As much as I love Final Fantasy X, I’ve never been able to get behind its themes of religion one hundred percent. It’s lines like this, though, that really manage to convey the complexity of human spirituality. Wakka does what he can to abide by Yevon’s teachings because he believes that bad things will happen otherwise. On a deeper level, Wakka does what he feels is right because he’s a good person. But being a good person one hundred percent of the time is not always easy, and Wakka willingly admits it.
Incoherent half-assed thoughts about religion in FFX:
— I feel like FFX is critical of organized religion and scriptural literalism, but it’s not dismissive of spirituality (see: Braska, Belgemine and Zuke: good people for whom the church provides structure, but who do not adhere to all of its strictures).
— It also recognizes the valuable role the church plays as a civic institution, separate from corruption that may or may not exist at the top: FFX-2 shows how the loss of religious institutions and religious certainty can lead to social chaos, demoralization or a scramble to find meaning in superficial things.
— I also feel like FFX may be pecking at organized religion (which includes some forms of institutional Buddhism — cf. Neo-Confucianism) vs. less structured, animist, Shinto Buddhist styles of personal spirituality. Yuna’s power comes from the fayth and natural forces, not from church authorities. Her ultimate weapon is Nirvana, after all: the end result of an inner, personal, spiritual pilgrimage, not something that can be imposed from outside. (Come to think of it, the letting-go of her aeons may tie into that symbolism somehow).
— Getting back to Wakka: it’s really important to have somebody in the party giving a human face to the church to remind us that it’s not all bad, and that most of its followers are good people. Wakka is obviously a compassionate and kind person, yet he’s unquestioning, steeped in the institutionalized prejudices that he’s been taught, and at a loss when the institution of his faith proves to be corrupt. He is racist and flawed, yet he is a sympathetic figure. His journey from dogma to disillusionment to enlightenment is less exalted than Yuna’s, but very resonant with real-world situations.
I’m glad you mentioned Belgemine specifically, because I remember being really upset when she seemed to fade out of the story around the Calm Lands. In fact, I never even knew she had much of a story until I looked at some of your information about her!
I think that’s most of what my lingering skepticism with X’s religious themes comes down to. We’re given plenty of criticism of not only religious corruption but organized religion in general, which is perfectly fine! We see how Yevon affects the game’s main characters in such devastating ways, but we don’t necessarily see the flip side of that nearly as often. We’re shown that religion does provides fulfillment and stability to characters like Braska and Belgemine, but not all too often. Personally - and I’m well aware that this is entirely my own opinion! - I think it was a shame that they reserved the vast majority of the “good” religion stories for sidequests. I think it would have added a significant amount of depth to what are already very intriguing themes if even one of these characters’ positive experiences with organized religion had been highlighted in the main plot as more than just a few passing mentions.