The question of evil (1)

In the world of religious debate, this particular topic usually goes along the lines of why does a god said to be loving and all-powerful allows evil to exist and thrive. Why do people suffer, die in natural disasters or manmade tragedies; why are some born with mental or physical illnesses, the good die young and the evil old. Why, in the end, should a god be worshipped if he allows for these and other bad things to happen. And many do turn to disbelief or atheism after a tragic event. My polytheistic reply to these questions, however, first requires a look at the nature of the Gods and evil.

It is my belief that the cosmos is populated by a multitude of divinities, spirits, wights and entities of a more or less “raw” nature . Some are more powerful and wiser than others, some friendly towards humans, some hostile and others neutral; some may change their stand while others may not; some have a world reach and others are regional or local, mutably so or attached to a particular place; they may see things in the long, medium or short run, and not all of them follow the same logic or share the same ethos. In short, as a polytheist I believe that there are many diverse powers above, around an bellow us, and there are two main implications to extract from this worldview.

The first is that no god is in control of everything, being just another player in a game where some may have more moves then others, but none rules over the whole board. If power is shared or even dispersed, there’s no absolute lord of everything, and if you’re wondering what then keeps things together my answer goes by the name of fate and you can read about it here.

The second implication is that different gods and wights will judge and act differently. A power of war will not see things the same way as those of peace, trade, fertility or lustful love, even if some of these things may be connected; the local wights of a forest will look at the world in one way and a chthonic god of the greater earth in another; a divinity of lust will have an ethos different from that of a deity of virginal purity; an ancestor will focus on its offspring and family members, while a god of the sea will have his own goals and both side’s agendas may not work well together.

As for evil, the first question one should make is if it’s a moral one or not. There are things we see as evil, but which are simply part of the way the world works: an animal feeding on another it killed, disease, natural disasters and death. They’re simply reality in a world where life renews itself and works through balances, where herbivores feed on vegetation that would otherwise overgrow, carnivores prey on herbivores that would otherwise over consume and disease, death or the simple (un)availability of food maintain some balance of the overall population. Of course, to be hunted is bad from the point of view of the herbivore, but good for the hunter and its cubs; a tsunami may kill thousands of life forms, but it’s a natural consequence of an earthquake and ensuing tidal wave. What we sometimes call evil may be simply a matter of perspective or the natural order of things.

Moral evil, on the other hand, is the breaking of social rules, but these are diverse and changeable: give a quick look at History books and you’ll come up with several things that were once considered immoral but which are a regular part of today’s social life. Even among the Gods Themselves, there’s diversity in moral issues. A simple example of that can be found in the old Norse sources, where incest is said to be acceptable among the Vanir Gods, but not for the other divine tribe, the Æsir.

These are the basics of my answer to the question of evil, and part of the topic has already been answered: not all powers are loving or even friendly, none is almighty, they see and act upon the world differently and some of the things we consider as evil are simply natural. But a full reply where all of this plays in will come in the next post.

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