Angelic Morality in Dominion and History
Dominion on SyFy is based on the premise that God has vanished, and most of the lower angels tried to wipe out humanity as they blamed humans for offending God. Michael, the one angel to side with humanity, believed God’s disappearance was a test for the angels, which they failed.
The first episode really impressed me with its use of historical concepts of angels that don’t usually show up in fiction. None of the episodes have been as clever, although I still enjoy the show.
An Allegorical Flood
This week, we learn that the story of Noah’s Flood is allegorical. Humanity was not nearly wiped out by water but by Michael, and the”ark” which saved a few humans (but not animals, as the divine retribution did not extend to them) was actually a bunker in which they hid.
Gabriel, who is now the leader of the rebellious angels, tried to talk Michael out of it. Michael, however, states he is doing God’s will. God wanted them dead, so Michael is killing them. While they don’t spell it out, that makes Gabriel once again a rebel, trying to talk Michael out of fulfilling the will of God.
(To be clear, there is nothing biblical suggesting Gabriel ever rebelled. He is one of two angels named in the Bible, repeatedly acting as the messenger of God. He also appears in the Koran as a messenger to Mohammad.)
Nature of Being
Angels, who are the entities in this universe closest to God, are often viewed as not having free will: they are too spiritual to be in conflict with the ultimate spiritual power. Likewise, animals also do not have free will as they have no concept of morality. Lions don’t consider whether it is moral to eat the injured gazelle. It just follows its nature and enjoys lunch.
Humans alone have free will, which is what makes them unique and the favorite creation of God. Humans have the mental capacity to understand what is right and wrong but are imperfect enough (ruled more by the material than the spiritual) to have the capability of making choices contrary to God’s will. We alone are held accountable because we alone have the ability to screw up.
Incidentally, that also means Satan or other demons cannot make a person sin. They can certainly tempt someone to do so, but “the Devil made me do it” is theologically unsound.
St. Augustine, one of the most important Christian theologians and recognized as a Church Father wrote about free will extensively in the 4th and 5th centuries. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a renaissance philosopher, also wrote about it (and he’s the source with whom I’m more familiar).
So how is it that Satan and other angels “fell”? The concept is largely missing from Judaism: Satan is an agent of God who tests the faith of believers, not a being in rebellion against God. The Book of Genesis, part of the Jewish Torah, talks about the unnatural union of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of man” producing the monstrous nephilim (as vaguely referenced in the movie Noah, although in a very different context). The sons of God are commonly interpreted as angels, although biblical scholars often reject that interpretation.
Most biblical references thought to imply Satan is a fallen angel come from the Book of Revelation, which is in the New Testament and, thus, not accepted by Jews. And the book is so baffling it almost didn’t even make it into the New Testament. There is lots of theological and scholarly debate as to how to interpret the Book of Revelations. I try avoiding it. It makes my head hurt.
A lot of angelic information actually comes from a non-biblical source known as the Book of Enoch, of which both Jews and Christians were aware but which by and large they rejected.
Implications of Dominion‘s Depiction
Generally, speaking, Dominion has taken a much more Jewish than Christian view of things. The concept of rebellious angels largely contradicts that, as it is at least more associated with Christianity. It may be that these angels really are carrying out God’s will even though they don’t know it. Is the strife humanity is suffering a test? Is this the tribulation of the End Times believed by Christians as described in Revelations?
That may be overly theological for script writers. The idea of rebellious angels is popular right now. Thus, it’s easy to tap. And I’m not sure it’s theologically kosher to have angels think they’re rebelling when they aren’t.