Angels and demons

(This post is about actual angels and demons, not about the recent film.)

I just found an old comment from five months ago that I hadn’t responded to. My apologies to Martijn Rep for missing his comment. Mr. Rep asked a question in the thread under From Hindu to Baha’i to Christian:

I learned that at least for some Christians the devil, or various demons, play an important role in this world as real creatures, not just as the individual ego or insistent self. …

This is in fact a doctrine held by most Christians. We believe that there are two types of rational creature: angels and humans. Both have free will and face the choice of turning either toward God or away. The demons are those angels who turned away. Just as angels are real persons, so are demons.

Some Christians make a mistake, though, in the degree to which demons (and angels) play a role in their daily lives. For them, every good thing that happens is due to an angel’s or saint’s influence, and every bad thing is evidence of demonic attack. The Church discourages this superstitious mindset.

Most of the time, when a person thinks a bad thought or does a bad thing, they are acting on their own initiative. We already have an inclination to sin, after all. It can happen, though, that a demon will put an idea into someone’s head. But that’s all a demon can do. He can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do. When you get right down to it, it’s your own self that makes you sin.

(Incidentally, the Christian view of angels and demons is different from the Muslim view. In Islam, there are three types of rational creature: angels, humans and jinn. Angels have no free will so they can’t turn away from God. Demons are evil jinn rather than fallen angels.)

Assumption of Mary

assumption-of-mary

Tomorrow, August 15, is the day when we in the Catholic Church celebrate the Assumption. The Assumption was the event at which Mary, after living out her earthly life, was taken up into heaven body and spirit. The Eastern Orthodox also celebrate this day, which they call the Dormition.

By receiving her physical body and ascending into heaven, Mary did what all of the saved will do at the end of time. In this way, as in so much else, she is a sign of hope for us and an exemplar.

As the Second Vatican Council taught in 1964,

In the bodily and spiritual glory which she possesses in heaven, the Mother of Jesus continues in this present world as the image and first flowering of the Church as she is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, Mary shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim People of God.

The myth of interreligious hostility

It is often imagined that the followers of the world’s religions dislike each other merely because of their religious affiliation, and that religions encourage people to fight and kill those who don’t agree with them. That’s a bunch of crap.

It is true that religious people have killed other religious people. It’s also true that atheists have killed religious people, and that atheists have killed other atheists. The common denominator here is not religion, but human beings. It’s in our nature as humans to hate and kill. Religion doesn’t make people do that.

If you’re a history buff or foreign affairs junkie, you may have heard of the “clash of civilizations” thesis. This holds that the world is divided into “civilizations”, each of which is at odds with the other. The two “civilizations” that receive the most attention in this thesis are Western Christianity and the Islamic world. Supposedly, the Christians and Muslims have for centuries been divided into two warring blocs.

While there is an element of truth to that, the way history is presented here is misleading. While Christians sometimes fought Muslims, they also made alliances with Muslims against common enemies. This was quite common in places and times that are stereotyped as Muslim-Christian battlefields, like medieval Spain and the Crusader states.

Neither the Christians nor the Muslims fought simply on the basis of religious affiliation. There were always other factors at work that complicated the issue. For example, when the Ottoman empire was expanding into Europe in the 1400s and 1500s, the motivation for their conquests wasn’t to conquer them because they were Christian. It was to expand their power and wealth. At the same time the Ottomans were attacking Christian Hungary and Austria, they were also attacking Muslim Egypt and Iran.

Likewise, when the Christians fought the Ottomans, it wasn’t because they were Muslim, it was because they were attacking Europe. And the Christians in Europe made alliances with the Muslims in Iran against the Ottomans.

The perception that religions cause wars and make people hate each other is a religious dogma that atheists take on faith in order to justify their atheism. Unfortunately, Baha’is have also adopted this myth and take it on faith.