This is the ninth of a 13-part series on the Atheopagan Principles as I described them in my essay, “How I Became an Atheopagan”. To read the whole series, click on “Atheopagan Principles” in the tag cloud to the right.
The ninth Atheopagan Principle is “I acknowledge that freedom is tempered by responsibility.”
It means that we are not merely responsible to ourselves; we have responsibilities to others around us and to our society as a whole, and these form legitimate limits to our liberty. We are not the only humans on Earth, nor are humans the only species. Principle 9 reminds us that we are, to some extent, our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
In my experience, the Pagan community sometimes doesn’t do very well with this concept. We love freedom but aren’t so big on corresponding responsibility. A strong anarcho-libertarian streak runs through the community, and there is often a vehement reaction when someone senses that s/he is being “told what to do”.
Well, sorry, folks. That’s life in this big, bad old world. It is not acceptable to zoom up a one-way street in the the wrong direction just because you don’t like being told what to do, or to rob someone just because you can, or to cook up a bunch of meth because it can make you some money. We have responsibilities to others which trump the whim that might make us want to do so: not because some Authority is telling us to, but because it is morally right to choose the socially responsible path.
The degree of freedom we experience in much of the world—and I have been to some places where this is not the case, which is entirely a different matter—creates not only opportunity for latitude in action, but reasonable expectation of participating in the civil society that enables this freedom to exist. That can include such small and commonplace activities as voting and paying taxes, but also being politically and socially active to increase the justice, kindness and environmental responsibility of the societies in which we live. In the latter, the Pagan community excels: we have committed and energetic activism on a wide swath of issues in our community, much of which is imbued with a fierce sense of commitment to a better world.
Getting the goodies our societies can offer us—imperfect though they may be, and far from our ideal vision—means we’re on the hook for helping others to get them, too. With our rights come responsibilities to think about the consequences of our actions, and to actively contribute to the communities and societies in which we live.
Principle 9 urges us to think about the consequences for others before acting. As an Atheopagan, I want to be a positive contributor to my society and my local community. At times, that means that my better judgment will override my impulse to simply do what I want. I consider this a fair trade, and an adult approach to navigating the world.