Now, before I begin, I'd like to mention the obvious disclaimer that this is entirely my views, my speculations, and most definitely my opinions. Someone else may have a directly contradictory viewpoint, and it may be just as valid. Also, it may well turn out that I am one hundred percent incorrect on every aspect of the matter. This is a random blog, not an academic presentation.
I'm sure that anyone who's been in the fandom for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya for an extended amount of time will have at least heard of the term "Haruhiism". It is stated to be a sort of belief system, perhaps even religion, which stems from the show. I doubt the creators of the term (whether Kyoto Animation or Tanigawa Nagaru) actually intended this seriously, but the term has obviously grown past the original roots.
The problem is that I've met several people who appear to be offended simply by claims of Haruhiism's status as any sort of religion. Now, to be absolutely above-board and open with this, I suppose I can be described as an apathetic agnostic: I don't know if there's any God or gods, and I don't particularly care. Therefore, I do not and cannot understand all the myriad viewpoints unique (or not so much) to being a member of a religion: what may seem offensive to a religious person may be just amusing or mildly interesting to me. If I offend anyone with inaccurate portrayals or misconceptions of what is, I understand, a very serious subject matter, I apologize in advance.
Having said that, I suppose I should present what may well be the most controversial statement I will ever make on this blog or elsewhere:
Haruhiism is as "real" a religion as, say, the Church of the SubGenius, or Discordianism.
Now, on first glance and gut reaction, this statement appears to say: "Haruhiism is not real to anyone". This is not the case: I've met several people who are (or at least claim to be) serious and dedicated adherents to the Church of the SubGenius and the Flying Sphagetti Monster, as I've met one person (so far) who is (or claims to be) a serious and dedicated adherent to Haruhiism. The question often raised is: how is this "parody" religion not as valid as a "real" one?
Unfortunately, actually debating that question, much less answering it, would be… well, I suppose not so much outside the scope of this entry, but mostly just too much trouble to handle right now. I know I can't answer the question to any satisfaction, even my own; I'd rather just gracefully bow out of the conversation with an inoffensive mumble, being that this is a question about faith, which necessarily requires a belief strong enough to engender heated emotions. I do not, repeat, do not want to see a flamewar about religion erupt about this.
(No, really, you do not want me to start a discussion about that question. For one thing, I'd start out by demanding an exact definition for our purposes for words like "parody", "real", "valid", and "this".)
Why is it described as a religion, then? Well, take note of the general geek/fan mentality: when we come across something which tickles our fancy a great deal, we run with it. We run with it so far that to the uninitiated, it looks as though we're actually serious about the whole thing. And with all the cynicism and disillusionment for organized religion, why not profess a belief in a disorganized one?
So. All this qualifying and careful buttressing against the possible deluge of "you're wrong, because you're wrong" responses aside, what is Haruhiism?
Like I can answer that. You may as well ask "what is Christianity?" or "what is Zen?" or "what is faith?" Reponses may differ from person to person, and this is only really my own interpretations. Take them as you will.
Note that throughout this entire post, no matter how much I may seem to lose sight of it, I am well and fully aware that TMoHS is meant to be entertainment, produced for profit, and that the original creator wrote the story because he wanted something to make people laugh. This does not prevent me, however, from assuming, for the duration of this entry, that Haruhiism is real.
Think of it as a suspension of disbelief.
First and foremost is the usual and obvious starter, "love the source". This is, I think, necessary to Haruhiism; if you don't love the series from which it came, there's not much point in believing in Haruhiism, is there?
I would say that it does not matter if you don't actually like Haruhi the character. As long as you like the series, all is well; Haruhiism is more than simply Haruhi, although she is certainly the most integral part of the faith. Faith is a personal thing; whatever you believe in is entirely up to you, and therefore whichever aspect of Haruhiism is the one which draws you towards it is, in a very personal sense, the correct one.
This does mean that it is entirely possible to be an adherent to Haruhiism because one likes looking at cute girls.
Secondly, I would argue that the central tenet of the faith is to believe in the possibility, if nothing else, that there are people out there or even right next to you who might be, to put it flippantly, aliens, time-travellers, or ESPers. In other words, everyone may have a story to tell, and that story may be more interesting than you might imagine, even if the way they tell it might need some work. In fact, the best "storyteller" of the SOS Brigade is Kyon, the one "normal person" in the group, and his story-to-tell is based on his interactions with the other more "interesting" people. Maybe that will be your story.
Proponents of the Haruhi-specific faction might also have a belief in a sort of freedom to do what one wishes, provided it is interesting, and where being interesting is the goal of every endeavour. This bears some resemblance to the SubGenius notion of Slack, which has a more anti-authoritarian bent; specifically, Slack encourages one to achieve one's personal goals, despite (or especially) if it runs counter to "accepted societal limits". Obviously, this has dangerous consequences, which does mean that I personally do not fully hew to this philosophy. I can see the appeal in it, though.
I do also realize the irony of being told not to follow rules via a rule in a religion, as do the religions in question themselves. I believe one of the tenets of Discordianism, written in the Principia Discordia, is that one must not believe of what one reads.
I am not, as it is, convinced that there is an antagonistic persistent "other" in Haruhiism, which serves the role of the Greyface in Discordianism or the Purple Oyster for the Invisible Pink Unicorn (or, for the more well-known Abrahamic religions like Christianity, the Devil). There is no real "them", other than those who are "not us". The "Not Us" are not evil as such, but perhaps unenlightened, and thus prone to misunderstanding the accepted actions of Haruhiism (or at least as "accepted" as anything can get via the whims of Haruhi).
To be a Haruhiist is relatively simple; there is no real central governing or administrative body, at least not in the Real World. (No, I doubt KyoAni wants to bother with it.) Just be a fan of the show, and believe in the broad strokes of Haruhi's message to have fun with aliens, time-travellers, and ESPers, and be willing to call yourself a Haruhiist, and… you're done. That's all it takes.
Note that you can easily be a fan of the show and not be a Haruhiist; it is not a default state for anything. There is no prestige or shame in Haruhiism, and it confers no special benefits in any official capacity; you may as well put "Flying Spaghetti Monster" or "Jedi" under the Religion field on forms. The only thing that might possibly cause it to run afoul of other religions is the common "you must not believe in other religions/deities" clause (which Haruhiism does not, I think, have, although I am just extrapolating from Haruhi's general views on such matters).
Haruhiism is not an internationally-recognized religion by any authoritative means. It has its roots quite firmly placed in fiction, in entertainment meant for the masses and made for profit. It could well be described as a "pseudo" or "parody" or "joke" religion, which is itself a thorny term (is Discordianism a "pseudo" religion? Is belief in Odin or Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Is Scientology? Is paganism?).
But like all religions, joke or otherwise, it deals with belief (and its close cousin faith), which does imply the sort of scarily-passionate people who might be willing to state things in a rather more narrow view than is strictly necessary. People are people everywhere, whether they be Christians or Haruhiists (or both).
And overall, I think the primary draw of Haruhiism is the question: "why not?" In an otherwise dreary world without surprises, why not believe that adventure is right around the corner (deshou deshou)? Why not believe that the mysterious is also benevolent, or at least willing to participate in activities that may seem hectic when it happens, but highly enjoyable in hindsight? And with all the less-than-perfect reputations of so many of the world's mainstream religions, why not participate in a relatively inoffensive one whose primary goal is to have fun?