My thoughts on Good, Evil and the “False Gods”

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Pan, one of several Pagan deities later identified with the concept of the Devil in Christianity  By Brookie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I can appreciate that for followers of several faiths, accepting that those of other religions are not “wrong” can be challenging. It’s generally fairly easy for most Pagans – since we have no holy book and no hard-and-fast rules, and because many authorities on Paganism tend to stress on the universal nature of the Pagan deities, there is nothing there telling Pagans that other people are venerating the “wrong” deity, or indeed worshipping an “evil” deity. That’s not to say that all Pagans are completely open and tolerant of other beliefs – I’ve heard lots of Pagans express anti-Christian sentiments as well as criticisms against other religions. I’ve also met those who, although accepting of Christianity, say that it’s not possible to be a Christian-Pagan (I, who believe that all religions can be syncretised, think that Christianity and Paganism can work very well together, as demonstrated by the fact that historically, people in Britain did practise the two together). But there’s no specific teaching in Paganism to say that other religions are wrong, and indeed the majority of authorities on the subject seem keen to stress that all religions are essentially one.

But there are other religions that do have clear rules laid down, and yes, some of the texts of such religions seems to suggest that other religions are false and rooted in evil.  For followers of such faiths who believe in the teachings of their texts, how can they possibly participate in interfaith discussions, which must be based on the acceptance that there is no one “true” faith?

I think it is possible to follow the teachings of a religious text, even one that seems to suggest that other religions are false, and still accept that other people’s beliefs are just as valid, with a bit of open-mindedness and flexible interpretation of the text.

Firstly, I’d like to make clear that I do not really believe in the concepts of good and evil. This is because I hold that morality is relative; it is all to do with perspective. That’s one reason why different religions seem to have differing ideas as to what good and evil actually are.

But I do believe in love and hate. I believe that love and hate are demonstrably real phenomena that all human beings can experience and elicit. Love is when we care deeply about someone or something because it makes us feel good, and so and want to protect and enrich that person or thing’s existence. Hate is when we want to harm or destroy a person or thing because we want to be free of the negative emotions it generates in us.

This difference between love and hate is, to me, more important than good and evil, especially when it comes to defining what “false” religions and “false” gods are. I can easily see how true love is a positive force that brings out the best in people. But I cannot see what positive things hate can achieve. Due to its irrational nature, hate simply causes destruction and pain. Because of this, I see love and hate as far more clearly defined concepts than good and evil.

It is therefore my belief that every religion that has love at its core can be considered a “true” religion. For me, a “real” religion is one founded upon all the positivity that arises for love, whether that be love for God or gods, love of one’s fellow humans or love of nature. Even most Satanists seem to embrace love rather hate – in many forms of Satanism, the belief is based on love of the self, and the positive things that arise from self-love including confidence, self-respect, inner strength, freedom and empathy with others. I would also extend this to other non-religious ways of life that embrace love; all humanists, agnostics and atheists who act according to love rather than hate are following a “true” path.

But those who follow a path based on hate, whether that path can be considered religious or not, are in my opinion on a “false” path. This is because I do not believe there is any value that can lie in such a path. Religious terrorist groups such as Daesh/Isil are most definitely following this path of hate. So are those who live their lifestyle according to their hatred of a particular group of people, such as people of a different race, sexuality or gender.

When religious texts talk about false religions and false gods, I interpret them to mean the false religions of hate and the false “gods” of hate, rather than religions that are merely different to the one specific to the text. They are talking about paths that are not rooted in love, and warning us not to be tempted to live a life that is ruled by hate, because hate only leaves to pain and destruction for both the hater and the hated.

As long as religions and other ways of life are rooted in love, I believe their followers can be assured that yes, all those ways of life are valid and true.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “My thoughts on Good, Evil and the “False Gods”

  1. I’m right there with you about situational ethics. I think Japanese culture understands this better since Shinto does not have any hard coded moral laws. Yes, there are the laws for ritual purity and ritual offerings but in other ways it’s not specified in the Kojiki and the Nihongi. The moral teachings derived from China through Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism as I understand things.

    In the west we like to think we all do things so black and white, so according to moral codes we were taught by a religion but really, ask yourself how you behave and it’s not so cut and dried.

    • I agree – I think that the duality of good and evil in Abrahamic religions has definitely influenced Western moral thought.

      • And this is the kicker–the duality comes from Zorastrianism where Ahura Mazda was in eternal battle with a deity of darkness. This duality came from Persia, not Judaism. In Dueteronomy there qre the opening lines of the Sh’ema which states, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is One…” . God was One, Even the Adversary came from the One and was not greater or equal to the One (or The Creator or The Father). If we can see it this way then the Adversary or Adversarial forces are not to be feared because they are NOT greater or equal to the Creator. I’ve read one essay that got me to thinking that if an adversarial presence comes into our spiritual or material life it is a blessing in disguise because it is a challenge, an opportunity to get stronger, to learn. We will win if we see ourselves as beloved by The Creator. This is hard to take when bad things happen but in another way it offers an opportunity to eschew an attitude of helplessness.

      • Zoroastrianism is fascinating. I remember reading about it as a kid and even then seeing how similar it was to Christianity. They even have a Noah’s Ark story!

      • I didn’t know that! I’ll have to look for their scriptures and check it out. I do know about the Amesha spentas, which are similar to the Christian Arcangels.

      • Loads of religions seem to have angel-like beings, don’t they? Christianity has them. Islam has a very developed system of angels. And Hinduism and Buddhism have similar heavenly beings (Asuras/Apsaras). And many forms of Paganism have faeries or similar, which arguably play a similar role to angels/demons in other faiths. Perhaps angels are a relic of animism, i.e. a belied in numerous, nameless nature spirits, not quite “gods” in the usual sense but still regarded with respect and awe.

      • I didn’t think of them like that but it’s a possibility. I usually think of angels as messengers. When I took coursework on feminist spirituality I explored the role of Iris, the winged messenger of the gods and a companion to Juno. So yes, your idea that there were similar beings in pre-Christian religions is correct. Iris not only travelled over the rainbow between earth and Olympus but also went to the Underworld.

        Malcom Godwin has written a fascinating book on Angels. I recommend checking it out. Another book he wrote that I just love for its comprehensiveness is one about The Holy Grail. He examines the pre-Christian, Celtic and Goddess roots of the legend. You don’t have to accept all of it but it does get you to thinking.

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