Berserk turns many people away with its sex, gore, perversion, and very dark world. Some might justly wonder whether the series has anything beyond sex, violence, and shock value, but there is plenty of good to the series also. Much of it comes in watching the heroes becomes better persons throughout the series. Many people know that Guts’ journey involves his attempts to tamp down his thirst for revenge and his rage against Griffith, his former commander and friend who betrayed Guts and the Band of the Hawk. Guts frequently comes close to losing his humanity throughout the show, but his companions usually succeed in preventing this.
Another interesting character journey involves Farnese de Vandimion, the noble commander of the Holy Iron Chain Knights. Farnese is a very wicked woman. As a child, she was allowed to run wild and even to abuse her servants, among whom include Serpico. (Unknown to her, Serpico is her half-brother.) Participating at the burning of a heretic while a youth combined pyromania and sadism in her soul. At last, she became estranged from her usually absent father when, as part of her refusal to marry a noble of his choice, she burned down the family mansion. As a result, she was sent packing and granted a position as commander of the Holy Iron Chain Knights in order to save face.
This deed and the complete estrangement from her father seems to have shocked her psyche enough to seek religion. However, the church in Berserk‘s world is fairly twisted, and her part aiding the Inquisition has only channeled her vices and validated them. This church under the Grand Inquisitor is essentially treated as an ideology rather than a religion. What is the difference? A religious man essentially wants to convert other people from the inside–to make them willing participants in their own conversion. On the other hand, the ideologue separates the world into fellow believers and non-believers and works to purify the world of non-believers by coercion. For the ideologue, it is enough that people externally profess their religion: their inner condition does not matter.
In the history of the Church of Christ, many people have treated the Church as an ideology. It’s is far easier to obtain the consent of action than consent of the heart. One can enforce external observance by law, but interior conversion can only come about by the will. We usually see kings during the Renaissance as the primary enforcers of Christianity as an ideology, such as when Spain forced Muslims and Jews to choose between conversion and exile. France exiled the Huguenot Protestants–much to the injury of the French economy and betterment of England’s. England in turn persecuted Catholics and Protestants dissident from the Church of England. Uniform societies are easier to rule, and enforcing Christianity as an ideology has more to do with love of stability than love of Christ.
There also exists a far more subtle inversion of true Christianity than that practiced by kings. As Christians, we are called to hate sin but love sinners. Yet, it is very easy to hate sinners along with their sin. After all, the sinner is the cause of his sin and embodies the sin according to the degree to which he gives into his passion. Similarly, heretics embody their heresy, and the ideologue finds it easier to rid society of the heretics than their heresy. But, bad ideas have a remarkable capacity for rebirth. If one looks at the history of Christianity, the ideas of early heresies, Arianism and Gnosticism for example, have lived on in things like Unitarianism and Marxism. One can’t kill the devil, the founder of all heresy and error.
If one is to combat heresy, one has no better model than St. John the Baptist, whose feast we celebrate this Saturday. St. John lashed the consciences of sinners severely: “You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt. 3:7) But, in the very next line, he points out the path to salvation: “Produce fruit in keeping of repentance,” (Matt. 3:8). There is even evidence that St. John even admonished Herod Antipas from prison to change his ways, despite Herod’s vacillating nature giving little hope of a change of heart (Mark 6:20). St. John especially admonished his listeners against an ideological view of religion: “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham….every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire,” (Matt. 3:9-10). One judges a tree by its fruit. Believing in God and holding to orthodox opinions–all that the ideologue requires–is only the beginning. God requires us to be true sons and to produce the fruit of the kingdom (Matt. 21:43).
But, the path of the ideologue is far easier, and one can forgive Farnese for initially falling onto this path, which imparted some sense of meaning and purpose to her life. Only after seeing the full depth of the Grand Inquisitor’s wickedness juxtaposed to Guts’ nobility does her confidence in the righteousness of compelling religious conformity break. As much as some statements in Berserk seem to deny Providence, what else should one call Farnese gaining the experiences needed to snap out of her wicked mindset and join Guts’ party?
Berserk has the interesting concept that seeking to be above or apart from one’s fellow men is the beginning of evil. We see Guts at his most cruel when he wanders alone. Griffith has his great fall after denying his friendship with Guts and enduring long solitary confinement. Charity is the virtue which gives all good deeds their life, and charity cannot usually be practiced alone. Charity is also the life of the soul, and charity’s highest form is to desire another’s good above one’s own. By being entrusted with protecting Casca after she joins Guts’ party, Farnese has at last started on that journey to true charity, in which true religion is found also.