This is a guest post by my good friend, Traditional Catholic Weeb. Be sure to check out their blog to read about the stories and advice of a Traditional Catholic Otaku!
From time to time the question pops up in Christian circles whether or not adopting cosplay as a hobby is sinful or not. With much time on our hands, is spending our time crafting these clothes and wearing them for photoshoots, conventions, or for at-home purposes something that we can take part in with a good conscience? I believe that this, however, is a fundamentally flawed since such is a broad topic to address. It basically has the same vibe as “Is using the Internet a sin?” – it’s hard to give one definitive answer that covers all cases. The real question should not be whether or not getting into cosplay is inherently wrong, but rather: what are the moral principles that control this?
Just as we break down a complex math question to separate parts, using various approaches for different parts to determine our conclusive answer, we need to do the same with cosplay as well – there are so many angles to look at this question from, that we need to go back to the basics and understand things related to:
- What determines the goodness of a human action?
- What does a sinful act consist of?
If we answer these two questions, then we can move forward with addressing moral principles behind our involvement with cosplay. For this, I will refer to principles set forth by the great Catholic theologian and philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas – whose brilliance earned him the title of the “Angelic Doctor” and whose works, prior to Vatican II, were the sole system used by Catholic seminaries for clerical formation.
Question #1 – Human Actions and Their Morality
Anything that we as humans do – cook, perform exercise, or type in front of a computer – is an action that derives itself from an internal desire which we call the “will”; and they are governed by something which is called the “intellect” that determines the why we are doing a certain action. In combining these faculties is what a “human act” primarily consists of. In this, human actions, when regarded by themselves, are morally indifferent, and do not yet possess a certain level of goodness or evil to them.
What determines the morality of a human action, therefore, must be something adjacent to how a person intends to use them. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks in Question 18, Article 8 of his Summa Theologiae by which he divides actions into good, evil, or neutral:
Every action takes its species from its object; while human action, which is called moral, takes its species from the object, in relation to the principle of human actions, which is the reason. Wherefore if the object of an action includes something in accord with the order of reason, it will be a good action according to its species; for instance, to give alms to a person in want. On the other hand, if it includes something repugnant to the order of reason, it will be an evil act according to its species; for instance, to steal, which is to appropriate what belongs to another. But it may happen that the object of an action does not include something pertaining to the order of reason; for instance, to pick up a straw from the ground, to walk in the fields, and the like: and such actions are indifferent according to their species. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Part 2.1, Question 18.8)
There also exist certain things which determinate whether or not a particular action is classified as good, or evil. These include:
- The object of the action. In this we regard what it is the person wishes to do the action upon, such as another person, building, service, or thing. In theft, for example, we wish to do harm on a person’s property, while in the virtue of temperance we wish to perform the good act of regulating our own desires and make them not go amok.
- A person’s circumstances. Certain influences – persons, places, or things – have a role in determining whether or not the performance of a particular action is of a lesser or greater gravity or laudability. A person does more inherent good in feeding a homeless person than someone in their household, for example, because they are helping someone who needed it more.
- A person’s desired goal (end). Sometimes a certain goal is attached to the performance of a particular action, and this too can play a role in determining its goodness. For example, it can be possible that a person does a good act, such as cleaning a person’s room, though in reality they are doing it for the ulterior purpose of making it easier to lure them into a trap. Since their desired goal is evil, the action is evil consequently.
For an act to be good, all three of these things must be realized as good – we wish to do something good to something, the circumstances are favourable to achieving that, and we must have no ill intentions added to them.
Question #2 – The Definition, And Nature of Sin
Closely related to the question of morality of human actions is the definition of what makes an act, therefore, sinful. It can be asserted that a sinful act or desire is as such because not only does the intention or so attached to it is evil, but because there also exists a transgression against divine law. Objectively speaking, an act can be seen as bad if, as mentioned before, it is done with at least the appearance of doing something that harms another or has no benefit to it; however, when it is done voluntarily out of a malicious intent in the person’s part. Referring to St. Thomas Aquinas again:
…sin is nothing else than a bad human act. Now that an act is a human act is due to its being voluntary, whether it be… elicited by the will, e.g. to will or to choose, or as being commanded by the will, e.g. the exterior actions of speech or operation. Again, a human act is evil through lacking conformity with its due measure: and conformity of measure in a thing depends on a rule, from which if that thing depart, it is incommensurate. Now there are two rules of the human will: one is proximate and homogeneous, viz. the human reason; the other is the first rule, viz. the eternal law, which is God’s reason, so to speak. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2.1, Question 71.6)
A list of references to determine whether something is a sin, according to Christian principles include, but are not limited to:
- The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17)
- Warnings made by Jesus Christ (St. Matthew 5:27-28, St. Matthew 5:22, St. Matthew 12:30-31)
- Decrees on matters of faith and morals by Catholic authorities (e.g. Pope St. Pius X’s Pascendi Dominici Gregis which condemns Modernist beliefs on religious relativism/historical revisionism of Christianity, Pope Innocent XI’s judgement on certain conclusions regarding morality)
- The seven heavenly virtues (faith, hope, charity, justice, fortitude, patience, humility)
Just as how every action is not sinful, unfortunately there exist certain moments that allow for, if not carefully tended, an individual to fall into sin – these we call occasions of sin. These typically fall into two categories – proximate, by which the occasion is specifically designed to make a person succumb to sin, and remote, where the danger is slight, but nonetheless still present to unsuspecting souls. In all things we will have our own individual occasions of sin to avoid, some more than others; so an alcoholic might find a restaurant that serves beer to be such for him, while a father with a good track record might not.
