The world can be a cruel, dreadful place sometimes, but thankfully, there's people that want to change that. There's only so many times the universe can kick the dog
before the dog bites back
, and at least a few individuals rise to fight the injustices of the world time and again.
But these saviors
are, quite often, just people. They have their virtues and their flaws like anyone else, and though they have made up their own mind about how they want to change the world, sometimes these opinions clash. They may agree on why
the world needs saving, but they don't agree on the how
. Snide comments are thrown, furious arguments ensue, and next thing you know, the people who are humanity's best hope are now tragically at each other's throats. And possibly more.
is what happens when two or more people want to save the world, but their differing methods on how lead to conflict. This is the stuff of tragedy
: human folly gets in the way of the betterment of the world, and two people who might be fast friends otherwise instead become irreconcilable enemies.
This trope is difficult to handle properly, since it's very easy to make one of the messiahs a Designated Villain
or too much of a Well-Intentioned Extremist
to be sympathetic. But handled properly, you'll have two guys who both have compelling arguments to their methods and a fandom split right in the middle over which one of them's right.
Compare Opposed Mentors
, who are more concerned with doing right by one person than the entire world, Good Versus Good
depending on how "moral" the messiahs in question are, Not Quite The Right Thing
, and Small Steps Hero
This trope leads to some interesting conflicts:
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Anime And Manga
- Kenshiro vs Raoh in Fist of the North Star. Both are students of Hokuto Shinken, the most powerful martial art on the planet which produces men of great brilliance and destiny, and both recognize that the post-apocalyptic world in which they live could stand to be a better place. But while Kenshiro believes that one should use strength to inspire humanity towards peace and protect the weak, Raoh believes that the world will improve by becoming the leader and forcing those under him to maintain order. Toki, the third Hokuto Brother, strives for peace and non-violence, using Hokuto Shinken to ease the suffering of others as a healer. This puts him at odds with Raoh, but on Kenshiro's side.
- Naruto fights Pain. Pain wanted to bring peace by creating a horrifically destructive jutsu (which would get used), thereby horrifying/scaring everyone into peace for a long time. Once time lets people get over it, they will use it again, after this there will be a very long period of peace, rinse and repeat till the end of time. Naruto wanted to achieve peace in a much more moral yet still unexplained way that he still probably hasn't come up with. (for those of you who aren't familiar with the series a jutsu is like a ninja spell).
- Dark Messiah Madara and Eternal Optimist Hashirama came to believe in conflicting ideas on how to bring lasting peace to the world, culminating in their battle at the Valley of the End. After Hashirama's death, Madara continued to work on his plan and passed it on to Obito. Naruto's emergence as the Hope Bringer has set him as the new messiah opposing the two Uchiha.
- In the original Saint Seiya the reason behind The Forever War that flared up every few centuries between Poseidon and Athena was based on Poseidon wanting to pull a Noah's flood to fix the world, while Athena wanted to protect it and allow humans to develop on their own terms.
- Saint Seiya Omega is interesting since it has not one, but two Messiah's and one Dark Messiah. Athena wants to protect the world from evil forces, and Mars wants to destroy, remake, and refine it because his Start of Darkness (and Dark Is Evil based powers) influenced him to think only the strong should rule in order to stop senseless suffering. Caught between them is Aria, who would like to be like Athena, but Mars is using her as a figurehead to fool others and enact his evil plan.
- Code Geass deals with childhood best friends Lelouch Lamperouge and Suzaku Kururugi, both of whom agree on one thing - that the current regime, the Britannian empire, is horrible. However, their methods of changing it differ drastically - Lelouch has enough of a Dark and Troubled Past to want to overthrow his father the Emperor, and will settle for nothing less than the complete destruction of the monarchy (of which he is a part of - except, of course, for his beloved little sister and long-lost younger half sister he still cares for). Suzaku, on the other hand, rejects an offer to join Lelouch more than once and enlists in the Britannian military (despite being Japanese) because he believes the Britannian empire can be changed from the inside. There is, of course, more than meets the eye.
- Played with in Berserk. Guts is seen by the public as The Antichrist who's trying to kill Griffith, the Hawk of Light prophesized by the Pope. In reality, Griffith (aka Femto) is the Hawk of Darkness, a member of the God Hand who's supposed to bring a new age of darkness upon the world. This would in turn make Guts, who's actively slaying Apostles and trying to kill Griffith, the real Hawk of Light. This setup is, however, further complicated by the fact that Guts is a borderline Nominal Hero who is constantly struggling with his inner demons, while Griffith is actually making the Apostles fight on the side of the humans (though to what end, we can't be quite sure).
