Suikoden II and Christian Morality

As a fair warning, I will be spoiling a few of Suikoden II’s twists here.

I’ve lately been smitten with Konami’s Suikoden games, having breezed through the first game and a substantial amount of the second in a relatively small amount of time. From their nuanced, understated approach to storytelling to the fast-paced gameplay and the charming, 2D sprite based aesthetic, there is a lot to cherish in these games.

Suikoden II is centered around two major political powers, the nation of Highland and the City States of Jowston. As the game opens up, the two have just achieved a peace treaty after years of war. The (nameless) hero and his friend, Jowy, are part of a Highlander youth corps waiting to be decommissioned. But in the middle of the night their division is attacked and wiped out by Luca Blight, a high-ranking Highlander general. Luca frames Jowston for the massacre, and uses it to help start a war of aggression against the city states. As the only survivors, the hero and Jowy are denounced as Jowston spies and forced to flee across the border.

The hero and Jowy quickly find themselves in the employ of Muse, the largest of the city states. Recognizing that he has been privy to the mayor’s own counsel, Jowy defects back to Highland, assassinating the mayor and allowing the Highland army to conquer Muse.

Jowy’s betrayal, however, is just the beginning of his own plans: he wants to stop Luca and bring an end to the war, and intends to do so by gaining trust and power within Highland in order to bring about Luca’s downfall from within.

Meanwhile, the hero finds himself forced into a leadership position within Jowston, ultimately spearheading the defense against the Highland invasions. Thus the two friends are brought into conflict with each other, in spite of sharing the same goals.

It’s a poignant story of brother against brother, with a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of both sides of the conflict. Whereas most games would paint the Highland army completely black, we see here that Luca is as much an issue for his own nation as he is for Jowston, with many Highlanders being disturbed by the rise to power of such a sadistic war-mongerer.

For the purposes of this post, what I found interesting was how Jowy functions as a good case example for talking about the moral character of our actions.

Jowy’s role as an antagonist begins with the murder of Muse’s mayor, and continues as he actively contributes to a just war of aggression. But, as mentioned, this is done out of a desire to end the war from within and thereby spare the loss of more lives. In contrast to the brutality of Luca, Jowy has a marked distaste for violence and sees himself as sacrificing his own inner peace for the sake of political peace.

It’s a moral calculus that the modern age is very familiar with: the idea that certain evils become permissible if the situation and the potential consequences call for it. At heart it involves a denial that some actions are intrinsically evil – for if they were, it would be incoherent to speak of them as being situationally permissible. It approaches moral questions in a very “external” manner, concerned entirely with outcomes rather than the interior disposition of the moral agent.

For the Christian it is a quite different story. Inasmuch as we believe that God has a particular nature, and that he created us with a particular nature, it follows as a consequence that some actions are contrary to God’s nature and human nature. We have been created in the imago dei – the image and likeness of God – which is most apparent in the free will we are given as rational creatures. In this manner, our actions carry a supreme spiritual weight for us. As Pope John Paul II put it in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor,

The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law, which has its intimate and living center in the moral conscience, is manifested and realized in human acts. It is precisely through his acts that man attains perfection as man, as one who is called to see his Creator of his own accord and freely to arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.

Human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his profound spiritual traits. (#71)

Hence why, “every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:28) The interior movement of our will is enough to make us an enemy of God and man, even if, externally, nothing happens.

This still leaves the case of Jowy. After all, his intentions are quite noble, and surely if we are stressing the importance of interior dispositions, this must count towards something, right?

Here is where things need to get more precise. Catholic moral theology traditionally breaks an action down into three components when evaluating it: the moral object, the intention, and the circumstances. Identifying the moral object means asking the question, “what action am I choosing to do right now?” The intention can be identified by asking, “what further outcome do I hope to get from this action, or” what are my motives?” Finally, identifying the circumstances is a matter of asking, “how free am I in this situation?”

Because the moral object is a freely chosen action, it already carries its own moral character outside of considerations of motive or circumstances. Murder, for instance, always has an evil character. Even if one hopes to achieve good through such an act, it still involves the soul’s deliberate choice to commit something gravely evil. Intentions and circumstances can accentuate or mitigate the culpability of the individual, but they cannot turn something evil into something good. To quote Veritatis Splendor again:

The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who “alone is good,” and thus brings about the perfection of the person. An act is therefore good if its object is in conformity with the good of the person with respect for the goods morally relevant for him. (#78)

Hence Jowy, although less guilty than a man like Luca, is still morally implicated in a lot of grave crimes.

