Dystheism (from Greek δυσ- dys-, "bad" and θεός theos, "god") is the belief that a god is not wholly good and can even be considered evil. Definitions of the term somewhat vary, with one author defining it as "where God decides to become malevolent". The broad theme of dystheism has existed for millennia, as shown by trickster gods found in polytheistic belief systems and by the view of other representations of supreme beings (such as those of the Abrahamic religions, particularly the Old Testament) through a nonreligious lens as angry, vengeful, smiting and hypocritical. The modern concept dates back many decades, with the Victorian era figure Algernon Charles Swinburne writing in his work Anactoria about the ancient Greek poet Sappho and her lover Anactoria in explicitly dystheistic imagery that includes cannibalism and sadomasochism.
The concept has been used frequently in popular culture and is a part of several religious traditions in the world. Trickster gods found in polytheistic belief systems often have a dystheistic nature. One example is Eshu, a trickster god from Yoruba mythology who deliberately fostered violence between groups of people for his own amusement, saying that "causing strife is my greatest joy." Another example is the Norse Loki, though Odin has these qualities as well. Zoroastrianism involves belief in an ongoing struggle between a creator god of goodness (Ahura Mazda) and a destroying god of hatred (Angra Mainyu), neither of which is omnipotent, which is a form of dualistic cosmology. The Greek god Ares, depending on time and region, was associated with all the horrors of war.
Dystheists may themselves be theists or atheists, and in the case of either, concerning the nature of the Abrahamic God, will assert that God is not good, and is possibly, although not necessarily, malevolent, particularly (but not exclusively) to those who do not wish to follow any of the Abrahamic religions. For example, in his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741), the revivalist Christian preacher Jonathan Edwards describes a God full of vengeful rage and contempt. However, Edwards' theology presumes a God whose vengeance and contempt are directed toward evil and its manifestation in fallen humanity. To Edwards, a deity that ignores moral corruption or shows indifference to evil would be closer to the deity espoused by dystheism, that is, evil, because justice is an extension of love and moral goodness.
One particular view of dystheism, an atheistic approach, is summarized by the prominent revolutionary philosopher Mikhail Bakunin, who wrote in God and the State that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him". Bakunin argued that, as a "jealous lover of human liberty, and deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity", the "idea of God" constitutes metaphysical oppression of the idea of human choice. This argument is an inversion of Voltaire's phrase "If God did not exist, it would be necessary for man to invent Him".
Political theorist and activist Thomas Paine similarly wrote in The Age of Reason, "Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God." He added, "It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel." Unlike Bakunin, however, Paine's condemnation of the purported nature of the divine from his time did not extend to outright atheism and disbelief in all spirituality: Paine stated that he accepted the deistic notion of an almighty mover behind all things.
Dystheism as a concept, although often not labeled as such, has been referred to in many aspects of popular culture. As stated before, related ideas date back many decades, with the Victorian era figure Algernon Charles Swinburne writing in his work Anactoria about the ancient Greek poet Sappho and her lover Anactoria in explicitly dystheistic imagery that includes cannibalism and sadomasochism.[original research?] More recent examples include the popular Star Trek television series. Fictional character Worf claims that his race, the Klingons, have no gods, because they killed them centuries ago for being "more trouble than they were worth." Various music bands approached themes related to or directly touching dystheism; for example, thrash metal band Slayer condensed it in the album God Hates Us All, while melodic death metal band At the Gates explored it in various works such as Terminal Spirit Disease, The Nightmare of Being or Slaughter of the Soul.