This is the tenth 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 tenth Atheopagan Principle is the first that comes with fine print. It reads, “I celebrate pleasure as inherently good…so long as others are not harmed in its pursuit and the Four Pillars (Life, Love, Beauty and Truth) are respected.”
This Principle confronts a core dilemma of our nature as complex animals with sometimes-conflicting drives.
Because let’s face it: We are built to seek pleasure.
That’s why it’s pleasurable.
Our entire modus for action is erected on an architecture of pleasure and pain, be it physical or emotional. We gravitate towards activities that feel good, that are fun, that give us a sense of well-being or of accomplishment or of being loved, and away from those that hurt or feel demoralizing or useless.
This is a core truth of human existence, and it is both opportunity and pitfall.
It’s an opportunity because we can really, really enjoy life if we so choose. We can cultivate our lives to maximize happiness, to pay attention to the deliciousness of the many gifts which come to our senses. In doing so, we’re able to orchestrate for ourselves the reasons we have for being grateful.
The pitfall is that we can be greedy for pleasure, and that greed can cloud our judgment.
Unlike the mainstream monotheisms, Atheopaganism embraces the typical Pagan approach to pleasure: it’s good, so long as no one gets hurt. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. As Mary Oliver has it in her famous poem, you do not have to be good; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
However, you do have to be responsible. Is it fun to ride wildly in an off-road vehicle, ripping up wildlife habitat and dislodging sediment which will end up in rivers and streams? Well, probably. Is it an acceptable thing to do? Not to my mind. Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it is justifiable in the context of the Atheopagan Principles.
Is it enjoyable to eat ice cream? Sure. But should you eat a pint of it at a sitting? Well, not so much. Maybe moderate that a bit.
Are recreational drugs (legal and illegal) necessarily “bad”? In most cases, not really. But if you’re abusing them, or driving under the influence, they certainly are.
And nowhere in human experience is this Principle more necessary than in the area of sexual relationships.
As Pagans, Atheopagans don’t subscribe to theories that sex is inherently “sinful”. There’s nothing wrong with it: we’re built for it, after all, and if evolution alone had its way, we’d do pretty much nothing else except rearing and providing for children.
But sex under irresponsible circumstances is one of the easiest ways to hurt people, damage families and create long-term harm. Behaving according to agreements, proactively seeking consent, being safe, and maintaining frank and honest communications is essential.
Pursuit of pleasure is our birthright as humans. Embracing and seeking out what fills us with happiness is a good thing. But only if it is not at the expense of others, or of the Earth.
That’s not much of a constraint, fortunately. So long as we are responsible and remain aware in our pursuits of what feels good, there are incredible amounts of pleasure to be had in this world. Go out and get some!