Bioshock: Infinite on Organized Religion and Politics
Warning. Spoilers will abound in this analysis. Turn back now if you haven’t beaten the game.
The Bioshock series is no stranger to social criticism. The original installment featured a thinly veiled critique of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Andrew Ryan (a thinly veiled anagram of the famous philosopher’s name) embodied all that was wrong with this particular self-centered way of living. If one removes the ethical boundaries and laws contained within the social structure, selfish individuals (like Fontaine and Ryan) will elevate themselves to the status of gods to have their way with the so-called “parasites” of society. In their efforts to overcome the ethical laws imposed upon them by existence itself, both individuals turned Rapture into a dystopian hell-hole. If God truly is dead, as the famous Romantic philosopher Nietzsche so boldly declared, these two men were definitely not fit to take the mantle. And neither is Comstock.
Bioshock: Infinite’s main antagonist has wrapped himself so tightly in his own ego-driven mania that he believes himself to be a prophet on high, one who has been granted the privilege to speak for the Divine himself. Somewhere along the way, after Booker’s baptismal rebirth, it seems as if he developed a strong hatred of those who he killed at Wounded Knee. In an effort to enforce his judgement (or self-hatred), he fancies himself a figure-head for God and declares himself infallible. He never truly forgives himself for his sins. Instead, he builds a city in which he can enforce his xenophobic, racist, fear based religion. In an effort to control the people of Columbia, he builds a belief structure around a certain holy child, Elizabeth. He keeps the truth of her existence, the essence of her relationship to the Cosmos (the secrets of religion) locked away in a tower. And the one that will lead her astray, the alternate version of himself, the antichrist, is our own Booker Dewitt. He’s created his own version of Christian Fundamentalism.
Organized Religion, when employed correctly, serves as a means for mankind to better itself. But when harnessed for evil and control of the masses, it benefits no one. When one’s beliefs are specifically tied to some form of Dogmatism, judgement inevitably enters the picture. For Comstock, this judgement manifests itself in the labeling of young Booker Dewitt as a ”false prophet,” or “anti-christ” meant to lead the “lamb of Columbia” (read Jesus) away from her holy duties. What’s ironic here is that our Booker is just an alternate version of Comstock. Comstock is essentially projecting his own inability to forgive himself upon his past alternate existence.
As everyone who’s finished the game knows, the moment that determines Booker’s future existence is his baptism (or the non-existence thereof). It is at this moment that Booker’s two timelines split into two alternate Bookers: a self-pitying Dewitt, or a self-righteous hateful Comstock. But there’s a third option here, and it’s one that Booker deliberately chooses of his own free will. Allowing Elizabeth to drown him is the ultimate form of self-sacrifice and release of the ego. It’s a transcendent form of baptism and re-birth that leads towards the one true authentic Booker. One might argue that this particular Booker’s existence becomes null after the drowning, but they’d be missing a critical clue. After Booker’s drowning, the camera pulls back in an almost “floating” like fashion, revealing that this Booker’s soul rests easy in the immaterial realm. He’s been reborn in the truest sense; he’s cast off the physical and made peace with God/The Universve/What have you.
So what does this all mean?
That religion should not be bound to a certain set of ideological principles. When one attempts to bind God to one’s own perception of the world, judgement and destruction inevitably ensue. It’s only when one embraces self-sacrifice to the fullest extent and devotes him/herself to Love itself that one truly understands one’s role in the Cosmos of the fabric of existence. If Infinite exists as a critique of modern day America, then it does not hesitate to expose the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious fundamentalists of the world that would use something as beautiful as faith to engage others in lifestyles of destruction.