I officially made it past the halfway point. I reached episode 14, and I’m ready to talk about angels.
For the one or two possible people reading this that somehow isn’t familiar with the debates surrounding Neon Genesis Evangelion, a lot of people make a lot of hay about the religious symbolism in the series.
I’m of two minds about it.
On the one hand, this is a show where anything can be meaningful. I did an entire post where I used how Shinji and Asuka were sitting at the table as a way to show that they were mirror images.
There are hundreds of these kind of images worked into the show. We get a scene in the first episode where we start on Gendo and then the shot slowly widens illustrating that everyone else is orbiting Gendo.
I mean if Hideaki Anno had that much forethought, then it’s inconceivable that he used Judeo-Christian symbolism on a whim.
On the other hand, the symbolism is equally on the nose and nonsensical. We’re hit with angels whose names in no way correlate to what they do. We get a mix of Kaballah, Judeo-Christian and Apocryphal beliefs that don’t really mesh.
The thing is that the use of religion in Evangelion is simply too big of an issue to cover in a single post. So I’m going to attempt to tackle what I like to thinks of as the “Yes the religious symbols matter argument.”
Fair warning. I’m not a religious scholar, but I’m going to give it a go. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
A new Gospel for the century
If I’m going to put together an interpretation, I’ve got to start with the title. According to my research, Shinseiki Evangelion translates to The Gospel of the New Century.
This is an interesting choice of words. In the Bible we really only have four Gospels, and they specifically tell the story of Jesus through the eyes of four of his disciples — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
OK. Here’s where I go in deep. The first question we need to answer if why is it important that this is a new Gospel? And to answer that question we have to determine what makes Jesus an important figure to the Christian religion?
So I’m going to attack this question from a Protestant point of view, because it’s the one I’m the most familiar with. Feel free to correct me if I get something wrong.
Probably the most important idea stemming from Jesus is this idea of God’s covenant with man. Sure Jesus had a whole lot of other lessons, but if you want to get to the core of what Jesus meant in a religious context it’s that he provided a new Covenant. Basically to get to Heaven you need to believe in Jesus.
(This is why I specified that I’m coming at this from a Protestant perspective. This is different if you’re a Catholic or an Orthodox. I’m also coming from a pretty strict Protestant point of view, so Unitarian Universalists probably aren’t going to see this the same way.)
Now that I’m done with my caveats. This begs two questions. If this is a new Gospel, who is the new Christ and what is the new Covenant?
If we’re just looking for a sacrifice who gave up his own life for the happiness of all, then the first answer is pretty obviously Shinji. His promise is to give people a way to cast off the sin of their physical form to become purely creatures of spirit.
In a lot of ways this is a more immediate promise then the New Testament promise, but it is interesting that Anno uses the Cross, the very symbol of that Covenant, to hint at this inevitable outcome. We see it with the first angel when it explodes. It forms a cross. If I’m remembering right, we see it again in the End of Evangelion movies.
Adam, Lillith, the angels and the Apocrypha
I could spend a long time going over the Adam and Lillith myth from Judaic tradition, but the NERV archives did a better job than I could. The short version is that Eve was God’s second attempt at a wife for Adam. In his first attempt, Lillith fled from the Garden of Eden because she didn’t want to be subservient to Adam.
She gave birth to a bunch of demons (the Lilm) and defied the angels that came to bring her back.
What is interesting is that in Eva’s mythology humans are products of Lillith. This would by extension make us demons. In spite of Anno’s protestations otherwise, this fits into Eva’s overall themes. Humans in that world are fundamentally flawed. They can only see things from their own selfish point of view.
They are demons to each other, and the only way to salvation is by God making a new Covenant with man.
It’s also interesting that several of the angels come straight out of Apocrypha. In particular they come from The Book of Enoch, and are part of a group of angels that came down and have sex with people. Their children become the Nephilim, who have been borrowed heavily in other fiction.
It’s interesting that these Angels are actually Adam’s “children” and hence implying that he is on the same level as the Angels. It would also make Kaoru a Nephilim.
So I could go into the Kabballah, and the Tree of Life that is painted on the roof of Gendo’s office, implying that he is seeking a path to enlightenment, but I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the Tree of Life is.
The problem with religion in Eva
So I touched on this a bit at the beginning, but there is a problem with trying to find religious parallels in Evangelion.
Trying to see Evangelion through a religious filter is like trying to fit a slightly rounded peg into a round hole. At first everything seems to line up, but if I ask a question like, “What is the significance of Shinji being a Christ figure?” I don’t have an answer, or at the very least the answer I have is wholly unsatisfying.
If I push on what does it mean that humanity are demons, the best that I can come up with is that they are self-centered.
The problem is that the significance of these decisions appears to be very much on the surface. Shinji needs to be a Christ-like figure because the world needs to be reborn. That isn’t saying anything about religion. It’s not saying anything about Shinji. It’s just conveying some plot of world-building details that are interesting, but not particularly important to the themes of the show.
The problem with religion in Eva is that it’s simple enough for a guy like me to figure it out, and isn’t hard enough to puzzle me.
So in my next post, I’m going to take on the other side of this. What if everything about the mythology of Eva is really meaningless, and that is the point.
Anyways, thanks for reading, and I hope I didn’t screw up too badly.