Enjoy this post written for me this week by my sweet husband!
I have been a passionate Pokémon fan for what feels like forever. My enthusiasm all started when I was given a trading card in fourth grade. That card was Cubone. Since then, I have been fascinated by the creatures, story, lore, and everything else Pokémon. But what does Pokémon have to do with an atheist blog?
If for some reason you haven’t heard of Pokémon, it is one of the world’s best known multimedia franchises, created in 1995 by Satoshi Tajiri. It is centered on fictional creatures called “Pokémon” (short for Pocket Monsters), which humans (Pokémon Trainers), catch and train to battle against one another for sport. The Pokémon franchise has a trading card game, an anime/TV show, manga/comics, toys, multiple movies, phone apps, and my favorite: the video games.
Since its beginning, Pokémon has been constantly demonized by multiple world religions claiming it is a ploy by the devil himself to inject ideals of demons, magic, animal cruelty, evolution, and more into today’s vulnerable youth. In response to the Pokémon GO app, pastor Rick Wiles expressed his concern on his radio show, stating, “The enemy, Satan, is targeting churches with virtual, digital, cyber demons. I believe this is a magnet for demonic powers . . . They’re spawning demons inside your church. They’re targeting your church with demonic activity. This technology will be used by the enemies of the cross [ISIS] to target, locate, and execute Christians.” Holy persecution complex!
Riding on the back of the 1980’s Satanic Panic, Pokémon joined the likes of the Doom franchise, Marilyn Manson, and metal music, ushering this “epidemic” into the 90’s and early 2000’s. They were all accused of propagating Hell’s message in one way or another, and Pokémon encouraged the summoning of demons to do one’s bidding.
In this article, With One Accord Ministries summarizes the problems with Pokémon as:
- Pokémon teaches kids that they can make demon-like beings (cuddly little monsters) obey them
- They are taught that these demons can be mastered and controlled
- They are taught that demons are their servants and will help them
- They are encouraged to become “Pokémon masters” by “conquering” more and more demons
In all of these situations, people have been stretching the truth to fit their own narrative, with possibly the only purpose being to bring fear into parents. While it is true that Pokémon are creatures you can capture and battle with other trainers, the consistent narrative in the show and games is that Pokémon are more than tools for battle. They are your friends, and the franchise teaches kids the power of friendship. Within the world of Pokémon, they are the equivalent of animals, and many of them are inspired by real-world animal species. So how is befriending a Pokemon any different than adopting and loving a cat?
“But you don’t pit your cat against your neighbor’s cat in battle!” And while this is true (I hope), Pokémon battling is far from the brutal reality of cockfighting or dog fighting. While it is shown that Pokémon are caught in small capsule-like balls, known as Pokéballs, the creatures aren’t held in captivity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. On multiple occasions, the narrative shows that staying in a Pokéball is comfortable for the Pokémon, even going so far as to have multiple types of Pokéball—even one akin to a five star hotel, the Luxury ball.
Of course, Pokémon hasn’t been the subject of ridicule only from religious organizations but PETA as well. PETA even created their own game in which the player controls the Pokémon to attack the opposing human.
Medium‘s Holly Richardson states,
In the world of Pokémon, trainers can not coerce their partners, and are expected to withhold themselves to a degree of morality. Those who decide to force Pokémon into battle in the media are condemned. So, the Pokémon company can not be held responsible for portraying animal cruelty, as it teaches players that Pokémon and humans are equal alike, and more importantly conveys that creatures deserve the same respect we do.
Christian organizations have been concerned with magic for a long time, whether in Harry Potter, Pokémon, or any other fantasy franchise. In this regard, Pokémon has been accused of using magic talismans such as the gym badges and evolution stones to control and evolve Pokémon, respectively. Also, some of the types and moves have undergone scrutiny. Notably, Psychic, Ghost, Dark, and Fairy-type Pokémon moves have been described as “extraordinary paranormal powers.” Due to the franchise originating in Japan, Pokémon inherently involve East Asian spiritualism and mysticism. This causes Christian groups to denounce it as pagan. Recently, Pokémon has included themes from other mythologies, regions, and even alchemy. (See more)
I’m sure if you know Pokémon, you saw this one a mile away. Most Christians believe in creationism, and evolution is often cited as the opposing viewpoint. However, if anyone here should be mad, it should be the scientists and those who accept Darwin’s theory of evolution.
As stated in this glorious Game Theorists video from 2011, “Just by looking at the definition [of evolution], we have already debunked the creationist argument. When a Pokémon evolves in the game, it’s a single Pokémon changing forms in that moment, not across generations.” Later in the video, MattPat questions, “So if it’s not evolution, what is it?” That answer shows that what we see in Pokémon is a lot closer to metamorphosis or puberty, similar to the process of a caterpillar becoming a chrysalis and then a butterfly. Therefore, in the words of MattPat, “Pokémon is not pro-science or anti-god, it just skipped seventh grade biology and has a catchy theme song.”
Some outspoken fundamentalist Muslims have claimed that Pokémon is a Jewish conspiracy intended to get Muslim children to renounce their faith. These same groups, presumably unaware of the franchise’s Japanese origin, claimed that the word “Pokémon” means “I am Jewish.” In 2001, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who is the highest religious authority in the kingdom, issued a fatwā banning the Pokémon franchise. Following this, the High Muslim authorities in Qatar and Egypt also banned the franchise.
A few other crazy claims are that if you play the Kanto Pokérap backwards, “Gotta Catch ’em All!” can be heard as “I love Satan.” Additionally, within the cartoon, the close relationship between the characters Ash and Brock was “a sign of the cartoon’s gay agenda.”
Overall, Pokémon is harmless, if not helpful. It teaches the power of friendship and has captivated the hearts of millions, nonreligious and religious alike. If anything, Pokémon is a fantasy where we can all put aside our differences and bond over its varying species, deep lore, and friendly message.