What is Berserk’s Take on Religion?

Berserk is a story with very clear religious
allusions and inspirations. From the factions of organized worship touched
on throughout the plot to the ironic religious imagery portrayed through both Guts and Griffith,
this is a piece of work absolutely rich with symbolism about the topic. And while there are tons of little messages
about this sprinkled throughout the series, both subtle and otherwise, that would be a
topic more suited for someone with an expertise in religious lore and culture to unpack than
me. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible
to parse out what the narrative’s primary broad messages about this are. For a series so dense with themes about all
manner of topics, it would seem foolish to suggest that Berserk has no underlying messages
about religion when it tackles the subject so substantially throughout. So it begs the question – what is Berserk
actually trying to say about religion as a concept? To put it in extremely blunt terms – is Berserk
anti-religion, pro-religion, or something in between? From a superficial level, this message seems
pretty clear cut and obvious. The vast majority of characters associated
with religion in the story are portrayed in a decidedly negative light, so this would
seem to indicate the story’s thoughts on the topic. Along with being the primary faction concerned
with worshipping by far the most hated character in the series, The Holy See are immorally
dogmatic when it comes to their doctrine. They label anyone who doesn’t 100% align
with their beliefs as heretics and brutally torture and maim who they see as deviants
under the pretense of this being the will of God, to cleanse and remove these people
from evil. Additionally, religious rituals of note throughout
the plot usually lead to mass violence and are rarely shown in any classically positive
light. The main entity resembling a true deity in
the series, The idea of evil, is a god of misfortune and suffering, not good. Concurrently, the pseudo demi-gods in the
series are.. well.. the God Hand. And then there’s just the simple fact that
this world is unbelievably cruel and holds very little hope for the common citizen. As the old argument goes, if there is a benevolent
deity in this world, why are they not doing anything while their people suffer so needlessly? The truth is that it is because there very
likely isn’t one. Simply put, Berserk does not inspire much
confidence in religion from the outset. At it’s worst, it’s a story that could
be semi-understandably construed as Anti-religion. But that’s only from a shallow observation,
and the messages run much deeper than this. In fact, there is much more at play when it
comes to the thematic relevance of religion in Berserk, and it has much to do with the
mechanics of the universe, the nature of humanity, learned helplessness, and the aforementioned
Idea of Evil. As touched on before, the setting of Berserk
is brutal. Rife with unjust societal hierarchies, war,
famine, violence and all manner of sadistic supernatural entities, it is about as gritty
as dark fantasy worlds can get. The people in this world are in a constant
cycle of agony and it takes the vast majority all they have to just find it in themselves
to continue living. Justifiably, few harbour any semblance of
hope for the future. However, despite the fact that fate and causality
play huge roles in Berserk, this horrible world is portrayed throughout the series to
be a result of the darkness of mankind rather than the will of some universe defining entity. Behelits, structured power, oppression, and
most notable for this topic, religion – these are not plot devices used to carry the story
to it’s intended destination using the concept of fatalism as a crutch. Rather, they are methods and outlets used
to display two very important themes. The first theme that religion contributes
to is very bluntly communicated within the story – it’s about the potential within
mankind for pure brutality. Humans are capable of unspeakable evil and
many times they cover these actions using fronts and deceptions. Mozgus and his followers are a clear example
of this with regards to religion – a group of despicable people carrying out despicable
acts using religion and worship as an excuse. But this is not a negative message about religion
itself at all. If anything, the damning indictment here is
on people, and how they can use something like religion to try to justify cruelty. It’s a much more nuanced message, more characteristic
of Miura’s writing and more consistent with the ideas of the series. The second idea communicated through suffering
via religion is just as prevalent – the necessity of purpose. In a setting like this where purpose is so
difficult to hope for and even more difficult to find, it is human nature to cling onto
things with reckless abandon just to have some self-worth and a reason for living. Religion is one of those things. And it is easy to imagine how desperate one
dimensionality combined with lust for power can spiral something like organized religion
out of control into something that is pathological and dangerous – the fact is, a good number
of evil radicalists in Berserk are doing wrong because they are clinging onto some warped,
shallow ideal that represents their worth in the world. The setting has people totally dependent on
anything that represents purpose, and many become narrow-minded ideologues striving for
SOMETHING to live for in this world that gives them nothing. Characters completely disassociated with religion
like the Count or even Griffith go through similar extremes in order to cling onto significance
in existence. It’s more of a message about the necessity
of purpose, touched on through Guts’ existential pondering early on in the series, than anything
about the nature of religion. So we can see that due to the darkness of
mankind and how we yearn for purpose, Religion is not a cause of this cruelty, it is an excuse
and a means to an end. Religion itself is not the problem here; PEOPLE
are. Now, there is a flip side to this and it has
to do with passivity. At times throughout the series, characters
have been shown to choose not to act and to instead lean on religious worship to deliver
them from suffering. There is an instance where a small town is
attacked by trolls, and the priest in power decides to combat this by .. praying. But once again, instances like this are not
