Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blue and Orange (or How Touhou Taught Me About The Nature of God)

Wow has it been forever since I posted.

My recent obsession in the video game world these days has been the Touhou Project, a series of top-down shoot-'em-up games set in a land where all of Japanese mythology is real. I'll spare you the further summaries, as I could go on about this series forever, but a friend and I have written  and roleplayed and so on in the universe for a while, and it led to me thinking a lot about the nature of God.

(Here's where you ask...how are these two related? There. Now it's out there.)

Yukari Yakumo is a mythological monster with power over boundaries. That's it, full stop. She is meant to be every bit as absurdly powerful as she sounds, because boundaries define everything. Even the games' creator says she could undermine the very fabric of reality itself. To anyone looking in from outside, Yukari may as well be a god -- perhaps a God, in the monotheistic all-powerful creator being sense, since the Shinto gods all exist in the Touhou universe and are all inferior to her in the sense that they are fundamentally weaker. She has all the physical properties of a God; she is extradimensional, immortal, effectively omniscient, and superhuman in every regard. She is only defeatable in the games because she goes easy on the heroine. As far as anyone can tell, the only limit on her capability is her desire to do something.

Perhaps it is a departure from the series, but in my friends' and my headcanon (this means 'the extended universe we've built that is not necessarily in-game fact but is consistent and we regard as true for our own purposes'), Yukari is a confusing but eventually benevolent being who does her best to ensure that there is maximum net good done in the universe by the point at which it has ended. At one point, another character refers to this as "what the hell is your morality, blue-orange?" as opposed to black and white, which are the traditional colors of good and evil. (Blue-orange is taken from the tvtropes.org page, and it is defined as "morality that is orthogonal to normal human morality, and is confusing and alien to us.")

Blue-orange became a curious subject to think about, so my friend and I knocked our heads together (and so did our characters), and we worked it out. Here, "blue" is a sort of cosmic "white," and any action that eventually leads to the greater good of the universe as a whole is considered some degree of blue. Orange is the opposite, and any "orange" action is a cosmically "black" action that decreases the good in the universe eventually. Taken to a large scale, all black and white morality eventually moves to blue and orange, because as one's scope grows larger and larger, "white" must include all the consequences of one's actions over an immense period of time and space, eventually encompassing the universe, and it become "blue." The same applies to black and orange.

As a result of this curious expansive morality, Yukari is one of the most confusing and irritating beings in the known universe. She has immense power, overwhelming knowledge, and absolutely no apparent sense of when to use it. People cry out to her for help; she fails to respond. People try to get away from her; she is there when they most want her to leave. She does strange and irrational things that seem to make no sense in the context of the rest of her situation; she is cryptic and refuses to share knowledge, even sometimes when it is important; all in all, she is eventually considered by most to be fundamentally too alien to be worked with reliably. She is utterly undependable, un-empathetic, and inconsiderate. Many consider her to be evil by inaction.

There are similar PR problems with God. Every religious person who has ever existed has asked the questions of why hasn't God answered my prayers? Where was God when (x) happened? Why can't I ever seem to get a response? Why does God seem random? Why does it seem like no one is out there and everything is up to chance?

Yukari can't just fix everyone's problems, because her interference is inherently orange. It takes away free will and thus decreases the independence and improvement of the universe. Sentient beings must be free to cause themselves problems, to solve their own situations, to struggle and fear and hate and die. Even if someone is begging her to push the boundary of life and death to save a beloved child, the consequences of such actions could be dire...in a thousand or more years, even.

A just and moral God is under self-imposed constraints to do what is morally right for the universe itself. What if saving your son or daughter would set off a chain of events that, in two thousand years, would cause great pain to the world? What if curing your sickness would wreck someone else's family in a hundred years, even after you're dead? What if even letting you know that He is there...would cause great problems to the universe somehow? How will you know?

Belief in any omnibenevolent God requires that one accept blue-orange morality as an incomprehensible thing while having faith that it is the right way to go about running a universe...and that what happens must be blue.

Even if you hate it. Even if it seems evil. Even if you can't understand it.

The universe will work out...but humans are just too small to realize why it will. No amount of complaining will change what is blue, and that it will happen...we just have to realize that it is, and it will, and that everything will be okay.

Yukari's got this, guys.