I saw a link to this project in an article from the Wild Hunt, and was keenly interested to find out more about what this project was about. When I read the following, I knew I would be uploading a new post to my blog today, and I am thankful for the inspiration and opportunity to do so:
“Welcome to the 7th Annual Pagan Values Event!
This event seeks to encourage the deep discussions of Values and Virtues and Ethics within the Contemporary Pagan communities around the world. How do our faiths impel us to react to situations of injustice or entrenched classism and racism and sexism? In what sometimes feel like increasingly angry and partisan times, how do our Pagan paths lead us to one side or the other; or do they call us to bring everybody to the table?”
First, I’d like to address the meanings of the three words, values, virtues, and ethics – although often interchanged, they are not the same words. I would also like to add a fourth word to be defined here, namely morals. Since this project’s title has to do with values, I would like to begin with that word ….
The word, value, itself stems from a Latin word that simply refers to worth. While I believe in the gods, I believe in them as higher beings. The supreme being, from my perspective, is the universe itself, and all that exists within it … I refer to this supreme being as Nature. The purpose for Nature is actually quite simple: Nature exists as being itself, Nature exists for the sake of being, all things at all times. I bring this up because I believe, because of this, that being is the one absolute, or noumenal value. All of our personal values, then, are based on our individual experience of this single value. My values are based on my perspectives on and experiences with being. Nature, and my connection to it, is a core value for me. It is not my only core value – love is another. From these core values, I build all my other values, like independence, pleasure, respect, harmony, understanding, freedom, loyalty, wisdom, discipline, among others. While my core values are constant, the values I derive from them are not, as there are inevitably situations in which one or more values must be weighed against others. Because of this, I consider it unwise to attempt to codify values in some sort of dogmatic form, and have not made any effort in my life to do so. I do not call these values Pagan values, as they are not limited to Paganism or my perception of it. I would point out, however, that it is within the Pagan approach to values that I have found the greatest degree of resonance with my own approach and perspectives.
Morals and ethics stem from our values, and can be much more readily codified. Moral is another word that has its roots in the Latin language, and simply refers to habits or customs. In our modern use, morals refer to our customs that are based on our concept of right or wrong. What we feel to be right or wrong is, inevitably, based on our values; and so our sense of morality is typically more of an individual experience, but one that is subject to the approval or disapproval of society. Ethics, on the other hand, are more typically applied to groups of people. Ethics are typically a system of morals that a group of people have agreed to adhere to or be governed by; and so the overall character of that group of people can be determined by its sense of ethics. Perhaps one of the more famous examples of ethics can be found within the modern medical culture of Western society, in particular the ethic of confidentiality embodied by the patient-physician privilege. From morals and ethics, then, comes our sense of virtue: an excellence of moral and ethical quality. This word, while in its deepest roots referring to what it is that makes a man manly, applies to us all, regardless of gender. Virtue is what makes us great people. Since virtues are based upon ethics and morals, they are not necessarily universal to the human experience. For example, chastity is among some groups of people a virtue; while among other groups of people, chastity is not deemed of any great importance at all.
Now that the basic definitions I operate with have been explored, we can move on to the topic at hand: namely, how these concepts interact with the social woes of injustice, classism, racism and sexism. These four social plagues (for that is what they are) are anathema to my core values of connection to Nature and love; but at the same time, how these social plagues are defined is a matter of interpretation that extends itself from the myriad groups of people in our world, to the multitudes of individuals who comprise them. In the end, it is this fact that makes it difficult to actually pin down a reliable description of how Pagans interact with any social woe, let alone things as complex as injustice, classism, racism, sexism.
An easy example of the difficulties encountered here is with the existence of these social woes within Paganism. Racism comes first to my mind. There are a great many Pagans who are outraged by the suggestion of its existence. There are also Pagans who regard different races of people as distinct, but still equal. Then there are those who follow the gods of their ancestors, and discourage anyone not of the same ancestral culture (race) from trying to build a relationship with ‘their’ gods. Sexism is similarly found in various Pagan circles: in some views, the gender roles (in particular when it comes to the roles of gods and goddesses) are fairly balanced; while in some views it is the male gender that holds the majority of power; and in still others, the pendulum swings the other way, and it is the female role that is given precedence. Classism I have also seen among Pagans, perhaps not so much along social or economic lines; but I have certainly witnessed plenty of snobbery displayed by some of those Pagans who consider themselves to have reached an elite status. Injustice also exists among us, to be certain: when being just can be equated with being guided by (or exemplifying) things like truth, fairness, or even reason, I’m certain we’ve all encountered Pagans who seemed to shun these things as a general rule.
So I’ll ask the question here that was not posed in the original description of the conversation we are supposed to have with this topic: how do we (Pagans) react to the social woes of injustice, racism, sexism, and classism within our own circles; and as a point of comparison and contrast, how do we then react to these social woes when they take place outside our own circles? Is there a difference; and if there is, does this suggest some degree of hypocrisy among Pagans when it comes to our reactions to these sorts of things?
