For the series on “What do I really believe,” another question asked whether I believe there really is a Devil? It seems a rather irrelevant question as there is no such purveyor of evil in Roman tradition. It does, however, recall philosophical questions which pertain to all religious traditions.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?Then why call him God?”
When you distill the divine down to only one god, you raise the problem of how perceived evils arise in a creation made by a God who is all Good? Then whence cometh evil? Zoroaster developed the idea that there are two Gods, one Good, the other Evil, with both contesting with one another for control of the universe. But this human construct did not resolve the problem; Epicurus still asked questions that haunted this dualistic concept. If there is but one God who is Good and He is willing to contest with Evil, why can He not overcome Evil? But to be the one God He must be prior to all else, including prior to Evil. He must be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent to be the one God, and thus He must be able to know where Evil is, He must be able to contend with Evil anywhere and everywhere, and He must be able to overcome Evil. So is He incapable or is He unwilling to put a stop to evil occurring in what is supposedly His creation? And if God is necessarily before all else existed, from where did this other deity of Evil derive? Did God the Creator of All things also create evil and the personification of Evil? Human conception of the sublime often leads to unresolved contradictions.
Good things and bad things may be found in the world, but the world itself is neither good nor evil, and the universe in which it is a part is neither good nor evil. Nature transcends both good and evil. Therefore the dualistic perception of Nature is false. There is no god of absolute evil. There is no Devil that causes evil in the world. There is no Devil who causes us to do evil. In a society of many people, each person acting with good intentions, conflicts of interest will arise, and thus the results may benefit some at the expense of others. The Gods and Goddess likewise have Their own areas of Providence, which can at times conflict with one another, thus benefitting some of us and not benefitting others. But the overall good transcends individual interests. Conditions in Nature may cause a forest fire, destroying homes, killing animals and people, and seemingly devastating the land. Yet it is a necessary process to fertilize and revitalize the land, creating new lives, a renewed forest, and a better tomorrow. There are many dichotomies in Nature and Nature always strives for balance. The same may be said of the Gods and Goddesses who relations to one another can be dichotomous and thus Their Providences may seem to conflict at times, but over all They provide a harmony in Nature by striking a Mean between Their collective works. This cannot occur when one assumes that there is only one God. He cannot conflict with Himself. He cannot strike a Mean between two things if there is only one, nor in a dualistic world can a Mean be found between contending extremes. Monotheism is itself a human construct. It is an assumption from hubris to reduce all Gods and Goddesses down to one God and exclude all others, since the human mind is not capable of knowing what the source of divinity may be. Is the source of all divinity a single, paternal God or can the source itself be a multiplicity? We cannot know. We can, however, see a multiplicity of the divine manifested in the world and thus intellectually recognize a potential multiplicity of deities. Therefore not only does a Devil not exist, but his counterpart, necessitated only by human speculation on the sublime, also cannot exist. Monotheism is at best a misunderstanding.
If Nature is neither good nor evil, if the divine in Nature is neither good nor evil, if none of the Gods and Goddesses manifested in Nature are neither good nor evil, then from whence does evil arise?
Whether we wish to or not, our bodies live in accordance with the whims of Nature. We try to live in harmony with Nature, adapting as circumstances allow. We strive, too, to live good lives which are beneficial to ourselves, to our families, and to all those in Nature and in society around us. We may do so by living according to the virtues and by purging vices from ourselves. Evil arises when we neglect virtue and submit to our vices. We can see this in our personal lives where giving into vices may cause ill health, ill fortune, discord, and other evils affecting those around us. We see it when we incorporate the virtues into our lives, treating fairly with everyone, promoting justice, tolerance, and prudent counsel, to build a better family and a better society. No one is a Devil, but what evils we may experience arises from a neglect of virtue by individuals. We must continually work to harmonize ourselves to the changing circumstance of Nature, and we must continually strive to incorporate the virtues into our lives. In this way alone do we experience the Good Life and leave evil behind.