Previously on Xenosaga: After over a year of writing (kinda) objectively about Xenosaga, I figure I’m entitled to one rambling, semi-autobiographical entry about Xenosaga and religion. This one is gonna be short on screenshots and heavy on words…
My first job was at a church. Specifically, it was a non-denominational, Christian church that was only open during the summer. Why was it seasonal? Simple: I lived (and live) in a shore community, and (while this isn’t strictly true) it’s generally assumed the area is deader than Jin the minute the beach becomes unviable. Restaurants close, entire swaths of the island are empty, and, in my youth, they even used to turn off the traffic lights the minute fall hit. It’s gotten better in recent years (mainly because the local chamber of commerce has done its best to extend the season in every conceivable direction), but, even now, that same church stops its Sunday services once the leaves start falling.
But during the summer? Then that church is popping.
This has always been “that church my grandmother goes to in the summer” to me, but it might be nationally famous. At the very least, it gets nationally famous speakers for every summer Sunday. In my first year working there, we had the spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton, the head organists for Radio City Music Hall, and Elizabeth Dole. And those are names I can remember off the top of my head. I’ve never been a big… Christian fan? Like, I don’t know who is big and famous in the evangelical circuit, and I don’t think I have any of the Earth’s Mightiest Methodists trading cards, but even I was able to see that this church was capable of corralling the titans of the Christian “industry”. Or maybe I just thought that because a few speakers required their own security detail…
Regarding my own job at the organization, though, I started as nothing more than a lowly weed-picker. There was a pile of manure with my name on it, literally, at one point. But I quickly rose in the ranks thanks to a combination of endless bragging and generally showing up on time more often than my contemporaries, and, before I knew it, I was the first “kid” working within the office of this church. I was the first web guru/network admin for a 120 year old organization. Woo! Also, to date this ridiculous story, my first task was to make sure the creaky MS-DOS database that contained the congregation’s contact information was updated to account for the upcoming Y2K bug. Sigh, memories.
Despite the seemingly national scope of this church, the office staff was generally limited. There was a “ruling body” of trustees, but they only met once every two weeks or so. The actual day-to-day interests of the church were managed by an operating president, vice president, accountant, secretary, and assistant secretary. There was also a complete grounds staff, but nobody let them inside. I was in that office, though, as, what, did you expect ‘em to keep the computers outside? Bah! I was inside with the big boys, and, as a result, was privy to all the goings-on of what keeps a nationally recognized church operating.
And it changed my outlook on Christianity forever.
Remember how I mentioned that this church got famous speakers from all over the world? Well, those people don’t just call you. A significant amount of effort was expended by the office staff “booking” these big names. Yes, some speakers were “locks” year after year, but there was still a lot of scheduling negotiation involved in even the “easiest” speaker. And then there were the fees involved. Some speakers, some good, Christian speakers, would preach the Word of God for nothing, or next to nothing. It was not uncommon for a speaker to ask for nothing more than airfare and a hotel room. Occasionally, a speaker would ask for those usual amenities, and some level of “base” fee, all the while making it clear that this is how he (inevitably “he”) lives, and it’s only proper to ask for a small donation. And then… then there were a few of the… “other” speakers.
I’m very deliberately not naming names in this article (or even completely identifying the name of the church, as you’ve no doubt noticed), but some particularly famous Christians would speak at the church, some even possibly from churches or ministries you might recognize, and their riders would be… in-depth. I can immediately recall one speaker that was internationally famous as a pillar of the Christian community… and his every appearance demanded a contribution of “the best hotel room available”, a limo from the hotel to the church, a stocked fridge of preferred drinks at the hotel and the church, a limo from the church to the beach after the service, and, of course, $3,000. This was a speaker that would get up every Sunday morning, preach about charity, love, and being a good Christian, and then hop into his limo so he could sip his favorite wine at the beach. Again, some speakers were free, but this guy would score 3K to open his mouth for forty minutes.
Oh, and there was the one time he reflexively spit on a random kid. That was something to see. Do not get that guy decaf. I think it was in the rider.
What I’m getting to here is that, in my teenage years, I learned something important about Christians: some of them are dicks. And I say that as a Christian (oh my God, I might be a dick, too).
