The history of the most ancient religions reveals that most common belief systems had some influences on each other. A similar link exists between Zoroastrianism and Christianity – two religions that came out of the Middle East. However, both faiths also have their unique differences, which separate the believers and offer varying explanations of the world’s issues and solutions. Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion that originated earlier than the fifth century BCE and possibly served as a possible source of influence for many philosophical and spiritual systems, including Christianity.
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Influences and Similarities
The history of Zoroastrianism and its pillars reveal a potential source of inspiration for other major religions. Zoroastrianism combines the ideas of monotheism and polytheism, proposing that the existence of the supreme being Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom) is inseparable from the world’s other spiritual deities (Dick, 2019). Nevertheless, one may interpret Ahura Mazda as a god who is omniscient and benevolent, fighting and prevailing over Druj (chaos, falsehood) with the power of Asha (truth, order) (König, 2020). This description is influential for other monotheistic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Zoroaster (otherwise known as Zarathustra) was a prophet and a spiritual leader of Zoroastrianism (Payne, 2016). Apart from introducing the idea of the main uncreated deity from whom all power of good originated, Zoroaster also spread the belief system of dualism – a contrast between dark and light, evil and good (Bekhrad, 2017). Thus, the Iranian prophet also introduced such early concepts as heaven and hell and people’s fight for good through messianism. Notably, people decide to participate in this fight, which also establishes the existence of free will.
As one can see, many of the early ideas of Zoroastrianism are similar to those of Christianity. The latter is also monotheistic and based on the belief that good and evil coexist in the world. Thus, both religions introduce the idea that all good comes from an omniscient deity, although Christian God and Ahura Mazda have differences in how they are defined. Furthermore, the notions of heaven and hell first described by Zoroaster may have found a place in Christianity, which features these ideas heavily when discussing people’s fate in the afterlife (Montazeri, 2019). With the existence of good and evil as two opposing forces, the introduction of Satan is also understandable. Similar to Zoroastrianism, Christianity also believes that God has created the world and all that is good in it, while evil and corrupt beings and ideas are an effect of bad influence.
Although not all denominations of Christianity place much importance on this concept, free will is considered necessary to have faith and believe not only in God but in Jesus Christ in some denominations. This concept was introduced in Zoroastrianism as well, and it could be a source for people’s notion of free will in later Abrahamic religions. According to Zoroaster’s teachings, people possess the free will to make moral choices, and only their fight against evil can protect the mortal world against Druj (Dick, 2019). Thus, this religion introduces responsibility both before oneself and others to uphold the world and protect it from chaos. Their rewards and happiness, as well as misery, depend on personal choices throughout their lives.
Nevertheless, the two religions have fundamental differences in how they approach the world and spirituality. First of all, while Zoroastrianism can be considered a monotheistic religion, it is also not wholly opposed to accepting other deities, especially in some local communities that have incorporated various personal beliefs into the practice. Furthermore, in many rituals, the Earth and its elements are also incorporated into traditions. In contrast, Christianity is monotheistic, upholding a strict system that separates God from other entities and people.
Next, returning to the topic of free will, the ancient Iranian religion rejects predestination altogether. Instead, it encourages people not to engage in asceticism and other forms of separation from reality and participate in the fight against evil. From this belief, three core principles of Zoroastrianism arise – Humata (Good Thoughts), Huxta (Good Words), and Huvarshta (Good Deeds) (Bekhrad, 2017). People follow these principles without expecting rewards but for their own sake as a contribution to the fight against chaos. Interestingly, Ahura Mazda is not considered omnipotent, which explains the reliance on people to support the struggle against evil in the world.
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The issue of predestination and free will is a debated topic in Christianity. For example, people have a type of natural freedom given to them by an all-powerful, all-knowing God (Johnstone, 2019). However, some Christians also believe in a kind of predestination in which God ultimately chooses who would be saved. Here, people are sinful due to the Fall, and their actions may not be a sure path toward salvation (Johnstone, 2019). Zoroastrianism does not believe that humans are inherently evil, stating that corruption by Druj should be challenged.
Overall, the ancient history of Zoroastrianism introduces it as a prototype of a monotheistic religion, although Zoroaster rejected a completely monotheistic system. Its influence on Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity is apparent in the duality of good and evil and the existence of heaven and hell. Nevertheless, the ancient Iranian religion rejects predetermination and places the responsibility for humans’ happiness into their own hands while also promoting good deeds and thoughts without expecting a reward. On the other hand, Christianity has an omnipotent God, who gives people free will, but ultimately has a predetermined way of salvation.
Bekhrad, J. (2017). The obscure religion that shaped the West. BBC Culture. Web.
Dick, S. (2019). Rekindling the flame: Zoroastrianism in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish Studies, 7(2), 161-188. Web.
Johnstone, T. R. (2019). Free will vs predestination: Does God know your choices before you make them? Trafford Publishing.
König, G. (2020). From Manichaeism to Zoroastrianism: On the history of the teaching of the ‘Two Principles’. Entangled Religions, 11(2), 1-28. Web.
Montazeri, S. S. R. (2019). Refutations of “heterodoxy”: Zoroastrians, New Christians, and Muslims against Manichaeans. Religious Inquiries, 8(16), 127-140. Web.
Payne, R. E. (2016). A state of mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian political culture in late antiquity. University of California Press.