The Gods are Amoral

I’ve been watching the anime Noragami Aragoto, and the basic premise of the anime is that there is a god Yato attempting to get his own shrine so he can become more powerful. There was one event that happened where Yato said that it is people that decide what is right and wrong, for gods can do no wrong. And yes, an anime did set me to thinking on philosophical/religious terms. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, and it probably won’t be the last. I tend to take my inspiration from the world around me, so it isn’t weird to me that something in an anime struck me as interesting.

Anyway, I started thinking about how each of the Gods are different. Odin, Loki, and Tyr all have different personalities, and each of them want different things from the world. But the Gods never question their own morality. In the myths, there is no internal struggle faced by any of the Gods over whether the course of action they are taking is right or wrong. The Gods just act. It could be said that the Gods act in their own self-interest at all times, and I don’t think that statement would be inaccurate.

Before I get further into that, I’d like to clarify what amorality is. Most people are familiar with morality and immorality. Amorality is the lack of a sense of morality altogether. If an action can be considered neither positive nor negative, then that is an amoral action. Essentially, saying that the Gods are amoral is saying that they lack a conscience that tells them wrong from right.

I’m sure that a lot of people will disagree with me, and I imagine one of the criticisms this idea will receive is the question, “If the Gods are amoral, how can they act in loving ways?”

To answer that question, however, I need to explain the difference between amorality and sociopathy. Amorality simply means that you have no sense of right or wrong. There is no distinction. A sociopath has a sense of right and wrong but chooses to disregard it. There’s a very fine line of difference between the two, but understanding the difference is the key to understanding the answer to how Gods can still act lovingly even without possessing a sense of morality.

In my mind, picturing the Gods as amoral helps resolve some difficult contradictions. It explains why the Gods can embrace Loki as one of their own – no matter what he does, he is still a God. It explains why the actions of Odin can seem sometimes noble and sometimes ignoble – he breaks oaths without much thought.

The Gods are complex – much more complex than a human being, and, let’s face it, us humans are pretty complex beings. We project our humanity onto the Gods, forgetting along the way that the Gods aren’t human. They’re Other. We have a spark of divinity inside of us, thanks to Loki, and that spark is what allows us to relate somewhat to the Gods. But I think that we too often forget that the Gods aren’t human.

So we end up painting the Gods with our own sense of morality, then get upset when the actions of the Gods don’t add up to what we have grown to expect. As an example, a large portion of pagans view Loki as evil incarnate, but Loki isn’t inherently evil. In fact, he is morally ambiguous, which is really just another way to say that he is an amoral being. Of all the Gods, it is perhaps Loki and other trickster Gods who demonstrate the truth of the amorality of Gods the most clearly.

I think the most difficult part of this concept to grasp is how the Gods can function without a sense of morality. For us, as human beings, we need a conscience. We need to distinguish between right actions and wrong actions in order to understand our paths through our lives. The idea of a lack of morality, of a lack of a conscience, is immediately alien and difficult to imagine. This is, perhaps, the reason that the Gods defy human understanding.

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5 comments on “The Gods are Amoral

  1. I like this post. I think what you wrote about applies to every religion on the face of the planet earth. We mistake God, or the Gods, that we believe in for people, humans. I’ve had very intense discussions about this with friends. The thing is, that most people are simply unable to picture something beyond human existence – so their God becomes “a human being with only the best and most positive traits”. These people are the ones struggling with the question why, if God or their Gods are so perfect, they don’t take care of people who are dying, suffering, etc. I think if we finally moved away from human morality and started seeing our God(s) as something beyond our imagination, a truly higher instance without human qualities and with other, for us unfathomable traits, we would be a lot more accepting of our lives and would not be caught up in conflict with our own religions, caused by the doubts that arise from our personal moral (or other) principles. I like to think of it that way: we’re human beings, so we don’t know how to get through our lives and need “a compass” – being our ethical and moral values. (A) God knows exactly what to do, so this compass becomes obsolete.

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  2. I think the Gods have morals/ethics – and in the lore Odin gets called out by other Gods for his oath breaking. I also think, however, that they can see the Big Picture, and that, seeing that, their idea of morality and ultimate cost/benefit analysis means that they do what they know is right for the long term – and from our limited point of view it’s viewed as wrong.

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    • So you’re taking the view that because the Gods are much longer lived, their morality exists but can’t make sense to us because our lifetimes are much more limited? Although I disagree with you, I find that an intriguing way to look at it 🙂

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      • Well sort of – Like Loki’s Little Hippie Witch says, they have their own kind of morality. Do I think they always operate within their moral guidelines? No, no more than humans generally do. But I do think, when weighing the benefits vs risks of a given action, the fact that some humans die is of lesser importance than accomplishing the longer goal they have in mind, whatever it may be. Like when the Wild Hunt rides and takes “innocent” bystanders.

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