faith claims: a war between the devil and god?

Over the years, I have found that religious people, Christians in particular, will readily and enthusiastically affirm the idea that the forces of good and evil (usually personified in “god” and “the devil,” and/or “angels” and “demons”) are locked in a constant cosmic battle with one another. Those who espouse this idea will often say that the goal and prize of such a battle is the human soul. Imagining such a battle between invisible forces is a classic religious attempt to explain the presence of evil in the world. This idea is not new, however, and represents the adoption of a central tenet of Zoroastrianism by Christianity.

My response to this contention has always been that it inevitably results in an intractable dilemma: either god is not almighty or he is immoral. The reasons for this dilemma are as follows:

If we assume that such a cosmic battle truly does take place, then we have one of two choices:

A. god is really fighting, or

B. god is merely pretending to fight.

If he is really fighting, then he cannot be almighty or all-powerful since the battle is continuous and does not always win (this, of course, is the occasion for this explanatory device in the first place). If god were all-powerful in this case, then the devil would never be able to best him, for even a single moment. For this reason, most Christians reject this option and opt to defend the second option, i.e. that god is only staging a battle at present.

If god isn’t really fighting, but only feigning a battle – allowing the devil to run amok among humanity – then he is decidedly immoral. Why immoral? Because it means that he is playing games at the expense of human suffering and loss of life.

This comes back to a common problem that keeps true believers under the sway of faith claims: getting god “off the hook.” Intellectually, most people give god a set of special privileges to act in a way that one would not tolerate from even the greatest human being. If god exists and is perfect, then he must be at least as smart as we are, at least as compassionate as we are, at least as righteous as we are. To explain away all standards of decency and wise action from god is to essentially conceive of god in the same way that members of cults view their leaders: as categorically good. Such a view of any being, real or imagined, is dangerous.