Newman’s Nook: Rejecting the Absolute Power

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for a manga and the associated anime that ended six years ago. Just saying.

In volume 22-23 of the manga, Alphonse Elric had a secret up his metallic sleeve. He had a philosopher’s stone. He pulls it out in order to help defeat, or at least stall, the homunculus known as Pride. As he’s able to stall them and knock both him and the powerful, evil Alchemist named Kimblee. Alphonse is able to temporarily imprison Pride and defeat Kimblee. While standing before each other, knowing he is evenly matched Kimblee asks Alphonse why he does not merely use the power of the philosopher’s stone to restore his body, restore his brother, and just disappear. He could get away from all this, he could be fully healed. Alphonse looks at Kimblee saying that it helps no one but himself and that he is unwilling to selfishly use the power. He refused to believe he had to give up helping and saving others before helping himself. He believed he could harness the power for good outside of himself.

Now, a step back needs to be taken. As a reminder for those who have not read the manga or watched the anime series, Philosopher’s Stones are created by murdering people and trapping their very souls within the stone. Alphonse did no such thing, he was given the stone. But, in the end Alphonse knows full well that the power of the stone is based on the many people whose lives were stolen from them to create it. In this scene he shows an unwillingness to use the power which was created by others from the lives of others to help himself. While he does effectively reject the temptation of a quick fix to save himself off the lives of others, he is still willing to use the ill gotten power for what he feels to be a good ends.

In life there are many temptations to drive us away from what we should be doing. We have offers of money, of power, of easy access to sex. Are these offers going to actually help you? Hurt you? Help others? Hurt others? Avoid responsibility? You may be offered an incredibly high paying job, but you will be working 100 hours a week and never see your family or go to church again. Is that a life worth living? Was that worth the money? You may be offered power, easy access to people in positions of power – but in order to gain said access there are unsavory tasks you must complete, people who must be squashed. Even if you do end up doing the right thing with the power you were given, was your path justified? Did the ends justify the means?

From a Biblical perspective, doing evil is still doing evil even if, in the end, you do good with the power you were given. We need to reject these offers outright as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:8. The perfect example of this comes from Jesus.

In the Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13) we see the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. For 40 days, Jesus fasted and was tempted with food, money, and ultimate power. He rejected it all. Jesus could have been given ultimate authority right then and there on Earth. He said no. He could have been given the food His body needed right then and there, He said no. It seems odd to us that Christ could even be tempted by such things knowing full well that He is God from a Biblical viewpoint. Yet, He was also fully man; a man who had not eaten for 40 days. Starvation takes its toll on a person’s body. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Matthew 4:1-11 wrote:

Concerning Christ’s temptation, observe, that directly after he was declared to be the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, he was tempted; great privileges, and special tokens of Divine favour, will not secure any from being tempted. But if the Holy Spirit witness to our being adopted as children of God, that will answer all the suggestions of the evil spirit. Christ was directed to the combat. If we presume upon our own strength, and tempt the devil to tempt us, we provoke God to leave us to ourselves. Others are tempted, when drawn aside of their own lust, and enticed…but our Lord Jesus had no corrupt nature, therefore he was tempted only by the devil. In the temptation of Christ it appears that our enemy is subtle, spiteful, and very daring; but he can be resisted. It is a comfort to us that Christ suffered, being tempted; for thus it appears that our temptations, if not yielded to, are not sins, they are afflictions only. Satan aimed in all his temptations, to bring Christ to sin against God.

All are tempted, but not all of us succeed in resisting. Now, the question is – did Alphonse succeed in resisting the temptation of using the power forged by the murder of many? Yes and no. He chose not to use the power on himself selfishly, but he still used the power of murdered people. He still used an artifact created by evil. If Jesus had given in to Satan and ruled as a just King on Earth, would the ends have justified the means? Of course not. Same here. Alphonse may have had a noble end in mind, but the means were still evil. Doing evil so good may one day triumph still means you committed evil. Noble intentions do not overcome the use of evil.