- X1999: Actually invoked by Fuuma and Kamui's dynamic; Kamui is a stock Messianic Archetype, a boy destined to either save the world or destroy it, depending on whether he thinks it's worth saving or not. Fuuma himself is destined to become Kamui's Evil Counterpart of sorts; he's supposed to fight for whatever side Kamui doesn't pick. Because of No Ending, it remains to be seen how this dynamic will play out.
- Big Mama vs Sacher Torte in Sorcerer Hunters. Both believe that the world is not a nice place anymore, but while Big Mama strives to heal it, Sacher Torte wants to destroy it and rebuild it from scratch, believing it too far gone for redemption. Big Mama's dedication to maintaining the world is so absolute, she even attempted to KILL Carrot so he wouldn't turn into the God of Destruction.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica takes this to transcendental level. On one side, you have an All-Loving Hero Kaname Madoka who would take all the magical girls turning into Witches to her personal valhalla before they can turn into monsters. On the other side, you have Dark Messiah Kriemhild Gretchen, one of said monsters, who will take the entire world (if not the entire universe) into her, a paradise where no one suffers. Both of them are the same Extreme Doormat person, even!
- [C] – Control ends up with partisans of two rival economic ideologies fighting for control; one messiah wants to mortgage the future to preserve Japan in the present (a metaphor for supporting a failing economy with more government debt), and the other wants to sacrifice the present and destroy Japan's status as a financial center to rebuild the future (which is supposed to represent financial austerity). As this is a pro-austerity propaganda piece, the second hero wins.
- Captain America vs Iron Man in Civil War. After the tragedy at Stanford results in civilian casualties during a supervillain attack, the government puts into motion the Superhuman Registration Act. Iron man takes the "Lawful" side of the conflict, while Cap takes the "Good" side.
- Professor Charles Xavier vs Magneto in X-Men. Both want the welfare of the Mutant race, but their methods could not differ more. Xavier wants Mutants to be one with humanity, using their abilities for the betterment of mankind and living with humans as equals. Magneto, by contrast, wants Mutants to be the rulers of humanity, considering them genetically superior. While this might make Magneto seem like the bad guy(and he is, to an extent), his backstory also gives him valid reasons for his way of thinking: being a Holocaust survivor, he's faced persecution before, and has sworn that the people of his race shall not face it while he's around.
- Commander Sam Vimes vs Lord Vetinari in Discworld. Both want what's best for Ankh-Morpork, but they often butt heads when Vetinari's using some of his more... unsavory methods, while Vimes's policing just flat out ruins Vetinari's plans.
- The three emperors of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. All three want to unify China, but their methods and motivations are incompatible with each other.
- In Harry Potter there was a legendary duel between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald because the dark wizard, Grindelwald, wanted to lead the wizards out of hiding and Dumbeldore had become the champion for the muggles, those without magic.
- Discussed in The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan Karamazov writes a narrative poem in which Jesus returns to Earth in the Middle Ages... and the Catholic Inquisition arrests him. The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus to his face that the Church has improved on his message, and they really don't need Jesus any more.
- Invoked by Demandred in the last book of The Wheel of Time, setting himself up as "the Wyld", a figure from Sharan prophecy in opposition to "the Dragon" aka Rand al'Thor, the main character and Messianic Archetype of the series and reincarnation of Demandred's hated rival. Demandred repeatedly describes himself as a savior, says of Rand that "he is false and I am true" and challenges Rand to come and fight him to prove who is the real messiah. Rather amusingly, Demandred never actually meets Rand on-page; he's killed off by Lan, a perfectly ordinary mortal (albeit one of the greatest swordsmen of all time) and because of his assumed messianic role, his death utterly breaks the morale of his troops.
- Prior to Demandred, were the false Dragons, Taim and an unnamed one, who were both engaged in battle when Rand was declared Dragon by fulfilling the prophecy. They were knocked from their horses. Taim was captured, but the other one wasn't so lucky. It was explained that with the true Dragon revealed, the Pattern rejected any false ones.
- In A Whisper Of Wings by Paul Kidd we end up with not just dueling messiahs but dueling sisters, as the elder seeks to end the stagnant, calcified rule of the royal and religious casts (of which she's a member of the royals) by stirring her mountain-dwelling people into bloody war on the plains people below while the younger seeks to do things more peacefully (and only ends up opposing her in the first place primarily due to the older sister handing her over to the priesthood and killing her unborn child).
- Sort of joked about in the Dire Straits song "Industrial Disease":
I go down to Speaker's Corner and I'm thunderstruck
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks
Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong
There's a protest singer, he's singing protest songs
... then coming back to them later
Meanwhile the first Jesus says 'I'll cure it soon
Abolish Monday mornings and Friday afternoons'
The other one's on a hunger strike he's dying by degrees
How come Jesus gets Industrial Disease?
