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Author Topic: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?  (Read 756 times)

Castus

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Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« on: February 24, 2021, 09:24:23 am »
Simple: can the Gods commit acts of objective evil?

Ended up having a discussion with a gentleman who claimed that a duality between good and evil was an invention of Christianity (then Zoroastrianism and Judaism when I pointed out their pre-existence) and that the (in this instance Roman) Gods “can be evil.”

In my view, and I would argue in the normative view of Roman polytheism, the Gods are incapable of evil. Sallustius wrote that evil “does not exist in any God”, and his companion the Emperor Julian repeatedly denounced as “blasphemy” the idea that the Gods could suffer from unkempt passions like anger and jealousy. Admittedly it can be argued that their assertions are novel, arisen in response to Christianity, but I would posit that such positions are merely a fleshed-out progression of older ideas; the logical progression of the Stoic views popular in Cicero’s day as well as necessary implications of the ancient covenantal relationship between Rome and the Gods.

Granted it can be said that the Gods might commit acts which, to us, would appear evil; deprived as we are of the divine foresight which they enjoy... but I would argue against even that. Calamities and misfortunes can certainly be attributed to divine favour or the lack thereof, but never in a capricious or amoral sense — rather, merely as a result of some offence committed against the Peace of the Gods. While unpleasant I don’t think such actions could be considered intrinsically evil, as there exist very clear ways to avert them through the proper channels of transaction and propitiation — and genuine evil precludes the bright yellow lines and precise instructions as to how to avoid it.

But what say y’all?
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Re: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2021, 01:25:57 pm »
Simple: can the Gods commit acts of objective evil?


Yes.
 
(CAVEAT: I have a problem with the concept of objective evil. I think good and evil are always [? almost always?] subjective, even if nearly every human being shares that point of view.)

At least my gods can. The most significant evil act is perpetrated by a god who rapes a goddess. Unlike such divine rapes in Greek myth, this is a major transgression that precipitates a long cascade of evil acts.

Which raises another question: Can the divine rapes that litter Greek mythology be considered "objectively" evil?
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Re: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2021, 01:49:05 pm »
Simple: can the Gods commit acts of objective evil?

Hard no.

Deities are not human and operate on the Blue-Orange Morality spectrum.

They. are. not. us.

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Re: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2021, 03:15:22 pm »
Simple: can the Gods commit acts of objective evil?

There's a few different questions wrapped up in there...first of all, what's "objective evil"? I don't think such a thing exists--certainly there are acts that, personally, I believe to be evil, but I am not an objective observer. No human is--and by most conceptions of the Divine, few gods are.

I'm not saying evil doesn't exist, just that by its nature as a part of a human morality system it's not a concept that can be viewed objectively.

Quote
Ended up having a discussion with a gentleman who claimed that a duality between good and evil was an invention of Christianity (then Zoroastrianism and Judaism when I pointed out their pre-existence) and that the (in this instance Roman) Gods “can be evil.”

I would agree with you that the Roman gods are generally presented, at least in the approved civic religion of the state, as incapable of true evil (setting aside the question of whether it's "objective").

Zoroastrianism is really where the duality between good and evil got started in religion (early Judaism, prior to our people's congenial relationship with Persia, largely did not address the question of whether G-d was good or evil at all in a moral sense, but rather focused on making sure humans behaved ourselves), but even there it's a little bit wiggly when we come to the early days of the faith. The beings now considered "demons" may have started out as just another kind of god.

Quote
But what say y’all?

My perspective is that gods do not or cannot act against the ideas and ethics that shape them, unlike humans who are quite fickle morally. The trick, then, is making sure you've got a god whose nature is one you would consider worth upholding.
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Re: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2021, 03:33:34 pm »
Replying here because East gave me hooks for all my thoughts and it's easier than hanging them scattershot on everywhere else!

There's a few different questions wrapped up in there...first of all, what's "objective evil"? I don't think such a thing exists--certainly there are acts that, personally, I believe to be evil, but I am not an objective observer. No human is--and by most conceptions of the Divine, few gods are.

I'm not saying evil doesn't exist, just that by its nature as a part of a human morality system it's not a concept that can be viewed objectively.

I mean, there's this interesting perspective slider scale thing.

