10 April 2016

Some Thoughts About Heterodoxy and Heresy

Innocent Children's Crusade v3:   Mega
My mega folder where you can find all 3 volumes: Mega

Here it is, the final act in Usamaru Furuya's bloody tragedy, volume 3 of Innocent Children's Crusade! Much thanks goes to Kennit for doing a fantastic job with the cleaning and typesetting. He definitely put in a lot more effort than I would have, had I tried to do this alone. Now as requested by a few people, I'm going to try to do a Some Thoughts post for all the new projects I pick up from now on, so as to explain why I thought a particular work was interesting enough to bother translating.

I've been a fan of Furuya Usamaru ever since I saw his zany Short Cuts manga posted on /a/ a whole decade ago. Since then, I've read many of his other works and even translated a few. In doing so, I've really come to appreciate his versatility. There's not a lot of artists who'd be so willing to cross the sharp line between the avant-garde and mainstream, and even fewer who can succeed at both. He can be abstract or direct, draw scat sex or young sweet love, and tell a serious drama loaded with metaphors or a goofy ecchi comedy. That being said, there are some common elements for his diverse output, one of them being that his stories often feature teenagers/young adults trying to make sense of their world and their place in it. It seems quite clear to me that Furuya has a soft spot for the themes of adolescent troubles and challenges. Seen in this light, Innocent Children's Crusade is a typical "Furuya Usamaru story" (if there is such a thing) as much as it is a spiritual successor to Litchi Hikari Club, as I theorized before. Despite the strong religious overtones, a quick rundown of the internal motives for the cast (which leads to their ruin) shows that Innocent Children's Crusade is a story more about adolescence than it is about the Crusades.
Christian: Gender confusion                                                  Henri: Recognition
Guy: Abandonment issues                                                     Nicolas: Hero-fixation
Michael: Daddy issues                                                            Lilian: Identity crisis
Guillaume/Pierre: Self-entitlement                                      Isabelle: Worthlessness
Additionally, many of the characters also deal with their first love along the journey.
But there's another side to this manga that I find more interesting which concerns the blurry line between heterodoxy and heresy. As the old quote goes, "Orthodoxy is my doxy. Heterodoxy is your doxy!" It's a classic case of human pride, or to put it more pretentiously, it's a classic case of naive realism out of a social psychology textbook. We all like to think "we" can think clearly without prejudice while "they" can't; what we believe must be the true creed while "they" believe in a corrupted form of the true creed. It's a natural extension of the in-group/out-group thinking that our brains are evolutionarily hardwired for, so that we could learn to build tighter-knit societies. Kill someone in your tribe and you'll be called a murderer. Kill and enslave hundreds of people of another tribe competing for access to hunting grounds and your tribe members will likely sing songs and compose epic poetry of your heroic deeds. It's a curious facet of human nature which I'm endlessly interested in, and perhaps why I'm drawn to Christianity (in an academic, not religious, sense).
I'll be the first to admit that Christianity is a fucking cool religion. I don't know if it was a cruel joke by the Flying Spaghetti Monster or some other higher being to combine the fire and brimstone in-group/out-group rationale of the Old Testament encouraging genocide with the strikingly pacifist creed of the New Testament encouraging one to "turn the other cheek" and "love thy enemies." No wonder Christians could mine the Bible to justify practically any behaviour. But my favourite part of Christianity is the theology behind the Trinity, because it's such a non-intuitive concept for outsiders. And if any die-hard Christian tries to tell me I'm just dumb for not "getting it," I'd tell them to look at their own history to see how many millions of Christians also didn't get such an "obvious" concept. It's quite understandable why it's baffling at first. "What? Are you saying A= B and B = C but A  C? So my math teacher was wrong?" Even casual Christians seem confused about the whole concept by offering flawed analogies like "Think of God as an egg with the white, yolk, and shell making one cohesive whole" or "Think of God as H2O with liquid, solid, and vapour phases." Those casual Christians should count themselves lucky, because they would've been stoned by angry Christians for holding such heretical beliefs if they lived in more religious times. The way I like to think of the Trinity, or theology in general, is to liken it to those hotly contested bits in any fandom that outsiders will most likely go "Huh? Does it matter?" Every fanatic fandom has one of these, like Nasuverse's infamous "Can Shiki kill servants?" question or trying to comprehend what's all the fuss about midichlorians in Star Wars. Unless you've reached a certain threshold of investment in that fandom, it might as well all be gobbledygook.
But the surprising thing about theology is that even when a believer become invested enough to internalize it, it still doesn't necessarily dictate his or her actual behaviour! This is the subject of study in Theological Incorrectness. In it, D. Jason Slone elucidates why religious people act contrary to the theology they supposedly believe in. For all the talk about Theravada Buddhism being non-theistic, the actions by monks and believers reflect the belief in supernatural agents. And both religious and non-religious people are highly susceptible to belief in luck, no matter the cultural background they're from. To explain these paradoxical cases, Slone brings up the concept of cognitive efficiency from cognitive science. Basically, our brains, through evolution, are hardwired to specific paths so as to make sense of the world in the most efficient way possible. Hence, when we act on the fly, our brain isn't going to slow down and spend all that energy on making sure our actions will in no way contradict our theological beliefs. Instead, it's going to override our internalized theology. An example of this would be an atheist feeling hesitant to drink from a glass which once contained feces, even if it had been thoroughly disinfected because of the cognitive tendency to perceive of 'essences' or 'traces' that can exist in a non-physical realm.
Now as Philip Jenkins points out in Jesus Wars, when the Trinitarian nature of God was being debated in the 4th to 6th centuries, St. Gregory of Nyssa noted thus:
Every part of the city is filled with such talk; the alleys, the crossroads, the squares, the avenues. It comes from those who sell clothes, moneychangers, grocers. If you ask a money-changer what the exchange rate is, he will reply with a dissertation on the Begotten and Unbegotten. If you enquire about the quality and the price of bread, the baker will reply: “The Father is greatest and the Son subject to him.” When you ask at the baths whether the water is ready, the manager will declare that "the Son came forth from nothing."
Jenkins then goes on to argue that despite the masses knowing the "slogans" of the various interpretations of Christ's nature, they, and even many church leaders, didn't really comprehend the fine distinctions in the great theological debates going on. So if most of these believers didn't really know what the hell they were talking about, why were they going around proselytizing and even killing for their beliefs? Jenkins mostly attributes it to extreme religious devotion for the masses or the game of power-grabbing and politicking for bishops and emperors. But after reading some theories on the cognitive science behind human behaviour, I'm inclined to chalk it up less to faith than cognitive dissonance. For those of you who aren't familiar with cognitive dissonance, it's when a person holds two contradictory beliefs or confronts a reality that contradicts their belief, which causes mental stress, leading him or her to act in ways to relieve that stress. Think of it as a wider application of the sunken cost fallacy. If you spent $600 on a game console that doesn't even have any good exclusives, your brain flinches at the idea of admitting you fucked up, so you end up making all kinds of justifications to fuel the delusion that you weren't mistaken... like holding up that one decent exclusive up on a pedestal. Applied to the context of 5th century Roman Empire, a Christian who invested all his time and energy on venerating Mary as "Theotokos (Mother of God)" isn't even going to want to entertain the idea of some pompous Syrian faggot telling him he's completely wrong and should address her as "Christotokos (Mother of Christ)." Not necessarily because he's truly concerned about what's orthodox and what's heterodox, but because his brain simply doesn't want to admit that he may have been wrong. But then again, maybe that's what religious fanaticism boils down to? Maybe it's all just an elaborate feedback loop of cognitive dissonance because we simply don't want to entertain the idea that "we" may be wrong and that "they" might be right.
So to return to my original point about the blurry line diving heterodoxy and heresy, maybe it all has to do with how willing you are to admit you could be wrong. "Is there even a 1% chance that the Waldensians and Cathars are correct in saying that the Church has become corrupt? Nah, they're fucking heretics who should be burned at the stake!" "Is it possible that the ISIS is following a heterodoxical, though unpleasant, interpretation of Islam? Nah, they're not even "real" muslims! The ISIS is totally un-Islamic!" Right, and I'm sure those medieval Crusaders weren't real Christians too.

