Dystheism (from Greek δυσ- dys-, "bad" and θεός theos, "god"), is the belief that a god, goddess, or singular God is not wholly good as is commonly understood (such as the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Judaism), and is possibly evil. Definitions of the term somewhat vary, with one author defining it as "where God decides to become malevolent". The concept dates back many decades, with the Victorian era figure Algernon Charles Swinburne writing in his work Anactoria about the ancient Greek poet Sappho and her lover Anactoria in explicitly dystheistic imagery that includes cannibalism and sadomasochism.
Background and details
The concept has been used frequently in popular culture and is a part of several religious traditions in the world. Trickster gods found in polytheistic belief systems often have a dystheistic nature. One example is Eshu, a trickster god from Yoruba mythology who deliberately fostered violence between groups of people for his own amusement, saying that "causing strife is my greatest joy." Zoroastrianism involves belief in an ongoing struggle between a creator god of goodness (Ahura Mazda) and a destroying god of hatred (Angra Mainyu), both of which are not totally omnipotent, which is a form of dualistic cosmology.
Dystheists may themselves be theists or atheists, and in the case of either, concerning the nature of the God of Abrahamic faiths, will assert that God is not good, and is possibly, although not necessarily, malevolent, particularly to those who do not wish to follow that faith.
Such attitudes have often stemmed from ideas similar to that of prominent revolutionary philosopher Mikhail Bakunin, who wrote in God and the State that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him". Bakunin argued that, as a "jealous lover of human liberty, and deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity", the "idea of God" constituted of metaphysical oppression of the idea of human choice. Said argument is an inversion of Voltaire's phrase "If God did not exist, it would be necessary for man to invent Him".
Usage in popular culture
Dystheism as a concept, although often not labeled as such, has been referred to in many aspects of popular culture. As stated before, related ideas date back many decades, with the Victorian era figure Algernon Charles Swinburne writing in his work Anactoria about the ancient Greek poet Sappho and her lover Anactoria in explicitly dystheistic imagery that includes cannibalism and sadomasochism. More recent examples include the popular Star Trek television series. Fictional character Worf claims that his race, the Klingons, have no gods, because they killed them centuries ago for being "more trouble than they were worth."
As well, the DC Comics character Darkseid is known as a sort of 'God of Evil' in that fictional universe, with the character famously remarking in the graphic novel series Final Crisis that "There was a war in Heaven. I won."
Prominent American singer-songwriter Randy Newman expresses a dystheistic worldview in his song "He Gives Us All His Love", a piano based ballad with sardonic lyrics describing how God has created a suffering world with its "babies crying" and "old folks dying" and smiles at it while doing nothing to help those unfortunate people. The track has appeared in both his 1972 album Sail Away and his 2011 album Original Album Series.
- Evil demon
- God as the Devil
- God and the State
- "He Gives Us All His Love"
- Problem of evil
- Problem of hell
- Human, Dirk J. (2012). Psalmody and Poetry in Old Testament Ethics. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 25.
- Algernon Charles Swinburne (Nov 17, 2013). Delphi Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne (Illustrated). Delphi Classics.
- Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (Jan 1, 2009). God and the State. Cosimo, Inc. p. 28.
- Michael Okuda; Denise Okuda; Debbie Mirek (May 17, 2011). The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster.
- Esch, Jim. "He Gives Us All His Love" at AllMusic. Retrieved June 23, 2014.