In some versions of the mythology, Set murdered his brother.  Brother-murdering is pretty canonically an Evil Act. If you tighten that up to a certain range of scales, that's fairly cut and dried.

If you zoom out a bit, that there brother is roughly a Green Man type god and ain't nobody get to eat if the grain doesn't get cut down.  Someone's gotta do it, and someone's gotta be blamed for the fact that doing so is evil so that we can have bread without guilt.

If you zoom out a bit more you get the whole cosmic order problem of how do you put order in the underworld without a governing god and you can't stash a live god there, they don't fit right.

Zoom back down, though, and you get Set the god of destructive storms and that's sure a damn problem for humans on a human scale but it's also "You cannot get the storm to not do that that is what a storm does."

Quote
I would agree with you that the Roman gods are generally presented, at least in the approved civic religion of the state, as incapable of true evil (setting aside the question of whether it's "objective").

And yet it was a Roman recon who wrote My Religion Has No Moral Doctrine.

Quote
Zoroastrianism is really where the duality between good and evil got started in religion (early Judaism, prior to our people's congenial relationship with Persia, largely did not address the question of whether G-d was good or evil at all in a moral sense, but rather focused on making sure humans behaved ourselves), but even there it's a little bit wiggly when we come to the early days of the faith. The beings now considered "demons" may have started out as just another kind of god.

I have seen a number of current-day Jews say, essentially, that of course G-d is capable of evil acts, all acts that are possible are acts that are possible to G-d because that's what G-d means as a concept.

(edit is just a typofix that annoyed me)
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Re: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2021, 04:03:10 pm »
Quote
And yet it was a Roman recon who wrote My Religion Has No Moral Doctrine.

A good recon will often find themself taking apart and, well, reconstructing what they work with in some interesting ways. (Plus, their points highlight something I glossed over: people weren't required to believe what the state religion tried to imply, so long as they followed the rites.)

Quote
I have seen a number of current-day Jews say, essentially, that of course G-d is capable of evil acts, all acts that are possible are acts that are possible to G-d because that's what G-d means as a concept.

Also a perspective that makes sense to me. Judaism's origin as, in part, a system for pragmatic management of human communities still does mean that we are liable to consider the exhortation to do good a matter most relevant to humans, not G-d, who is by very nature capable of doing anything.

This gets into my personal issues with that style of monotheism: if your deity's nature encompasses everything, to avoid the need for other deities, then they wind up feeling somewhat difficult to relate to as an entity for me, and I like to be able to relate to my more personal gods.
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Castus

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Re: Can the Gods/your Gods commit evil?
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2021, 09:25:22 pm »
And yet it was a Roman recon who wrote My Religion Has No Moral Doctrine.

I'd like to take a moment to focus on this prior to remarking on the other excellent posts here because although it doesn't deal explicitly with my opening question it is, IMO, germane to the wider discussion. And because I've been brooding over it. Excuse me if my thoughts on this are somewhat scattershot; it's sometimes difficult to keep the ideas flowing and coherent when scribbling on one's phone.

I respect Helio as a notable and intelligent coreligionist but I have several qualms with his article. The embittered, disdainful starting attitude toward monotheism is unhelpful and immediately points toward a wider issue: in an excessive haste to divest themselves of association with the odious Abrahamic faiths, many cultores choose to disparage, tacitly or otherwise, concepts they see as the "pervasive influence" thereof — such as a moral code, the attendant concepts of sin and salvation, a holy book etc etc. These things are Bad and Alien and obviously constitute a yawning chasm between the dominant monotheisms and, in this case, the Religio Romana. We Do Not Have Them.

but...

Those aren't Abrahamic concepts. They're just concepts. Yes they were given form and flesh and meaning in monotheistic contexts, but there is nothing inherently *wrong* (or Abrahamic, which is roughly the same thing) with them. Anyone who genuinely thinks that Christianity (or Judaism, which was a popular religion for Romans to convert to until things got rather sour) became the dominant religion of the Roman world at the point of a gladius is engaging in shoddy history, but frequently many Roman pagans latch onto that excuse to obscure a more unpleasant truth: people usually converted to a religion with faith, holy books, et al. because they wanted to. Because those concepts appealed to them and worked for them. They fulfilled needs that many people, perhaps, did not realise they had in the context of the polytheism of their world.