Alright, that's enough uneducated opinions out of my mouth for one day.


  1. Thanks for completing the series, and for the insights.

  2. Thank you very much!

  3. Thanks so much! I'm glad I decided to wait rather than spoil everything by looking at the raws. I'm slightly sad that my two fav characters got, imo, pathetic/disappointing deaths, but overall, I enjoyed the series quite a bit! The twist near the end (that flashback featuring Nicolas and Christian) was also pleasant to see. Now I'm curious about the mangaka's other works besides LHC.

  4. Your thoughts are always fun and educational to read. Thank you!

  5. Ureshii desu wa. URESHII DESU WA, HOX-SAN!!!! ヽ(;▽;)ノ
    p.s. Yeah basically lol

  6. An identity has its constitutive outside. This is rooted from how the mind works in differentiation. A great example is when Orwell remarked, that Communists liked to invent several abbreviations and names. It's done in order to differentiate themselves not only from dem dirty capitalists, but also from other Communists who were 'wrong'. Hence, we see many abbreviations like People's Republic of X, 'no, it should be Democratic Republic of X!', etc. Afterwards, it's all about how to expand and defend these ideas, since they not only function as intended in a system, but also as some kind of flagship that binds them together into one. When such ideas are defeated, no longer are they bound together, see the same world together with the same lens.

  7. Just finished this and it was amazing, Hox, you are responsible for Furuya being my favourite comic author of all time, thanks man!