Would I have done the same thing in Alphonse’s steel shoes? I’d like to think I would not and would instead choose to try to destroy the stone finding some way to free the souls within. Yet, I know I’m not that perfect, I’m not that incorruptible. Absolute power like that is hard to resist. Luckily, I have the strength of the Spirit within me and a Savior who willingly died for my sinful nature to reconcile me to God. Even so, I am thankful I have never been put into such a situation…

7 thoughts on “Newman’s Nook: Rejecting the Absolute Power

  1. Philosopher’s stones, and the concept of an object formed of living souls in general, have always been the object of some degree of fascination for me. All kinds of questions spring up from it that I often make use of later. Examples: Are we really that enormously powerful in concert? What would happen, for example, if a huge group of people deliberately tortured themselves to form a willing Philosopher’s Stone? (Similar things have, indeed, happened in human history, patriotism and religion being stronger than the drive to life for some). What about the homunculi formed by the process? In Mass Effect and to a certain extent in Fullmetal Alchemist, the resulting entity is created from a gestalt consciousness of everyone who formed the object. But I digress…

    “Alphonse may have had a noble end in mind, but the means were still evil. Doing evil so good may one day triumph still means you committed evil. Noble intentions do not overcome the use of evil.”

    Ah, but the Philosopher’s Stones aren’t merely objects formed from people— They are people. Hohenheim regularly appears to not only use the power of the Philosopher’s Stone, but talk to the huge mass of people stored within him. Ask them if it’s okay to use their combined Will as his weapon to end the person that did this to them. He was a citizen of the ancient city they’re from, and no doubt has become a sort of friend over the years. Wonder what the heck the moral implications are of that.

    Alphonse is not so noble— He uses the Stone because he absolutely has to, right then and there, or probably they’re going to get their asses kicked. And killed. The question here is more: What would you have had him do other than use the Stone? Was there another option for him there? And is it actually better to die (And by extension in this show let everyone else die) than to use something created by evil means, if doing so might mean the triumph of evil?

    This is why I love these things as a plot device (Not so much as objects). So many philosophical implications.

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    1. You make some interesting points. While I’m not all the way through FMA’s manga and have not yet seen Hohenheim talking to the stone…so that’s news to me 🙂

      That said, the question is – do the ends justify the means? It’s especially difficult in this situation because he is literally using the souls of people to power his attack on the very people who assisted in murdering them. Does that make it better? Does that make it worse? Or is it still wrong to use the souls of murdered people to do..anything? I feel the latter is the right course, but if I were in Alphonse’s steel shoes – I have no clue what I would actually do.

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      1. Exactly. As a general principle, you should pretty much never use anything made of “caliborn” (What I rather inexplicably call any mineral made from Will and soul in most stories I write). The process by which such objects are made is so sick and horrific that the ends don’t justify the means. Similarly, you shouldn’t spend drug money or use things that you know were produced using borderline slave labor.

        But in Alphonse’s situation, there’s really no alternative. And to complicate the whole thing even further, if he dies there the rest of the world is threatened by the very people that created the stone.

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      2. It might actually be a show-only feature, but I hope not because it was really cool. Basically, at different points throughout the latter half of the anime, Hohenheim appears to be talking to nobody, and that nobody isn’t him. Later on, it’s revealed that this person is actually inside Hohenheim, and is one of the original civilians used to create his Philosopher’s Stone.

        …..can someone else who’s seen FMAB confirm whether or not I’m crazy on that point? I swear I remember that. XD

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  2. That’s a very good reminder that the ends do not justify the means, and that we must keep following Christ as the goal overriding all others. I have to look up Matthew Henry. His commentary on the temptation of Christ is spot on.

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    1. You may not like all of Matthew Henry’s works. Like some early Protestants in the 1600s/1700s, Henry held to the belief that the Antichrist would arise as a Pope one day. That said, his six-volume “Exposition of the Old and New Testaments” provides verse-by-verse commentary on the entire Bible and is fascinating (and old enough to be in the public domain.

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