This week’s (okay, last week's; sorry I'm so late again) Lenten Lesson on redemption comes courtesy of a character with an especially dramatic redemptive arch. I refer, of course, to Godzilla.
When we first meet him, Godzilla is, well, he’s a bad guy. Displaced and mutated by an H-Bomb, he lashes out at humanity in anger and misery. When this leads inevitably to humans fighting back, he simply hits harder in response. It’s a brutal cycle; Godzilla attacks, humanity tries to fight him, he becomes even more embittered and angry as a result and lashes out all the more. He carelessly vents his anger on anyone; innocent or guilty. Even on those who are not and cannot be a part of the conflict (as seen when he attacks Mothra’s vulnerable egg).
The tragic part is that the whole thing is a ghastly mistake; Godzilla was never the target of intentional harm, only (arguably) a victim of short-sightedness and hubris. Moreover, he is lashing out at people who really had nothing to do with his victimization in the first place (since it wasn’t the Japanese who dropped the bomb on Bikini Atoll). His unthinking, blind rage boils down to nothing but wanton destruction and death, while his brutal counterattacks when he encounters resistance are both obviously unnecessary (since he’s effectively invulnerable) and far out of proportion.
Of course, it could be argued that we can’t really expect him to understand this since he’s not human. However, he does show great intelligence, even pushing sentience so the moral question remains; he’s a brutal, rage-filled engine of destruction who in his bitterness and anger brings death and disaster to innocent people.
That’s where we meet him and where, for a long time, he remains. But slowly, by degrees, he begins to change.
It might be said that there are two catalysts for spiritual redemption; the first is to see something good and desire it, the other is to see something horrible and flee from it. Godzilla’s story is primarily an example of the latter. What sets him on the path to redemption is an encounter with someone much, much worse than he; King Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon. Ghidorah flies from planet to planet, wiping out any life he finds before moving on. There’s no reason for any of this; apparently, he just enjoys it. Godzilla may lash out in anger, but Ghidorah commits omnicide for fun.
Though initially reluctant to do anything that would help humanity, the sheer force of Ghidorah’s evil (combined with an example of selfless courage from Mothra) awakens Godzilla’s latent nobility. In a desperate battle, he joins forces with Mothra and Rodan to drive Ghidorah off. In the process, something changes inside him. Perhaps it’s the realization of what he could become, or perhaps it’s the fact that, for once, he is looking beyond his own anger, but for whatever reason he loses his taste for wanton destruction. After his encounter with Ghidorah, he never willingly attacks humanity again.
That’s not to say he doesn’t remain dangerous and unpredictable. Rather, with the cycle of violence broken at last, he retreats to the more deserted areas of the world, such as the south pacific, where he mostly keeps to himself, lashing out only when he’s bothered. There he unexpectedly discovers another of his own species; this one an infant. Instinctively, yet reluctantly, he adopts the creature (dubbed ‘Minira’).
This act, instinctual, impulsive, possibly unwilling, has a profound effect upon him. For the first time, Godzilla has someone else to care about, and to care for. He is taken out of himself by taking responsibility for Minira, and in the process he finds himself at last. His angers cools, and he is finally able to live in peace with his adopted son, and even the other monsters who end up living with them. He becomes, in the end, even a kind of hero; leading a final charge against a returned King Ghidorah and ending an alien invasion before returning peacefully to his island home with his son.
Godzilla takes a long, tortuous, winding road to redemption. In the process, he teaches us four things:
1. Vengeance and Lashing out in Anger are Wrong
Godzilla’s bitterness and anger towards mankind are understandable; he was ripped from his natural environment, transformed into a massive abomination of nature, and left to fend for himself. But his violent reaction is nevertheless inexcusable, since not only was his suffering a completely unintended mistake, but he isn’t even lashing out at the people responsible. Moreover, by so doing he simply creates a never-ending cycle of violence in which he attacks, humanity retaliates, and he retaliates even harder.
2. The Only Way to Break the Cycle of Vengeance is Through Charity and Mercy
What finally snaps Godzilla out of this cycle is when he rushes to the aid of an enemy. Seeing Mothra being pathetically outmatched by King Ghidorah, he comes to her aid. In the process, he not only is helping her but also humanity itself. By doing good for his enemies, he inadvertently causes a kind of ‘ceasefire,’ in which he leaves humanity alone and vice versa.
3. Extreme Good and Extreme Evil can Lead Us to Redemption
Godzilla’s redemption is set in motion by two things: Mothra’s courage and Ghidorah’s cruelty. Seeing Mothra going off to engage in a hopeless battle against the three-headed dragon clearly shocks Godzilla, so much so that he can’t help following to watch. When he sees how outmatched she is and how merciless Ghidorah is, he snaps out of his selfishness and rushes to help.
4. Responsibility Saves Us
The battle with King Ghidorah started Godzilla redemption, but it only took him so far. He didn’t become virtuous so much as he just stopped sinning (so to speak). What finally pushed him over the edge into becoming a true hero was when he took responsibility for Minira. Forced to look beyond himself and his own needs and desires, Godzilla paradoxically finds himself and achieves something like real happiness.
Vive Christus Rex!