This is the fourth installment of a 13-part series exploring the Atheopagan Principles, as described in my essay “How I Became an Atheopagan”. To read the whole series, click the tag “Atheopagan Principles” in the tag cloud at right.
Principle 4 of Atheopaganism is, I am humble.
Humility is a problematic concept in the West, where self-esteem is often conflated with egotism. Being aware of one’s positive qualities and abilities is every bit as important as being aware of one’s failings and frailties. The Atheopagan Fourth Principle does not mean that we should all be excessively critical of ourselves or refuse all recognition for our accomplishments and qualities.
Rather, the Fourth Principle encourages us to understand ourselves in context. And there are primarily two ways to do so.
The first is in the context of humanity. Yes, we may be rock stars in particular disciplines or skills. We may even be among the best in the world at a certain thing. But even so: we’re just people. We’re making our way through life as best we can, each of us with struggles and challenges, each of us with unique qualities and gifts. We aren’t inherently better than any other person. In the context of humanity, whatever social standing might tell us, we really are all equal. The Fourth Principle urges us to keep this in mind.
The second context that reminds us to be humble is no less than the Universe itself. We are incomprehensibly small and temporary when considered in light of the scale in time and space of our Cosmos. When we look up at the stars, we see vast gulfs of space so large and old that our minds genuinely cannot encompass their enormity. We have these tiny lives for a tiny moment, and then we are gone.
The Fourth Principle urges us to maintain perspective, and not to get too carried away either with despair or with pride: not to take ourselves, our travails, our triumphs too seriously. By maintaining humility, we are better able to keep a level head, navigate the hard parts of life without exaggerating them, and enjoy the good parts without viewing them as in competition or by comparison with others.
The Fourth Principle is closely tied to the Third. Knowing how small we really are, and that at root we are as ordinary as any human, the gifts and accomplishments that come to us become the means to tremendous gratitude. How wonderful, that beings as humble as we are granted such opportunities for joy!