We, however, have a duty from refraining from all proximate occasions of sin, whatever they may be to us. From the great Catholic theologian St. Alphonsus Liguori:
The Holy Ghost tells us, that we must fly from sin as from a serpent. “Flee from sin as from, the face of a serpent.” (Ecclesiastes 11:2)
Hence, as we not only avoid the bite of a serpent, but are careful neither to touch nor approach it, so we must fly not only from sin, but also from the occasion of sin that is, from the house, the conversation, the person that would lead us to sin. St. Isidore says, that he who wishes to remain near a serpent, will not remain long unhurt. Hence, if any person is likely to prove an occasion of your ruin, the admonition of the Wise Man is, “Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the doors of her house.” (Proverbs 5:8) He not only tells you not to enter the house which has been to you a road to hell; but he also cautions you not to approach it, and even to keep at a distance from it. (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Sermon on Avoiding Occasions Of Sin, pgh #8)
Question #3 – Given this information, is the mere act of cosplaying a sin?
As an action in and of itself, making a costume for a particular event is not, and never will be a sinful activity. Those who partake in activities for the cosplay community can rest assured that what they’re doing intrinsically has nothing which contravenes against Christian faith or morals, nor would it ever be considered an abomination against divine law.
For added bonus, there is nothing in Sacred Scripture or in any Catholic source of moral theology that prohibits one from doing cosplay – they leave this to the individual’s conscientious decision. In fact, cosplay may be a great way for people to make friends, relax their burdens, and restore their minds so they can go about with their day-to-day things – so the benefits are there!
Question #4 – May I go to anime conventions or specific events that involve cosplay?
Like any human action we take part in, one must examine for themselves why they want to go to such a convention. If the intention is good – for example, we want to search for good/clean anime merchandise, participate in some sort of cosplay competition, or hang out with friends that is one thing. However, if a person who goes to an anime convention knows for certain that while there they will engage in an activity that is known to be bad or at least scandalous for themselves or others that may be more sensitive than them, then they have, I hate to say, an obligation to avoid it until they can conquer that emotion.
It would be best for them to examine their conscience beforehand going to such a place, and talk to a trusted individual about their concerns who can help make the decision for them. If one sees there will be no danger to them, I think it’s safe to say that they can don their cosplay and hop over there!
Question #5 – Tips to Cosplay Rightly
Even though it’s not wrong to make cosplay, it’s still important that we regulate our own activities when it comes to this activity. Here is some good advice from various Catholic sources when one wishes to partake in cosplay:
- Do not worry too much about making the cosplay at the expense of your own wallet! Cosplay is a hobby, not a professional competition – have fun with it however you can! There is no shame in spending $50 for an Evangelion plugsuit cosplay or $1000 on a custom-made Princess Peach cosplay. Both are valid ways of participating in cosplay! However, always remember to keep a balance and to never blow your budget out of proportion just for the sake of this little hobby of yours. Not only does St. Benedict advise moderation in all things – reading, eating, drinking, sleeping, working, and even praying –but also remember there are more important things in life than this.
- Never cosplay out of a desire to be seen, or validated. Cosplay, like any art, is prone to different responses from others; sometimes, we find that our works don’t get noticed. I’ve personally seen it myself and from others who are saddened that their cosplay did not get too much reaction. But it’s ok – because no matter what happens, at the end of the day, be proud that you were able to make something great for yourself, and perhaps learned a few tidbits here and there. What matters most, however, is that we obey God and strive to please Him in our lives, as St. John Vianney remarks: “Do not try to please everybody. Strive to please your public: God, the angels and saints.”
- On top of taking care of the quality, take great care to ensure your cosplay is in good taste and you maintain a good composure. It is important that whatever cosplay we make is not only pleasing aesthetically, but also puts yourself in a good light regarding how others look at you. Be modest in the outfits you create, and be friendly to all who approach you and do not start drama. In keeping on the side of physical and personality-wise modesty, as St. Francis De Sales writes we will exhort ourselves as an ornament of beauty, which others will admire us more for.
- Make sure to do cosplay for the best intentions at hand! St. John Bosco, an Italian saint, always advised his students to “Enjoy yourselves, but stay away from sin.” Cosplay should also follow the same attitude: we can partake in it, we can take passion in it, but above all we must make sure to do it in a spirit of good intentions.
On top of all these, it is important to perform your hobby in a manner that is pleasing to God, and gives glory to Him, as the words of St. Paul express – “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Question #6 – Do You Have Any Cosplay Suggestions?
Some good and wholesome cosplay ideas may include, but are not limited to:
- Any of the Digimon Adventure, Steins’ Gate, Inuyasha or Studio Ghiblicharacters
- Yuzuru Otonashi or Kanade Tachibana from Angel Beats
- Cardcaptor Sakura battle outfits (the one from the first opening is awesome!)
- Umaru Doma from Himouto! Umaru-Chan
- All Might or Izuku “Deku” Midoriya from Boku No Hero Academia
- Violet Evergarden
- Kaguya Shinomiya / Chika Fujiwara from Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War
- Tanjiro / Nezuko Kamado from Demon Slayer
- Taki / Mitsuha from Your Name
- Saitama from One Punch Man
- Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Melty from The Rising Of The Shield Hero
These are some examples, but generally the golden rule should be this – if it’s not something you’d feel comfortable showing to your family, office space or if it may not be appropriate to show to a child, then I wouldn’t consider it.
We live in an exciting time where the art of cosplay is becoming more appreciated and loved by many individuals from all over the world. Many people are learning to exercise their God-given talents of arts and crafts to make wonderful costumes of their favourite character or clothing from a long-ago period of time. However, as with any talent, we must make sure to use them wisely, and responsibly. I leave you with one final remark from a Church Father, St. Maximus the Confessor: