Flipping the Standard Morality Battle?

I just wanted to get some opinions on this. What kinds of ways might you justify the nominally "good" and "evil" causes being supported by the wrong sides of the moral Realms? Why might good people, whose current purposes and actions are good as well, be opposed by Divine beings? How might an evil Holy Magus come to exist, or a genuinely good (if obviously not sinless) Diabolist? Demons, perhaps, opposing evil or supporting good at no obvious benefit? (That last one is easier, though, because demons getting ahead of themselves and making faulty judgments is literally an Infernal trait.)

How do you guys think this kind of stuff could be made to work?

I'll take a stab at it. (Does a stab make me evil? :slight_smile:)

A holy magus cannot remain so and be evil, by definition. (Except to the extent that all men are evil, etc)

Good people are often opposed by Divine beings, sometimes to test them, sometimes for some greater purpose. For example, an angel came out of nowhere to wrestle with Jacob. We never get a good reason why.

A canonical diabolist cannot be 'genuinely good' considering that his identity is wrapped up in doing evil. A diabolist can, of course, do good and even be forgiven. Trafficking with demons is quite different: Solomon controlled them, Jesus exorcised them into pigs after a conversation, and so on.

A demon will often oppose evil... because it is someone else's! But a demon isn't going to intentionally do good, at least without a plan to undo the good and then some (and possibly a Cnf point!)

Demons are evil in action and being.

Angels can only do good (in Christian/Muslim theology because they made the right Choice way back when, and in Judaism because they can only work God's will which is therefore good.)

There is a story called "Memnoch the Devil", part of the Vampire Chronicles and featuring Lestat but it is mostly about the Devil explaining his take on theology and cosmology. In it the Devil claims he is basically the good guy - he is the one that convinced God to let souls into heaven, and runs hell as a purification-process to prepare souls to enter it. Under this cosmology, demons are not seeking to corrupt souls but rather to enlighten them.

Then there is the "Devil's Advocate" approach - where the devil is "a fan of man": he is an advocate of Freedom whereas God enforces Order. Neither need be completely bad or good; it's more interesting when they represent two unreasonable extremes, with man caught in the middle of this idealistic battle. The Devil promotes the pursuit of happiness, personal freedom, and all forms of happiness and pleasure; but also of carelesness, selfishness, neglect, and abandon. God promotes the flourishing of empathy, love, spiritual transcendence and loving care; but also strict obedience to seemingly nonsensical rules and dogma, a cruel and vindictive justice, and self-righteousness.

Personally, I like the idea that God is good but also incomprehensible to any finite being - including angels. Angels are as divided as humans about His will, and schisms and uncertainty prevail above as below. The result is that angels will roughly split according to worldly religion (or is it the other way around?), and will often face each other or "good" mortals just like Catholics oppose Cathars (say) even though both are trying to serve God.

A Holy Magus (depending on the nature of God in your saga, and let's just ignore the Code for a second here; similar concepts apply to other holy characters) could be an extreme fanatic, whose vision of God and path to Heaven is based in an uncompromising and narrow worldview; caedite eos, novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. He could be a crusader who honestly believes that the best way to save as many souls as possible is to ruthlessly force as many people as he can to convert; pain and death are irrelevant, next to eternal life.

Almost certainly, that guy is being deluded by demons, but note the "almost." It is possible that God accepts his methods for His own inscrutable purposes; He may be waiting to pull the rug out from under this so-called saint after showing him the error of his ways, He may have a plan that requires the magus to act this way, He may be reserving judgment until the Last Day and allowing the holy man to apply his free will, or (in a darker saga) He may agree with this kind of behavior.

Even in a less extreme form, it's quite possible for a Christian holy magus to see pagans, infidels and heretics as a threat to Christendom, and to seek their destruction to defend the good people of the True Faith. Meanwhile, a Muslim holy man is absolutely not sinning if he kills pagans without remorse and attempts to force all Christians and Jews to submit to his (or another Muslim amir's) authority or die; there is clear support for this in the Qur'an, even if we can squabble all day over what that's actually supposed to mean. (Jews and Zoroastrians lack quite the same idea of "holy war" that Christians and Muslims have, at least in this time period.)