As for myself, I tend to avoid people I consider to be unjust, racist, classist, or sexist as a first line reaction. If I feel the transgression (keeping in mind that I base my estimation of their transgression against my own values) is severe enough, I will scrap avoidance for the most effective means of confrontation I can think of – then I will follow through with this confrontation. If the transgressor happens to be Pagan or not doesn’t enter into the equation for me: to avoid sinking myself into the category of any of the above-named social woes, I react based on the transgression, and not the transgressor. This is a more philosophical way of looking at things; but the word philosophy was itself first coined by Pagans, and is in my estimation an appropriate way to react to such things.
How all the various Pagan individuals or groups react to these things must inevitably vary, based on the values and virtues held by them (as I’ve already pointed out, there are plenty of examples of these social woes to be found within Paganism – our virtues are therefore obviously not universally agreed upon). There is, at the time of this writing, no single Pagan authority: there is no individual or group charged with speaking for all Pagans, or representing all Pagans (although there might be a few who are deluded enough to think they are). There is no clear set of virtues espoused by all Pagans. If we wish to outline a definitive Pagan reaction to such things, we must first create a Pagan entity with the authority to craft one – just keep in mind that even if such a thing were to take place, it would always be subject to individual interpretation (if you don’t believe me, just have a look at the various interpretations of the Bible that have governed our world for the last one and a half thousand years or so). Perhaps here is one area in which most Pagans really do pull at the same tether, in that we tend to resist that kind of authority outright; and I for one pray that it will always remain so.
But for a moment, let’s imagine a hypothetical situation in which there were a universally agreed upon set of virtues to be found within Paganism: what might it look like? I’ll base this on the combination of what I’ve experienced from others in my years as a dedicated Pagan, along with my own values and things I might wish to see in such a situation. First, I would hope that wisdom would occupy a high position on such a list. I would hope that such a list would differentiate between wisdom and knowledge, and would include knowledge somewhere further down the list from wisdom. Seneca the Younger, one of my favorite of the Stoic authors, argued that a truly prudent person was indistinguishable from a truly virtuous person … whether or not the willingness to govern one’s self according to wisdom / reason is truly separate from the virtue of wisdom is a conversation for another time. For now, I would just be happy to see wisdom on the list; and assume that its presence signaled a willingness to allow reason to prevail. I could easily imagine respect making this list; and would hope that this word, rather than tolerance, would be used, to avoid the notion that diversity must be ‘put up with,’ rather than simply accepted for what it is. Temperance would also have to find its way onto this list, as without it, we would have no grounds to stand upon when trying to influence others to walk lightly on this Earth of ours. I believe that a strong group of people is comprised of strong individuals. Therefore, I believe dignity should be a cornerstone on this list of virtues. Harmony would have to be in this list, as a desire for it is exemplified in Paganism’s general attitude for reconnecting ourselves with the natural world around us and within us. Lastly, I would imagine freedom would need to be on this list for without it, there is no way I’m aware of to live virtuously: when our actions are controlled or motivated by others, our ability to make our own moral choices declines.
Wisdom, Respect, Dignity, Temperance, Knowledge, Harmony, Freedom. Seven virtues I believe would or should be on a hypothetical list of Pagan virtues. From these seven virtues, any number of other virtues could be derived. While I was writing the above paragraph, I didn’t pay attention to how many virtues were making this list – as it is now, there are a number of different lists of virtues already popular among different Pagan groups, and I didn’t want to influence my own list by keeping track of how many virtues were on it – what I find interesting is that in numerology, seven is the number of the seeker. This is appropriate, as I feel this describes most of the Pagans I have met. What is also interesting about this list of virtues is that they all are virtues that one governs one’s own self with, rather than virtues that are applicable to the control of others (like loyalty, or piety, filial or otherwise). The reason I find this of interest is because my consensus of most of the Pagans I’ve encountered is that we are generally more interested in governing ourselves than in governing others. Yes, there are classical examples to the contrary: Alexander, Julius Caesar, to name a few. Then there are also the modern examples to the contrary: namely, those who feel no compunction in attempting control of others through the use of magic. I think it would be difficult for these Pagans to adhere to the hypothetical list of virtues I have come up with. Love, one of my personal core values, is also not on this list. I excluded it because, in the end, I do not believe that love can be compelled … for those who do not experience this value, I believe following this hypothetical list of virtues might lead to a very new experience.
With this list of virtues in mind, how would we react to the four social woes of injustice, sexism, racism and classism? Would we react differently to transgressions occurring within or outside the Pagan community? I think, in such a situation, we would react quite equally, regardless who the transgressor was or with what group s/he might be affiliated with. I think we would be motivated to try to heal these afflictions when we found them, perhaps wisely seeking out the causes of the afflictions. Moreover, we would likely be inspired to seek out these afflictions within our own selves, and eradicate them, as hypocrisy would hardly be dignified. This is all, of course, just hypothetical … as of now, I’m the only Pagan I know who formally adheres to this particular list of virtues.
Again, I am grateful to the Pagan Values Blogject for the inspiration and opportunity to explore this subject here. I look forward to reading what other Pagan participants might have to say about their perspectives concerning this topic, and hope that I have provided others with a few worthy things to think about.