Your Angel, My Devil

One of the more popular topics of discussion in the World Religions class is the subject of angels and demons.

giotto_judgement

Most ideas about angels, devils and demons do not come from sacred writings but more often come from stories, traditions and the arts adjacent to an adherent’s religion.

 

Much has been written about demons and angels.

Over the years many historians and scholars have concluded that some neutral messenger demon or angel – the daemon in the religion of the ancient Greeks – was later cast as good or evil by Christian innovators. The daemon was common to the many religions of the Mediterranean. In this view the demon was once a generic supernatural influence in a person’s life.

I maintain that the devils, demons, angels and messengers of a religion are the gods of their neighbor’s religion. All of the religions of the world ‘demonize’ the gods of the religions that came before them.

This process of demonizing neighboring religions seems ubiquitous to all religions both living and long extinct and you can recognize two obvious trends of this process in every religion.

First, religious controversy and conflict is a necessary part of the religions of different communities, which have historically been different ethnicities. In this case the devil is the competition, or the well established religion from which a new religion emerges, or the religion of an oppressor, or some other enemy influence.

Secondly, the development of correct and incorrect ideas and behavior within a religion – that which will be orthodox within a religion – gives rise to demonizing any opposing views or demonizing innovation in religion.

iblis_14century600

In this case the demons and devils lead members away from the community and lead some members to heresy (violation of religious belief).

One of my muslim students from North Africa described a tendency common to her community to blame Shaytan (Satan) for every slip of the tongue or indiscretion. She said that many mistakes which would otherwise be attributed to stupidity or negligence were experienced as a trick of the devil.

Many modern believers still insist on the supernatural qualities and abilities of beings who exist apart from their concept of God.

This post is a continuation on the topic of Religious Controversy.

The image at top is a detail of Giotto’s Last Judgement at the Cappella degli Scrovegni, in Padua, Italy
The second image is of Iblis of the Qu’ran. 14th Cent Book of Wonders.
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Filed under Origins, Religious Controversy, Religious Literacy

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