s grace to be freed from this cycle and to possess virtue, without which no one can be said to be happy.  God gives us the greatest degree of freedom by uniting us to the freedom He has in Himself.

(Posted at midnight exactly!  I’d say that it counts as Nov. 2)