Is there such a thing as being essentially good or essentially evil? Is this how we define angels and demons? If so, what really happens if good and evil play together? Is humanity the product of such a combination? The story above comes from a masterpiece of two of the most brilliant minds of fantasy fiction, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is called Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter.
In the story, the Antichrist is born and is being raised in the wrong family, while an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley are having second thoughts about the Armageddon. They have grown to like living on Earth and are rather attached to it. According to ‘The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch’ (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world is about to end on Saturday, before dinner. But Crowley and Aziraphale really don’t want it to end, and hope the Antichrist might just decide not to carry through with it.
Due to a mistake by the nuns who switched him at birth, the antichrist, Adam Young grows up without any diabolical guidance. He is a normal eleven year old who has a normal family and normal friends. He has no idea of his real powers but he uses them naively to do thoughtful gestures.
The central idea of the story is quite a remarkable one. It explores the notion of what it means to be good, evil and most of all human. Human beings are not perfect; we screwed that up long time ago by being simply human. You know…making mistakes by giving into temptation and getting all curious. Anything with a notice saying “do not eat” is bound to put things in motion. Crowley regards, being human as a creative act. Although flawed, humans fascinate him and he looks at them with a kind of affection. While the book has a cynical tone, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman try to create a more optimistic picture of mankind.
Mankind is better understood by seeing that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of human history are not caused by people being essentially good or essentially evil, but by people being essentially people. Human affairs are characterised by both good and bad qualities.
The immortals in the book are humanised by living thousands of years among people, and they go against their nature to help mankind. While Aziraphale has a natural tendency to do good things and Crowley is designed to be evil, they both fall in trouble by involving themselves in human affairs.
Sometimes, the idea of good and bad is rooted in the type of person rather than the act itself. We expect ‘good’ people to do good things and the ‘evil’ to do evil things. But what we should really expect is people to do people things, and occasionally for angels and demons to act human-like.
I know being human isn’t much. Only demons like Crowley and angels like Aziraphale are impressed. But that is who we are. If we ask ourselves what it means to be human, the answer lies in our strengths and weaknesses. We can be strong but at the same time we are weak too. Our imperfections create chaos; then again our attempts at perfection help solve those chaotic problems. We have prejudice, ignorance, faith and free will, and our uniqueness is essentially human.
We also notice in the story that the human mind is not capable of seeing War, Famine, Pollution and Death when it doesn’t want to see them. We are so good at looking past them, even if they happen to be right in front of us.
In the pseudo-Biblical story at the beginning of this post, Aziraphale is the angel that was guarding the Eastern Gate of Eden. He had a flaming sword to help him with his job and he gives it to Adam and Eve to keep them warm in a storm, after they were cast out of Eden. He thought it was dreadful to leave them alone in the cold when Eve was expecting. He then tells everyone he lost the sword. Lying is known to be fundamentally bad, but if you lie for a good cause will you still be guilty? Absolute evil and absolute good cannot be always absolute. Somewhere, somehow they converge at a point to create something almost human-like.
This book makes some remarkable observations of human life that are cohesive and accurate, and in no way it denies the existence of God. What it signifies is our inability to understand the ineffability of God and the cosmos. This makes us who we are. Whether divine intervention and miracles are plausible or not, the choice of how we live our lives is left to us. And as mankind, all we can do is our best.