I’ll say that again: I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ, and a healthy percentage of the Bible. I also feel like I have to immediately apologize for my beliefs, because, look, I’ve seen what’s happening to the polar ice caps, I know what’s going on with our environment, and I don’t believe the friggen garbage-based apocalypse is “all part of God’s plan”. But I certainly know Christians that do. I know Christians that will fight to the death to “defend the sanctity of marriage”. I know Christians that genuinely want to see practically all of what we consider to be science abolished. And I know Christians that think it is okay to literally kill to protect fetuses. I… I don’t even know the proper word to use here… I‘m “ashamed”? It’s something like that, but can shame also contain pride? How sinful is that? Whatever the case, I suppose I’m ashamed to be part of a group that is so publicly (and in some cases, proudly) holding back societal progress. Is it a catch-all shield to defend prejudices and indolence, or is it genuine beliefs fueling hate that could last for centuries? Does it matter? In the end, it’s assumed that if someone is willing to say, “I’m a Christian”, then it’s likely going to be followed by, “And that’s why I believe you should have fewer rights.” Paraphrasing.
And, in a weird way, working at that church taught me that that’s… okay.
To revisit the speaker that would require $3K to publicly cough, he was one of my grandmother’s favorite speakers. Since the time I was like ten, my grandmother would tell me about this great minister, and would drag me along to her church every time he spoke. My grandmother was not a very excitable woman, but she would get genuinely enthusiastic about this guy, and, if you believe in being “filled with the spirit”, this guy did it for her (phrasing). I’ll reiterate that this guy once spit hot coffee on a random teenager, and then offered a half-hearted apology that sounded more perfunctory than anything, but my grandmother, someone I genuinely trusted and admired, thought he was the greatest thing since a bowlful of M&Ms. So here was a guy that was a complete asshole behind closed doors, but a perfect Christian pillar for the community. And here I was in the middle of that, trying to reconcile the holy man with the asshole jerk.
And that’s when I realized the moral of this article: there are good Christians that are good people publicly and privately, and there are “good” Christians that are good people publicly, but terrible people privately.
And Xenosaga seems to understand that.
Here’s a fun fact about Xenosaga: there are only Christians and atheists in this cast.
Okay, that’s not exactly true. While it’s not outright stated, Jin Uzuki appears to be a practicing Buddhist. And, while that doesn’t preclude him from having additional Christian beliefs, it’s pretty clear he’s the only guy in the universe with beliefs that aren’t wholly Christian. The rest of the party (save chaos, Shion, and KOS-MOS) seem to be confused by key passages from the Bible, so they’re theoretically not Christian, and, considering they don’t seem to express any other beliefs, we’ll just label them as atheists. Actually, Junior was born and bred to kill God, so he might be agnostic.
But the bad guys? Almost all of them are Christian, albeit a future, perverted version of Christianity. Margulis, Pellegri, Richard, and Hermann are all completely willing to die for their faith, which, again, is stated to 100% trace back to “the Messiah”. Albedo quotes the Bible regularly, and, while it may just be an affectation to match Junior’s “well read” mentality, he is shown to have a certain weakness for holy imagery. And Wilhelm, like chaos, was a contemporary of Jesus, and started the whole Ormus thing that got (his form of) Christianity through the cosmos. You’re still spreading the faith even if you’re spreading a slightly murderous version of it… right? Even Virgil seems to come around to the cross thanks to Feb, and it’s clearly implied by his final fate that he’s found some form of “the Light”.
But this is all par for the course with a JRPG, right? “Fighting an evil religion” is a trope practically as old as the medium itself, and it’s never a surprise when the final boss of a JRPG is “god”. It’s just normal progression, right? Fight a few cardinals, move up to the pope, and then battle god for supremacy of the universe. Afterwards, it’s revealed that god was really holding humanity back, and everybody goes out for fajitas. See also: Breath of Fire 2, Final Fantasy 10, and, I dunno, Demon’s Crest. Wait, which one lets you kill god with a chainsaw?
Except Xenosaga does a few things differently.
For one, this is not some random “mythological” religion, this is Christianity, complete with a guest appearance by Jesus. And this isn’t even a Final Fantasy or Neon Genesis Evangelion situation, where names and themes are reused, but it really has as much to do with Christianity as Quetzalcoatl and Odin ruling over the world of Final Fantasy 8. You’ve got “the lance that pierced Jesus on the cross”, but it’s a giant pitchfork that is capable of being hurled at the moon by a giant robot? Okay, guys, sure. I’ll check the Bible for that bit about an angel that is a bulbous black orb sent to menace teenagers with Oedipus complexes. What’s important in Xenosaga is that this isn’t The Church of St. Generic Badguy, it’s Christianity, with crosses and Bibles and an apostle or twelve.