Now, I disagree with Ovarwa's statement about diabolists. A diabolist can "do evil to do good," sinning and using the Maleficia and the Ars Goetia for morally good ends. He is still Hell-fuel if he doesn't change his ways, though. Furthermore, canonically, using any Infernal powers or trafficking with demons is a mortal sin; "but what about Solomon" is a question for sages and theologians to debate, but there doesn't appear to be any give on this. A Mulhidun sorcerer may be a pious follower of the Peacock Angel and a devoted defender of humans, but since he summons and controls demons, his "religion" is a quick way to Hell.

All of this ties into a rather heretical general idea, that "good and evil" are terms based in moral philosophy, and "pious and sinful" are based in theology. One could argue, guided by moral philosophy and reason alone, that an act that is clearly sinful is morally an objective good, and that the invocation of holy powers in a particular situation was a wicked act that apparently was approved by God. Clearly, such thoughts are sinful, and the result of overwhelming Pride, to set your own moral judgment above that of God. What? You still think you're right? Well, if you want the power to act on this and make the world right, I have a form right here for you to fill out...

Setting aside Depraved rejection of the absolute right of God, from an omniscient viewpoint (or the viewpoint of an experienced character with a significant amount of Divine Lore or the Sense Holiness and Unholiness ability), there are multiple religions that are True and lead to God and Heaven, some of which have rather different ideas on right and wrong; compare Christian and (assuming you believe the records; even modern Parsis are divided on whether the practice actually happened, but Crusader Kings thinks the idea is cool) Zoroastrian opinions on incest. How is a good, pious Christian with True Faith going to react to a good, pious Zoroastrian with True Faith marrying and having sex with his own sister? He might call this an abomination and a crime against nature and attempt to stop it by force, and God will back both sides, to the point of letting them both summon up angels to attack each other.

Once you get into questions like that, morality becomes much less clear-cut.

EDIT: I don't like angels, themselves, being of divided opinion (say, Michael backing Christianity while Gabriel's jumped on the Islam train). Instead, I have angels as messengers of God, who generally avoid taking sides between religions unless they're specifically angels of a particular faith. To the extent that an angel does advise on spiritual matters, his advice will be that of the religion of his listener (an angel will not appear to a Muslim in female form, for example); whether he agrees with the opinions of someone who's slipping into heresy is up to the storyguide.

One possibility (in a way) is to note that the will of the Divine is always "good" by (some) medieval standards (by definition), but not always "good" by (all) modern standards: "So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them". And viceversa: a young christian who rescues his lover - the married wife of an evil, violent man - by running away with her and setting up a family is in mortal sin.

God is not good in the human sense of good, in setting, because he is based on the medieval conceptions of God. He's good definitionally, but in a way that makes good itself unknowable to people.

IYC, God does what the GM needs Him to do, so your God may be nicer than the vanilla setting God.

Let me give you a Biblical example:

When God sends the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn of Egypt, in Exodus, this is Good, and we know it to be Good because God does it. Now, if you were a father holding your dead baby in your hands, given that you had no way of effecting the outcome which God wants (the freedom of the Jewish people) it would be very hard for you to accept the Goodness of God. If you were later to discover the Pharaoh did not let the Jews go because God was controlling his mind (Exodus 9:12), so that God creates the conditions he punishes by removing the free will of the one person who could avert the punishment, it would be very, very difficult for you to accept God as Good. Nonetheless, by definition, he -is- Good, and his actions, although appalling from a human perspective are Just and Righteous.

So, God is Good, but you, as a human, have no real way of understanding Good beyond faith, providence, revelation and, arguably, reason. This is why you can have truly appalling things happen in the Crusades and still have all of the people doing them thinking they are Good: God has form on this.

God, in the setting, kind of likes slavery, according to Saint Paul. He kind of hates gays, according to several apostles. He's not all that keen on women generally, and thinks they have no place teaching men on spiritual matters (Paul, again). He also runs a torture garden where he sends people who disagree with him, or who ask tricky theological questions like "Why kill the babies of Caanan?"

The Jews get around this quite nicely by saying since everything comes from God, all of the evil in the world comes from God. The chief demon, Samael, has a name which means "God's poison" because his power comes from God.

So, basically the idea we often see here, which is that Good and Evil are opposed in the setting is false. God is all powerful. Evil exists because He permits it to exist. He does this because to do so is Good. "Why?" is the foundational question of theodicy, which is one of the larger and more interesting schools of theological philosophy.

Oh, since Yazidi are in the news, can I point out their religion as heaps of fun, from an Ars perspective?

So, imagine Zoroastran dualism: God makes the world, and his most powerful servant defies him, they have a war, and he is cast out. Sound familiar so far?

