Within Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood‘s 64-episode run, the show manages to tackle many philosophical themes with one of the most prevalent being that of faith. Faith is what guides the actions of most of Fullmetal‘s characters, whether that faith be put in science or religion. Mangaka Hiromu Awakawa shows that faith is not just limited to religion. Major spoilers for the entirety of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood ahead.
In the show’s third episode, “City of Heresy,” Edward and Alphonse Elric head to the town of Liore, where the town’s religious leader appears to be performing miracles in the name of the sun god Leto. Father Cornello has promised his followers salvation, even telling Rose that he can resurrect her dead boyfriend. Ed and Al lost most of their bodies by trying to resurrect their mother, so, when they hear Cornello’s empty promise combined with his use of a “fake” Philosopher’s Stone, they begin to question his motives. Father Cornello is using false miracles to gain blind followers to form a religious army. The show’s science, alchemy, appears to triumph over the religious fanaticism, so Fullmetal must be saying that faith in science is stronger than faith in religion, right?
Episode 4, “An Alchemist’s Languish,” says otherwise. Shao Tucker parallels Father Cornello in that, like Cornello, he uses faith as an excuse for his actions. The primary difference is that Tucker uses science as his justification, trying to gain prestige and power through his alchemical prowess despite the inhumanity of his actions. To retain his State Alchemist license, Tucker combines his daughter and dog into a chimera. When Scar, a man of religious faith, sees what Tucker has done, he kills them both, claiming Tucker had forgone God with the abomination he had created.
Scar’s idea that Amestris’s State Alchemists are the devil and should be punished for the use of their alchemy in the destruction of his homeland of Ishval. Much like Father Cornello, Scar uses God to justify his revenge. Despite Scar’s demonization of alchemy, he chooses to use his own form of it to commit his vengeful acts. This contradiction leads to him realizing that the alchemists’ faith in alchemy and his own faith in God are not so different from each other.
This idea is cemented in what Edward, Alphonse, Izumi Curtis and Roy Mustang when they go through the Portal of Truth after attempting (or being forced to attempt) human transmutation. The journey through the portal is seen as a wormhole, sucking all life through it until only a white void remains. Those passing through it are drawn downward to that void by many black hands, as if they are being dragged down to Hell. Upon reaching the white void behind the Portal, they are greeted by a white figure outline in black with a wide grin across its face. When Edward first meets it, it states “One name you might have for me is the world, or you might call me the universe, or perhaps God, or perhaps the Truth. I am All, I am One. So, of course, this also means I am you. I am the truth of your despair, the inescapable price of your boastfulness. And now, I will bestow upon you the despair you deserve.”
Truth gives them limitless alchemical knowledge, but in return, they all lose the thing they desire most. Edward loses the leg he stood on symbolizing the loss of his determination. Alphonse loses his body because all he wished for was to feel the warmth of his mother’s embrace, so now he can no longer feel anything. Izumi Curtis desired to bring her child back to life above anything else, so Truth took her reproductive organs, making it so she can never have another child. Roy Mustang saw a bright future for the country of Amestris as its future leader, so Truth stole his vision. Truth reminds me of God of the Old Testament with his cruel lessons for humanity and His unforgiving nature.
That is not to say Truth is malicious. He punishes those that stray from God’s light, that try to act as gods. By attempting to create human life, alchemist like Ed and Al have attempted to replicate an act that only Truth or God can accomplish. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood‘s main antagonist, Father (which just happens to be another name for God in the Bible), desires to surpass God. To do so, he attempts to sacrifice the entirety of Amestris’s population and climbs towards heaven to swallow God. This all backfires when his human body is unable to contain the sheer power that God possesses, sending him back to the Portal of Truth, the place he was born from. Truth shows him no mercy, closing the door out of the Portal on Father forever. Those that try to play God are punished for it, and Father wanted to be God, so he lost everything including himself.
Edward and Alphonse, unlike Father, learn from their attempts to play God and grow from their lofty aspirations. They realize they cannot use malicious objects like the Philosopher’s Stone to regain their original bodies. The only lives affected by their mistakes should be their own. Edward sacrifices the very thing he puts all of his faith in, his alchemy, to bring Alphonse back through the portal. Truth congratulates Ed on realizing he had to relinquish his pride, his greatest sin, to receive Truth’s forgiveness. Alphonse had placed all of his faith in his brother and alchemy, and neither failed him.
Faith is belief, and because of this, alchemy is a religion despite its connections to science. Edward and Alphonse’s faith in alchemy led to them regaining everything they lost that truly mattered. Edward no longer needs his leg to stand and move forward. His willingness to forgo his pride proves this. The two brothers never lost faith in the Truth and were rewarded for it, while Father only had faith in himself and paid the price.