My latest studies have led me to Zoroastrianism, the major religion of ancient Persia. My entry-point into the faith, laid down millennia ago by the Persian Zarathustra (aka Zoroaster to the Greeks), has been the book Zoroastrianism by Paula R. Hartz. I want to put aside the mythology of Zoroastrianism for a later post, and talk today about the religion’s ethical system.
I’ll tell you what really draws me to Zoroastrianism: it mixes a healthy Epicureanism with a “spread the love” good-neighbor policy. Zoroastrians are expected to share their happiness by giving generously of: their wealth, their time, and their talents. It’s not enough merely to have a good time and snatch for yourself as much pleasure as you can, or to safely tuck yourself away from the world’s ills in some hermitage or convent. You’re actually required to engage the world and to try to make it a better place.
Living as we are on a planet of finite resources, anyone practicing an egotistical sort of hedonism is basically saying to their neighbors: I’m gonna get mine, now you go get yours– and the Devil take the hindmost.
But Zoroastrianism not only encourages people to enjoy their lives but to also help others enjoy theirs. I think Zoroastrianism combines the best of Epicureanism and Humanism, while leaving behind the world-abandonment of Buddhism and the martyrdom complex of Christianity.
I’m also drawn to Zoroastrianism’s call to adherents to fight evil. Most of the world’s “great” religions do not very strongly encourage an outright combat against evil, and I find the lack of such injunction questionable, a little troubling, and maybe just downright wrong. This is a tough issue, this fighting the good fight… I admit it: the great religions are not wrong to promise a more tranquil existence for those who keep their heads down and let someone else deal with the bad guys and try to bring light into the shadows of the cruel side of schizophrenic Nature.
But is tranquility really the highest moral good? I think Nietzsche said such an ethical system boils down to having a good digestion and a full night’s sleep. Is this really the highest ideal a man or woman should strive for? Is avoiding indigestion and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune really the best we can come up with for a morality?
Zoroastrianism demands an active and fully engaged approach to life. Zoroastrians are not supposed to just sit on the sidelines, merely refraining from doing harm. Followers of the faith are to, in the words of the Hartz, “promote good and fight evil.” They are expected to live “fully in in the world,” to enjoy the good things, and to “actively fight evil wherever one finds it.”
Good deeds are required in Zoroastrian ethics. Faith alone will not save you in this religion.
The general creed Zoroastrians live by can be summed up in three simple commandments:
1) Good Thoughts, 2) Good Words, 3) Good Deeds.
Good Deeds include being Truthful, Kind, Loyal, and Cheerful. The “shalt nots” include: not being negative, not being lazy, and not abusing pleasures.
Zoroastrians believe that humans have been given Seven Bounteous Creations: Sky, Water, Earth, Fire, Plants, Animals, and Human life, itself. “As the only conscious creation,” says Hartz, “humanity has the ultimate task of caring for the universe.”
Lastly, according to Zoroastrian beliefs, those who live righteously will gradually acquire the requisite moral force to become leaders in their family and in their community. Authority is seen as something that accrues naturally to those living enlightened lives.
Other posts by Hammering Shield on Zoroastrianism: