I recently crossed paths with the legendary prophet Zarathushtra while hiking in the mountains behind my house, the Diablo Range. He and I swapped cell numbers, and he graciously consented to scheduling an interview.
Idol Chatter: I’d like to begin by saying what a great honor it is to be granted an interview with the prophet of good and evil.
Zoroaster: The honor is all mine! And thanks for the latte by the way.
IC: So tell me: what have you been up to for the last three thousand years?
Z: Seeing the world. Seeing all its beauty. Chatting with people. Gardening. I like to garden.
IC: Yes, you’ve got quite a reputation as a tree planter and a sustainability advocate. But now you’re a traveler too.
Z: Yes. Making the most of my golden years, you see.
IC: I suppose you’ve seen about everything by now.
Z: No, you’d be surprised how much there is to see.
IC: Forgive my impertinence, but aren’t you just the spittin’ image of Freddie Mercury?
Z: Ah yes, well of course we are both Iranians.
IC: He was a Parsi, right?
Z: Yes, though the so-called Parsis, as Khorasanis, are more Parthi than Parsi.
IC: Does it sadden you that so few of your faith remain, and that so few of those who remain reside in the homelands of their faith?
Z: It does, sometimes, but the spirit of a universal idea is no mere matter of cultural heritage. It persists and is reborn like the spirit of a man.
IC: How so?
Z: The soul of a man, that is, his individuality, only lives in the world for a short while, but the spirit of a man will continue to be embodied over and over again as his thoughts are recovered. A religion is like a man in this regard.
IC: So you believe in a metaphorical kind of reincarnation, but not in the immortality of the soul itself?
Z: Just think of it this way: we are reborn when another soul relives our ideas and passions, but they don’t get access to our memories.
IC: But you taught immortality of the soul, right?
Z: I didn’t invent the idea of personal immortality. What I did was propose a change in the goods which men barter with the gods for divine favor. I summoned men to offer sacrifice to the God of Wisdom, who asks only for the sacrifice of good thoughts, words, and actions.
IC: This seems somewhat calculating. You call it a barter. I’m sure you’re familiar with the charge that this is mere “marketplace morality.”
Z: Ah, that devil Nietzsche. He knew me well, but as I said, I did not found the marketplace. Do me a favor and look around: do you see justice in the world?
IC: Not generally.
Z: Neither did I, and I could see that I was not alone.
IC: So you conceived a world of justice, of karma?
Z: Yes: a world of justice, and eventual redemption of this world. I could see this was what men needed.
IC: To make them behave?
Z: Not exactly. Men generally want to live a good life, and to have a good self-image is central to a good life, but to ask most men to live a good life in an unjust world is asking too much.
IC: So again, your objective was to motivate the people.
Z: That was a strategic necessity, a prerequisite, and a selling point when seeking the patronage of the king; but my primary objective was to give men hope so that they may live good lives. Of course this would be quite difficult in a world of anarchy.
IC: Your opinion of this world seems rather dim, yet you have the reputation of a “life-affirming” prophet.
Z: No, I see abundant good in the world, but there is too much bad in the world for men to be left to battle it alone. I taught men to make a single leap of faith: to have faith in the eventual ascendancy of Good.
IC: But you did preach divine punishment.
Z: I promised justice; not vengeance. I preached that all actions have personal consequences, but I also preached that the penalty would fit the crime, and that all suffering would end. The ultimate salvation would be shared: the restoration of the good creation.