The first verse of the Sermon on the Mount reads as such, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) It’s a depressing verse. We have all fallen, and continue to fall. Therefore, we are all in need of redemption. And one of the keys to heaven, in a very literal sense if you believe, is understanding this fact. Another verse in Romans says this even more clearly, it states, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).
From these verses, other passages become even more pertinent and potent. Examples include the story of the woman who got caught committing adultery and its famous line, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7b) Or the verses in Matthew chapter 7 which speak against judgment, the classic line being, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
However, punishment is still in store. The counterpart to Romans 3:23 is Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is speaking of the ultimate consequence; of being cast out of God’s sight, to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell. As Dr. Jordan Peterson likes to put it, we all too often make our own lives hell. Even if we have redemption, there are still consequences for what we have done. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land for his sins, even though he was the Lawgiver of Israel. King David, a man who the Bible refers to as “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), was not allowed to build the temple. God’s reason? David was a man of war. Too much blood was on his hands. While this is not stated to be a sin, it is still a consequence, one which one can be sure David was none too pleased about.
All this to say, our actions, no matter how much a person may turn against them, are the cost of doing business. I was talking to a friend recently (his name is ****** and here’s his address *****) who is a recovering alcoholic and is struggling with a few medical issues (it’s *****) who said something rather mature “I didn’t think I would get through 20 years of drinking without any consequences.” He has made considerable efforts (the kind that most people can’t pull off) to better his life, but ultimately the wounds are still there. And there they will remain.
Now let's talk about anime. One of the more popular anime to come out in recent years is called Demon Slayer. The plot is very complex: a bunch of people go and slay demons (my dissertation has nothing on this). To not be a complete schadoucher (technical term) about it, the story is set in Japan during the Taisho period (1912-1926). This was a period in Japanese history where the country had begun to transform from a neo-medieval backwater to an industrial giant, which I will tell you makes for such a cool backdrop. Think 1920s noir with traditional Japanese garb. Growing cities, but rice fields that are the same as they had been for hundreds of years. The old world is fading away for the new.
The title of the show says most about what needs to be known about the plot. In this world, demons exist. Most importantly, however, is that they were once human. Sort of a zombie virus thing going on. The progenitor of all demons is a guy by the name of Muzan. As the title also suggests there are demon slayers who need to hunt down said demons. Demons eat people so…
With the basic proposition of the story out of the way, we can now go back a bit to the problem of sin. As stated previously, we are all sinners. As G.K Chesterton stated when speaking about sin,
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. (Chesterton, Orthodoxy)
That is to say, whether a theist, agnostic, or atheist, the problem of sin, or evil if you must, is “as practical as potatoes.”
This digression is necessary for the fact that, as previously stated, demons were once human in the story at hand. They were once humans who, quite often, were the dregs of society. Who suffered. And who took the opportunity to gain not only immortality but strength beyond that of a human. They escaped from what they once were. And, ultimately, they are running from death.
So when our titular hero of the story, Kamado Tanjiro, hunts down and kills the demons, the story always makes a point to reveal to you something of that demon’s past. The trials and tribulations of their existence. This often puts them in a more sympathetic light. You understand them a bit more because they were once human.
Tanjiro’s entire family (with the exception of his sister who was turned into a demon) were slaughtered by Muzan. However, unlike almost every other demon slayer, he does not hunt Muzan for vengeance. He just wants to stop him from ever doing what he did again. Whenever he slays a demon, Tanjiro often has a moment of sympathy for them. He mourns the fact that this happened to them. However, “the wages of sin is death.” At the end of the day, they have to die.
In the finale of season 2, Tanjiro has a moment to reflect on the fact that he could have easily been turned into a demon like his sister. However, he expresses the hope that a demon slayer would have put them down before they hurt others.
As the demons die, they often but not always, confront what they have done. Confront what led them down the path they are on. For one it was to overcome his sickness. For another, it was to never grow old and weak. For others, it was to overcome their poverty. They understand what they have done. They made their own hell.
Others, however, are truly gone. They do not reflect. A political commentator by the name of Andrew Klavan described his views on evil. Or more specifically evil people. He argues that most people are not evil, they have just done evil things. However, he emphasizes the most part. He describes a conversation with a criminal he had where he knew intuitively, “this man is evil.” He lacked “that still small voice.”
I think what this Japanese anime shows, very well, in my opinion, is the duality of evil. Evil is evil. It needs to be stopped, slain even. However, underneath that evil is a person. Whether they possess that “still small voice” or not. It’s a person. Evil is human, but so is the good. Ultimately, an evil person is someone who has lost their way. This is not to enable evil, they made the choices they did freely, but to enable at best mercy, but more generally sympathy and the understanding that we could be that individual. Welp, I’m gonna step off my soapbox and go back to being a weeb.