OK, so in their religion, the powerful servant (The Peacock Angel) apologises, and is forgiven. He is then given the material world as his fiefdom.

Yep, God and his Adversary are now on the same side, but one controls miracles for the physical world and the other controls miracles for the spiritual and psychological worlds.

Good != nice

Note that when God does something it is good, but if you try the exact same thing it might be Bad.

"Who are you to say you're nothing?"

Actually, there are two versions to the story in Yazidi myth. In both, God orders the angels (who are his direct emanations) to bow to Adam; all obey, save for the chief among the angels, one Shaitan (i.e. Satan) also known as Melek (king/angel) Taus (peacock). Shaitan instead says something like: "How could I bow to this clod of earth, oh Almighty, I who am your direct emanation? I refuse!".

In the first version, which is the closest to Christian, Islamic and Jewish myth, God then punishes Satan for his hubris, casts him into Hell etc. But! Satan then repents, and all the tears he sheds in sorrow for his sin quench the fires of Hell (how cool is that?) and earn him forgiveness. No more Hell!

In the second version, God instead tells Satan: "YES! Mine was a trick question (or, rather, command) and you are the only one got the right answer! A cookie for you, and a lesson for everyone else: I like setting up tests, in which you have to choose between right and wrong, and this was the first one." No Hell in the first place!

I present God, the first Killer GM.

I've heard the "test" story from Muslims who think Satan was doomed either way, because God gets to pick his response based on what Satan says. If he bows, it is idolatry, and if he doesn't, it's rebellion.

Well yes!

Creating a man "who knows not good from bad," telling him that eating from the Tree is bad, and then punishing him for being bad is hardly sporting.

Personally I like the theory that Yaweh is simply the trickster demon-god Yah or Yam from Sumerian lore and he's been lying the whole time, and isn't good at all. Kinda hard to work into an Ars Magica game though...

Tons and tons of Might. Enough that no one has ever provably overcome it. (The Dominion then is just the spiritual emanations of a community, and pagan Dominions tend to feed Faerie or Magic auras.)

Hmmm . . . gonna have to think about giving him a spot as one of the 13 Princes of Hell in my personal Ars canon. I kind of need a Lord of Lies who is thematically linked to the God of Abraham. (Lucifer being the Lord of Pride, and so on.)

In any event, given that the Divine religions say mutually contradictory things, I just assume that they're all considered "fallen" faiths by Heaven, and ultimately for the same general mistake: Setting aside the prophets(who are uncompromising in their calls to repentance) in favor of the scholars(who are often willing to creatively and flexibly interpret matters in a way more pleasing to temporal authority). They still get kudos for worshiping the Creator, but they've no functional certainty that Heaven will back their worldly agendas. Far from it.

So someone of good will, even someone with Divine-aspected abilities, can find themselves utterly thwarted by agents of Heaven with no explanation given, and all they can do is accept it as part of the ineffable goodness of God, or rebel.

Someone with True Faith, of course, pretty much is one of those prophets that keep popping up in the Old Testament. And in the corrupt world of Mythic Europe, there is great need for one who will call the sinful to repentance . . .

(This requires Storyguide, and likely Troupe, consensus.)


One thing I'd also bring up is that two genuine agents of the Divine, with True Faith, may still be at odds. Mohammed is one of the mightiest prophets in history from anyone's perspective, and his version of revelation was not just a call to repentance, but to spread a particular view of the Divine by the sword, and his view did not line up perfectly with the Christian, Jewish, or Zoroastrian views.

So I'd emphasize that "the true religion" of Heaven cannot be fully known by humans, and even saints and prophets are only given part of the cipher. Obviously, someone with high True Faith and Divine Lore might try, but the result will be yet another religion rather than "the One True Faith."

All of the religions have some similarities but are very different on the whole, and it's been said that certain non-mainstream faiths (even ones you come up with yourself) can in fact allow you to channel/receive Divine power as long as their monotheistic and believe that the one God that does exist is perfect and good. Certain acts are set in stone as evil by the Mythic European paradigm, but not all things listed by any of the religions as sin are necessarily evil and not all evils are considered sin. As long as your new religion does not promote or openly tolerate these evils (which would draw Infernal power if any at all) and you display the necessary faith, your religion will generally receive Divine backing. (Don't tell orthodox Christians, though, or ye shalt be smote.) Really, it's arguable that anything doesn't go as long as you don't worship other beings, but... Well, that's a discussion that might be offensive to actually religious people, so I won't get into it.