a criticism of religion itself – just how people use it. Just as extreme cruelty in the name of religion
is bad, so too is radical pacifism. On a more narratively personal note, there
is also the subject of Farnese’s character arc – a woman who ultimately decides to give
up on religion after realizing that she used it and her authority as a leader of the Holy
Iron Chain Knights as an unhealthy outlet for sadism and carnal desires. But once again, this is not a condemnation
of religion – it is a demonstration of how not to use it and of letting go of things
in one’s life when it brings about something undesirable within us. Religion demonstrates the lengths humanity
goes to to exert power and feel good in a world that promotes the opposite, but it is
not inherently negative in nature. It simply is. It’s neutral. It could be useful for some people, and not
worth investing in for others. It just so happens that in this world, people
tend to use it in a negative way because.. well.. basically everything is used in a negative
way. Now, while substantial, this is all a very
abstract and indirect way to interpret the story’s take on religion. However, this can also be prised out in a
more cosmic and grand sense, using the closest thing to an omnipotent deity that the series
has – the Idea of Evil. Essentially, the idea of Evil is a causal,
desired God. It is an entity that was created due to mankind’s
need to blame their misery and misfortune on some sort of transcendental entity. It was not the original source of pain, but
it was created due to the populace’s wishes for reasons to explain their suffering. Humanity wants to point the finger at some
sort of explanation for their strife other than the darkness of man and their own weakness
because of the harshness of those truths. As such, the Idea of Evil was created, as
a means to blame some sort of thing for the cruelty of the world. It self-perpetuates and dictates fate. It is the root of all of the suffering in
the world and it is the catalyst behind the evil God Hand. So the obvious question here with regards
to religion is that if there is an evil God, why isn’t there a good one? Is that not incredibly anti-religious? Well.. no, it’s not. Instead, this says much more about learned
helplessness and the human condition than it does about the concept of a benevolent
God. With the Idea of Evil, people are now conditioned
to feel helpless and act passively because there is an ironic comfort there. It is far easier to blame the horrors of one’s
life on some uncontrollable force than try to find the belief to change it. Through the collective hope that some evil
God had to be the cause, it forms a self-fulfilling prophecy to make that the truth. No God existed until humans conceived the
idea of Evil. And this is very significant – in Berserk,
belief in a God can create that God. This means that if enough people had enough
faith in one, a good God could be created. But there is plenty of reason as to why a
God of benevolence, the reason behind good deeds and fortune, has not been created. Firstly, there is simply such little happiness,
hope and success in Midland, which automatically lowers the possibility. People have learnt to not hope for anything,
so naturally there is little chance of them believing in some God that is the source of
good things. But more importantly, humans are hypocrites. In Berserk, they attribute responsibility
for their misfortune to something aside from themselves and blame external things, and
this creates the Idea of Evil. But when they succeed, they want to feel like
their success is their own. They like to take credit. There is very little chance that anyone in
the setting will attribute the cause of their successes to some benevolent god, especially
when there is such little evidence for a god of that sort in the first place and especially
when they want to feel responsible for their own success. As such, no “Idea of Good” exists. Only the Idea of Evil. But what’s important here is that this means
that belief and faith from the masses is the power behind the sources of both good and
evil in Berserk. There COULD be a God of goodness – There just
isn’t one because it is so difficult for people to strive past their misery and egoism
to find belief in one. Consequently, Berserk could be construed as
an advocate of belief in gods and a positive, healthy adherence to religion. If humans were different, the mechanics of
the universe would be completely altered. Faith could very well save this setting, but
there is just so little of it. Again, through the concepts of organized worship
and theism, Berserk is much more of a condemnation of human nature than it is a criticism of
religion. Now with regards to Kentaro Miura’s thoughts
on God – This would appear to be more cut and dry if we take what the story says as
a 1 to 1 representation of his thoughts. And note that this is a big assumption to
make, but I find the subject interesting to ponder, especially since I wasn’t able to
find any solid information on Miura’s outlook on religion. If you have a good source for this that I
missed then please feel free to share it in the comments. Having said all of that, If Berserk’s take
on God parallels Miura’s thoughts on the subject then he likely believes that the concept
of a God is an illusory idea perpetuated by the masses as a way to make life more bearable. The fatalism associated with the story reinforces
this as well. This line of thinking would seem to state
that the momentum behind deities makes them extremely substantial and influential in the
modern world, but they only exist because people believe them to exist. It would seem that Miura does not at all believe
that there is a God, while also believing that being religious and having faith is totally
fine as long as it is a healthy influence in one’s life. He seems to hate the evil that can spring
up from organized religion as a result of mankind’s deep flaws but does not chastise
anyone who is religious because it itself is not an inherently bad thing, and I think
that much is clear when examining the approach to religion throughout the narrative. Consistent with the nuanced story we have
experienced thus far in Berserk, everything depends. Very little is black or white and one must
have perspective when examining any controversial topic, because more likely than not, there
is a lot more depth to a situation under the surface. Many thanks for watching.

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