The ultimate irony and tragedy of Jowy’s character is that his actions do not even bring about the desired consequences: even after the defeat of Luca, the war between Jowston and Highland continues unabated. Jowy’s choices are an unsuccessful gamble, which only serves to highlight the futility of a morality focused entirely on outcomes. To bring up Veritatis Splendor a final time:

Moreover, everyone recognizes the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of evaluating all the good and evil consequences and effects…of one’s own acts: an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible. How then can one go about establishing proportions which depend on a measuring, the criteria of which remain obscure? How could such an absolute obligation be justified on the basis of such debatable calculations? (#77)

None of us are in a position to see all the consequences of our actions, or to infallibly predict what the future may hold. Rather, we should always strive to do good and entrust the outcome to God’s own providential care.

15 thoughts on “Suikoden II and Christian Morality

  1. Interesting thoughts! : ] I have a thought stemming from this, too.

    “Murder, for instance, always has an evil character. Even if one hopes to achieve good through such an act, it still involves the soul’s deliberate choice to commit something gravely evil. Intentions and circumstances can accentuate or mitigate the culpability of the individual, but they cannot turn something evil into something good.”

    Ah, but what if murder is the only way to stop something much more horrible from happening? The ends don’t normally justify the means, but there are a couple…unique circumstances. Not just “Hope to achieve something good,” but “Killing a guy is literally the only way to stop a huge number of people from dying.”

    Example: Suppose there is a tyrant who rather clearly has magical powers beyond the ken of mortal men. Specifically, he has been commanding a massive army of monsters to commit the crime of genocide against an entire city. There’s no reasoning with this guy— He’s completely cracked, is prpbably megalomaniacal, and apparently just wants to watch the world burn. To make matters worse, the guy isn’t exactly a moron either— He’s made it so that it’s near impossible for anyone or anything to attack him. It would be hard to capture him if he were expecting you, anyway. The only person who can get close enough to his true body to kill him isn’t a soldier— It’s someone he trusts precisely because they’re helpless. This person has to commit murder to stop the tyrant, or hundreds of people will die. Is that action still evil?

    My take on it is….Possibly. From a purely intuitive standpoint, I’d say that it still stains the soul of the murderer (Heck, in the original context this came from, it made the murderer completely miserable— They cared deeply about the very person they had to kill) but it seems complicated. Just wars, self-defense— There are many circumstances where someone murders another to prevent a greater evil.

    1. Hi, Luminas! The answer to this quandary is that murder is always wrong, because murder is an unjust killing. However, a just killing is not murder. Most languages don’t make the distinction.

      Killing a tyrant is not considered unjust in the Western tradition. The assassination of Julius Caesar was celebrated. Cicero’s answer to the hypothetical question over whether it is wrong to steal a horse from the tyrant N. is that it is not wrong to steal from someone it is right to kill.

      1. Cicero’s response is interesting there, because in my book it seems like it would depend on why you were stealing the horse. If you steal a horse from the Dread Lord because you’re a thief and you want a horse, seems like it’s still pretty wrong. But if you steal the horse because you really need to get out of there or you will probably die, then all of a sudden stealing that creepy horse is the only thing you can do. Same deal if you’re stealing it to get ahead of him and warn people about his approach.

        Similarly, killing a tyrant because you personally hate him is a way different action than killing a tyrant because he’s a tyrant (In the example above, the person basically loved the tyrant and killed him because it was the only way to end the slaughter, so sort of the opposite). And if you’re killing the guy because he screwed over your family, you’re suddenly in a weird moral grey area of self-defense versus vengeance.

        I like moral quandaries, and they seem to come up all the time in this context. : ] Also the game sounds interesting. I started both Suikoden III and IV, but ended up not going far enough to give them a full shot.

        1. Hi there! Allow me to add my two cents if I may.

          I believe that no matter the reason or circumstance, killing/murder is always evil and thus a sin. Josh kinda mentioned it in his post that even if our intentions are good the outcome may not be what we planned out to be.