Am I saying those things should be imported into the Religio? Not quite. A sine qua non of Roman reconstructionism is to avoid any innovation that is not incontrovertibly necessary, and it certainly isn't necessary to reorient the religion in that way. However I would posit that many of these things which Helio condemns are in large part already present — and I think if the Romans themselves had had the language needed to pin down and define these monotheist-esque concepts in their own terms then maybe things would've turned out differently. E.g:

>> Holy book? Try the Aeneid on for size. Yeah it's a piece of political propaganda, but what else is it? Drawn up intentionally as a successor to an older mythic text, the Iliad, it tells the story of a man blessed by the Gods who journeyed to found an entirely new people — the Romans, a race cherished and protected by the King of the Gods himself, destined by Him to be a special nation given dominion over the earth. It's also beautiful and poetic, and inspiring to the Roman mind. If that doesn't sound like a slightly more imperialist cousin of the Tanakh than I don't know what it is.

>> Prophet/lawgiver? Surely Helio is familiar with Numa Pompilius, the legendary second King of Rome. Numa is fascinating because he's basically a fancy Roman Moses: a man of deep virtue, humility, and piety he directly took counsel with the nymph Egeria; who literally dictated 'sacred books' to him as well as interpreting the will of other deities on Numa's behalf. Numa instituted the fundamental basics of the entire Religio Romana and he did so on the direct instructions of the Gods; one could reasonably argue that our religion is as 'revealed' as any Abrahamic faith. Speaking of faith, he just so happened to also fire up the cultus of Fides... also known as Faith.***

>> Moral code? This gets tricky. Helio briefly alludes to some cultores who consider the Roman virtues to be a moral code but dismisses this, quoting Scheid. Traditionally speaking there are just over 40 defined 'Roman Virtues' divided into public and private spheres, and taken together are more than adequate to serve as a moral code. One might argue, as he and Scheid do, that that doesn't count as a religious/moral code because it was instead a broad, societal phenomenon that governed all interactions; religious or not. Fundamentally Roman religion is orthopraxic and the Gods can be considered, more or less, as fellow citizens; in a sense the Religio is merely a macroscopic version of the same rules that governed all of Roman life. To quote Helio:

... one's relationship with the Gods was an extension of one's social life: just as you have duties towards your relatives, you have duties towards your ancestors and household deities; just as you co-exist with your neighbours, you co-exist with local gods and genii; just as you deal with fellow citizens – formally, semi-formally or informally – you deal with the Gods.

That's orthodox, orthoprax, and downright pious. But here's the thing: the Gods don't have to act like good fellow citizens. They don't have to adhere to any codes. Nobody is going to bring them before the Censor or have them thrown off the Tarpeian Rock. Historically the Gods have abided by this system, yes, and the celestial peace is founded upon it, but only because it suits them to do so — and indeed, from the tale of Numa one can even surmise that the only reason we have this civic code by which the Gods abide is because they gave it to us. Therefore it is only reasonable (in my opinion) to assume that those 41 virtues which spell out what it means to be a good Roman aren't general extrapolations from civil/human society, but rather... a set of rules for personal and public behaviour continuously sanctioned, and in primordial times explicitly laid down, by heavenly powers as conducive to the welfare and maintenance of the entire cosmos. If that isn't a moral code, well, you get the point.

I could go on. It suffices to say however that just because the Romans didn't call their prophets prophets, or their holy books holy books, doesn't mean that they didn't have anything that could fit in those boxes. They did, and we do, and I don't necessarily think it's a good thing to vehemently deny that there's anything in the Religio Romana that could reasonably serve those purposes without even much in the way of innovation.


*** interestingly enough, the Declaration of Roman Religion adopted in the 90s by Nova Roma (which I believe occupies the exact same position relative to the Gods' favour as did ancient Rome, for complicated ritual reasons involving shields) refers to 'our faith' or 'the Roman faith' no less than six times.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2021, 07:14:37 am by Allaya »
“Castus, meanwhile, goes straight for the bad theology like one of those creepy fish that swims up streams of pee.” — Darkhawk

“Roman, remember by your strength to rule Earth’s peoples – for your arts are to be these: to pacify, to impose the rule of law, to spare the conquered, battle down the proud.” — Aeneid 6.854-857

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