Mythology and Religion
- The Later-Day Saint view on the War in Heaven states that Satan proposed a plan with himself as "Savior", but mankind would live on earth without agency. Jesus offered to be the one to save the world as God wanted, with agency. Obviously God chose Jesus as the Messiah.
- There are many religions in the world. They have the goal of bringing humanity to a state of non-suffering, be it in a distant paradise or as peace of self. Those religions don't get along very well. We're not calling names.
- Commander Shepard vs The Illusive Man in the Mass Effect series. Both strive to serve and move humanity forward and save them from the Reapers, but while Shepard does it through heroic, direct action, the Illusive Man prefers more unsavory, underhanded tactics. However, it's valid to point out that, initially, they DID work together, until the Illusive Man went too far with his more ruthless methods. The Illusive Man was indoctrinated at some point, sure, but he was genuinely trying to serve humanity beforehand, and his indoctrination by the Reapers was through manipulation of his desire to help humanity. Being a Fallen Hero does not stop one from still being a Messiah of sorts.
- Also from BioWare, Dragon Age: Origins has the Grey Warden and Teryn Loghain. Loghain truly believes that he is the only one capable of saving Ferelden from the Blight and acts accordingly, but misunderstands certain crucial facts with disastrous results (and to be fair, some of those facts were deliberately kept secret). Under different circumstances, he might well have remained the hero he was in the past. Towards the end of the game he can be made aware how badly he's screwed things up, causing him to either Face Death with Dignity, knowing that he's leaving Ferelden in the Warden's capable hands or join the Wardens himself.
- Many Shin Megami Tensei games deal with these, with you choosing which "Messiah" you will support. Typically, the games take place after or during The End of the World as We Know It, and some characters will come up with ideas to form the new world that fall along the lines of Law-Neutral-Chaos. The Law character will suggest a society where the law is absolute and free will is minimized, while the chaos character will suggest The Social Darwinist society. Neutral is usually undoing the apocalypse and return the society to how it was before.
- Touhou has the mutual dislike between Byakuren Hijiri (former Black Mage turned All Loving Hero Antagonist Buddhist who attempts to create peace by saving Youkai from being exterminated) and Toyosatomimi no Miko extremely hammy sanctified emperor Taoist who practiced Buddhism for political gain and planned to "administrate" the humans for their own good). It's mostly a conflict between pro-youkai idealism and pro-human pragmatism, but Byakuren knowingly putting her temple over Miko's grave didn't make it any better. However, they aren't outright antagonistic (compared to how Gensokyo residents usually behave) and even team up to fight a common enemy.
- Shirou vs Archer in Fate/stay night's Unlimited Blade Works route, pitting Shirou's naive ideal of "the hero who saves everyone" against Archer's cynical attitude of "a hero must choose who to save". Made all the more complex by Archer being Shirou from the future, remembering which way his idealism took him. The end of the route implies their conflict has prevented Shirou from going down the same path however.
- Korra vs Amon in The Legend of Korra. As the Avatar, Korra is literally the cosmic incarnation of balance, so she has the responsibility of maintaining order among the benders of the different nations and promoting the use of Bending as a way to better the world. Amon, by contrast, believes that benders are the source of all the conflict in the world, and that eliminating Bending completely would usher in an era of peace and equality amongst the people. Amon at least claims that he was wronged by Benders before (his family was killed and his face scarred by Firebending bandits), but anyone who has seen the original series can testify that he might actually have a point. Of course, their philosophies inevitably put them at odds.
- In a strange way, South Park does this with their three-part Superhero Episode. The Coon/Cartman is definitely the evil one, but thinks of himself as a superhero for mass-murdering hippies and destroying synagogues. Mysterion/Kenny, however, is the one willing to sacrifice his life to save his friends from a world of torment.
Coon: It's not my fault you guys turned evil, Kenny!
Mysterion: You are the bad guy, fat boy! YOU!
Coon: I'm going around making the world a better place!
Mysterion: FOR YOU! You're making it a better place FOR YOU!
- A psychology experiment in 1959 placed three schizophrenics in the same room, each believing he was Jesus Christ. Doing so did nothing to relieve them of their delusions, only making it stronger and causing them to fight over which one of them should be worshipped. Eventually they rationalized their conflicting identities with their own explanations, such that the other two were mental patients or that the other two were robots. Two years later, each man still believed he was Jesus, and the doctor in charge of the experiment felt tremendous guilt over the experiment and renounced his methods.