Dualism and Monotheism: Exploring the Relationship Between Good and Evil in Religion

Polytheistic beliefs led to the development not only of monotheistic religions but also of dualistic religions, which hold the belief that there are two opposing forces, namely good and evil. Unlike monotheism, dualism considers evil to be a separate and independent power that was not created by the good God nor is it subordinate to it. Dualistic religions argue that the universe is a constant battlefield between these two forces and that everything that happens in the world is part of this ongoing struggle.


Dualism offers an appealing perspective as it provides a concise and straightforward response to the well-known Problem of Evil, which is one of the most fundamental concerns of human thought. This problem raises questions like…

Why does evil exist in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Monotheistic religions, on the other hand, struggle to explain how an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God permits so much suffering in the world. They have to engage in intellectual acrobatics to justify this, and one explanation is that God allows human beings to have free will, which means they can choose between good and evil.

This answer, however, leads to additional questions, such as why God would allow someone to choose evil when He knew beforehand that this person would end up being punished for it. This dilemma has been the subject of countless theological books, and while some people may find the answers satisfactory, others do not. Thus, it is evident that monotheists find it challenging to grapple with the Problem of Evil.

Source: Pexels

Dualists have a simple explanation for the existence of evil in the world, where bad things can happen to good people because the world is not solely governed by a good God. They believe there is an independent evil power that is responsible for causing bad things to happen.

However, the concept of dualism has its own limitations. While it may provide a solution to the Problem of Evil, it raises the Problem of Order. If the world was created by a single God, it makes sense why everything in it obeys the same laws and is an orderly place. But if the world is a battleground between Good and Evil, who enforces the laws governing this cosmic war? In the case of two rival nations fighting, they can fight each other because they both obey the same physical laws.

However, when Good and Evil fight, what common laws do they follow, and who established these laws?


To make sense of the world, monotheism offers an explanation for order but struggles to comprehend evil, while dualism accounts for evil but finds it difficult to understand order. One possible solution to this enigma is to propose that a single all-powerful God created everything in the universe, including evil, but this is a belief that no one has been willing to accept throughout history due to its unsettling nature.

To make sense of the world, monotheism offers an explanation for order but struggles to comprehend evil, while dualism accounts for evil but finds it difficult to understand order.

For over a millennium, dualistic religions were prevalent. At some point between 1500 BC and 1000 BC, a prophet named Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra) emerged in Central Asia. His teachings were passed down through generations and eventually became the most significant of all dualistic religions – Zoroastrianism.


Zoroastrians viewed the world as an ongoing conflict between the good deity Ahura Mazda and the evil deity Angra Mainyu, with humans expected to assist the good deity in this battle. During the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BC), Zoroastrianism played a significant role as a religion, and later became the official religion of the Sassanid Persian Empire (AD 224-651). It had a significant impact on virtually all subsequent Middle Eastern and Central Asian religions, and it served as a source of inspiration for several other dualistic religions such as Gnosticism and Manichaeanism.

In the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the Manichaean religion gained popularity and spread from China to North Africa. For a brief period, it seemed that Manichaeism would surpass Christianity and become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. However, Christians prevailed and won over the hearts and minds of Rome, while the monotheistic Muslims conquered the Zoroastrian Sassanid Empire, causing the dualistic movement to decline. Nowadays, there are only a few remaining dualist communities in India and the Middle East.

Lingering Irony

Source: Pexels

Despite the increasing influence of monotheism, it did not completely eliminate dualism. Monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have incorporated various dualistic beliefs and practices, and some of the fundamental concepts of monotheism are essentially dualistic in nature. Many followers of these religions believe in the existence of a potent evil force, akin to the Christian figure of the Devil or Satan, which can act independently, oppose the good God, and cause chaos without God’s consent.

It is logically impossible for a monotheist to adhere to the belief of dualism, which is not found in the Old Testament. One can either believe in a single all-powerful God or in two opposing but non-omnipotent powers. However, humans have a remarkable ability to hold contradictory beliefs. Therefore, it should not be surprising that many devoted followers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism believe in both an all-powerful God and an independent Devil. In fact, some even believe that the good God requires our assistance in the battle against the Devil, which has led to the call for jihads and crusades.

Gnosticism and Manichaeanism

The concept of duality was significant in Gnosticism and Manichaeanism, with a notable differentiation between body and soul or matter and spirit. These religions argued that the good god created the soul and spirit, whereas the evil god created bodies and matter. According to them, humans were battlegrounds where the good soul and evil body contested. However, from a monotheistic standpoint, this idea makes no sense since everything was created by the same good God. Which brings us to the question, “…if the same good God created Everything (without exception) where does evil came from? or at least who created it?” 

“A typical Christian believes in one God but also acknowledges the existence of the Devil, worships multiple saints like in polytheism and believes in ghosts like in animism.”

Nevertheless, monotheists found duality compelling since it helped them tackle the problem of evil, and as a result, such oppositions became fundamental to Christian and Muslim theology. Belief in heaven (the domain of the good god) and hell (the realm of the evil god) also originated from the concept of duality. These beliefs are not present in the Old Testament, which also does not assert that people’s souls continue to exist after the body’s death.

Essentially, the history of monotheism has been a mixture of various religious beliefs, including monotheism, dualism, polytheism, and animism, all of which coexist under the same divine umbrella.

For example, a typical Christian believes in one God but also acknowledges the existence of the Devil, worships multiple saints like in polytheism and believes in ghosts like in animism. Scholars refer to this phenomenon as syncretism, which involves the simultaneous acceptance of multiple and even contradictory beliefs, as well as the adoption of rituals and practices from various sources. Syncretism could potentially be seen as a unified religion that combines elements from multiple traditions.



Author's Corner

Sweet, I blame you not, for mine the fault was, had I not been made of common clay. I had climbed the higher heights unclimbed yet, seen the fuller air, the larger day. From the wildness of my wasted passion I had struck a better, clearer song, Lit some lighter light of freer freedom, battled with some Hydra-headed wrong. – Oscar Wilde

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