          Today we may think it acceptable/necessary to kill that as the only way to end oppression and save people. But Jesus never once taught us that – rather He says to “turn the other cheek.” We may – in our human capacity – think that killing that tyrant is the only way to save the people and make the world a better place, but you know what? The Church is built upon the blood of the martyrs. St Peter died for his faith, so has St Paul, and all the other martyrs that went before us. And they did not go with swords clashing. Ultimately their way of living the Gospel has made Christianity into what it is today. That’s the reason why I am drawn to Christianity: simply because I have a loving God who died for us and called us to follow His Way. Even in the darkest night, we are called to have faith and hope that God will bring about a better tomorrow.

          Nevertheless, if in this situation we should take the dark path of killing, God can still turn the situation for His glory and build us up, as He did with Saints Peter (who betrayed Him thrice) and Paul (who initially persecuted His Church). For that has ever been a Christian story aye: we sin, we fall, we repent and we are saved.

          I think two very good anime characters to represent this will be Himura Kenshiin (Rurouni Kensin) and Seiichirō Kitano from (Angel Densetsu).

          God bless!

          1. It is true that the Church is built on the blood of the martyrs, but it is also true that people have a right to defend themselves and others from unjust aggression. All justifiable homicide is rooted in the right to self-defense. There are times where there is no other recourse. Murder, on the other hand, has no basis in self-defense or justice, and no one has a right to it.

            The martyrs hold highest place in the hierarchy of saints; but Europe was under constant warfare during most of its history, and the Church did not restrict nations from using the sword. So, we find holy men and women like St. Olaf, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Elizabeth, St. Joan of Arc, St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis of France and St. John Capistrano supporting or participating in war. Several battles were also celebrated for freeing Christian slaves (the Battle of Lepanto) or saving Christendom (the Battle of Tours, the Siege of Vienna, and the Siege of Szigetvar). The martyrs hold first place, but Christian soldiers are also rightly honored. To add an example of individual defense with deadly force, the Prophet Moses slaying the Egyptian is viewed as righteous by both Jewish commentators and the Fathers of the Church. (Some moderns call it murder, but that accusation strikes me as false.)

            We also have the example of God defending Israel with deadly force. Thus Pharaoh and his men were drowned in the Red Sea, and the Angel of the Lord slew 185,000 Assyrians. When Satan rebelled, God sent St. Michael to cast the devil into hell, which might be considered the first time a tyrant was deposed.

            Of course, killing every dictator or tyrant can’t solve the world’s problems, and there are cases where it causes more harm than good. One must think also of the consequences of one’s actions–as the Catholic just war theory states. It is an act of mercy to forgive someone for striking one on the cheek, but there are times where more harm than good results from ignoring inequity.

            Thank you for your comment! I am also a big fan of Rurouni Kenshin. God Bless!

        2. You’re very right. The intention in someone’s mind can turn a good act evil, even killing a tyrant. A good act must be good in all three respects, as Josh writes above. Though, I think that more people are tempted to do evil for the sake of a good thing than good for the sake of an evil thing. Vainglory is the most common example of the latter which I can think of.

          I suppose it is alright to kill a tyrant because of severe harm to one’s family as long as it is coupled to also avenging the harm he inflicts on others. Catholic philosophy on rebellion advises against it unless the situation is one of lawlessness or chaos. (Part of the just war theory is that war must be less harmful than the evils it wishes to correct.)

          1. Medievalotaku, I’m curious about your opinion on something. So Christ commanded us not to kill, even having hate in our hearts towards a brother is murdering him in our hearts. I get that, and I also understand the turn the other cheek parable as well. Even Christ said if someone wants to rob you, give them your tunic and other garments as well. So it’s like saying “if they want to harm you or rob you, let them and give them more on top of that”. Which is understandable, because it actually confuses the person doing harm to you and they may regret their ways and repent, or at least harm you less because you don’t fight back….

            Anyways, my question to you is that you mention various martyr’s, battles and God commanding angels to slay the enemies of Israel. I understand that, but since that was the Old Testament and we are under the New Covenant of the forgiveness of sin’s through Christ, and His Resurrection, God no longer wipes out entire people groups in the same manner. It’s hard for me to explain typing, but through Christ all of God’s wrath was poured out on His Son and things are done differently now. So is it still justifiable to say that God will use force in the same manner from the Old Testament or “holy soldiers” (I’m calling them that, just cause it sounds cool) to destroy? I wanted to know what you thought on that, sorry if my question sounds a little confusing, it’s late and it’s hard to explain unless we were talking and not typing 🙁

            1. I get the gist of what you are saying. Humankind, with the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, has entered the Reign of Mercy, whereas before we were under the Reign of Justice in Old Testament times. Under the Reign of Mercy, does God still use force in the same way as under the Reign of Justice? I would say yes, though He shows more restraint. Justice and mercy are always intertwined and for the sake of the other. Our alms and other acts of charity are just considering the mercy we have been shown. God shows us mercy so that we might practice justice and attain righteousness through the blood of Christ.

              Mercy often reveals itself as time: time to repent of injustice. Decent people often suffer while waiting for an unjust person to repent; but, the good of the unjust person’s salvation is worth delaying the judgment of God. Still, wicked people often grow bolder if not punished, and the law-abiding begin to doubt God’s presence if criminals thrive. So, God’s mercy is infinite, but the time for accepting it is not. God’s wrath is eventually meted out on the impenitent for the sake of the penitent. The Reign of Justice is first, and it shall come again when Christ slays the Antichrist at the Second Coming.

              That is a very good question though, and God’s plans are always mysterious from a human angle.

              1. Thanks so much for that answer. I liked how you phrased it, and it is very true. As the word says, He is slow to anger. I myself am grateful for His mercy, love and compassion for us all because without it we would be in a lot of trouble.

                So true, many times injustice goes unpaid and we wonder where is God in all of that. He is mysterious like you said, but only because we do not understand nor can we with our limited minds and bodies. When we arrive to glory with Christ and are one with the One, we will finally get what’s going on.

          2. Medieval Otaku: though it’s kinda (okay, VERY) late to be saying this, thanks for replying! Always nice to hear from a biblical scholar who is an otaku =). I’ve been mulling over what you said, and here’s what I personally think.

            While I believe what you wrote is in-line with the Catholic (καθολικός) Church’s stance today, I still cannot wholly agree with this line of thought.

            A Christian who kills (for whatever reason) seems very unChristlike to me. The only reason we actually do so is when our faith is not firmly entrenched in the Lord, that we have to rely on violence to “deliver us from evil”, so to speak. To quote a person I know, “Our failure (to endure) is a human weakness and a lack of trust in Divine Providence and in Divine Goodness.”

            When the early/infant Church was established, it did not rely on such weapons to defend themselves. Rather when they were persecuted, they relied solely only on faith to see them through. And in the dark ages where the Church suffered heavy persecution before Constantine, they fought back with steadfastness and perseverance. Their sacrifice, though not noticeable in their time, bore very much fruit years later. Only when Christianity became a major religion did we (officially) decide to take up arms to defend ourselves. Somehow it feels not right: that when we are “weak”, we rely on faith since that’s all we have; but when we become numerous and “strong” we start placing our faith in manmade tools to defend us.

            As fellow humans, I believe it is never right to take the life of another – only God has this authority. St Peter did not take the life of Ananias and Sapphira. In Revelations, the saints were not recorded to fight back with violence, but it is God who will send His angels and rain down fire from Heaven to protect them. But I suppose the best answer is to look at Jesus teachings and sacrifice on the Cross. As cliché as it this may be, perhaps the question WWJD may shed some light in this topic? Yes, we may die, or may not see the result even years down the road. However, to say that violence is the only option (even in extreme cases) somehow dims the statement in John 16:33.

            It’s also quite interesting you brought up the Saints who participated in war. Not to downplay their achievements, but I feel that Saints such as Joan of Arc and Henry are politically motivated – perhaps I’ll leave this topic for another day.

            Anyway thanks again!

            PS: for some reason, I had a vivid image of Nanoha’s befriending method while writing this XD.

  2. I find that from a personal standpoint, Marzocchi, your statement makes sense. Nobody should willingly engage in violence to defend themselves as if that were the only option. You might die if you don’t defend yourself, but in some contexts it might be better that you did.