Which actually neatly brings me to my next point. The Zohar and Zohar emulators of Xenosaga are gracefully named after Jesus and his twelve apostles. At first blush, this seems like another Eva-esque bout of “hur hur, here’s some religious symbolism for you”. However, as the plot progresses, we find that the Zohar was studied extensively by Joachim Mizrahi, and he built the twelve Zohar emulators. And named them. And why did he name them after the apostles? Simple: he’s a devoted Christian, and figured devices meant to speak to God may as well be named after people who literally spoke to God. Mizrahi is, basically, a Jesus fanboy.
And that’s important.
Dr. Mizrahi is Christian, and he’s a good guy. And a scientist! Febronia is Christian, and she’s a good guy. And a Realian! chaos is Christian, and he’s a good guy. And a party member! And Shion is Christian, a good guy, and the main character! Oh my gosh, we’ve got bad guys that are Christians, and we’ve got good guys that are Christians. It’s almost like it’s reality!
And, yes, there are shades of gray even in the good guys. Mizrahi decided to endanger an entire planet for the sake of potentially saving the universe, and he was believed to be a mad man for decades. chaos is constantly doubting himself, and people around him have suffered for it. And Shion… well, I think I already threw a couple thousand words at how she’s got problems dealing with friends and enemies. There are good people in the Xenosaga universe, but they’re flawed, and they’re incidentally Christian. Feb seems to be the only “immaculate” Christian in the bunch, but we mostly only see her through the eyes of her child protégé (Shion) and lover (Virgil), so it’s likely she’s just as much of a sinner during her time off. And she did spend most of her afterlife advocating for the death of her sisters, which seems morally dubious.
So, yes, Xenosaga is a JRPG where Christian symbolism is common, and eventually, yes, you fight a controlling “god” for the right for humanity to live a truly free existence. But what’s different here is that there are NPCs and party members that are Christian, and they all express their faith in different ways. Shion and Margulis believe in the exact same savior, but Shion tries to help the living while Margulis fights to be a martyr. Mizrahi seemingly came to his faith while trying to cope with the death of his daughter, while Pellegri sees her religion as an inescapable, inherited fate. And chaos, the guy that actually got to pal around with Jesus Christ, has apparently spent the last 6,000 years as a directionless loner, but, thanks to Christian teachings, at least tried to do his best as a friendly fellow during his off time.
chaos believes in a universe that involves the freedom of… chaos. chaos believes in a world that could equally love or crucify a savior, just so long as it is the choice of the people involved. That… sounds vaguely familiar.
So Xenosaga does something different from most JRPGs: it actually takes the time to examine the faiths of both sides. It doesn’t blanket call religion bad, nor does it make every religious member of the party a perfect example of heroism. Christians in Xenosaga are like Christians in the real world, simply people trying to do what they think is right. Some of these people are obviously wrong, but that doesn’t change their faith, or what they believe. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, they can still inspire others, they can still spread their principles, and, end of the day, they can still say they believe in the same Messiah. There are all kinds of people, good and bad, that believe in the same things, and Xenosaga isn’t afraid to show both sides.
You slay a lot of gods in JRPGs, but it’s rare that you find characters that believe in something. Yes, usually there are the old standbys like “friendship” or “the resistance” or “for GP”; but consider that your average JRPG hero is in a literally life or death situation. Isn’t it a little… odd that you have no idea what Cecil Harvey believes will happen to those black mages he killed? Is it weird that 21 year old Cloud Strife is introduced to the concept of an afterlife a few days into a world tour with random eco-terrorists? The world of Final Fantasy 13 has an army of random gods, so Lightning kills ‘em, and then we’ve got two games and 1,000 years where, what, people just believe in sexy sisters that turn into motorcycles? That is a poor foundation for a belief system.
Xenosaga gives you people that believe in a religion, and it gives you good people and bad people that believe in that. And you’ve got people, good and bad, that do not believe in that. And, in the end, neither side is right or wrong for their beliefs, they’re heroic or villainous for what they do with those beliefs. Like in reality, beliefs and religion are just one aspect of a person.
And, yes, in real life there are people that will try to limit your rights because of their faith. There are people that will try to tell you that Jesus saves, and that includes the o-zone layer. There are pastors that absolutely will spit on your friends because they got the wrong coffee. These people might be terrible, and you absolutely should fight against them, but that doesn’t make everything they believe in wrong. Faith is different for every person, and every person is different. Christianity itself is neither good nor bad, but the people that believe in it can be.
Oh, and what I learned at my first job? There are Christians that can be dicks, and it’s your responsibility to be one of the good ones. Always do your best to be a chaos, not a Wilhelm. That’s what’s going to make the universe a better place, regardless of your faith.
Next time on Xenosaga: Xenosaga, where are they now?