How much may gods be vicious?

Some time ago I asked for teaching people not to ask gods for help (without killing them). In answers some people asked for way how those gods punish people.

And these questions inspired me to little expand this thought (than I had it done) - in words (used in dialogue)

It was long painful treason ended by bleeding from eyes and ears, vomiting of blood and suffocation.

or in

Those were the days when gods were satisfied with someone's disappearing after saying words I think, therefore I am or with bucket of poo that fell on somebody's head

How much may be gods vicious? Where is limit of viciousness that should not be passed by gods?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Well, in real life we have several myths about gods throwing tantrum and viciously destroying everything from individuals to whole towns to the entire population of the Earth, except for a chosen handfull of the especially devout. Large numbers of people still worship at least one of these gods, and indeed, are eagerly looking forward to that god destroying everyone but their fellow believers. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 26 '16 at 19:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Promising eternal torture of large quantity of people seems to be within bounds of various religions and cults. Why do you suppose that a limit should exist? An omnipotent eternal being can be vicious beyond the capability of mortal imagination. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Dec 26 '16 at 20:12

The gods can be very vicious indeed, because they are gods and have divine viciousness, immeasurably greater than the viciousness of mere mortals. (And they also may be extremely vicious because they are gods and the mortals dare not rebel against their viciousness.) Examples:

  • In the Greek mythology:

    • Cronus, the 2nd generation god, castrated his father Uranus (thus creating the conditions for the birth of Aphrodite) and ate his own children.
    • For the crime of giving humans the knowledge of fire, Prometheus was chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains, and an eagle was sent daily to eat his liver (which regenerated, because Prometheus is an immortal titan). (Prometheus was eventually freed when Zeus found a way around a rash oath.)
    • Niobe angered Artemis and Apollo because of her pride in having 14 children; the twin gods then killed her children with arrows thus providing an eternal subject for painters and sculptors.
    • Arachne dared to challenge Athena in a weaving contest, and was transformed into a spider for her foolish pride.
    • Hera's jealousy led to the relentless persecution of Hercules and Io, among others.
    • Marsyas dared to challenge Apollo in a music contest, and was flayed alive for his hybris.
  • In the Abrahamic mythology:

    • Yahweh killed almost all humans in a flood because reasons; this parallels a similar effort by Zeus in the Greek mythology.

    • The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because their inhabitants did not follow the rules of heteronormative patriarchy favored by Yahweh. In the same story, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of stone for having the weakness to look back towards Sodom while fleeing.

    • Jephthah sacrificed his own daughter to Yahweh, who apparently received the offering favorably; this is paralleled in the Greek mythology by the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her own father Agamemnon.

    • Job lost everything "including his offspring, his health, and his property" (summary by Wikipedia) for no fault of his own but just because of a contest between Yahweh and Satan.

    • Yahweh killed all the firstborn in Egypt "from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill", in order to persuade the Pharaoh to allow the Hebrews to emigrate.

Edit: As Xandar The Zenon observes, the gods may perform acts which may appear as cruel and vicious while they actually serve a greater purpose, as revealed and explained by the relevant religious doctrines. When inventing a religion or a mythology for a fictitious world one should take this aspect into consideration.

Please note that the examples are intentionally presented in very abbreviated form. Readers are strongly encouraged to follow the links for more information; reading the actual stories may also be beneficial -- after all, they used to be considered among the essential stories of the European culture.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Xandar The Zenon: Why should we respect the beliefs of any particular religion, when (most of) the followers of that religion adamantly refuse to respect the beliefs of others? Indeed, I'd argue that proper respect requires treating all religions the same, so that if the Greek religion is described as myth, then so should the Abrahamic religions - or Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, &c. As for the assurance that your deity is just, stop and reflect on the source of those assurances, and ask whether every human dictator doesn't provide similar assurances. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 26 '16 at 19:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: Mythology and religion are two different things--see Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths by Paul Veyne. The Greek religion was not the same as their mythology (and the Romans, who had a profoundly different religion, happily used the Greek mythology in their fiction and in their works of philosophy and ethics). The Christian religion, in particular, is almost completely independent of the Abrahamic mythology which is kept by and large as a reference for educational and inspirational purposes. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 26 '16 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf It wasn't necessarily that he called it a Mythology, I think enough people will be able to realize that it is referring to the Old Testament of the Bible (or what other religions would call it, I don't really know). Mainly just misrepresenting stories from it. I don't know anyone who worships the Ancient Greek gods, but if I did know someone, then I'm sure they could tell us if those stories did not happen that way. $\endgroup$ Dec 26 '16 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ To summarize my earlier statements, I feel that the cruelty in the Abrahamic "stories" has been exaggerated a little. (In addition to his Edit). $\endgroup$ Dec 26 '16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Xandar The Zenon: AlexP is not misrepresenting those stories from the OT at all, he is simply giving them from a neutral point of view. It is the believers in those religions who are misrepresenting them, much as typical abused spouses claim their abusers beat them out of love. Which applies exactly to how gods may act viciously towards people, yet retain believers. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 26 '16 at 22:07

The practical limit for viciousness in all forms is the limit at which it incurs consequences upon its perpetrator beyond those the perpetrator is willing to endure. These consequences can be externally imposed (law, convention, the opinion of other gods, or the opinion of the god's worshipers, if it cares) or internally imposed (It would make me feel bad or cause me to violate my own strongly held standards). Unless there is some consequence to the viciousness, the only limit is the imagination and patience of the god, and the ability of the target to survive (void in case of divine resurrection).


They have a very real limit - but this limit is a godly one. Whatever they do should not be really harmful to another god.

For instance, as a god, you cannot crush someone under more than a small mountain, that would be mean. But a hill is okay - that makes a totally fine joke !

In the case of your bleeding and all - they just sent a bacteria to cause another god a god-cold, but this becomes a superdeadly disease for any mortal.

It makes it hard for humans to believe there is actually a limit. The gods are not actually vicious, they just don't understand how frail humans are.


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