Based on this, any Divinely-backed force could, theoretically at least, have goals opposing activities that would generally be considered good.

With immature players, you get into situations where somebody wants to stop the village from burning and some guy with a new religion says fire is a symbolic emanation of the Divine and that it would be sinful of him to allow you to stop it. Annoying, doesn't tend to generate any stories, and seems more fit for old Elementalists than anything.

However, done well, you can most certainly have the Divine working against generally-considered-good things. And Infernalists can basically do what they want with their powers. Demons will find a way to cause chaos through them.

And even this is flexible, since Zoroastrianism doesn't make the firm distinction between veneration and worship that Catholicism does.

That aside, I'd be cautious about letting a hand-crafted religion become Divine; part of the basis for Divine religions is revelation. Studying Theology (preferably backed with Divine Lore; Islamic and Rabbinical Law would be useful for their particular religions, Canon Law not so much) and creating a heresy is a much better way to go about it.

Another twisted take onthis is the idea that God (according to some faiths) wants suffering so people will remain focused on getting into heaven. By this argument demons would want to eliminate suffering so they can more easily lead people astray...

Oh my, that's good. A bit counter-intuitive (more suffering makes the uneducated wonder why God could allow such hardships) but that's a very clever tactic.

What I want to do sometime is a straight-up good person (personality traits like Compassionate, and enough sense to not walk blindly into stupid deals) turning to infernalism because God isn't listening, and without Vengeful Powers so that his powers don't inherently backfire.

"But it's evil, because you'll go to Hell!"

"Who said that? God? The bastard who's allowing the land to be overrun by plague and famine because the bishop interdicted my homeland after my sister refused his advances?"

"It's all part of God's plan! Perservere in His ways and you'll be saved! Well, except that you can't repent and be saved because your home is under interdict. Um, you should just let your sister commit adultery with the bishop..."

One nice thing about having Yah/Yam as Lord of Deception(and the reason why Hell gets the unstoppable powers of deceit, due to either antediluvian or just-post-diluvian shenanigans)? I can say he screws with the Holy Books. He has to work through humans who've been corrupted into sophistry and other scholarly hypocrisies, and he can't directly touch the original compositions(insert angelic protection backed by GOD SAYS NO as appropriate), but he can and does screw with copies ASAP. It's a screwtapian balancing act, of course.

(Also, I rather like Screwtape's complaints on how complicated the process of damnation really is. Heck, I think CS Lewis's apologia are a great inspiration if you want your God of Abraham to be Perfect, and Good, and not very happy with any given sect.)

Yeah, Malachi chapter 3 is one of those chapters that's hard to stomach if someone feels that their current suffering ought to be giving them plenty of credit with Heaven already.

If your character has access to the New Testament, James 1: 5 pretty much says he's allowed to jump the chain of command. Given that the Bishop is abusing spiritual influence here, the situation probably already has some Divine attention focused on it, so if he can, say, channel an appropriate Virtuous personality trait or two (Compassion for his fellow sufferers, a sense of Justice because this whole thing ain't cricket, something something Temperance for the sister trying to preserve her chastity, etc.), he might be surprised by the level of response he gets. This is the perfect sort of saintly-type story for the corrupt Bishop to end up dying in an ironic fashion . . .

But let's say he doesn't go that route. Either he doesn't realize that he can jump the chain of command, or his prayer was fueled by the wrong kind of personality trait, or he just doesn't trust Heaven to react justly(double score for Hell! Lack of faith and despair!)

So he starts summoning demons. (Pride!) What now?

If he really wants to do good via infernal means, he needs to do something like:

  1. Figure out which demon(s) is(are) in charge of plaguing his homeland now that the protection of the Dominion has been removed.
  2. Bind those demons to his service.
  3. Order them to stop harassing everyone.
  4. Refrain from ordering them to do anything that he ought to be doing for himself. (And oh boy will they come up with some doozies on how to help him out.)
  5. Track down any other demons moving in and bind them into non-action, because there's still a spiritual void that Hell is eager to exploit, and if the land starts prospering then specialists in the sins of prosperity should start showing up.

Oh, and

  1. Do this all over again every year after Easter, because once they're banished they can make their way back and start up the subtle harassment again.

It's probably a good idea to get the Bishop removed soonish, because a botch on demon containment rolls = Hell breaks loose. (And if he resorts to murder, Hell likely has a lock on his immortal soul, all things considered.)