    The problem is that on a large scale, I think your proposition’s considerably more dubious. What if the only way to save millions of lives is to snuff out the life of another? Adolf Hitler might very well have killed himself, but that honestly makes him in the minority of all the corrupt monsters of history. You could theoretically capture such a person, but to do that you would still have to kill— Or be killed, and let the cause of Light die with your army. I don’t think doing nothing in the face of very real evil, having faith in God’s providence, always makes sense. Inaction, when you could act and save a life, because of faith….Strikes me as just as evil as not saving a kid from drowning in the river because you believe God wouldn’t let him drown.

    1. Hi Luminas. I agree that inaction is definitely not the right response to evil. However I would not say that perseverance and prayer based on faith can be termed as inaction. Prayer – especially in a community – I believe can be stronger than anything man can accomplish. Take the miracles of: healing, casting out demons, rescuing St Peter from Herod, etc. I believe that, as long as we persevere in prayer and faith, God will take care of the rest, just as He did with Herod (who died by worms) and the conversion of Romans from anti-Christian to the major Christian empire back then.

      In the Catholic denomination, there are even religious sects that devote their entire life to prayer and meditation – and almost nothing else (eg: Order of Discalced Carmelites). Many also believe the prayers of saints (eg: the 3 children to Our Lady of Fatima) prevented/ended wars.

      And as a Christian, what evil could be greater than killing the Son of God, the Creator of creation and of all life? That, in my opinion is far worse than murdering every single human being in this world.

      In short, I believe true fervent prayer can put an end to any evil, and to doubt it is to doubt the power of God. Then again, this is my personal opinion; I totally understand where you’re coming from and respect your beliefs =). TBH, I think the reason why I stubbornly hold to my stance is because I’d probably be the first person to resort to violence; the martyrs and their peaceful retaliation is the epitome of Christian virtue I could never achieve.

      1. It’s definitely an interesting (And very hardline) stance to take. I am enjoying talking out the details with you. = ]

        Interesting question: Is it just with committing a particular cardinal sin that the issue comes up? Because there are lots of situations where God helps those who help themselves, essentially.A great example of this is where people have refused life-saving medical treatment in an effort to pray their illness away, and then have promptly died. Or situations in which God hears the request, sympathizes, but does not grant it, as He has other reasons for keeping the situation the way it is. My sister the resolute Christian, probably praying every day for God to cure the sickness that tore apart my mother’s mind, and Mom still died. But on the other hand I’ve seen equal evidence that the communication method being used, such as it is, does in fact work. Prayer holds power, especially prayer with resolute faith that God will listen.

        It’s weird and probably a bit faithless to say, “You should hedge your bets” when it comes to matters of faith, but…

        “Many also believe the prayers of saints (eg: the 3 children to Our Lady of Fatima) prevented/ended wars.”

        Prayer or not, there were still soldiers in these wars. And though the “battle meditation” ensured their victory, they still needed to make a move in order for the war to end.

        1. Of course the great irony of it all is that sometimes when you don’t hedge your bets at all, and you have enough faith to put into a mustard seed rather than into the line on the edge of your nail, something really impossible occurs. But such things are rare indeed.

          1. A thoughtful insight; I do enjoy this conversation as well =). For me, it applies only on issues of which my Church teachings and the Bible considers, under normal circumstances, as sin. In other matters (eg: refusing/undergoing medical treatment), as long as the activity involved is morally sound, I believe this is left to our discretion and/or effort to make it work. As you mentioned, “God helps those who help themselves” – I can’t expect to be miraculously rescued if I pray to be saved from a flood, yet refuse to get on the offered lifeboat.

            “Prayer or not, there were still soldiers in these wars. And though the “battle meditation” ensured their victory, they still needed to make a move in order for the war to end.”

            Interesting point, I never really looked at it that way. I believe God is able to make the most of whatever pieces He has, no matter how man may choose move. Just as how He turned the one who denied Him 3 times into the leader of the merry band of Apostles; or how when my laptop died days before final exam, turned out to be my highest scoring GPA during my undergraduate years.

            Ultimately, God’s ways/thoughts are above what humans can comprehend, and what we want may not be what He plans. As a Catholic, I sometimes find myself wondering how it would have turned out if the missionary St Francis Xavier had not died early from fever, or the state of China had not the early missionaries misunderstood the concept of ancestor veneration as worship. Perhaps as you say, all we can do is act as best as we can according to our conscience, and leave the rest up in faith.

            May your mum rest in peace.

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