Persona 4 and the Detective Story (Part 3) – Authority and Deception



Authority and Deception

Characters and the Obvious

The Trick of Life

Most people would probably hate me for trotting out Romans 13 here, but we may as well do it to demonstrate the Scriptural origins of the above concepts:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

That also applies to the protagonists, of course. When they break the rules, I suppose it reduces their credibility in some sense (does this happen in the Persona games? Probably). God sets up all authorities and ensure that they “rule”, so the law officers must do the same. The avenger of broken laws cannot also break those same laws; otherwise, how could we consider it a righteous authority (as an aside, many Catholic theologians seriously considered the possibility of revolutions within a Christian ethic, and I’ve never seen it done well).

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

The upright citizen should not fear a just government; the criminal, however, has every right to fear the ones who will find them out. Sin hides in the deep dark of the city as well as the human heart; our earthly authorities, if they have any authority at all, must ferret out the sins of our collective society. We should fear when we do evil, not accept it as commonplace and unavoidable.

As a groundwork, we can use that essential idea to further outline the brilliance of the detective story as an essentially Christian version of the heroic epic (even in truncated form). Firstly, in the same way that we accept mystery as an essential part of the Christian faith, so do we also accept the mystery of…well, mysteries! If you can accept the Trinity as a concept that you also cannot understand, a human descriptor for a reality that doesn’t make sense, then why not look beyond the evidence on hand? Most detective stories reveal the character of things on their face, but in a way that doesn’t arouse the suspicion of the reader.


…moving along…

You know the old tropes, of course; the person you least suspect often did the murder. They “hide in plain sight”, so to speak, and exist right in the story without arousing your suspicions at all. The best way to read them is simply to let yourself go, see the steps of the procedural as it plays out, and find yourself enraptured by the narrative. Honestly, real life often plays out this way, and the fiction exists to provoke you into a similar state of mind. Detective fiction often produces this effect, especially if it makes the initial turn and the characters themselves into interesting people (something which Chesterton never has a problem doing, nor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

What makes them so interesting comes from the mystery – wow, anybody could tell you that. I could make the gesture that the drama isn’t inherently Christian in the same way. While tragedies and dramas rely on the knowledge of the audience, versus the ignorance of the characters, detective stories intentionally deceive the reader instead. They, in a way, abuse the normal mode of our observations. They trick our minds into an uncommon mode of thought, and in doing so make us think that much harder about how appearances can deceive. The hero knows the answer; we do not. This adds a great deal of excitement to the proceedings, of course!

But, that intentional deception does not mean the author intends to be mean spirited towards the reader/participant. Rather, the intentional concealing of the detective story leads to a revelation. The understated sense that things aren’t as they seem produces an effect similar to the revelation of Jesus Christ to us as the Word of God. Although at first glance the object of the detective story looks as if it revels in targeted obfuscation and slowly divulged details (much to the agony of its audience), a true detective story want to illuminate the mind towards a certain truth. And that truth comes like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky as the details demonstrate how we misinterpreted everything. If you just baffle for the sake of baffling, you miss the point:

The writers have a strange notion that it is their business to baffle the reader; and that so long as they baffle him it does not matter if they disappoint him. But it is not only necessary to hide a secret, it is also necessary to have a secret; and to have a secret worth hiding. The climax must not be an anti-climax; it must not merely consist of leading the reader a dance and leaving him in a ditch. The climax must not be only the bursting of a bubble but rather the breaking of a dawn; only that the daybreak is accentuated by the dark.

If that doesn’t clear it up for you, imagine it in the Christian sense: God is certainly mysterious, but not just for mystery’s own sake. God does obscure, but not just for fun or to intentionally confuse His children. He does it for His reasons, whether or not he chooses to reveal them. The most important of these reasons concerns redemption.

We would assume most detective stories end with the common cause of retribution as its goal. That, my friends, would look far too simple. It takes much more effort to redeem the person as well as correcting the error, and it is here that Chesterton takes a turn from his contemporaries by insisting, quite vehemently, that you must save the sinner as well as correcting the sin. And the detective knows sin intimately, and must know it; that’s what makes a priest like Father Brown the perfect foil to all of the mysteries and hidden sins he encounters:

“I am a man,” answered Father Brown gravely; “and therefore have all devils in my heart…”

So how do you convince the reader that he’s seeing real, fully formed characters? And how do you set things up for redemption first and foremost?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.