In these chapters, Augustine begins to more fully develop a theme that he has been working out – that the Roman gods are really just demons seeking worship. He tries to explain why gods would be willing to help some men and not others and look at why they would announce the future but not warn against moral corruption. His best answer is that these are not gods at all but demons seeking men to worship them and looking for opportunities to destroy creation. They don’t care to make humanity morally upright because that would work against their purposes.
I get the argument, but Augustine hasn’t really dealt yet with the fact that the same argument could be made against the Christian God. He notes that God’s purposes are “mysterious” and that God is trying to teach us neither to value our present happiness nor reject happiness altogether but I look forward to the time when he works through the whole argument. It seems to me, so far, that the same (or similar) arguments that Augustine uses to defend God could be used by the pagan authors to defend the Roman gods. Not fully convinced yet, though I tend to agree with his overall perspective that the gods are not gods but demons.
I am interested in his decision to call them demons because that makes me wonder if a Christian can involve himself in anything with which the Roman gods are associated. Can a Christian read pagan literature, for example? Or enjoy and comment on pagan art? If these are demons, then are we associating with demons just by learning the pagan myths, or can these have a separate kind of value for the Christian because we know that they are not gods? Can Roman mythology provide us with a certain kind of beauty? For the Christian today, can we involve ourselves in politics, public schools, art, literature, etc, even though we know that those involved in those things are worshipping not gods but demons? Hopefully, Augustine will give us a fuller answer.