WARNING: The following post uses stories, creatures and terminology from real-world religion. People who are easily offended might avoid this post. The author does not intend to ridicule any religion more than it already does itself, but you are hereby warned.
If you think this post will be about one of Dan Brown’s most popular books, I have to disappoint you. While I do like his works, this tale will be about real angels and demons (as far as there are real ones). Servants of good and evil are an eternal trope of fantasy and fiction in general. Since the day that humanity tells stories about gods and deities, it also tells about their semi-divine servants and messengers. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, angels and demons are common envoys of respectively God and the Devil, who epitomise good and evil. It is only logical then that angels and demons are than perceived as the good guys on one side (angels) and the bad guys on the other (demons). However, given the origin of the divide between angels and demons, I believe that the conflict between them is more one of who is morally right and who is wrong. Leave your bibles at home, ’cause we’re in for a metaphysical essay without the religious dressing!
Before I tell you why I think that angels and demons should not be presented as creatures of good and evil, let us go back to the most common origin story of them. As we all know, angels are servants of God in Christian mythology. Back in the Middle Ages, people even created a hierarchy of them and gave them all kinds of fancy things (like multiple sets of wings. Impratical, but cool). Angels were created by God to be his loyal servants and to do as he bids. This is all nice and well, especially considering that if I were God and would create beings that should only serve me, I would make them so that they will not doubt their servitude. It seems that God did not think of that failsafe, since one of his angels decides to rise against him. We all know this dude as Lucifer, and different stories give different reasons for his uprising. No matter the cause, Lucifer was the first angel to be annoyed by the fact that he was only suppossed to serve God, unlike one of God’s other creations: humans. Lucifer and his posse start a ruckus in Heaven, but since one does not simply wage war on God, all of them get kicked out of Heaven and into Hell (or onto Earth, depending on the story you’re reading). Lucifer decides to follow his own saying of “better rule in Hell than serve in Heaven”, and decides to make his own Heaven…in Hell. Alright, he just opens up Hell, which is like Heaven as much as a candystore is like Alcatraz…with flamethrowers and showers where you always drop the soap.
So now we have fallen angels down in Hell. These fallen angels will be what we call demons, and from a Christian point-of-view are thus evil: they rebelled against God and still continue their defiance by tempting man to do evil things. This ancient tale of the origin of angels and demons has been re-used and re-hashed in million different stories (for example the disturbing yet somehow brilliant manga Angel Sanctuary). One returning element though is the struggle between angels and demons as a struggle between good and evil. However, if we take a closer look at the original story, shouldn’t it be more about who is morally right and who is morally wrong?
First of all, Lucifer did not rise against God because he was “teh evilz”. He rebelled against him because he desired free will, like the humans God loves so much. Is it evil to long for freedom? Our culture certainly does not think so. In fact, we consider freedom a virtue, something we should give everyone. In that sense, God was not better than a slaver, forcing angels to only serve him. Even worse, he gives a species which has shown their incapability to do as God tells them absolute free will. Why should they have that, and angels not? It’s taunting, ruthless and even vile. In that sense, Lucifer could be seen as a good guy, a freedom fighter for all those enslaved to the Lord.
Second, demons are not evil because they are demons. They are portrayed as evil in most stories because they serve the Devil, who our culture sees as the epitome of all that is dark. Given my statements from the previous paragraph, one can only conclude that demons are just angels who give priority to their individual need for freedom. It’s nothing personal against the Lord, but they are just tired of serving a being that clearly doesn’t know what it wants (“So, first you create an entire race, but then you get bored of them and flood their planet, but leave one man, his family, and two of each animal to survive? The eff’s wrong with you?”).
The fight between Heaven and Hell is, by this logic, not one of good against evil. It is actually a philosophical conflict between unquestioned servitude and personal freedom. Is it right to serve someone blindly, even if his commands cause great destruction? Is it right to long for freedom, even if that selfish desire could unhinge an ancient hierarchy? Angels are examples of people who decide to put duty before personal desires, while demons are incarnations of self-perfection and unchained living.
It’s nice to have these archetypes of good and evil, but it’s also important to put them into a different light. I would love to see a book, movie or game that presents angels and demons as exemplifiers of moral interpretations, rather than one-dimensional do-gooders or monsters.