First, a caveat: Psycho-Pass does contain some scenes of intense violence and some graphic crime scenes.1 It definitely shouldn’t be considered a kids’ show. If I were to draw a line, I’d says that if you are fine with crime scenes and crime depictions in the various CSI series or a show like Bones, you should be ok watching Psycho-Pass. If CSI and Bones aren’t things you like, you may be wisest to give this show a pass.
The story of Psycho-Pass
Japan has created an ideal, well-ordered society through the use of the Sibyl System, an apparently computerized system that uses a multitude of scanning devices to monitor citizens’ mental states and determine when a person might be in a state of mind to perform a criminal act. But the Sibyl System does far more then evaluate persons; it also determines what kinds of art and music are acceptable for citizens to perform and listen to, and determines what a person’s career path would be best for them. All of this is designed to give each person the best chance for a happy life, and so create a happy society.
There is still a need for law enforcement, for times when the Sybil System determines that a person’s mental state has made them a latent criminal.
Akane Tsunemori is a rookie detective, and she works alongside people called Enforcers, who are latent criminals used by Sybil to hunt down other criminals. From her first night on the job, Akane is pushed into a violent world she had previously not known, and has to deal with horrible crimes and their consequences to others and to herself while not allowing those crimes to affect her so much that Sybil determines that her mental state has crossed over into her becoming a latent criminal.
Shinya Kogami is one of the Enforcers, a former detective whose obsession with a series of murders committed a few years before, and in which an Enforcer then under him had been killed, caused his own mental state to become so bad that Sibyl labeled him a latent criminal. He now works under Akane, but is still determined to solve that old murder mystery, and learn about the man he thinks is actually behind so many of the grotesque crimes that have been occurring in recent years. The existence of this mysterious criminal mastermind is doubted by many of the detectives, but then Akane comes face-to-face with him in a devastating way, after which she joins with Kogami is his hunt for him.
The world depicted in Psycho-Pass is an intriguing blend of reality and illusions. Robotic drones used by law enforcement to secure locations are hidden in cutesy-looking holographic images. Living spaces can use holograms so they can look very different from moment to moment, and even the appearance of a character’s clothing can be changed using holographic tools. I suspect these small-scale illusions are meant as microcosms of the larger illusions that cover the society as a whole.
The perfect society?
Shogo Makishima is the man who has been supporting and encouraging various forms of criminal activities. His idea is that the Sibyl System has done the people more harm then good. But protecting the people from crime, the system has essentially made the citizens in livestock, they have become sheeple who live dull, programmed lives that do not require them to think, make decisions, or face real conflicts.
And it could be said that he does have a point. When the systems can decide a person’s future for them, when it can evaluate for them what kind of work would make them happy, when it can determine what kinds of music and art the people should be exposed to, and when it can determine when a person has become so dangerous that they need to be captured or eliminated even before that person had committed any criminal action, then it could be argued that the system has become something oppressive, even when the oppression wears a mask of benevolence.
But Makishima himself hardly offers a better alternative. How is society-wide chaos suppose to be superior to society-wide control? How is the freedom to commit crimes with impunity better then the oppression of being labeled a latent criminal before one has even committed a crime?
All such attempts at a utopian society fall apart, and they fall apart for the reason that man, the creator of these utopias, is himself fallen.
What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’— could set up on their own as if they had created themselves— be their own masters— invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history— money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery— the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
“That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended— civilisations are built up— excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”2
Is this the Church’s job?
One things I’ve been looking into a good bit has been ideas in the church about societal transformations. While some of these views have appeared loopy, others are sane enough to be taken seriously.
As I visited primarily Christianized nations— Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa— my anguish increased. Missions statistics that I had quoted with joy burned in my mind. “Africa, 80 percent Christian south of the Sahara by the end of the twentieth century.” “Africa, the most evangelized continent in the world.” “Africa, the most churched continent by the end of this century.” In each nation the story was the same. Poverty, disease, violence, corruption, injustice, and chaos met me at every turn. I found myself asking, Is this “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”? Is this what the blessing of the gospel brought into a community looks like? Is this what a nation looks like when it is “reached”? In southern Africa nearly every person has heard the gospel. Churches are planted and full. African evangelists abound and continue the work. Is this what it looks like when our work as Christians is finished in a nation? God forbid! My anguish increased.3
I can understand this woman’s concerns. The fallenness of man has resulted in societies that are filled with the things she mentions–poverty, disease, violence, corruption, injustice, and chaos. Those things can be seen in any nation, even in nations that could be considered highly Christianized in places outside of Africa.
But if I can understand her concerns, I also find her solutions troubling:
God’s truth, if applied, can and does transform communities and nations. If God can develop these impoverished Jews into a great nation, he can do it for any existing nation in any age, because not one community or nation in the world today is worse off than the Israelites in that wilderness. God has told us to reach every creature with the message of salvation, and he has taught us how to do that. He left us the models of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament church to guide us into the global vision of reaching every language, every tribe, and every people. But God has also told us to disciple every nation. How do we do that? God has not given us a job and then been silent on how to accomplish it. Just as the keys to evangelism are in the stories of Jesus and Paul, the keys to our job in transforming communities are in the story of Moses. Israel— its journey from slavery to greatness— is our Old Testament template of how to disciple a nation.4
Is this really what Jesus meant when he told the church to make disciples of all nations? Is the church’s job really to somehow put the nations of the world under the law of Moses, or at least impose some principles the church gets from the law of Moses? Where did Jesus or any writer in the New Testament hold up ancient Israel as an example of what they meant by making disciples of all nations?
To put it maybe rather crudely, is it the church’s job to become Big Brother, or the Sibyl System, or any kind of societal ruler or overseer, whose job is to conform society and the lives of individuals, even those who do not belief in God or believe in other gods, to biblical standards and biblical principles?
Because how good of an example in ancient Israel do we have of a discipled society? The biblical book of Judges is grim reading indeed, and while one could point out the time of Kings David and Solomon as being high points in that nation’s history, they are still hardly perfect times. The Bible is not silent about David’s sins and how Solomon fell into idolatry in his later years, and after them the history of Israel is a story of division and bad kings, being conquered and going into exile.
I see this emphasis on transforming societies, on dominionism, as at best a distraction. That doesn’t mean Christians are not to care about the lives and well-being of their neighbors, or hope and pray for godly rulers and just laws, but to give the church an assignment that the Bible does not plainly give it is unwise.
I started out comparing Psycho-Pass to some TV shows, and I’ll end by comparing it to a movie, The Matrix. Though very different, both look at mankind’s problematic relationship with technologies and machines, especially when those machines are set up in ways that control mankind more and more. Both are stories with lots of action, but also well thought out and insightful. If you think you can handle the disturbing elements, I can recommend season 1 of Psycho-Pass pretty highly. There is also a season 2, though I haven’t yet seen it.
- This review was originally published at the author’s personal blog and is reprinted here with permission. ↩
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pages 49-50. ↩
- Cope, Landa. An Introduction to the Old Testament Template: Rediscovering God’s Principles for Discipling Nations (Kindle Locations 215-222). ↩
- Cope, Landa. An Introduction to the Old Testament Template: Rediscovering God’s Principles for Discipling Nations (Kindle Locations 494-500). ↩